Travel log, slide show and photo album from the 2005 expedition.
Read more about the expedition from the press release.
We leave Longyearbyen at midday on board the small charter boat “MS Farm”. Our destination is at the Northeast corner of the Svalbard, in Nordaustlandet. The weather is cloudy, wind is from the southeast and the temperature is + 1˚ C. On the way to Kinnvika we make detailed plans of the work schedule because the time that we can spend at the station is short and must be used effectively. The purpose of the expedition is to find out how much the station needs repairing and the logistics for the research.
The “Farm” continued making steady progress though the night (which of course was quite light enough to see the sea clearly), with Captain Stig taking some hours to sleep while the boat was helmed by Juha Flinkmann from the Finnish Marine Research Institute. Our film cameraman Marko Pulkkinen from YLE spends a lot of time filming the landscape, especially when 5 polar bears (3 adults and 2 cubs) are seen, appropriately enough in Bjørnfjorden on the northwest tip of Spitzbergen.
We later pass close to Moffen island where a group of Walrusses make a stately photogenic group.
We arrive at Kinnvika in the early hours of the morning. The weather is beautiful and the sea calm. After a good nights rest at anchor in Murchison Fjorden we visit the station using a Zodiac rubber boat.
The huts are in generally excellent condition. We are surprised that they seem to have lasted the 50 years since they were built very well indeed – testament to the design and building skill and hard work that the expedition put in. Much of the original expedition equipment is still in the huts: old tea cups and plates, even old bags of sugar and flour. However we are disappointed on close inspection of the main house to see that there is extensive mould present on all the upper walls and ceilings. Many of the smaller buildings have been maintained at over the years by Sysselmannen (the Svalbard govenor’s office), and so are in quite good condition. These buildings, explains Elisabeth Isaksson from Norwegian Polar Institute, have been occasionally used by small scientific groups, such as polar bear researchers.
Inside several huts, graffiti on the walls, records the of the occasional visitors, including some from the original expedition, who have re-visited the site over the last 50 years.
The landscape is high polar desert, but there are plants and some 25 kinds of mosses have been observed near the station. Indeed the area closest to shore is quite rich in vegetation, but that soon gives way to bare land covered with frost-shattered proterozoic stromatolites, more than 1 billion years old. This landscape seem quite empty of life, but there are green stains to be seen along the narrow and short drainage channels where the scattered permanent snow patches and glacierets.
The sweet water supply for the station came from a small lake about 2 km form the station. This was a very important resource for us to investigate, and we walked along the slight traces of an old vehicle track that was used to supply the drinking water to the station. The track itself is remarkably subtle considering the heavy tracked “Weasel” that was used (and which still remains near the shore). This is good news as it means that the area is not likely to be heavily disturbed by our planned activities around the station. Indeed once above the mossy terrain near the shore, the bare permafrost shows only evidence of the track in occasional changes to the type of patterned ground seen. The lake itself is plenty large enough to supply the base, and the water is very clean looking with no green vegetation at all around, but the water may be quite stagnant, there being no clear outflow and being supplied by the local melting snow patches. However, it tasted fine, and we brought a sample home for chemical analysis.
Paula, Juha, Mika and Marko decide to spend the night in one of the huts, using some of the drift wood (originally from Siberian forests) to fuel the stove. A pleasant night was had, despite the snoring…
We split into 2 groups. One team of glaciologists, (John Moore, Veijo Pohjola and Elisabeth Isaksson) reconnoitring the route from the station to the Vestfonna ice cap, where most of the spring research will be done. We plan on drilling an ice core and surveying the glacier flow and internal structure using precise GPS and radar. To do this we need a good access route onto the glacier, which we examine by climbing the small hill near the station. The view is excellent and we could clearly see the whole 20 km onto the ice cap, and we tried to see the routes chosen by the 1957 expedition. The best access appears to be to using sea ice in Murchison Fjorden (which stays well into summer as the bay is shallow with many islands), and then continue across the low hills up onto the ice cap. No serious crevassing or tricky travel areas were seen.
Polar bear skulls and animal bones are scattered around showing that the area does possess animal life, even reindeer are found, (though we did not see any ourselves). The sea is incredibly rich in life. We saw a group of 50-60 seals feeding a group 500 m off-shore, and the anchor when pulled up had about 2 m3 of sea weed on it. But the water is crystal clear.
The other team, led by Urban Wråkberg, head off in the Buster to examine a historical site on Nordre Russøya that is planned to be part of the Kinnvika humanistic research programme. It is the remains of an old Russian hut where Pomor trappers and their families from the White Sea region used to stay during the 18th century. An old orthodox cross is still standing on the island as a mark for sea farers and as thanksgiving after surviving a long dark wintering in total isolation at this desolate place rich in Arctic Fox and Polar Bears. The Kinnvika site will also be studied as part of the programme in history of science, including remains such as the station’s old dump.
In the evening we return to the “Farm” and hear radio reports of approaching bed weather from the northwest. While we are sheltered in the bay, it would be troublesome to travel westward to our visit historic sites Mosselbukta. We therefore decide to leave around 10 pm with the aim of reaching more sheltered fjords in northern Spitzbergen before the weather arrives.
Travelling in increasing seas, we press on past the northern fjords, and decide that as a small storm is now forecast, that it would be good to make for the very sheltered Krossfjorden. Once again conditions are quite clam inside the fjord where there are the remains of a WW2 era German meteorological station. We anchor in the evening in a nice sheltered bay and sleep soundly.
We visit the remains of the old station in a gathering snow storm. Great care was taken to avoid damaging the site, we did not touch any of the remaining items which must be very fragile by now, and took care not to walk in any areas where there may be any pieces of the station covered by the recent snow. The plan of visiting a higher station is abandoned unceremoniously as the snow is getting harder. The storm conditions are getting worse and we decide to leave the Fjord as there is a possibility of ice drifting into the small sheltered bay that we are in. So we head for the safer landing of the large research facility at Ny Ålesund. Tying up the boat and getting ashore from the boat was not the easiest manoeuvre to make in the swell. Coincidentally it’s a Saturday night, so we contemplate a pleasant evening in the bar…
The day was spent relaxing around Ny Ålesund, checking the cricket scores and waiting for the weather to abate somewhat. It duly obliges around 9 pm and we leave for the 16 hour long, and somewhat turbulent journey, that takes us back to an almost wintery Longyearbyen.
JM 16 9 05
A nice slide show of the trip made by Urban Wråkberg can be viewed here (broadband connection needed)