Arctica/Svalbard Expedition: Arthur van Rhee: July 25 - August 6 2008
Technical information: you can click on certain locations. This will open a new window with a map of Svalbard with a mark where you can find this location.|
These are the live messages which I sent by email (public terminal or satellite) during my Arctica/Svalbard expedition July 25 - August 6 2008. These messages were published (in Dutch) directly on my Svalbard blog. Pictures and movies I have added later. This is basicly a summery of those messages. There is of course much more to be seen of Svalbard than what you see here on this site. The expedition group were 45 people from 9 different countries, without staff or other personnel. Such a small group gave us the chance to go on land quickly. Bigger groups take more time to land and have shorter periods on land. We were about 2 hours on land. We also had successful zodiac cruises.
Warning: Polar Bears
A word of thanksFirst I want to thank Beluga Expeditions (http://www.belugareizen.nl/) again for the fantastic amount of information and help I received about the Arctic and the possible expeditions during my preparation. It is the second time Beluga has spoiled me. Beluga took care of my wonderful Antarctica expedition I did in January 2007.
I also want to thank the Quarck Expeditions staff for their fantastic guidance: Brandon Harvey (Expedition Leader), Jamie Watts (Biologist), Jill Baxter (Geologist), Phil Wickens (Historian), Tim Thomas (Kajak Master), Mariano Curiel (Kajak Support Guide) Sean Keogh (Schip's Physician) And of course I want to thank Captain Ruslan Zaynigabdinov, his officers and the crew of the Akademik Shokalskiy for a safe passage and a fantastic journey. This is the second time the Akademik Shokalskiy brought me to places I have been dreaming of a long time. Thank you all expedition members: Eric, Elsbeth, Jayne, Graham, Jeanette, Joyce, Amanda, Janice, Sophia, Anne, Jeannette, Urs, Ruth, Lois, Raymond, Alison, Wang La, Alberto, Barbara, Stephen, Gary, Simon, Beryl, Peter, Remco, Stephen, Gill, Alessia, Inga, Alied, Graham, Margaret, Jan, Luek, Cindy, Herman, Ann, Cheryl, Gebiena, Mark, Nick en Katharina and special thanks to my cabin mates Goran and Ashok.
My extreme thanks goes to Brandon Harvey (Expedition Leader) himself. It is for the second time he guided me on an expedition in the polar areas. Travel safe and well my friend. Never say never...
And now onward with the journey...
Longyearbyen: July 25-26 2008
Svalbard from the air
After spending a night in the Hundreogto 102 hotel in Longyearbyen I organised an individual expolring hike in Longyearbyen. The most northerly supermarket of the world was very popular as was the Svalbard Museum, but also the entire environment.
Hundreogto 102After almost a full day of local research, I was ready to go aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy.
There was an introduction of the staff, the Captain and some of his officers, followed by the "lifeboat Drill".
Brepollen, Hornsund: July 27 2008
The weather: Clear
Temp: 6°C (42°F)
Some words about the expeditionmembers. We are 45 from 9 different countries. Most are from the UK. I am the only Belgian. Remarkable is that one of the expeditionmembers is someone who worked for years for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on Antarctica. A large part of the expeditionmembers (including myself) already have been to Antarctica. It seems this is an experienced group. That speeds up certain procedures of course. Because of safety reasons we have been divided in smaller groups. There is also a group of kayakkers. And now the business of the day.
Hornsund is the most southern fjord of Svalbard. There are 8 glaciers coming into the fjord. This is a beautiful scenery, with icebergs of all shapes, mighty glaciers and tracks made by polar bears. In the afternoon we did a zodiac cruise. We saw some glaciers kalving large pieces of ice and again tracks of a polar bear. When the fog appeared, it was clear a GPS was necessary.
Lecture by the expedition biologist: "Birds around Svalbard".
Kap Lee, Edgeoya: July 28 2008
Kap Lee, Edgeoya
Location: Kap Lee, Edgeoya-Freemannsundet
WGS84: 78°05N - 20°45E
The weather: Clear and sunny (usually there is a lot of fog here)
Temp: 4,6°C (40°F), 1021,2Hp
This is the 3rd day we are on Svalbard, among 2 on our way. This morning we followed the coast of Edgeoya up to the entrance of the Freemannsundet. Edgeoya is the island of the Svalbard that is the most south east and with its 5030 square kilometer (1940 square miles) it is the third biggest in size of Svalbard. Edgeoya is best known for the Soraust Svalbard Nature Reserve. The Freemannsundet is the small channel between Edgeoya and Barentsoya.
Polar Bear1. Zodiac cruise
A zodiac is perfect to cruise along the coast to do exploration. This way we do not interfere with nature to much and we can study wildlife in a safe way. During the zodaic cruise today we have first seen reindeer en geese. When there was a polar bear alert on the land we hurried to the place where the polar bear had been seen. This was of course important for the group on land (safety). Two reasons: first we could keep an eye on the polar bear to see which direction he was going, and second because we wanted to see a polar bear in the wild of course. A polar bear is a magnificant animal.
2. On land
WalrusOn land we have visited a walrus colony. Very carefully... But the most of the about 40 walrus were just sitting or lying in the sun. Only about ten of them were swimming in the ocean. We took beautiful pictures. A bit further there was a large field with saxifrafa growing between a large amount of bones.
In the Olgastretet we saw lots of sea ice. This is frozen seawater and not ice that comes from glaciers.
Lecture by the expedition historian: "History of Svalbard".
Alkefjellet, Hinlopenstretet, Sorgfjorden, 80°NB, Khlebnikov: July 29 2008
Alkefjellet, Hinlopenstretet, Sorgfjorden, 80°NB, Khlebnikov
The weather: First clear, but after that fog
Temp: 4,0°C (39°F), 1013,7Hp
It was a busy day today, Tuesday July 29. We have been taking a look at Alkefjellet. They call it "Mount Gillemot". There are about 60 thousand gillemots nesting here. Unbelieveable site. It is as if the rocks are made for the gillemots. They are about 100 meters high and didn't seem to end. Everywhere there were gillemots flying with food for their chicks. It looked like a swarm. But gillemots also have enemies... Glaucous gulls...
Sorgfjorden kustLocation: Sorgfjorden
The weather: cloudy
Temp: 4,0°C (39°F), 1015,4Hp
After our visit to Alkefjellet we went through the Hinlopenstretet to Sorgfjorden. In between there was a lecture of our expedition geologist about the different forms of ice. Deep in the Sorgfjorden we went on land. This was and will be the most northerly location we have been on land (79°54N, 1127km/700 miles from the North Pole). Artic terns, our first Arctic fox, reindeer, but mainly flowers and plants as the moss campion, spiderplant and different saxifrages. It is incredible that there are such beautiful flowers in this uninhabitable part of the world. In the project "Clean Up Svalbard" we cleaned up a large piece of the coast. This is not about garbage left there by tourists, but all kinds of things on the shore brought there by the sea flow. Garbage as bottles, fishnets, plastic, etc, are brought here by the Arctic sea flow, just like the large amount of wood that is brought from Siberia by the same sea flow. So we made ourselves useful. I have taken a large fishnet also because I wanted to know how it feels to drag a sledge trhough the Arctic. It was tiring but it was worth it... and for a good cause.
Meest noordelijke punt
Kapitan KhlebnikovLocation: 80°NB
18.02 we have crossed the 80° north. Everyone on the bridge of the Akademik Shokalskiy, and of course in the bar for a party. 20.25 we had a rendez-vous with the Kapitan Khlebnikov a large icebreaker with two helicopters aboard. Equipment from the Shokalskiy was picked up by the staff of the Khlebnikov. It was a spectacular meeting in the Arctic ice. The expeditionmembers of both ships greeted eachother and took pictures of eachother. This was also the most northern position we have reached during this expedition (80°14'N-16°06'E), 1085km (674.33 miles = 585.85 nautical miles) from the North Pole. The meeting with the Khlebnikov took about 20 minutes. After that the Khlebnikov went west and we (Shokalskiy) went south.
Nordaustlandet: July 30 2008
Location: coast Nordaustlandet
The weather: cloudy
Temp: 3°C (37°F), 1018,9Hp
The most part of Nordaustlandet is a glacier. We sailed along the coast with the Shokalskiy. We had a beautiful view on the 50m (165ft) high, 150km (93 miles) long wall of ice. It didn't seem to have an end. Very far away in the south we had a glimp of Kong Karls Land. With the huge wall of ice of course there were icebergs. The Shokalskiy didn't have any problems with them. We went further in the Erik Eriksenstretet towards Kvitoya Island. De large amount of icbergs in all shapes and even shining blue were good targets for pictures.
In the meantime there was a lecture by our expedition biologist about the Arctic food chain.
In the afternoon most of us took some rest. These are tiring days... We made good progress. We are on scedule. The ice that could slow us down had been blown aside/away by the wind. If this continues like this, we could be in a good position to see the eclipse. But this is the Arctic so the weather the ice and everything else is unpredictable and can change in an hour. To see the eclipse it has to be a clear day...
There was also a lecture by the expedition historian about the exploration of East-Svalbard.
Kvitoya: July 31 2008
Stuck in the ice
And the it happened...
At 79°59'N-32°11'E thursdaynight at 00.07 we were stuck in the ice. Of course this was a kind of adventure for the expedition members, but it was less lucky for the captain and the crew. There was of course also the danger of being stuck for a long time. But the Shokalskiy proved again that she is a solid ship. At 00.12 we were already moving again. At 00.17 the captain had gotten the ship out of the ice already. Well done. Spasiba.
Day: July 31 2008. Due to technical difficulties this message is sent later
Location: Kvitoya Island
The weather: Cloudy but good visibility
Temp: 0°C (32°F), 1017,5Hp
Kvitoya is the most easterly island of Svalbard. The island is about 700 square kilometres (270 square miles) and is covered by ice for 99%. It is exceptional that an expedition goes this far east. Most of the time the sea between Svalbard and Kvitoya is covered with ice. On our way we saw walrus, even mother and calf on her back. There was a lecture by the expedition geologist about sea ice.
For the eclipse Kvitoya was the "point of no return". A decision had to be made whether we would do the extra 500 nautical miles to come in a good position to see the eclipse. 12.52 was the decision official. We would not go, because of the bad weather conditions we would most likely not see anything of the eclipse anyway.
First polar bear on the iceAfter the lecture of our expedition biologist about seals and polar bears we were welcomed on the ice... 17.45. If you speak of the devil. A big polar bear was hunting on the ice. Apparently we were interesting enough for it to come closer. It was fantastic. He came very close. Lots of pictures were taken here.
After the visit of the polar bear I concentrated on the kittywakes who had been following the Shokalskiy the entire day. When the Shokalskiy broke the ice, lots of fish, living beneath the ice suddenly lose their safe cover. It is as if the birds know this and they ate really good.
Sleeping polar bear on the iceWe went by the north side of Kong Karls Land, slowly but firm through the ice, back to the west. With 24 hours of light there is of course a lot to see. 22.30, another polar bear, younger this time was very curious about what we were doing there. He seemed to pose for us. It was unbilievable. It walked a little bit further away, made a hole, layed down and started his sleep. There were no words for this. Incredible...
Kong Karls Land: August 1 2008
Kong Karls Land
Location: North of Kong Karls Land
The weather: lightly clouded, very good visibility
Temp: 4° (39°F), 1018,3Hp
We have been surprised by the Ice. The wind and sea flow brought the ice from the south. We are completely surrounded. This is an expedition and this is what happened by the early explorers who came here. The ice is about 1m-1,5m (3ft-5ft) thick. The Shokalskiy can go through but slowly. We don't want to be stuck here for ever.
Polar bears are phenomenal animals. An advantage of being stuck in the ice was that during the day curious polar bears came closer to have a look at us. One of them came even closer than 10m (32ft). A few others we could only see with binoculars. Between te kittwakes there were only a few pomarine skuas. That is a bird not very common in this area.
In between there were lectures by the expedition biologist about the differences between north pole area and south pole area, a lecture by the expedition historian about the exploration of the North West Passage and by the kayakmaster about the history of the kayak. The last one was interupted because of a polar bear alert. A polar bear had appeared out of nowhere. It came very close, but when the engines of the Shokalskiy were started up again, it lost interest and we went seperate ways. But there was also some news about the ice itself. There was open seawater north of our position and we had set course to it.
Movies: getting out of the ice
Barentsoya, Edgeoya, Freemannsundet, Diskobukta: August 2 2008
Location: coast Barentsoya
The weather: sunny, clear
Temp: 5°C (41°F),1019,0Hp
Finally I have had a good sleep this night (6 hours). The day started wonderful with a clear sunny sky. We had a great view on the coast of Barentsoya with icebergs of all shapes passing by. There was a lecture by the expedition historian about the "conquering of the North Pole". We have seen more than 10 polar bears at this time. They live alone. But now we saw a mother polar bear and her young on the ice. That was the first time.
The weather: sunny, clear
Temp: 2°C (35°F) ,1018Hp
The Freemannsundet is beautiful as ever. Beautiful light, floating icebergs and even some reindeer on the coast.
The weather: sunny, clear
Temp: 9°C (48°F),1018,8Hp
There didn't seem that the beautiful wheater would end. On Diskobukta (disko=duck) are 6 thousand kittiwakes nesting in a canyon. On the coast there were bones of whales from the time of the whale hunt in the beginning of the 17th century. But there are whale bones which are much older, which have been there for more than 4 thousand years. On land are knotweed, snow buttercup and mountain avens, among others.
We are on our way to Hansbreen. Some have seen some whales, but they disappeared as fast as they appeared. So I missed them. Hopefully more luck tomorrow.
Hornsund, Hansbreen, Bellsund: August 3 2008
The weather: First fog, but later sunny and clear
Temp: 4°C (39°F), 1018,8Hp
The Polish research station we did not visit. First we explored the coast with the zodiac. The strange looking rocks and coast looked like a geological miracle. We had a good view on the puffins, eiders, kittywakes and purple strandpipers. In the bay we examined the icebergs. At one moment we stopped, kept quite and enjoyed the silence and the beautiful view of the icebergs.
The glacier at Hansbreen itself gave us a great view despite the fog in the bay and higher up the glacier. It is incredible that plants can live here.
We also attended a lecture by the expedition biologist about dolphins and whales, because some whales had been seen recently.
Locatie: Bellsund, Bamsebu
The weather: fog, average visibility
Temp: 3°C (37°F), 1018,7Hp
Bamsebu is an historic place, with remains of whales, but most important a huge amount of whale bones from the time of the whale hunts and the huts used by these whale hunters. Lots of plants grow here. It is still strange to walk on the tundra. It is like a sponge...
This was the last message I could post live on my Svalbard blog as the computer systems would be shut down. The next messages have been posted later in Tromso.
Alkhornet, Trygghamna: August 4 2008
This message was added a day later in Tromso
The weather: fog, about 1km (0.6 miles)visibility
Temp: 6°C (42°F), 1015,4Hp
This morning we were welcomed by about 200 northern fulmars. But the land was waiting to be explored. We had to move forward. The tundra is wonderful to walk. Reindeers had their pictures taken easily, like always, but the beautiful green invited us to sit down. We saw some plants we had not seen before like Svalbard poppy and knodding lychnis.
The weather: cloudy, clear
Temp: 9°C (48°F), 1014,7Hp
As usual we explored the area with the zodiac. There was a kittiwake colony, an arctic tern colony and even an eider colony on the rocks. On land we had some geological lessons. It is unbelievable how many different types of rocks there are. These were all sediments of the once might glacier which was now retreating at about 100m (330ft) every year.
After our little walk we took the zodiac and that was a good choice. We saw a bearded seal and a common seal which entertained us for at least 15 minutes. Then it was time to go back to the Shokalskiy, which would bring us back to Longyearbyen.
Longyearbyen, Tromso: August 5 2008
The weather: sunny, clear
Temp: 9°C (48°F), 1014,8Hp
This morning we disembarked and said our good-byes to the Akademik Shokalskiy. This was my second voyage with the Shokalskiy and I can only whish "my loyal friend" the best. Brandon Harvey too was my expedition leader for the second time and I wished him more beautiful journeys in the polar areas. We said good-bye with a big "hug". Who knows, we might see eachother again...
The expedition team also said good-bye to eachother. Some stayed in Longyearbyen, but most already had a flight to Tromso that afternoon.
The weather: sunny, clear
Temp: 16°C (60°F), 1011,3Hp
Some of us slept in the same hotel, but most expedition members traveled home. I will go home tomorrow. Some others stay in Tromso for a few more days. Officially I will leave the Northpole area tomorrow. Tromso is the fifth biggest city of Norway with 65 thousand people. That seems to be a little strange as Tromso is up far north (69°39'N). After the summer vacation there will be 7 thousand students as well in Tromso, who study at the university of Tromso. With a mild -5°C (23°F) to -10°C (14°F) there is no real hard winter in Tromso. And if you see what a beautiful location this is... Today is August 5. After a longer period of 24 hours of light, this will be my first real night, although the night will be short from 22.54 to 02.45. Although I must say that 24 hours of light allows one to see a lot. I am certainly planning to come back here to the high north. We just had a talk about what was the most beautiful moment of the expedition. Everything. If I could, I would go back again tomorrow...
This is where I close my Arctic adventure. Tomorrow I will get home again, totally exhausted. Here in Tromso I am adding pictures to the messages on my Svalbard blog which I sent live from the Arctic, using the broad band internet connection. When I get home I have around 2400 pictures and movies to enjoy. (Note: This has happened already). You can read more about it on my Antarctica/Arctica blog and my Svalbard blog.
AnimalsThe following animals I have seen during the expedition (among others):
Names in Latin - English - Dutch
Rissa tridactyla - Kittiwake - Drieteenmeeuw
Fratercula arctica - Puffin - Papagaaiduiker
Somateria mollisima - Common Eider - Eidereend
Anser brachyrhynchus - Pink-footed Goose - Kleine Rietgans
Ursus maritimus - Polar Bear - IJsbeer
Pagophila eburnea - Ivory Gull - Ivoormeeuw
Stercorarius parasiticus - Arctic Skua - Kleine Jager
Stercorarius pomarinus - Pomarine Skua - Middelste Jager
Plectrophenax nivalis - Snow Bunting - Sneeuwgors
Calidris maritima - Purple Sandpiper - Paarse Strandloper
Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus - Svalbard Reindeer - Spitsbergen Rendier
Phoca groenlandica - Harp Seal - Zadelrob
Sterna paradisaea - Arctic Tern - Noordse Stern
Larus hyperboreus - Glaucous Gull - Grote Burgemeester
Fulmarus glacialis - Northern Fulmar - Noordse Stormvogel
Odobenus rosmarus - Walrus - Walrus
Uria lomvia - Brünnich's Guillemot - Kortbekzeekoet
PlantsThe following plants I have seen during the expedition (among others):
Names in Latin - English - Dutch
Dryas octopetala - Mountain Avens - Achtster
Rannunculus nivalis - Snow Buttercup - Sneeuwboterbloem
Polygonum viviparum - Knotweed - Knolletjesduizendknoop
Silene acaulis - Moss Campion - Stengelloze Silene
Cochleria officinalis - Lepelblad - Scurvy-Grass
Saxifraga oppositifolia - Purple Saxifrage - Paarse Steenbreek
Papaver dahlianum - Svalbard Poppy - Spitsbergen Papaver
Silene wahlbergella - Knodding Lychnis - Knikkende Silene
Saxifraga flagellaris - Spider Plant - Spinneplant
Erophorum scheuchzeri - Arctic Cottongrass - Pool Wollegras
Saxifraga cespitosa - Tufted Saxifrage - Groenlandse Steenbreek
Walrus colony (1)
Walrus colony (2)
Akademik Shokalskiy breaks through the ice
Polar bear in front of us
Polar bear on the ice
Polar bear close up
Sleeping polar bear
Stuck in the ice (1)
Stuck in the ice (2)
Flying above Spitsbergen
RouteThe followed route: Longyearbyen, Brepollen, Hornsund, Kap Lee, Edgeoya, Freemansundet, Alkefjellet, Hinlopenstretet, Sorgfjord, Nordaustlandet, Kvitoya, Kong Karls Land, Freemansundet, Diskobukta, Isbjornhamna/Hansbreen, Kvitfiskstranda, Bellsund, Alkhornet, Isfjord, Trygghamna, Longyearbyen, Tromso.
Remark: Eclips, August 1 2008On August 1 we have seen a partial eclipse, so not a complete one because we were not at the best position. Most people who have been at the best position and had made a huge detour, have not seen anything due to the heavy cloudy weather.