Published 21.06.2008. Written by Endre Før Gjermundsen.

Field campaign in Northwest Spitsbergen 2008

The 2008 Icebound field campaign in stunningly beautiful and extreme alpine North-West Spitsbergen became very successful. Back to Ny-Ålesund and Longyearbyen we could bring lots of rock samples that we’re now eager to obtain dates on. By the beginning of 2009 we should have dates on some of these samples. Spectacular, steep, alpine mountains, - fjords and large glaciers as far as the eye can see. -This is the view you wake up to every morning when you're doing fieldwork in Northwest Spitsbergen.


After a long period of planning and preparation we could finally leave Longyearbyen Monday the 14th of April, with the aim of reaching Ny-Ålesund the same night. Much of our gear was already shipped by boat and had arrived in Ny-Ålesund some weeks earlier, but still we had a lot of gear to bring. Anne and Endre were driving scooters with heavy sledges to Ny-Ålesund while Helge and Bjørn André were catching this day’s flight from Lonyearbyen. Helge and Bjørn André were getting scooters for the fieldwork from the AVIPEW base in Ny-Ålesund. After a 9-hour drive and problems of stuck scooters in slush on the sea ice in Ekmanfjord, and in addition a small sledge break down, Anne and Endre reached Ny-Ålesund in the evening.

The following days in Ny-Ålesund were characterized by bad weather on the higher elevated ice-caps so we spent the days packing and preparing, in addition to a major effort in putting out a depot at Lloyds Hotel in the inner part of Krossfjorden. Since there was no ice on the fiord this year we were able to go there by the Kings Bay boat, Teisten, steadily manoeuvred by shipper Arne Kristoffersen.

Friday, the 18th of April, the weather was finally good enough to try to get to our proposed base camp location, approximately 140 km away from Ny-Ålesund in a northerly direction. Alan and Jonathan from the AVIPEW base followed us a bit more than half the way carrying fuel that we would have for the return drive. Our next stop was Lloyds Hotel where we picked up some of the gear we left there by Teisten, - the main tent and the kerosene heater for the tent. The rest of the gear in addition to fuel had to be picked up later. With even more heavy sledges we were heading to the final destination, -our base camp. Originally we had planned to put the camp at Staxrudfonna at the break of Lilliehöökbreen and Raudfjordbreen, but by "mistake" we drove up to Satellittpasset, which is allocated a bit further south, a spot which turned out to be an even better location for our camp. Here we were relatively sheltered from wind from most directions and it served as a very good starting point for all our excursions. We managed to get the main tent and the heater up during the night while all the rest of the camp building had to wait till we got some sleep.

Working area for the expedition with base camp marked. (Map: Norsk Polarinstitutt)

Working area for the expedition with base camp marked. (Map: Norsk Polarinstitutt)

The next few days the weather was again closing in, very cold, bad visibility and quite windy conditions from time to time. Thus, we stayed in the camp building lee walls, the famous "toilet cathedral" (www.nrk.no), putting up the storage and office tent, making a luxury cooking facility in the main tent, and so on.

Helge Kåsin taking rock samples. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

Helge Kåsin taking rock samples. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

The plan was to be based in the camp for the next 3 weeks and then return to Ny-Ålesund Friday the 9th of May and have the Whitsun holiday in the town before heading back to Longyearbyen and the mainland for two of us Tuesday the 13th of May.

Bjørn André Skjæret, Anne Hormes and Helge Kåsin in a good mood. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

Bjørn André Skjæret, Anne Hormes and Helge Kåsin in a good mood. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

The first days with good weather we did some reconnaissance with snowmobiles in Albert 1 Land in order to get more familiar with the area and spot potential locations for collecting samples. We had already been studying satellite imagery and aerial photographs of the area and had an idea of areas we wanted to take into closer sight.

Helge Kåsin is trying to secure the camp from the strong wind. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

Helge Kåsin is trying to secure the camp from the strong wind. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

Our scientific aim is to generate an accurate former ice sheet extension in the inner parts of Svalbard, which never has been worked on before. A better knowledge of the last glacial ice sheet in this Arctic region has important implications for models studying abrupt climate change based on ocean-ice-atmosphere interaction. Several earth system models use former abrupt climate change events in order to test their validity for modelling future climate change. In this frame the end of the last glaciation is an important period with huge freshwater spills released from melting ice sheets into the Arctic ocean. Our investigations will contribute to map the former limit of the last glaciation in NW Spitsbergen and we will be able to assign an age of the deglaciation.

Endre Før Gjermundsen is taking rock samples, hanging high above the ground. Photo: Anne Hormes

Endre Før Gjermundsen is taking rock samples, hanging high above the ground. Photo: Anne Hormes

By looking at the geomorphology, the shape of the mountain slopes, we were sometimes able to recognise the most likely border of the last glacial ice sheet. This border is defined as the "trimline". This border could be recognised as a marked terrace or shoulder in the mountain slope despite otherwise homogeneous bedrock geology. In the field we wanted to sample rocks both below and above the trimline for the age assignments. Assuming that we have done a correct interpretation of the trimline, the dates we would get from the rock collected above should be a lot older than the dates we would achieve from samples collected below this line.

View from the camp. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

View from the camp. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

As soon as the glacier melts away and leaves the rock surface exposed, so called cosmogenic nuclides (10Be, 26Al and 36Cl) are produced in the upper surface of this rock, due to the bombardment of the earth’s surface by cosmic rays. Thus, cosmogenic nuclide dating makes us able to analyse how long the rock surface has been exposed to the atmosphere without any coverage of glacier ice. Suitable rock for this dating method must contain lots of quartz and must be quite resistant to weathering and erosion. This makes the old, granite rock of Northwest Spitsbergen very suitable for the purpose.

Anne Hormes is taking rock samples while Bjørn André Skjæret is securing her. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

Anne Hormes is taking rock samples while Bjørn André Skjæret is securing her. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

Our first big mountain to climb was Granitten (1081 m a.s.l.) This is the highest peak of the Krålane Mountains and it is located between Smeerenburgbreen in the west and Staxrudfonna in the east. It was a beautiful calm day (but very cold in the shade) giving us an amazing view over the entire Northwest Spitsbergen and we were able to see the sea both in the west and in the east. 4 samples were collected this day, including one at the very summit. The next days with good weather we climbed mountains like Beinfjellet (1120 m a.s.l.) east of Raudfjordbreen, Aurivilliusfjellet east of Hornemanntoppen, Jaederinfjellet (1150 m a.s.l.) - the second highest mountain in the Northwest Spitsbergen, the mountain "1027" just between Waggonwaybreen and Smeerenburgbreen. "1027" we named "Kjøkkensjefen" after our eminent kitchen chief Bjørn André.

Bjørn André Skjæret has just found what he was looking for. Photo: Anne Hormes

Bjørn André Skjæret has just found what he was looking for. Photo: Anne Hormes

The highlight of all the climbs we did was potentially the climb of Hornemanntoppen (1097 m a.s.l.). This peak had been a dream of ours since we arrived, but it looked fearful from all sides, making us sure that it would not be easy in the cold conditions. This mountain has been climbed in the summer, but most likely never attempted in the winter - at least not as we had heard of. We found a good way up to the plateau ridge from the east side of the mountain, starting on Hans Henrikbreen. From this ridge we had to traverse some distance until we reached the start of the "summit spike". The climb up the spike was on good quality, steep, granite, but the temperature in particular was a major challenge. It was really freezing and the gusty wind didn’t make it any easier. Luckily we managed to get up anyhow and for some reason it was more or less calm on the summit. We got two beautiful samples from some rocks on the very summit before we returned back down. During our climb low clouds had slowly started to surround the mountain and we had clouds below us as far as we could see. Even though it had been fairly cold we were all exceptionally satisfied with the effort this day. We all agreed that this day would be hard to beat.

Bjørn André Skjæret, Helge Kåsin and Endre Før Gjermundsen on the approach to the top of Hornemanntoppen (1097 m a.s.l.). Photo: Anne Hormes

Bjørn André Skjæret, Helge Kåsin and Endre Før Gjermundsen on the approach to the top of Hornemanntoppen (1097 m a.s.l.). Photo: Anne Hormes

The weeks went by and we had some bad weather days, which we had to spend in the camp. However, this was not crucial since we needed some rest anyway, and besides there were also maintenance and repair work that had to be done in the camp.

Endre Før Gjermundsen climbing Hornemanntoppen (1097 m a.s.l.). Photo: Anne Hormes

Endre Før Gjermundsen climbing Hornemanntoppen (1097 m a.s.l.). Photo: Anne Hormes

In addition to collecting samples on mountains we spent one day on Reinsdyrflya getting samples from the boulders that are spread over this whole area. We drove down Raudfjordbreen and over Andréebreen to Texas Bar and stayed there for one night. The whole evening was spent driving around on Reinsdyrflya hunting for boulders. This resulted in 9 nice samples. Even though we now were in the core of "polar bear land" we didn’t spot a single bear during our stay here - not even on the way back driving across Liefdefjorden and up Monacobreen. Well back in our camp we could all state that even though Texas Bar is a nice hut, it’s a bit small for 4 people with lots of gear and we had much more luxury and comfort in our tent camp.

Bjørn André Skjæret securing the rope descending Hornemanntoppen (1097 m a.s.l.). Photo: Anne Hormes

Bjørn André Skjæret securing the rope descending Hornemanntoppen (1097 m a.s.l.). Photo: Anne Hormes

During the last days in the field it was getting a lot warmer than in the beginning of the campaign when we experienced -30°C every single night for the first week. Without all the good and warm gear we had this would have been hard to cope with. The spring now slowly seemed to arrive. Friday 9th of May, the day of our departure, arrived fast and the whole camp had to be taken down before we headed to Lloyds Hotel and later Ny-Ålesund. We deposited lots of gear at Lloyds Hotel, which was later to be picked up by boat. Very satisfied we drove back to Ny-Ålesund with 2 zarges boxes full of beautiful rock samples, and without any dramas on the way. The party on Saturday night in Ny-Ålesund simply became unforgettable.

Participants of the field campaign in Northwest Spitsbergen, April/May 2008

Anne Hormes

Anne Hormes

Associate Professor in Quaternary Geology

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Endre Før Gjermundsen

Endre Før Gjermundsen

Ph.D. student, Glacial geology

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Helge Kaasin

Helge Kaasin

Assistant

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