Wednesday, 25 July 2012

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.