Sunday 28 August 2011

Kinnvika, Alkefjellet & Torellneset

Polar Cirkel boat ride to the beach at Kinnvika
 Although we reached our most northerly point yesterday (81˚29’N), we are still very high in the Arctic.  Our landing this morning at Kinnvika in Murchisonfjorden was at 80˚00’ N.  That’s only 600 nautical miles (690 land miles, 1,111 kilometres) from Santa’s house (he lives at the North Pole and not in Greenland, as some people from Greenland and Denmark would have you believe).
Helicopter used by researchers at Kinnvika
And as you might expect we are experiencing Arctic temperatures.  When we landed at 08:30 the air temperature was 2˚C with a thirteen-knot wind blowing on shore.  Factoring in the wind chill, we were experiencing –11˚C.  It was a tad chilly.  With the cooler weather it made it easier to imagine what it might be like to stay here for an extended period like the many scientists did in the first International Geophysical Year in 1957.
Historic buildings at Kinnvika
Nine of the eleven buildings they constructed for that project still stand today.  The men stationed at Kinnvika were studying many things including geomagnetism, atmospheric chemistry, observations of the sun, the ionosphere, geomagnetism, aurora and cosmic rays.  They were a small but important part of a global research project involving 60,000 scientists from 60 nations.
Like the air and the clouds above us, the landscape was cold and grey.  We meandered through the science ghost town and into the Arctic Tundra beyond.  We walked on sharp shards of rock that had been splintered and shattered by the freezing, melting and refreezing of water countless times over countless millennia.
In the afternoon we cruised along the incredible sea bird cliffs of Alkefjellet from the comfort of Fram.  The water was deep where the cliffs met the sea enabling us to come very close to the rock face.  Black-legged Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Puffins perched precariously on thousands of tiny ledges.  A confusion of birds filled the sky.  How they avoided avian collisions was beyond my ken.
Soon after the amazing cliffs of Alkefjellet Fram cautiously approached the low sandy beach at Torellneset where a group of about twenty male walruses were hauled out in a tight thigmotactic cluster.  To have such an extraordinary opportunity to witness these splendid animals in such a wild and remote location was indeed a very special privilege.
We still had many miles to sail through the night so after about fifteen minutes we went back on course moving steadily eastward on the northern section of  our circumnavigation of Svalbard.