10 July 2003:
Today we were still awake at 2 o 'clock in the morning. Ruben and I stayed up very late everyday to stay on deck. We did this to see as much as possible on our cruise as we were mostly moving at night. This time our persistency paid off, we saw 2 Pomarine Skuas flying past the boat. We have seen all 4 different species of skuas now! Afterwards we went to bed feeling satisfied.
View at 2 o'clock in the morning
By the time we woke up we had reached the northwestern most tip of Svalbard. We were almost at 80 degrees North now! After a very good breakfast we went on shore. Out on the zodiac we saw a lot of Eider Ducks sitting on floating pieces of ice. We were warned by the crew that this was a very dangerous area due to the polar bears. As soon as we hit the beach we loaded our rifles. Everybody was paying extra attention.
The landscape looked totally different from what we had seen up until then. There was hardly any vegetation, just a lot of snow and ice. There were also plenty of beautiful ice bergs floating in the sea. Very arctic! The plan was to do some fieldwork at the top of a mountain so we started to climb. At the top we had a nice view on the pingos. A pingo is a kind of rounded hill that is created by the freezing of the top layers of ice. When it gets colder than minus 15 degrees, the ice breaks and new water is sucked into the crevasses from below. As this happens again and again a small hill is formed.
It wasn't easy to climb the mountain. The slopes were very steep with lots of big stones, snow and ice. One of the students was afraid of heights so we had to wait for him. A couple of students decided to climb on up to enjoy the view and then go back down to keep him company. Once on top we had a marvelous view of the valley with the two pingo's. There were several Kitty Wakes bathing in the cold water around the pingo's.
One of the plants we found on top of the mountain was the Saxifraga nivalis. A species that grow in loose gravel.
"The beginning of the North pole"
At the summit of the mountain there was a wonderful view. You could see the very edge of the pack ice. From there the ice continues all the way to the North pole!
View on top of the mountain
The view was spectacular in all directions. Unspoiled rocks with a lot of snow and ice. The weather was extremely good today. It was a very hot day for Svalbard. We were walking in our t-shirts on one of the most northern places of Svalbard! After a couple of hours of fieldwork we got a call on our radio. The 5 students that stayed at the beach had encountered a polar bear! It came walking straight toward them over the beach. They had fully loaded the rifle and asked for assistance from the crew of the boat. The crew scared the polar bear away by shooting the flare-gun (a loud bang). Now we had to return to the boat as soon as possible. Once back on the boat we found the other students. They were kind of shocked by their experience and did not enjoy being that close to a polar bear at all! Of course we were all very jealous of them because they got to see one and we didn't. The captain decided to look for polar bears that evening instead of an excursion to an old settlement.
Polar bear (Raudfjorden)
During dinner the captain came in to tell us that he had spotted a polar bear. We ran to the deck as quickly as possible. The polar bear was calmly walking on the beach (ice). We couldn't get real close with the boat but we could see it very well through the scope and binoculars. When the polar bear laid down you could hardly see it anymore due to its camouflaging colors. You could probably pass 5 polar bears for every one you saw. The weather wasn't very good (light rain) and the boat was moving but I still tried to take some pictures through the scope. You can see the results in the pictures.
Raudfjorden was a truly magnificent fjord full of icebergs and floating pieces of ice. There were multiple glaciers emptying into the sea. We saw a couple of Bearded Seals laying on the ice. Very beautiful! Afterwards we realized how lucky we were to see the polar bear. If it had laid down 10 minutes earlier we would never have seen it! All together another wonderful day in the arctic!