Published 15.04.2009. Written by Endre Før Gjermundsen.

Fieldwork in the Atomfjella mountain area, march 2009

After crossing the Lomonosovfonna Ice Field we got a tremendous scenic approach to the Atomfjella Mountains in low sunlight, shortly after the return of the sun. Snow covered alpine peaks painted in red and purple colours as far as the eye could see were smiling to us. These snowy peaks all surrounded by glaciers, remained us on what we were here for; gain our knowledge on whether these mountains were fully or just partly covered by ice during the last ice ages. While driving on the Veteranbreen glacier we were following tracks of a polar bear and a polar fox. On an elevation of about 1000 m a.s.l. this tolled us that the polar bears can climb pretty high. Probably these animals learn the shortcuts over the glacier plateaus from one coast to another when they are pretty young.


Our base camp was planned to be located on Gallerbreen. After the camp was up and running and we were about to go to bed, a stunning aurora borealis was giving us a spectacular show on the sky above, making sure that we would feel very welcomed. Our field work in Atomfjella 2009 had started.

Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

The following days were characterized by whiteout and loads of fresh snow. We were not able to leave the base, but it gave us time to build a proper camp, solid lee walls, a toilet cave etc. Three and a half days from arrival at the base camp the weather had finally improved enough to allow a short recognisance of the nearest passes from the campsite.

A depot was supposed to have been put out for us these days, but the weather had made this impossible. At this stage we were running out of kerosene for our tent stove. We didn’t have much gas for recognisance of the area with our snow scooters either. The depot were now planned to be put out on Friday, but because of high load of fresh snow in the area we didn’t know how close to the camp the depot would be put before the UNIS logistics were back in Longyearbyen.

Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

We had already been in contact with trapper Tommy Sandal at Austfjordneset trapping station. He kindly invited us to stay at Austfjordneset for a night while we were waiting for the depot to be put out. A recognisance down Trygvebreen suited us well. After a very cosy overnight stay at Austfjordneset the direction was towards the highest point of Lomonosovfonna to pick up the depot, which fortunately was put out the day before.

Well back in our camp we were now able to use the tent stove properly. The following day the weather was decent, so we headed for Perriertoppen (1710 m a.s.l.), the second highest peak on Svalbard. The temperature at the camp this morning had been -22°C, but it got colder during the day. The sky was blue, but there was quite some fog above the glaciers and on some of the peaks, destroying the otherwise perfect view. A week after leaving Longyearbyen we finally catch our first rock sample. It was taken on an elevation of 1664 m a.s.l. (40 meters below the summit). We agreed that it would be hard to find a more scenic sampling location than this one. After getting back to our scooters we had to drive a bit further north to get back onto the Veteranbreen glacier and back to our camp.

Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

The coming days we just got lower and lower temperatures. One night the thermometer had registered -35.9°C outside and -29.8°C inside the tent. However, we managed to do some smaller trips here and there and got some rock samples as well. Finally the temperature rose, but so did the wind. We now had temperatures in the first half of the 20ies, but with winds up to 14-15 m/sec. We had to be conscious on covering all of our face to avoid rapid developing frostbites. Despite the weather we still managed to do some good recognisance of the area by snowmobile. We got lots of photos and a much better understanding of the area in total. Even though there were spots we had wanted to visit, which we couldn’t, and the amount of bad weather days was higher than expected (at least hoped), the field work had at least not been in vain.

Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen

The last days we had white out and loads of snow so we decided to go home one day earlier than originally planned. When the camp was put down, all our equipment was packed on the sledges and we were ready to head home, one of our snowmobiles was not cooperating. The belt was blocked, and unfortunately the problem was not caused by clogged ice. After hours of trying various approaches for solving the problem, and several talks to the mechanic expert at UNIS we finally had to give it all up and leave the scooter behind, - it could not be repaired in field. Three persons on two scooters with very heavy sledges was our only way of getting back. After 6 hours of driving on GPS in constant white out we were back in Longyearbyen. Ready for some office work, we had to go back for our scooter a couple of days later after all. The sauna at UNIS was awesome after all the cold weather we have had.

Participants of the field campaign in Atomfjella, 2009

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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