A nightly snowwalk

I woke up at 4:20 and since it still snowed I decided to to go out to take a photo. Or two. Taking a photo – or two – became a longer promenade in the snowy neighbourhood.

Just some photos before I continue sleeping. My sleeping room is behind the window behind the bush on the second photo. You see it?

For the stats: Last Saturday 90 of snow were measured at the meteorological station Tromsø PLU. Now it’s 128.4 cm.

Wind and weather

Friday, 26 January

I took this photo at two o’clock in the afternoon just after I had walked home from work. I enjoyed my new apartment and the view from the balcony.

But I knew, that this beautiful weather wouldn’t last. The forecast predicted rain and storm.

Saturday, 27 January

In the evening the weather already had changed. It good warmer, rain clouds covered the moon and the speed of the hardest gust was wind was 24 m/s¹.

28 January

On Sunday the wind calmed down a bit but the forecast for the next day showed wind gusts of 36 m/s in the afternoon. That’s Beaufort 12 – “hurricane-force”. I wasn’t the only one who decided to work from home the next day.

29 January

And the weather became really nasty, although not as bad as expected. I was glad to be able to stay inside anyhow.

Let’s not forget, that Tromsø lies sheltered on the island Tromsøya surrounded by mountain chains. There are other places that are much more exposed to the elements. For example Torsvåg lies on a small island west of Vannøya. There the strongest wind gusts were round 41 m/s².

1 February

After two calmer yet warmer and very rainy days another storm had arrived, this time with gusts up to 30.8 m/s in Tromsø³.

Laughable the people in Kvaløyfjellet på Sømna probably would say. There the average wind speed between 1 and 2 in the night was 54.4 m/s (196 km/h)! That’s a new wind record for whole Norway⁴. And the gusts exceeded 60 m/s.

The nice thing: After all that rain in Tromsø it snowed again. When I arrived home the wind has already calmed down but the entry of my flat was caked in snow.

2 February

And the next morning it still snowed.

When I walked home today I crossed the cemetery. And there everything was snowed in and many tombstones were completely hidden under the snow. As if rain and storm never happened.

___
¹ https://www.yr.no/nb/historikk/graf/1-305409/Norge/Troms/Troms%C3%B8/Troms%C3%B8?q=2024-01-27
² https://www.yr.no/nb/historikk/graf/5-90800/Norge/Troms/Karls%C3%B8y/Torsv%C3%A5g%20fyr?q=2024-01-29
³ https://www.yr.no/nb/historikk/graf/5-90490/Norge/Troms/Troms%C3%B8/Troms%C3%B8%20LH?q=2024-02-01
https://www.nrk.no/nyheter/ny-vindrekord-i-norge-1.16744736

Two wintry sunrises

From polar night into the solar light

It is crazy – three days ago Annika and I have been in Tromsø in the middle of the mørketid – the polar night – where the sun hasn’t risen for weeks. Two days ago we went to Gällivare in Swedish Lapland by car. Yesterday we continued our way south and crossed the polar circle. The sky was clear and full of colours and then – at 10:23 – we saw the sun ahead. It did not only rise above the horizon but also the forested hills.

The sun was low but we saw it for several hours. That was a great feeling especially for me who haven’t seen the sun for almost a month.

But days are short and already at two o’clock in the afternoon the moon dominated the sky.

Soon it was too dark to take good photos from the moving car. At half past six we arrived at our house in Obbola, where I’ll stay for three to four weeks.

Today I worked from home and could see how it gradually got brighter. I took a break and went to the coast. I was lucky – now I got a real sunrise. Not above a road in the Swedish inland but above the partially frozen Baltic Sea. So beautiful!

 

A Saturday “mørketid” promenade

Since Tuesday, 28 November the sun does not rise above the horizon anymore in Tromsø. In English this time is called Polar Night, in German Polarnacht.But is it night 24 hours a day? No, not really. Here are some images I took on a promenade in Tromsø yesterday. The photos have been shot between 10:48 and 12:13 CET.

As you see it was not dark at all.  The Norwegians differentiate better and have two words. What we have in Tromsø now they call Mørketid – “darkness time”. The sun is below the horizon the whole day, but less than 6° (civil twilight). Only when the sun is below 6° all day the Norwegians call it polarnatt – “polar night” as well. This however never happens on mainland Europe. You would have to travel north to the island Bjørnøya or the archipelago Svalbard to experience that.

So yes, we have seven weeks of mørketid in Tromsø, but that does not mean seven weeks of darkness. Fortunately!

 

Arctic preparations

Have a look at these two images. They have something in common.

Both are related to my participation in the Arctic Ocean cruise in June. After the Nansen legacy cruise last year this will be my second scientific cruise to the Arctic with the Norwegian Polar Institute. And this time I’ve got extra tasks.

1. Drone flying

A scientist asked if I could fly a drone to map the ice stations. I didn’t have any experience in drone flying so I bought a private one to practise some weeks ago. In addition to that I made the Norwegian online course in drones (class A1 and A3) and the exam. Now I’m registered as a drone pilot in Norway, both in private and for the Norwegian Polar Institute. That was the easy part.

The interesting part starts when I shall take photos with latitude and longitude information from a drifting ice floe. But I’m not there yet (and quite happy that I have another month of preparation).

The drone photo above was taken in Norway. In Sweden it is a lot of paperwork to get permission for the publication of photos, especially when they show the sea as well. In Norway this is not the case, as long as you know the legal rules and restrictions.

2. Ice chart and weather info

To help both the cruise leader and the crew with planning it will be my job to provide them with current information. That’s ice charts coming from a SAR satellite and weather forecasts for e.g. wind, temperature and pressure. The data will be presented using the Open Source Geographic Information System QGIS. The screenshot above is just from a small learning session where I loaded in quite unrelated data as a topographical map of Svalbard, an ice chart from two days ago and current wind information.

The interesting thing will begin when we head north, leaving Svalbard behind. Then we do not have internet access anymore except sending and receiving emails through the slow and expensive Iridium network. So I cannot use all the cool QGIS plugins to gather data directly but I’ll have to send data requests per email and then receive the data later. This will be both interesting and challenging. I’m somewhere in the middle of being quite excited and pretty nervous.

Anyhow I wanted to have jobs and tasks and I’m glad I get the opportunity in a more active role than last year, were I was more like an observer. I guess, I’ll learn a lot.

Arctic Ocean, soon I’ll come!

Winterly Kvaløya

What a misjudgement! Since it was warm the last weeks I didn’t expect so much winter in Tromsø and around. It was a mistake not to take skis or/and snowshoes with me, when I visited the neighboring island Kvaløya today. And here everything was still snowy. Very snowy. So for example the tombstones on the graveyard in Henrikvik. Or a fence nearby, where only the edge looked out of the snow.

How many tombstone there are around? Hard to say. Some of the larger ones were quite visible while other parts of the graveyard were just a white sheet of snow. I’ll have to check in summer.

Although the temperatures were sub-zero the road by the coast was wet and free of snow. This changed when I turned into the road to Sommerøya, the summer island. Although the road is just 150 meters above sea level it was snow covered. During the snow showers it was hard to see the roadside and I slowed down a lot for every car that came my way.

Some other cars parked at the different parking places. Two skiers just started a tour. But I could hardly spot any fresh ski tracks and even some of the avalanche transceiver test station were quite snowed in. No wonder because parts of the lake Kattfjordvatnet are already open and the ice is not safe anymore.

On the other side of the water: a group of trees in the fresh, white snow. Not a single ski track could be seen. At least here ski season seems to be over.

On the other side walking through the snow is not the best idea neither, especially when there are deep, snow-covered ditches …

12 more photos of Longyearbyen

This article is part of the series “2023-03: Svalbard”.

3 March

It is the first evening of Annika’s and my stay in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Svalbard. We already strolled through the settlement after arrival. Now it is dark but the full moon illuminates the end of the road of Nybyen, one of Longyearbyen’s districts. What a special feeling to be in one of the world northernmost settlements on Earth. And a slightly tense one. It’s the edge of town, are there any polar bears around?

8 March

When you are in Svalbard you have to keep distance to animals to protect them. The animals do not follow this rule. This is a Svalbard reindeer, an own species of reindeer living here. It is looking for food in the middle of the city.

9 March

I didn’t expect to see ptarmigans on Svalbard but on our guided minibus tour we get to see a whole flock, again in Longyearbyen. Magnus is so kind to stop so that I could take a photo from the road.

10 March

This day is quite warm for Longyearbyen: Only -8 °C. When I took this photo however it was windy. Average wind wind 16 m/s, gusts 21 m/s and snow is blowing in the streets.

12 March

Annika is on her way home, I’ll stay for another week and today I enjoy the beautiful weather by the coast. The mountains on the other side of the fjord Isfjorden look quite near today – especially through the big telephoto lens.

15 March

I take an after work stroll along the coast and through town. It is cold and even with the modest wind of 6 m/s windchill is below -30 °C. It looks arctic, it smells arctic (the nose hairs freeze together immediately) and it feels arctic. No wonder – I am in the Arctic. Even the petrol prices show, that you are not in mainland Norway any longer. Petrol is cheap because Svalbard has reduced taxes.

18 March

Another walk in town. Up the hill to Taubanesentrale (the central of coal mining cableway), down to the center and up again to the elevated way in the east, part of the avalanche protection.

19 March

Sunday. Tomorrow I’ll fly back to Tromsø, today I’m quite lazy but finally I walk to the coast again because of the wonderful weather. Even with my hood on I can hear something above me. I look up and see the first two seagulls since I have arrived here. It is two glaucous gulls that draw large circles above the coastal line.

I try even to take pictures of the incredibly coloured mountains on the other side of the Isfjorden but the turbulences in the air make clear pictures impossible. I’ll keep it in my memory as I’ll do with my whole stay in Longyearbyen.

 

 

Farewell, Longyearbyen

This article is part of the series “2023-03: Svalbard”.

I am sitting in the waiting hall of Longyear Airport, waiting for my plane to Tromsø.

More than two weeks I’ve been here, first on vacation with Annika, then working for the Norwegian Polar Institute at UNIS, the University Centre in Svalbard.

I worked with Luke, data manager for the Nansen Legacy and had a guest office on the other side of his office in the biology section.

While my office may look totally normal, the view definitely wasn’t.

Some days at 9 o’clock I went to other side of the building to the Longyearbyen section of the Norwegian Polar Institute to have coffee break with my colleagues there.

In Longyearbyen you put out your outdoor shoes before you enter a building (with some exceptions as the local COOP grocery shop). And so it is at UNIS. You can clearly see by the shelfs whether people are at home or at UNIS.

Soon I will travel back to Tromsø and I’m looking forward being back. It was a fantastic experience to spend much time in Longyearbyen. Anyhow as a visitor you also realise the limitations as for example not being able to leave the town without valid rifle permit because of the polar bears.

Continental Europe – here I come.

Guided minibus tour with Magnus

This article is part of the series “2023-03: Svalbard”.

Thursday morning Annika and I joined a guided tour by minibus. Magnus, our guide and driver has moved to Svalbard in 1964 and has spent most of his life here. I’ll show you some pictures of the tour, but the real experience were the incredible stories Magnus told us. About the times, when there was no shop in Longyearbyen, when the island could be cut off from the mainland the whole winter, when it was a mining town hardly visited by any tourists. What makes the stories special is that they seem to tell from ancient times but some took place just one generation ago. I could listen to Magnus for ages.

And now some photos. From the road up to Gruve 7, the last active coal mine that will be closed in 2025. From the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, where more than one million seed samples are stored. From the cable car facility that was used to transport coal from the mines to the quay until the 80th and from a special guest, the ice breaker Kronprins Haakon, that I travelled with last year. And of course from the famous polar bear warning sign on the road to Gruve 7.

This tour is strongly recommended if you want to get first hand information about Longyearbyen’s history. Longyearbyen Guiding AS. The web site is only in Norwegian, but the guiding is in English.

 

A first day in Longyearbyen

This article is part of the series “2023-03: Svalbard”.

Today Annika and I have the first full day in Longyearbyen. There’s a lot to see, even for us, for whom Northern Norway in general is nothing new.

House on mountain slope

We have seen houses, we have seen mountains, we have seen houses by and in mountains. But the mountains in Svalbard are really special and quite recognisable.

Arctic town

It is not only the mountains, that give Longyearbyen a very special character. It is amongst others the traces of the coal mining that is still present although there is no active mining in town any longer.

Avalanche fences

In December 2015 an avalanche buried ten houses in Longyearbyen. Two people died. Today some houses in Longyearbyen are abandoned because they lie in critical areas and the mountain Sukkertoppen (the sugar peak) is covered with avalanche fences.

Snowmobiles

In Northern Sweden snow mobiles are very popular, for work, transportation and for leisure. In Northern Norway there are much more restrictions and you do not see them as often. In Svalbard there are more snow mobiles than people. No wonder in a place with very long winters and hardly any road network.

Chilly temperatures

In Northern Sweden temperatures of -19.7 °C are not seldom in winter, but then it is mostly calm weather. Today in Longyearbyen it was pretty gusty and windy which made the temperature appear significantly lower.

Fjords

Yes, there are fjords in Tromsø. But there are roads and settlements, too. On Svalbard there are not many settlements at all and the fjords do not only look much more icy and arctic, but also untouched. The small dots on the right of the first image however tell another story: There is a lot of snowmobile traffic.

Northernmost church?

There is a church in Longyearbyen lying on a small hill. It looks cosy and if you go in you realise, it is. It is the northernmost Lutheran church in the world, only topped by an Eastern Orthodox church in the Russian Franz Josef Land. (Source: wikipedia)

Mukluks

Of course people in Longyearbyen have warm clothes. When it comes to boots Mukluks are quite popular. The origin of these shoes lies in the Inuit culture of the North American Arctic and there are great for dry and cold weather. You hardly see them in mainland Scandinavia.

Impressive mountains

Did I mention the impressive mountains? I did? Well, anyhow – they are impressive!

Surprises

This solitary house goes by the name Huset – the house. The name is as pragmatic as the architecture. But it contains a surprise. The restaurant Huset does not only have quite high-priced dinner, but also a “Saturday beef” on Saturdays 15-18. By chance we passed the house at 14:45 and it is Saturday today. So we decided to eat there. A good choice because the food was very delicious and costed only 190 crowns – a bargain in Norway!

Polar bears

One of the very special things about Svalbard: there are more polar bears than human beings on this Archipelago. While the town Longyearbyen is protected the surroundings aren’t. If you leave town you have to carry a rifle and a flare gun and must know how to handle incidents with polar bears. Signs warn you when you leave the safe space.

Neither Annika nor I can and may handle a rifle so we stay within town beside of guided tours.

Treacherous weather

When we left the restaurant Huset, weather had changed. It was as windy as before but now it was snowing and the wind gusts blew snow everywhere. Into the face and into the pockets of my parka. It was however less than a kilometre walk until we reached our accommodation Coal Miner’s Cabin.