No paddling in Obbola

Normally when I am in Obbola round Christmas I do some winter paddling. This year I dug out the kayaks from a thick layer of snow on 23 December. On 26 December there was still open water behind the tiny skerry that we use to call Lillskär but I was too lazy to go on a tour. One day later the Baltic Sea looked like this:

Within a single day parts of the Baltic Sea have frozen over – a stripe of 500 metres or more. So much for kayaking …

It took some time until I was allowed to publish the drone photo above. I had ask for permission at Lantmäteriet (The Swedish Mapping, Cadastral and Land Registration Authority) first.

Ärendenummer LM2023/067684

It gets even colder

After the first days of the new year with temperatures down to -26 °C it got even colder.

4. January

In the morning temperature is between -26 and -27 °C and despite the weather forecast the sky is clear.

At lunch time I take another promenade along the coast. The sea ice Baltic Sea looks extremely cold due to the frost patterns that cover everything.

In the afternoon it gets colder and in the evening the temperature sinks below -30 °C for the first time. I go out and take a photo of our tree in our garden. It’s the very same tree under which Annika and I got married three and a half years ago – barefooted. Now it is covered in frost and Orion and Sirius are in the sky.

Luckily I have a lot of very warm clothes. To go out I only had to slip into my down suit and my Russian rubber boots, put a hat and woollen mittens on and I won’t freeze at all.

5. January

Twice I was awake and outdoors this night to enjoy the cold air and the starry sky. At 3:18 the thermometer shows -33.4 °C, the coldest temperature ever I experienced being at home!

These days a lot of places experience temperatures below -40 °C and less and many people (including us) have trouble with their cars or heating. Near Arjeplog a guy measured -51 °C with a laser thermometer the day before. That’s exceptionally cold even for Northern Sweden.

In the morning it was time for Annika and me to repeat a known experiment in the cold that we never tried out by ourselves: Throwing hot water in the air and seeing it freezing almost instantly into a cloud of ice dust. While my photos are ok-ish, Annika took gorgeous photos with my Nikon showing me doing this experiment. It works best with temperatures below -30 °C, which we had.

While I write this article in the night to the 6. January it is still cold, but “only” -22 °C. You get used to the cold after some days. And yes – I love these cold and crisp winter days a lot! The weekend will still be cold, then it will get warmer. Much warmer! On Tuesday, four days from now, it may be 40 degrees warmer than yesterday morning with day temperatures round +6 °C!

 

 

The year 2024 starts cold

1. January

It’s midnight. Clear sky, -13 °C. Annika and I stand in the snow outside of our house with a drink to toast with and some sparklers to set alight. Farewell 2023, welcome 2024! Happy new year!

The next morning Annika and I stand outdoors again. No sparklers needed, the sun rises over the frozen Baltic Sea and turns the sky orange.

When we start a little cross country ski tour at lunch time the temperatures already have dropped to -18 °C. Before we drive home we take a small detour to our favourite beach Vitskärsudden where we watch the sunset over the sea. Sunrise and sunset on the same day – that was long ago.

2. January (yesterday)

In the night it has become colder. -25 °C shows the thermometer in the morning. I bring Annika to the bus station by car but first I have to scrape ice on the windshield. Yes, I am a bit overdressed in my down suit ;-)

On this day I am outdoors twice. First to catch the colours before sunrise …

… then to take a lunch promenade to Vitskärsudden. Despite the sun it is still round -22, -23 °C. The Baltic Sea is frozen as far as I can see and the low hanging sun is accompanied by colourful parhelions.

I thought the down jacket would be too warm but I gladly put the hood on when it started to get a bit windy.

In the evening it gets colder. -26.9 °C, the coldest temperature I experienced here in our home in Obbola since we moved there in May 2020. While I worked from home Annika took the bicycle back from the bus station. Brrr!

3. January (today)

Another cold day with temperatures between -22 and -26 °C. Although I have to work I go out several times. First shortly after sunrise. The sun is damped by clouds and looks like a very mysterious eye.

Then I take another tour at 11:00, this time with back country skis. What a beautiful day!

I go out a third time to watch the sunset, but clouds cover the horizon. At least I take a photo of the large, wooden barrel of unknown origin that stands in the water – now frozen – of our shallow bay.

… oh I forgot, I was out a fourth time, this time by car to get some things done. Luckily I had camera and tripod on the back seat, because the frosted trees in the cold artificial light looked really special.

I really love this cold weather. Only taking photos can be a bit of a hassle because sometimes you have to take off your gloves and then the fingers can get cold very fast. Beside from that: great!

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Break at work II – ice paddling

Today has been another clear and calm day. It was colder than the day before with temperatures round -19 °C. Today’s plan was paddling, at least round Lillskär, the small skerry nearby.

Step 1 – fetching the kayak

I knew exactly where our kayaks are. They lay in the garden – hidden under a layer of powder snow. So the first part of my paddle tour was digging out my kayak.

Step 2 – dressing and get equipment

Survival suit · thick mittens · ice claws · smartphone · camera · waterproof bag for the camera · paddle. Just the basics, I won’t go far.

Step 3 – crossing the ice

After some frosty days the ice on the shallow bay seemed to be thick enough to support my weight. I walked over the ice dragging the kayak behind. At the edge of the bay there was an ice range that I had to cross. I entered the kayak and mostly I used my ice claws to drag myself forward. Sometimes the ice supported the weight of me in the kayak, sometimes we broke through. Although the ice range to cross was only 100 metres wide I had to take several breaks. Some to take photos, some to catch my breath.

Step 3 – paddling

Then I reached open water. Almost. The water was covered with a thin layer of transparent ice needles that made the water look crystallised. It slowed down the waves and I could hear the high-pitched clinking while I was paddling through. Very fascinating!

In addition to that the sea was smoking. When it is as cold as today, the surface water evaporates and quickly resublimes to tiny ice grains that build this moving fog that colours the sea in a pale white.

Step 4 – visiting an ice exhibition

When I passed Lillskär I bent right to the mainland. There were some ice-coated rocks and thicker ice floes there – an extremely beautiful view in the low sunlight. I just went straight ahead. The first ice floes were split by my kayak, on the thicker once I had to use my ice claws again to move forward.

Step 5 – back to land

I realised, that my tour has taken much longer than planned, although the distance was tiny. I was clad in my survival suit, the kayak was on the ice and in 20 minutes my video meeting would begin. I had to hurry up!

The ice near the mainland was too thick to paddle through, but too thin to walk on. So, ice claws again. Not easy, when you lack trained arm and abdominal muscles. When I approached another shallow, I just left the kayak, splashed a bit trough soft ice and knee deep water until I reached the bay again.

From there I could walk on the ice and drag my kayak behind until I reached our property. I went to the house and transformed from paddle guy to IT guy as fast as possible. I informed my boss and colleagues that I would by 5 minutes late. That gave my the chance to take a hot shower, because I was freezing.

Did I miss anything of the meeting? No, the others had to fix audio and that took longer than my shower.

After the meeting, round 12:15 I walked out again to make a photo of the cloud bank and the sea smoke in the low winter sun.

Tomorrow shall be another cold and sunny day. Let’s see how I’ll spend my work break …

17 May aboard the ship Hermes II

Today it is 17 May, the Norwegian National Day. People say “Gratulerer med dagen!” (Happy Birthday!) to each other to celebrate Norway’s Birthday in the year 1814. The rest of the history I won’t tell here, you can read it better in the net, for example on Wikipedia.

While I was in Sweden last year I am in Tromsø today and so I was able to join the celebrations. Last week I got an ad for joining the boat parade on the wooden boat Hermes II, build 1917. That sounded fun and I directly bought one of the extraordinary cheap tickets. Would be nice to be outside on the water this day. And so it was, even in snowfall and sleet and temperatures round 1–2 °C.

Hermes II lies in the very center of Tromsø. I’ve passed it many times, today I entered it at 10 o’clock. Slowly the boat filled up. Some women were clad in bunad. These traditional clothes are very beautiful but I doubt that they provide the best weather protection. Check the video linked below. Other people choose more pragmatic clothes to stay warm and dry. At 10:30 we departed, headed north and met other boats there. In a group of fifteen boats – Hermes II, some SAR boats, the rest private ones – we then headed back to the center. Nothing extreme, just a especially nice way to be outside.

Some photos from today:

Also on board was NRK, the Norwegian TV. I can recommend the video, even when you do not speak Norwegian.

Watch it here: 17. mai-feiring på båt i Tromsø (2:44, Norwegian).

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – maps and numbers

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise KPH”.

Just some short info for the people who like maps and numbers.

This is the route of the icebreaker Kronprins Haakon on the polar expedition Arven etter Nansen JC3:

The northernmost point 82.0474°N
The southernmost point 69.5245°N
The westernmost point 07.6551°E
The easternmost point 34.1262°E

 

And some weather records (when my python script is right):

minimum maximum
Temperature -30.5 °C +2.0 °C
Wind speed 0.1 m/s 32.7 m/s
Wind speed on ship 0.1 m/s 30.9 m/s
Wind chill -48.0 °C +1.0 °C
Wind chill on ship -49.0 °C +1.0 °C

 

And some personal numbers:

Been on the sea ice 7 times
Photos taken 4084
Cakes eaten countless

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 7 and 8: a stormy intermezzo

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise KPH”.

Day 7 and 8 · 25 – 26 February 2022

25. Feb 07:00 – testing clothing concepts for extreme cold weather

Another Arctic morning. It has become slightly warmer with temperatures round -24 °C but at the same time a lot of windier. The average wind speeds of 20 m/s and above. So windchill is still -45 °C and I wonder how to dress just in case I will be on the sea ice the first time this night. No, I do not count on being allowed to enter it under such conditions but you never know. Be prepared and wait …

For safety reasons we always have to wear a special suit on the ice in case of someone breaks through. That’s either the Regatta suit, a floatation suit. This acts as a full body life vest giving you buoyancy in the water. However you will get wet instantly. No big issue because we will always be quite near the ship and conditions are ok. If the circumstances are more extreme or the ice is not trusted a survival suit with attached rubber boots is used. It will keep you completely dry as long as the arm and neck cuffs are tight. It is said however that it is uncomfortable to wear and you easily get very cold feet.

So, let’s get dressed. For the first time I put on the Regatta suit. It is as breathable as a rubber dinghy so you should not sweat too much. Over that, more for the fur hood than the warmth the Canada Goose parka. Yes, I can still move ;-)

Dressed like never before I open the thick door to the helicopter deck and stagger outside. Whoa! That’s some rough weather. I instantly feel every single square millimetre of skin that is still exposed to the wind and even that the zipper of the down pants are not completely closed at the bottom although I wear high rubber boots. In my opinion the hood of the Snow Mantra is ingenious but the gusty storm just pushes it aside in all directions and I can hardly see anything. So I do not check if the selfies taken with the Nikon and three pairs of gloves and mittens are in focus. They are not.

Being in again I understand the first time, why the parka hood is not only fur-trimmed but have this thick fleece rim inside. It keeps away the ice dust that the storm blows in.

The combination of Regatta suit is too warm and too bulky. I test another combination with the shell jacket of the Norwegian Polar Institute and ski goggles. Insight 1: if the hood does not fit perfectly it is completely useless in the storm. Insight 2: my old ski goggles freeze over so fast that within a minute I am functionally blind. I have to remove them to find back to the helicopter hangar. While checking this the storm pushes me around on the deck slippery deck. I really doubt if anyone wants to work on the ice in these extreme conditions. On the other side I do not know anything about polar research. Neither about polar researchers. It’s me who is the newbie.

25. Feb 11:00 +2h – planning for the storm

Aside: The day before we changed the ship’s time to take better advantage of the daylight. When I write +2h it means our privately shifted time. Otherwise it means „normal“ CET time zone.  If you don’t care, just ignore it.

We have a meeting before lunch. A storm approaches. We will seek shelter between Nordaustlandet, Svalbard’s second-largest island and the island Kvitøya. Conditions are too rough for an ice station. Although all four ship engines are running we hardly make progress. There is no time schedule anymore. We just have to sit it out.

25. Feb 16:20 – the swell wracks the ice

At 15:20 I take a long afternoon nap while Kronprins Haakon struggles through the ice. I have on of the frontmost cabins on deck 3 –the noisiest ones. The icebreaker is rumbling, rattling, grinding, squeaking and doing many more noises that I do not have words for. I lie in my bed and feel the mattress vibrating, shaking, bouncing. And I love it. For me it is like an Arctic lullaby and as mostly I fall fast asleep.

z – z – z – z – z

After an hour I wake up all of a sudden. Something has changed. The ship is slowly and strongly pitching. At the same time noises and vibrations are absent. Are we in open water? What happened!?

I have to compensate the ship’s movements while I walk to the dayroom. I peek through the ice crusted windows. Yes, we are in open water. J. sitting there tells me that 10 minutes ago swell waves. They broke up the ice within minutes and now the ice has disappeared. Impressive and a bit frightening, too.

Now we are amidst the storm with an hourly average of 24.2 m/s, that’s round 87 km/h. The highest wind speed measured in this hour is 32.7 m/s, that’s the exactly beginning of Hurricane force or level 12 on the Beaufort scale.

Although the ship is stabilised it is pitching, rolling, yawing, heaving and a lot of people have started to get seasick. I feel quite ok, but a bit stressed and tired. After a while I decide to lie down for a quarter. Good idea! I feel better again after that.

I’m in the day room again, watching the dark waves through the ice encrusted windows . Sometimes the spray splashes up many metres. No, I won’t enter any outside deck today any longer!

25. Feb 19:24 – crossing the 80th degree of latitude

I wanted to see on the digital nautical chart how we cross the 80th degree of latitude but I miss it by some minutes in time. Soon I go to bed quite curious how the next day may look like.

26. Feb morning – Kvitøya

06:10 – The wind has calmed down and I stand on the helicopter deck (on level 6) again. Open water, a bit of ice and in the distance a pale scheme. The island Kvitøya. It looks like the spray has reached the deck because everything is coated in ice and the ice on the floor is slippery and feels like soap powder.

After the breakfast I try to catch Kvitøya on the Nikon sensor.

The last photos are crap from a technical view (taken at 600 mm ƒ/6.3 in twilight on a moving ship and a travel tripod). Anyhow they show the glacial coast of this Arctic island which I think is very impressive. A pity that the weather was so cloudy.

26. Feb morning – we reach ice again

While I take these photos another thing happens: we reach ice again. First fields of beautifully rounded pancake ice floes, then a few hours later we are in ¹⁰/₁₀ of thick ice again. There Kronprins Haakon can show again that it is an icebreaker.

We have another meeting at 09:00 +2h. We learn that it is more than unsure whether station P4 will have any reliable sea ice to work on. The cruise leader asks: shall we try P5 instead? Yes, all scientists agree. So today we will head to P5 at 80.5 °N 34 °E. That’s only an estimated position. First of all a suitable ice floe has to be found and then this floe will drift on the sea and so change position while ice work is ongoing.

26. Feb 16:00 – checking the ice

Eight hours later. Together with the cruise leader and the captain the ice experts had looked for a suitable ice floe. When they were satisfied the ship stopped and a derrick lowered the ice gangway. Now four people are on the ice. All equipped with survival suits. Two of them carry rifles. We are in the home of the polar bears.

Will I be allowed to enter the sea ice? Perhaps already tomorrow? I doubt it but I’m really longing. I don’t know where this strong relation for the Arctic comes from but it’s definitely there and it grew the last days. And I want to be part of it as much as possible.