Some photos from a trip to the Arctic
I just returned from a trip to Svalbard, which is an island group in the Arctic Ocean about 1000 km from the geographic North Pole. I was asked to guest lecture and help teach a part of a sedimentary geology field course.
We never actually made it to a couple planned field sites because of bad weather during the trip combined with general snow/ice conditions from the winter and spring. Oh well … these things happen in a scientific discipline that requires going to the field. Fortunately, the backup plans for other geological things to see and do were fantastic so I don’t think the quality of the class suffered.
Svalbard is located from 74°N to 81°N and was my first time above the Arctic Circle (~66°N). Here is a very nice polar projection topographic/bathymetric map with location of Svalbard annotated by me.
Although I was fully expecting and prepared for 24 hours of sunlight, it was still an interesting experience. Took a few nights to get used to … I kept waking up in middle of the “night” thinking I had overslept and was late for the day’s activities. Being in the field makes you very aware of the patterns of the sun throughout a day, so it was also an interesting experience to have the sun mostly circling me rather than rising and setting.
I’ll try and write some more about this experience soon, but in the meantime here are a few photographs with a bit of explanation (below the photo).
Out of the window of the plane as we approached Longyearbyen, Svalbard — which, by the way, is the nothernmost location on Earth one can fly to any time of year.
The town of Longyearbyen is the largest settlement on Svalbard (about 2,000 residents) and sits in a valley among cliffs of Eocene sedimentary rocks.
There aren’t any roads that connect the few settlements on Svalbard, so traveling from one place to another requires either boats or planes. To get to some particular outcrops we took an 18-minute flight in a small plane that shuttles workers from Longyearbyen to an active coal-mining settlement. Although short, this flight provided an opportunity to get a bird’s-eye view of the spectacular glacial-outwash sediment dispersal systems in the region. The photo above shows this beautiful plume of sediment from a braid-delta system.
A dusting of snow on the squishy and very muddy tundra. In terms of flora, this low mossy grass and several species of small wildflowers are about it.
Field work in Svalbard requires carrying (and being trained to use) hunting rifles in case of polar bear encounters. Over 15 or so years and many thousands of researchers doing field work, only one bear has been shot and killed (apparently by polar bear researchers). I have very little experience with guns and was pleasantly suprised at the multiple bullseyes I got during training.
On the way back from a hike (on which Mother Nature conquered me … yet again) a couple of juvenile reindeer followed us for a bit.
The outcrops near the coal-mining settlement still have some equipment and structures from old-time installations. The rocks above the coal level are a mixture of coastal plain with increasingly more marine influence upwards.
Near the toe of the Hoganasbreen glacier in the evening.
Our short flight back to Longyearbyen provided another opportunity to get some photos of the sediment dispersal systems. It was a bit of a hazy day so the photos aren’t very crisp, but still show the features nicely.
Alluvial fan developing in the Adventdalen valley near Longyearbyen.
The mouth of the Adventdalen River is somewhat influenced by tidal currents in the fjord giving it this distinctive pattern.
The muddy tidal flat near the mouth of the Adventdalen River.
Here is that same alluvial fan — now from the ground.
Finally, just before we left the field on my last day we were hiking back to where our vehicle was and spotted the summer training program for the sled dogs.
To see these photos (and more) at higher resolution, check out my Flickr set here.
This was a great trip … I feel fortunate to have been able to go. I met some really great people that I hope to collaborate with in the future as well.