Travelling from ice to summer

This article is part of the series “2023-06: Arctic Ocean cruise KPH”.

This photo was taken three days ago:

These photos were taken three hours ago:

Quite a contrast, isn’t it?

18 June (four days ago)

I stand on the sea ice for the last time as part of the polar research expedition with the ice breaker Kronprins Haakon. It has become quite foggy and we will close the ice station earlier due to bad visibility. If you cannot spot the polar bears it is not safe and we had quite a few of them the last two weeks.

19 June (three days ago)

Today we stop the ship several times for the usual CTD casts to get the salinity and temperature of the sea water in different depths. For science it is always interesting to get comparable measurements. One way is to do a transect, a series of the same type of measurements in different locations, mostly in a line. Today we do CTD casts at 2° W, 1° W, 0°, 1° E, and 2 °E. So today we have crossed the Prime Meridian.

For doing CTD casts the ship must stand still. At 1° E I use this to fly my private drone from the helicopter deck for the first picture above. (Memo to myself: do not fly a drone in fog, it is hard to land.)

20 June (two days ago)

After four days of fog it finally clears up in the evening. And for the first time in 18 days we can see land again, the long and narrow island Prins Karls Forland.

We can get a lot of information about what’s going on on the TV. On channel 9 there is OLEX, a navigation system. I see, that Helmer Hanssen, another research vessel owned by the University of Tromsø is nearby. The ships are getting closer and closer and I go up to the helicopter deck to take some photos. There’s a reason for the ships to meet. Malin, a researcher in the field of arctic and marine biology is transferred from our ship to Helmer Hanssen by boat. She will join another cruise.

21 June (yesterday)

In the morning we have approached Adventfjorden, where the main city Longyearbyen is located. Due to the touristic cruise ships occupying all dock places we will stop in the open water. From there we are transferred to land by boat as well. I’m in the first boat because I want to meet people in Longyearbyen at Forskningsparken. There UNIS, the university of Svalbard is located and a department of the Norwegian Polar Institute, too.

We get a car transport there and I meet Vegard, that helped me with drone flying and Luke, that I have worked with quite a bit. Luke and I have even time to get some outdoor lunch in the summery town. It’s sunny and more than 10 °C. (Too warm for me.) He mentions that it got quite green in Longyearbyen. And I spot the first flowers.

At the airport there are long queues everywhere. It is not build for large groups of slightly disorientated tourists. But we arrived early. Shortly after half past two we lift off. I glue myself to the window to see the fjords, the mountain chains and the glaciers of Svalbard passing by.

Amidst between Svalbard and Tromsø I manage to spot the arctic island Bjørnøya in the haze. For the first time in my life! The photo is heavily processed to make Bjørnøya visible.

And then we land in Tromsø where the vegetation just has exploded in my three weeks of absence. Everything is green and there are flowers everywhere. I am lucky and get a lift home. (Thank you, Tore!)

22 June (today)

I drop by in the office to meet my colleagues. Good to see them in real life. We talk about the cruise and many other things. But after work I take a bath in the sea. So refreshing when it is summer and 25 °C! That’s more than twenty degrees warmer than four days ago when I navigated my small drone to take a photo of Kronprins Haakon in the sea ice somewhere between Greenland and Svalbard.

23 June (tomorrow)

Tromsø is my work home, but Obbola in Sweden is my home home. Tomorrow I will travel there. If everything goes well it “only” takes 18 hours. And then I finally will be united with my wife Annika again in our cosy house by the Baltic Sea.

Arctic Ocean 2023 – prelude

This article is part of the series “2023-06: Arctic Ocean cruise KPH”.

When it looks like this on my table …

… then I’m going to travel. I love packing lists and I need them so that I do not forget too much.

At 9 o’clock everything is packed (ca. 50 kilos!). At 10 o’clock the taxi fetches me and takes me to the airport in Tromsø. Two and a half hours we are in the air heading north.

It’s very cloudy but shortly before landing I finally can see something different than sky and clouds: Svalbard’s main island Spitsbergen.

Soon we will land in Longyearbyen, where I landed three month before. But there are some differences.

Last time I travelled with Annika and we went on vacation before I worked in Longyearbyen for a week. Now I’m travelling with some colleagues from the Norwegian Polar Institute. Shortly before we land on the airport I take a snapshot:

There it is: the vessel Kronprins Haakon which is more or less the reason why some colleagues of mine and I travelled north: Tomorrow we will go on board on this ice breaker and start an expedition way up north into the sea ice. For three weeks we will live and work on Kronprins Haakon and I’m so excited that I may be part of this.

Today I had some hours in Longyearbyen. I was quite curious how it would look like in late spring. According to a researcher there is a lot of snow for the season this year. But on sea level the snow has melted away and everything looks soaking wet and muddy. While Svalbard reindeer are probably happy I definitely prefer winter.

If everything goes according plan we will leave Longyearbyen tomorrow at lunch time. I guess it won’t be long until we do not have any regular internet. So probably I will not blog anything about this scientific cruise before I’m back in civilisation.

Bye bye – ha det bra!

P.S.: On Facebook a friend wrote to me: “You must have the best job in the world!”. My answer – short but genuine: “Yes!”

 

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.

Colder days in Longyearbyen

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

Two days ago on 14 March 2023 it started getting colder in Longyearbyen. Yesterday temperatures were around -19 °C, today around -21 °C.

Yesterday I took a walk after work and took some photos with my tiny Sony camera that worked surprisingly good in the cold when being kept warm.

While light was beautiful yesterday, today it was magic. After work I went to my apartment. Round about 15 minutes later I left it with all my camera gear and went to the shore. Due to the interface between the open water and the cold air ice fog covered large parts of the Adventfjorden. While I looked for good places to take photos the setting sun and the altering fog changed the mood every minute. Extraordinary beautiful!

Like the days before the sunset colours on the snow covered mountains became warmer and warmer until they reached a delicate but intense purple shade while the sunlit parts rose higher and higher until only the tops stayed in the sun.

Remember, these photos were not taken in the wilderness, I’m in the settlement Longyearbyen and my apartment lies just 500 metre from the nearest photo spot.

As already mentioned today’s temperatures were round -21 °C. With a moderate breeze of 6 m/s that felt like -32 °C. Pretty cold and the ice fog didn’t make it warmer.

 

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.

 

Ta sjansen

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

Funny clad people and strange vehicles on the town’s ski slope in Longyearbyen, what happens?

Today it’s the last day of the sun festival week and one of the items on the agenda is “Ta sjansen” (take the chance) an annual race down the ski hill with self-made vehicles where creativity is as as important than speed.

1 – 2 – 3 – here we go!

And – what do you think? Who won the race?

Sol, sol, kom igjen, sola er min beste venn!

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

It is 8 March 2023, a special day in Longyearbyen. While polar night ended already three weeks ago today is the first opportunity to see the sun in Longyearbyen above the mountains in the south. A special day after the sun disappeared in October last year. And as you can see it is a big celebration!

After some singing the moment has come. All people are shouting: “Sol, sol, kom igjen, sola er min beste venn!” – Sun, sun, come back, the sun is my best friend!

But the chanting was in vain: the sun didn’t appear. Some children are in doubt – was it the clouds or didn’t they shout loud enough.

But now it’s only a matter of waiting. Already in six weeks the time of polar day and midnight sun will begin.

Kudos for the musicians. Must be hard to play guitar or piano when windchill is round -23 °C. Brrr!

Two-day dogsledding tour in Svalbard – day 2

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

Last night I dreamt that a heavy polar bear was lying on top of me. It had sneaked into our sleeping room. In reality a polar bear could never have approached the cabin unnoticed. We have seventeen polar bear guards outside: the sled dogs.

It is half past seven. I just started a fire because the inside temperature of the cabin in Tverrdalen has dropped to 5.7 °C, while it is -20 °C outside. It is the second day of Annika’s and my dogsledding tour in Svalbard and despite some stormy gusts of wind the weather looks quite promising.

Snow is blown around the dog sleds. Most dogs are still sleeping, some of them half snowed in. Snow will keep them warm, it is a good isolator. Not all dogs have slept outside, some have slept in wooden boxes to be protected against the wind.

I hurry to go in again, the glove livers were much too cold in the cold wind and my fingertips hurt. The next hours we are busy with taking breakfast, packing things, tidying the cabin, putting our clothes on and taking care of the dogs. While we are outside the wind is calming down and the sun shines on the snowy mountains round Tverrdalen.

We say goodbye to this wonderful place and start our journey back to the dog kennel in wonderful winter weather. Annika and I have put the bulky isolated anoraks into the sledge, they were too warm the day before and use our own windproof jackets. The fur-rimmed hoods are a good protection against wind and coldness.

We take a lunch break at the Scott Turner glacier, but before that we visit an impressive ice cave. I’ll write an own blog article about that later.

After a warm lunch break – Real Turmat outdoor food only needs hot water – we walk the dogs to the sledge and start our last stage of our dogsledding adventure.

It is not only the great weather, the beauty of the valley Bolterdalen and the mountains around, it’s the dogsledding itself that is great fun. After only a day Annika and I know how to work together, help the dogs, shift weight, brake and release the brakes again. Now we hardly have to help the dogs by pedalling or pushing the sledge. It goes downhills and the dogs know that they are on their way home where they will be rewarded with treats. So we glide effortlessly through the snowy landscape enjoying this extraordinary experience. And then we are back at the dog yard, were our sled dogs are eager to get loose and run around a bit, greet friends and wait for their goodies.

Annika and I get to know Foxi as well, the famous dog that led Tommy’s sledge on the Iditarod race and has also been at the North Pole. While Tommy and Adelheid are taking care of both dogs and other tourists Annika and I are sitting in the living room of the dog yard’s cabin and are chilling. Adelheid’s jeep needs a jump start – it does not like the cold – then she brings us back to town.

@ my colleague Y.: Thanks for the tip. Great tour. We enjoyed every minute!
@ Janne and Tommy: Thanks for the organisation of this extra tour!
@ Adelheid: Thanks for the guiding and cooking! It was a pleasure meeting you!
@ the dogs: Thanks for your hard work and your relaxed attitude 🐾!

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.