Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Icy encounter in Liefdefjorden and Bockfjorden

While MS FRAM penetrates further into the deep-reaching fjordsystem of Woodfjord (one of the many fjords in the north of Spitsbergen facing towards the North Pole), we end at the ‘cul-de-sac’ of Liefdefjord. It hides an artic ‘gem’ of a long-stretched glacier that had already enchanted Albert I, the Duke of Monaco, who gave his name: ‘Monaccobreen’. While cruising in small cruising boats in front of its massive glacier cliff of 6-7 km of length, the human eye is captivated by the splendour and purity of the slow-moving (all relative of course in geological terms) icy riverbeds.

Not far away from the Monaco Glacier there is a geological oddity and attracts our curiosity. Eventually, we get the opportunity to make a landing at the most southerly tip of Bockfjorden. Here, traces of long gone-by volcanic activity can still be found in the geothermal springs of ‘Jotunkjeldane’.

They are connected with the characteristic cone-shape of the nearby Sverrefjellet, that resembles a present-day volcano. In this icy and hostile environment, the springs still maintain a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius. In order to see the whole expense of the springs, all guides form a fence watch-system and give us space enough to indulge in the luxury of being taken for a precious while by the free nature of Svalbard.
The governor’s initiative ‘clean up Svalbard’ has also inspired some of our guests. Some of us are keen on collecting old fisher nets and other rubbish along the shoreline. Finally, we end up sending 4 bags (currently the season’s record!) back to the MV FRAM.

Finally towards the evening we reach ‘Moffen’, the tiny wind-torn island sporting normally a walrus colony above 80 degrees northern latitude. From far beyond this area, we can sense the North Pole (600 nm away from us) somewhere out there in the white ‘nothingness’ of the eternal pack ice.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Exploring the Kongsfjorden and Krossfjorden

The weather is unsurprisingly erratic, the sea appears more tangible today with a light swell coming from Greenland. The low-lying clouds however where pushed away by some patches of sun offering us a unique scenery of the Kongsfjorden. While cruising into the Kongsfjord, the MV FRAM arrives during the morning at Ny-Ålesund, the former coal-mining settlement. This in the world probably most northernly located settlement discontinued its mining activities following a major mining explosion in the 1960s. After this tragic incident, the settlement has been transformed into a world reknown research settlement, focussing on climate change.

We also meet Roald Amundsen – not in person – but this time cast in bronce. The research settlement’s significance is inextricably linked with early Norwegian polar history and still pays homage to its iconic adventurous visitor. Our lecturers guide us through the convoluted history of this settlement.

Eventually we can leave the settlement for a short while and visit the anchoring mast which Amundsen used to fly to the North Pole with the airship called ‘Norge’, before we head out into the Krossfjorden.
Our second landing leads us to the 14th of July Glacier were the ‘sporty’ guests receive a treat in the form of a guided tour up to a side moraine of the glacier frontier. This somewhat strenuous tour showed its immediate reward once the steep ascent was ‘conquered’. Here we can get a better view of the V-shaped crevasses. We could take a glance into the deep blue glacial ice, while our guides explained the intricacies of its physics.
Many others, though, ventured to the western entrance of the fjord to explore a cave called ‘hall of silence’ which mutes the sounds of an adjacent bird cliff.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Exploring Bellsund

Why would ‘Bellsund’ be the name of this third largest fjord-system of Spitsbergen? The answer springs to our minds when the bell-formed mountain formation ‘Klokkefjellet’ passes our sight while entering the southern entrance of the sound. We explore the ‘Vårsolbukta’ and the adjacent buildings of ‘Camp Millar’ (which used to belong to the Northern Exploring Company once upon a time venturing on a futile quest for minerals) at the 'Van Mijenfjord'.  We can enjoy a fantastic view towards the vast expand of this impressive fjord.
What a geological oddity, one would think!: The nearby ‘Van Mijenfjord’ has to deal with the cantancerous eight kilometer long island ‘Akseløya’. This island obstructs the fjord’s entrance almost entirely. Its hardnosed millionyears old flintstones could not be rubbed off by the power of a glacier. Good to know that there is some resistance in this - as some would argue - ‘spineless’ world.
This day, indeed, is a blessing and one could think of the Danish Poet Piet Hein’s saying: “Living is a thing you do either now or never which do you?! And living we did! We continued with our second landing at Van Keulenfjorden to explore the trapper station ‘Bamsebu’, the old trapper and white whale (Beluga) hunting station. Our lungs, like the lungs of Ingvald Svendsen, the old trapper from Tromsø who hunted here Beluga wahles in the 1930s, were filled with the cold arctic air in this magnificient labyrinth of fjords. The majestic ice and snow covered mountain ridge of the adjacent ‘Berzeliustinden’ made us feel humble when walking over its low lying and long-stretched plain. It consisted of soft exposed sedimentary layers hinting at the existence of a prehistoric sea-bottom that had risen above the surface due to the age-old melting of Svalbard’s ice sheet.
We explored further this area with our guides. Few troops of barnacle geese set the scene as they fly at a distance between the glittering mountains and our bespoke travellers on this day. A single reindeer unexpectedly ‘shows off’ and somewhat unimpressed displays some delicate ‘dancing steps’ as if it had waited for our applause throughout the previous icy winter. Now and again an eerie sound from foraging ‘Common Eider’ at a distance break the silence and gives us a feeling of ‘civilised’ comfort. At least we are not alone.
We have seen a lot of arctic fauna and flora today and can retire for the day with a feeling of satisfaction. We settle back to the cosy MS FRAM.

Friday, 27 July 2012

MV FRAM continued to snug along the Western coast line towards the southern most sound (Hornsund) of this artic archipelago. Today we finally encountered the weather change that was predicted for the previous days. On arrival into the Hornsund we were welcomed by low hanging clouds shrouding the mighty Hornsundtind (1431 m).

However, we received a treat by Mother natur:
while landing at Gnålodden the mist covered mountains suddenly lost their veil invoking in us a sincere feeling of awe.
Exploring the easterly expanse of this spectacular scenery, we were able to come at a close hold of a 5km long glacier front at the end of Samarinfjorden. Our geologist on board could inform us about the intricacies of structural elements and movement of glaciers.
The satellite station of the infamous female trapper from Tromsø, Wanny Woldstad, told its story of well-proven hunting activities. One of her eccentric hunting methods included a remote-controlled bell-system of small glass-bottles connected through a rope equipped with a bait of blubber. Repeatedly, the polar bears came and went for the bait. This alarmed Wanny, who shot the polar bears through a hole of the cabin’s wall.

The place name Gnålodden refers to the bird’s unnerving sounds originating from thousands of nests in the bird cliff (Gnålberget). Interestingly, we could witness the awkward flight- paths of young Guillemot chicks. They were introduced through their accompanying parents to their rather accelerated adolescence by plunging several hundreds meters into uncertainty. It is well known that polar foxes and glaucous gulls take advantage of these first flight experiences. However, today we saw only safe landings.

Times of changes

Today Fram’s climate pilgrimage tour came to an end in the harbour of Longyearbyen. The passengers had left with rich memories, and longlasting impressions and newly acquired knowledge on the most recent climate change.
Last but not least many waved farewell to newly made friends.
The ‘house keeping’ team of the MV Fram deserve a fair share of respect for their tremendous job of cleaning to guarantee a tidy ship for the new arriving passengers.
Eventually, in the afternoon, new passengers arrived to embark on new adventures along the coast of Svalbard. Yipee…Fram’s Svalbard season 2012 has thereby started.
Again, Svalbard showed its erratic weather. In the face of predicted sunshine, we encountered only a change in the degree of overcast: the clouds in the Isfjord (Svalbard biggest fjord) were even more low-hanging, than the days before.
The MV FRAM headed in westward direction into new adventures. This time our first stop was Barentsburg, the Russian coalmining settlement in Grønfjorden. After climbing the steep 244 steps of the staircase from the pier to the town centre , local employees of the Russian settlement guided us with stories about the history, mining and general life of Barentsburg.
Barentsburg is changing its appearance. Several buildings are being renovated. Even the hotel received a thorough overhaul. The guided tour ended in the cultural center where local people performed a folklore show with both traditional and modern music and dances.
We left this remote Russian enclave with a melancholic heart and while leaving the Grønfjorden behind in the wake of the MV FRAM we look forward to our future adventures along the southern coast of Svalbard.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

From P to P

 From Polar Bears to Puffins – early this morning 00: 23 Hrs we arrived to Moffen island were we went to attempt to see the walruses.  It was a misty night and early morning at our arrival we barely could see this sand pit island on the thick fog.  However, we knew that was a walrus carcass on the place because a few days ago another vessel spotted a bear eating it, so we were hoping that the bear would still be there.  At our arrival we could see no bears only some Walruses and the thick fog was for short moments lifted but we could not see.  We thought that the bear was already finished with the carcass and we almost gave up but suddenly our chef on the bridge shouted is coming, is coming.  From someplace far from our view at the moment the bear showed up and went directly to the carcass.  We stay in front of the island for about one hour observing how the bear was eating the walrus carcass a sight not to be forgotten.

This evening we visited Skansbukta a small bay below Skansen mountain.  The Skansen mountain is a rookery were thousands of Fulmars breed,and  many Little Auks also the cliffs right above the sea side there were nesting Gillemots, hundreds of Kitiwakes, and a few puffins, which we enjoyed to observe.  On this site as well there are the remains of an old mine of gypsum

There were many early risers today, to enjoy our arrival at Ny-Ålesund, the world’s northernmost international research facility. Twelve nations have stations here, including four Asians and numerous European, and we had the opportunity to walk between their buildings and visit the store and the postoffice, and a famous historic site.

This place was given its name by visitors from the town of Ålesund in western Norway. More than a hundred years ago they picked coal from the ground for use in the ship engines. The Kings Bay Coal Company started mining for the coal in 1917, and the same company today provides the support services for the research stations.
In May 1926 both Richard E. Byrd and Roald Amundsen flew towards the North Pole. Byrd with pilot Floyd Bennett made the world think he made it, while we today know he probably failed. Amundsen started out three days later with the airship Norge, constructed by Umberto Nobile and financed by Lincoln Ellsworth. It was flown from Italy to Ny-Ålesund, and tied up at a mast just outside the settlement, which we could visit today. From here they flew successfully to Alaska, making Roald Amundsen to for sure be the first man both at the South Pole, and above the North Pole.
Walking around we also experienced the Arctic tern, which ferociously protects its nest lying on the ground. The terns fly between Antarctica and Svalbard twice a year, in this way getting two summers annually. We met them again at Gravneset in the evening when we went ashore to look at the remnants of whale hunting nearly 400 years ago. Here they boiled whale blubber to make lamp oil for the wealthy. It was the first oil boom of the Arctic, an industry dominated by the Dutch, who caught perhaps 60 000 whales in a period of more than 100 years. About 1000 died in the process – most from scurvy. 130 of these were buried at Gravneset.

Monday, 23 July 2012


It was quite a foggy morning with a bit of a soft rain.  Our guess scientists that we pick up in Jan Mayen gave a talk on their research on the local seabirds that nest on the island.  We arrived to Longyearbyen at about 5 pm and stay until 9 pm.  At our arrival to port a bus was waiting for us and drove us into town, although some preferred to walk.  In town some went shopping, others to the Svalbard museum and at the Radisson Blue Hotel it was offer a lecture on Longyearbyen and climate.  On the way out we had a wonderful view of the town and our expedition leader pointed out the position of the airport and the location of the World Seed Vault that is very likely that many of us will go to see at our return in a few days from now.

When we managed to land at very isolated Jan Mayen yesterday we were all highly pleased. So back on board, we though the day had had its fill of great experiences. But there was more to come!
First we sailed northwards along the east coast in mist that was gradually clearing, so in the evening we got a good look at the site of the 1970 eruption where lava flowed into the sea forming 4 km² of new land.
 Then midnight approached with new highlights: First the chef announced that he was serving freshly caught cod outside on the upper deck. Three of the ship’s crew had gone fishing while the rest of us went ashore, and they had caught 400 kilograms (900 lbs) of cod, the largest weighing 7 kilos!
And as we stood there enjoying the hot fish, the mist cleared further, and we were warmed by our first midnight sun. The lifting clouds also revealed the Beerenberg volcano rising majestically 2277 m up from sea level. It was immensely beautiful, with glaciers running all the way down from the still active crater to the sea. We felt blessed, given Jan Mayen’s foggy statistics .

The midnight cod dinner and the views meant that many dropped breakfast, but there was good attendance at the numerous lectures that took place all day today. This has been another calm day at sea – we are moving at 14 knots towards Spitsbergen on an ocean with only a small swell, and very light winds.

Saturday, 21 July 2012


 Last night after a fog bank it cleared with wonderful sunlight and pieces of ice showed at sea.  Soon we discovered that we were passing at the edge of the ice pack.  The ice edge is always with much bird life due to the large quantity of sea plankton life and small fish that birds love to eat.

The afternoon was a bit foggy on the early part and when approached to the island of Jan Mayen we were received with soft rain but then surprise did clear nicely.  Historically the first documented discovery of this island was about on the early 1600 by Dutch and English whalers.  The island was declared part of Norway by early 1930, and after the second war a meteorological and a coastal radio station was set up. The radio station is on a constant watch for possible distress signals in the area and over the years has been of great importance. More recently they build a new radio navigation system

On our landing we had the opportunity to visit the weather station, heard a little bit about geology, some of the local breeding birds and look a bit around the general landscape.

Friday, 20 July 2012

A Calm Day at Sea

The second day on board is a time to get used to many new things for those who are first time travelers on Fram – be it safety drills, finding a cabin or lecture rooms, or adjusting to the ship’s motions. Fortunately this voyage has started with calm seas, so it was easy to find one’s sea legs, and as we sailed along the west coast of Iceland into the night the sea got even more and more quiet. Many stayed up late to follow the stark cliffs on starboard side, but eventually we had a few hours of dark night. We will not see such darkness again on this trip!
There are quite a few veterans onboard, as usual, but very few who have been near the island of Jan Mayen. So we follow closely the weather forecast – what will be the sea state tomorrow afternoon when we get there? In the meantime we prepare ourselves: We have found the right size of our rental boots, and have listened to lectures on how to behave in the Arctic, on climate, geology and the polar bear and of course on the island itself.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Departing from Iceland

In Reykjavik the pier is located in the old part of town were modern and complex architecture meets the nice and simple old buildings and were old and new art forms meet.  On this part of town are located several touristic shops ranging from souvenirs to an assorted number of restaurants, coffee shop, book shops, cloth stores  etc.,   places were some got more than one souvenir.  Upon departure we could see

The day was grey with a small drizzle of rain dropping softly on our path.  Along the way on view were many puffins, gulls, Fulmars and even some spotted a few Minky whales   Our next  destination is Jan Mayen on which  we look forward to see.


It was so calm this morning that we could barely feel the motion of the ship. The wind was less than 5 knots and variable. The ocean swell was almost imperceptible. We are grateful to have had such a calm crossing. The Denmark Strait is well known for its ferocious storms. As we approached the coast of Iceland the weather began to change. Grey clouds moved in and by 11:00 it was completely overcast, however the wind stayed down and we had glass-like conditions all of the way to Grundarfjördur.

During the morning we were kept busy attending lectures and briefings on our plans for the day.
 We arrived in the small but beautiful Grundafjördur harbour at 14:00. While we had lost our clear skies the weather was still excellent for the two optional excursions we had planned. Quite a few people chose to explore the pretty fishing town on their own. One large group of people were going on a bus tour which would include the Snaefellsnae park. The glacier Snaefellsjokul is right in the centre of the park. Snaefellsjokul was made famous by Jules Verne as he wrote that it was here that you could find the entrance to the centre of the earth in his famous novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

A second large group of people chose to go on a boat tour of Breidafjördur. The tour was truly amazing as we had excellent views of many seabirds including: Puffins, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Black Guillemots and three magnificent Sea Eagles. We cruised in a veritable labyrinth of small volcanic islands.

 By 19:45 everyone was back on board and at 20:00 we cast off our lines in Grundafjördur harbour and set a course for Reykjavik.
During the evening our ship’s photographer presented a slideshow with images from our entire voyage. It was amazing to review all of the places we have been. Our arrival in Kangerlussuaq Greenland seems like so long ago.

Now it’s time to begin preparations for disembarking Fram in Reykjavik and starting our journey home.