Friday 7 September 2012

Winter is coming!

In the early morning of day two on the Fram we arrived at the small scientific settlement of Ny-Ålesund at 78° 55´N. Ny-Ålesund has not always been a scientific settlement. It started out as a Norwegian mining town, owned and Kings Bay. The mining here was the tertiary coals which were produced some 50-55 million years ago, when Svalbard was on a more southerly and warmer latitude.
Mining commenced in 1917, disrupted by WW2. There were many difficulties with mining the coals here, due to a lot of faults and folds in the bedrock and the fact that methane gas could accumulate in the mines which resulted in numerous explosions and causalities. Until mining was closed down in 1962, 76 souls had perished. The high number of causalities as well as difficulties with mining and bad working conditions led to the fall of the Norwegian Gerhardsen government.
After being a “dead” town for some years (1964), scientific work started up in Ny-Ålesund and until present day has grown into a popular and important community. During the summer month up to 200 scientists and logistical personell have their dayly work here. In the winter months most people leave and left behind is a small handful of around 20-30 logistical, technical staff and scientists which most likely will enjoy the quietness and tranquillity of this magnificent landscape. Because this is a truly magnificent place with spectacular scenery to the 3 kroner (the three crown) which are some pyramid shaped mountains formed during the Carboniferous (290-360 mill yr). These mountains consist of chalk and anhydrite and dolomites deposited from the drying up of salt-water lagoons. 
Large calving glaciers are at the end of the fjord as the magnificent Kronebreen and Kongsbreen.
The settlement has the history of Amundsen, Ellsworth and Nobile which flew to the North Pole in Airships in 1926 (Norge) and in 1928 (Italia). The mast or tie-point of the large airships is still visible just outside the settlement
More than 20 000 tourists visit Ny-Ålesund every year, most of them come on smaller and larger cruise-ships, although there is a small air-port.
At 1600 hrs we cast anchor at Trinity harbour at Graveneset in Magdalenafjorden on the NW corner of Spitsbergen. This is the same are as Willem Barents came to when he discovered Svalbard in 1596. The name Spitsbergen means “Spitze berge” or jagged peaks which we also recognize today when we visit this place. There are approximately 130 whalers graves here, hence the name Gravneset, which means the grave point. During many centuries from the 1600 and until the 1800 several nations where hunting the whale in the waters of Svalbard. Mostly it was Dutch and British whalers later on smaller nations as Denmark-Norway.  In the early days hunting started in the bay in small rowing boats, later on they had to move further out with their ships and eventually they were hunting in the open sea and cocking the blubber and skinning the whale on the ships. The whale stock almost perished in the waters around Svalbard.
The weather was quite good, only a cloud cover on some of the summits and with the top of the jagged peaks covered in sugar snow.
After Magdalenafjorden we steamed NE through Smeerenburgfjorden and to the island of Moffen. We arrived here at hrs 2323, in twilight so it was difficult to see the walrus on the beach. A number of our guest stood on the front deck in the occasional snow showers to try to get a glimpse of this animal.