Spring 2007 Expedition Travel log .

group photo_Jonsell.jpgEmilie Beaudon, Ulf jonsell, Veijo Pohjola and John Moore In Kinnvika, Svalbard. Photo: Ulf Jonsell.

In April 2007 John Moore, Emilie Beaudon (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland) and Veijo Pohjola and Ulf Jonsell (University of Uppsala) travelled to Kinnvika. Here are John Moore’s diary and a few of team’s photos from the expedition:

After various journeys to Longyearbeyn, Spitzbergen, we spent several days hurriedly collecting our equipment and buying many new items for the expedition. On 18th of April we were finally ready to go, only to be stopped by bad weather from flying by helicopter. We expected to be delayed at least a couple of days, so found a room at UNIS (beds in Longyearbyen were desperately hard to get) and prepared for a wait.

Surprising news that we could try to fly early in the morning. No time for breakfast, hurried to the airport and loaded our gear.

Left Longyearbyen by Dauphin helicopter at 10.00, arrive at depot left by Lance, 3 km from Kinnvika at 11.05.   Weather cold (-16C) but clear and calm. All gear was ok, though a large polar bear had visited the depot sometime between our arrival and its drop off from Lance 24 hours earlier. We thank Carl Böggild and UNIS for their assistance with setting out the depot.  Moved all gear with our 2 scooter from depot to Kinnvika.

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Bear tracks and the equipment dump as we arrived by helicopter. Photo: John Moore

Moved all science gear inside the big house. Lots of snow outside the door. Opened up the window shutters on the rooms closest to the door.

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Gear outside the main Kinnvika building. Photo: John Moore

Windy and broken overcast, -10C. long day testing and preparing science gear, planning route to the ice front. Emilie and Ulf both have little experience of weapons or climbing, so we spent some hours practicing with the guns and flares, and then prussiking up a rope and descending down it.

Windy and mainly clear, -12C.
Soon after waking Emilie noticed a bear about 500 m away on the sea ice. Soon we were all looking as the bear rapidly approached. We strated our scooters and readied the weapons – the 2 rifles and our banger flares. We did not want the bear to reach the camp as they are always interested in anything new that could be food. So when the bear was about 200 m away Ulf and I rode out to intercept the bear and Emilie and Veijo fired bangers. The bear was quite small, probably a 2-year old and so wasn’t used to humans and was basically not scared at all, but standing up tall on its hind legs for a better view of the curious people. But as we approached to about 100 m the bear decided to turn away from the scooter noise and smell, but constantly stopped and looked behind at us. We really needed to discourage the bear from coming back, so we harried it firing even some rifle shots which made it run a bit, but it was very reluctant to leave the area, so it took us about an hour to drive him a km or so away. When we came back to the base, another much larger bear was approaching the huts, so again we drove quickly to intercept it. This was a much more experienced bear, and so immediately turned tail and hurried off over the sea ice. Perhaps it was the mother of the smaller bear??


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A bear wondering if we are worth the effort. Photo: Emilie Beaudon.

Later we packed and headed off to find a way to the ice edge, about 25 km away. We had no route to follow, and the maps are rather coarse resolution, certainly not showing small streams and gullies. We set off over the smooth sea ice as the more direct route would involve much awkward climbing and route finding – as we were to confirm later. After about 3 km the route passed through a narrow inlet between the main land and one of the many small  islands around Murchison Bay. I was driving the first scooter and Veijo was following towing 2 sledges to my one. Crossing the 100 m wide inlet, I noticed that the scooter was sinking and the ice was very wet – obviously strong currents flowed in the strait, so I quickly veered to the fast ice at the edge. That was the only soft ice stretch we found, and later we saw many bear tracks that followed our route which also avoided the thin ice in that strait.

Other problems we found on the ice included areas of chaotic rafted ice bergs that made traveling slow and very rough – presumably due to ice grounding on shallows and different current driving the ice together. After about 15 km we came to the end of the Bay and had to find a way forward. Severall possibilities were explored, many of which ended in bare rocky ground, steep bluffs, overhanging ice cornices, but finally we found a way up a river bed avoiding canyon stretches by climbing the sides before they got to steep. Until finally we could see the ice edge – after about 4 hours of traveling. The wind was quite strong blowing directly from the ice cap – a katabatic wind that was causing a lot of blowing snow in the air, and many bare stony areas on the ground, exactly the opposite of desirable. We realized that we would not be able to do any work on the ice in these conditions, so we left much of our gear on rocky ground at the front of the steep ice edge and went home.

Calmer and clearer, only -5C. Today we hoped to make our camp on the summit of Vestfonna, but we also had a back-up plan of installing an Automatic Weather Station (AWS) only a few km from the ice edge.  Using our knowledge of the route gained yesterday, we were able to drive fairly smoothly to the ice edge, hampered only by very strong katabatics which made visibility very poor near the edge and resulting in a lot of stony driving – obviously not great for sledges or scooters, but as the ground is totally barren, not at all environmentally damaging. We soon realized that making camp was probably not going to happen as in addition to the strong wind, the ice cap was clearly in cloud. So we installed a GPS station at the rocky margin of the ice and drilled in several 6 m long stakes that will measure summer melting on the ice cap. Finally we (mostly Ulf) set up the AWS about 2 km from the margin where the ice is about 300 m thick. The AWS measures wind speed and direction, air and snow and ice temperatures (in a 10 m deep hole), snow fall, and in-coming and out-going radiation. Its quite a long job to install, and we finished at midnight, having a poor lunch of luke-warm thermos water and instant food, but a good dinner of re-heated water and instant food. It’s amazing the difference between eating food which is at 10C, and eating the same food at 50C.

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Ulf at the AWS station. Photo: Emilie Beaudon.

Clearer, but very variable cloud amounts sometimes even fog, -12C. After arriving back at 2 am, we got up at 10 and had a big breakfast and lots of drinks to re-hydrate ourselves and re-charge our batteries, along with those of the GPS and other science stuff. Heated the sauna hut and charged a lot of batteries inside, which is more effective tat trying to charge cold batteries. Blew up the charger for the GPS batteries (pvc cable is useless in the cold and cracks made a short-circuit). Just getting ready for bed when a bear came ashore near the huts. We all went outside and watched it carefully, but it showed no interest in the huts, instead it wondered around the shoreline, maybe checking for seals. We drove after it and followed its tracks, when it came to about 50 m from the furthest hut it turned a sharp 90 degree bend and walked back to the sea ice, maybe it know the huts were a bad thing for itself. Bed at 10.30, but still seemed like a very short day.

Snowing. Late rise and lazy day. Drying clothes in sauna.

Still snowing. Late rise and lazy day. Drying clothes in sauna.


laptop sauna_Beaudon.jpgUlf, Veijo and John in sauna. Photo: Emilie Beaudon.

Nice weather, mid-level clouds, but want to try to get to the ice. Crossing sea ice saw 5 seals at their holes, lots of bear and reindeer prints on the snow. Usual trouble crossing the stones near the ice edge. Set up the base station GPS on the trip at the dump. Traveled up to western summit in worsening visibility, rising winds, but reasonable contrast. Passed by the Russian 1981 drilling site and the crossed onto the main summit ridge of Vestfonna – the ridge runs about 25 km along the main axis of the ice cap from west to east. Not many views in the cloud and heavy riming condition that turned out clothes and hats white with frost. Made a camp at the western summit – or as near as we could tell to the summit in the conditions. Bed at about midnight.

Bad weather, lots of drifting snow, but we are full of enthusiasm to finally begin work on the ice. We dug our first pit down to the ice layer that we call the summer 2006 surface at 1.8 m depth. The snow is quite wind packed and hard to dig, dew ice layers and not much depth hoar. Near the bottom of the pit the grains are very large, really icy firn made in the autumn, or in warm days with summer surface melting after the summer. Could not sample the pit or do any drilling in the conditions, so went back to the tents for a lie-up day.

The winds dropped about 6am and the day began brightly and cold (-19C). The Pit has drifted up with snow, but it was soft and only took an hour to dig out again. Emilie then sampled her first snow pit in full chemical clean suit, at  cm resolution. It took a long time to take the samples. Then we began drilling using an elctro-mechanical drill, slow progress in ice, quite fast in firn. We drilled 10 m from the bottom of the pit, making 12 m from the surface. The ice core was quite warm at 10 m depth as the temperature inside the ice increases due to the energy released by water as it freezes in the surface layers. Below 10 m the ice was much softer being more like firn, and reflects the difference in conditions over the last 20 years, with more summer melting occurring now turning more of the snow pack into solid ice than it did 20 years ago. We hope that we reached the depth where the Chernobyl radioactive layer is, so that we can date the ice core reliably, otherwise we just count the cycles in concentrations of chemicals and water isotopes.


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Drilling holes for ablation and ice velocity stakes. Photo: Emilie Beaudon.

Clear, cold and light winds, -15C. Traveled 25 km along the ridge to the Eastern summit. Nice views down to both south and north sides of Vestfonna, and at the eastern end a view across to Austfonna. The long summit ridge has several tops that are within a few metres of height from each other – about 610 m. The Japanese 1995 coring site is just a little to the north of the ridge, but the whole area is very flat for several km. Dug down to the summer surface at the high point of the eastern summit (as determined by Garmin 276 GPS), 1.9 m, similar to western pit. But snow structure was quite different. This pit has lots of depth hoar and more ice layers that Pit 1.

Sampling for chemistry_Pohjola.jpgSampling for chemistry in Pit 1. Photo: Veijo Pohjola.

 Drilled from the bottom of the pit about 4 m. Veijo and Ulf did 6 GPS stakes to 4 m depth and picked us up at 18.00. We noticed that some clouds were coming in from the west and as we had used all our fuel in jerry cans there was little more surveying we could do, so we decided to pack up and drive back to Kinnvika. Emilie and I had not eaten since breakfast, so it was a very busy time making some quick food, packing all gear and driving off. Winds became extremely strong nearer the dump at the edge of the ice, lots of drifting snow, but visibility above 10 m height was good, and a really beautiful low sun in the clouds made for interesting driving over the ice.

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Low sun over the ice. Photo: John Moore.

At the dump winds were hurricane strength. We had to take a jerry of fuel and leave 2 sledges of the 5 we took from the camp and take down the GPS base station we had put up on 26/4. even doing these simple things was really a difficult ask in the conditions. Veijo then led the way over the first few km in atrocious visibility – even the wind behind us made our goggles icy and meant that finding the very twisty route over the moraine was only possible thanks to the GPS and a lot of good driving from Veijo. I then drove over the sea ice for the next 15 km. no problems until level with Celciusberget where the ice became very wet, drove some melt pools and heading at top speed to the shore line – which was about 650 m away and was pretty exciting! Followed the shore for the rest of the route, up and down tide cracks. Clearly there must have been warm conditions while were on the ice.

Snowing light winds, poor contrast. Arrived back 02.30. slept badly. Veijo celebrated a bit of Vappu. Woke at noon, ate and heated sauna to download data from GPS and re-charge batteries. Watched Casino Royale and went to bed at midnight.

Grey overcast but calm and no snow. Lots of fresh snow everywhere, only -5C. Problem in doing GPS ties to fixed point to west of square pointed roof hut – fixed point is wooden post with 3 bolts in triangle pattern on top. Hiper GPS does not record files. Other GPS (122) seems to have small problem, but worked after some time heating next to stove – so may be humidity from sauna charging last night. Could only put the legan antenna on one of the bolts (furthest inland one), so centre is about 3 cm north of true fixed point.

Went to small sealer hut 3 km from Kinnvika, very small place built 1972, not very interesting except for weekly Norwegian journal with interesting fashions and reviews of Hendrix, Franklin, Dean Martin etc etc. Checked out Drikkevatnet, not very flat surface – maybe frozen to bed. Veijo and Ulf tried ice skating with little success due to large Sorrel boots rather than proper equipment.


Veijo on ice. Photo: Ulf Jonsell.

Low overcast, poor contrast, light snow occasionally, -5C. Reconnoitered the route to the north avoiding any sea ice. Found a good way keeping low and avoiding any passes over the hilly peninsula. The distance is about 37 km to the ice nearby South Franklinbreen (Weasel Lobe).

Better weather, bright and sunny, cooler, -15C. Did 250 km, lots of kinematic GPS to Summit Gotia. Placed and GPSed many stakes. Back at 3 am, -15C.

Cold, -13C. Recharging batteries and processing data in sauna.

Mixed weather, occasional bright but mostly thin stratus or fog. Tied base station at hut to Kinnberget (good bolt marker). Sorted a lot of equipment into piles of camping gear to leave for the summer ship (to be stored in  less mouldy house), science gear to be kept in one of the big house bedrooms, and helicopter gear.

Kinnvika from the  Kinnberget astronomical fixed point_Beaudon.jpgKinnvika from the  Kinnberget astronomical fixed point. Photo: Emilie Beaudon.

Sunny but partly cloudy. Final day on Vestfonna. Tried to reach the northern ridge, but was very poor visibility above 400 m, quite windy and -15C at AWS. Put some stakes in along western ridge to Summit Gotia. Density profiled and sampled Pit 1 for isotopes. Went along ice edge from GPS bases station at the Dump site to Weasel Lobe. Near the Dump found an old cairn with some 4 m long aluminium poles, some Swedish ski wax, 2 very rusty iron barrels and some wire or string (so fragile it was hard to be sure which). Stuff was pretty old 1960s?On way back weather was windier and black clouds from north over open water made for grim trip in nil contrast. Arrived back at 10.30 pm, so quite relieved not to be very late as would have been if we had tried the Northern sites. Weather is warmer with southeasterly winds (-12C)

Old dump_Moore.jpg
Old dump with rusting barrel and lots of ski wax. Photo: John Moore.

Windy, but bright, -9C. Packing gear, downloading and charging batteries, drying tents.
Helicopter booked for 8 has technical problems and now can ony come on 9. so re-booked flights, guest house, transport to kilpisjarvi, accommodation for Thursday 10 leaving.

Fine weather, sunny, windy. Closed up big hose completed packing. Weather started to turn in evening, wind from south east and clouds coming.

Cloudy, snow showers, warm -4. thin cloud so moderate contrast but limited visibility, so frustrating giving hourly weather reports to Airlift and agonizing over if to risk asking for helicopter at our expense (2.5 keuro/hour) for a failure is not very affordable. Finally given up at 13.00 due to severe icing conditions.

Windy but mid-level clouds, -2C. Helicopter came at 9.30. arrive Longyearbyen 10.45. nice flight, scenic. Left ice boxes at NP freezer. Caught 14.55 plane to Tromso. Met a friend who drove to Kilpisjärvi, arrived 19.00 (Finnish time), stored ice in freezer at biological station overnight.


Maps & additional information:


Image of Svalbard_Nasa.jpg

Map of Svalbard. The red boxed area shows the area of Nordaustlandet containing Vestfonna and Murchison Bay shown in more detail in following figures. Image from NASA (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/).

Vestfonna routes zoomed.jpg
Map showing Vestfonna and the routes traveled (violet). Survey stakes are shown by letters and numbered (e.g. R1, A5, U3 etc). Pits 1 and 2 mark the coring and drilling sites for detailed isotopic and chemistry measurements. GPSBASE marks the site of the rock base station and cairn, and site of the old equipment dump. RUS1981 shows the site of ice coring done in 1981, and Jap1995 the drill site used in 1995.


Zoomed in showing the routes used to the ice and the ablation stakes around the AWS site. Skull and crossbones mark areas of potential danger (depending on conditions).


Vestfonna temperature and wind.jpg

Temperature and wind plot from automatic weather station.


Ulf Jonsell’s Gallery from the trip.


List of Activities:
31 stakes planted (4m and 6 m long)
2 ice cores (12 m and 6 m)
3 snow pits (to summer2006  surface, density, chemistry and isotopic sampling)
2 new routes from Kinnvika to ice edge
AWS installed 2 km from ice edge in ablation area close to equilibrium line
Mini-AWS installed at Pit1 to measure air-temperature
200 km of kinematic GPS over summit areas of Vestfonna
2200 km of scooter travel @ 4 km/litre
Danish remote sensing radar ice depth and altimetry flights (linked to Damocles)

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