THE ARCTIC MELT

  • June 4, 2015 | Longyearbyen, Norway

    Hard to believe that the airport in Oslo had daffodils and we are now surrounded by beautiful snow capped mountains in Longyearbyen, Norway.

    Oslo Airport, Norway.

    Longyearbyen Airport, Norway.

    Longyearbyen with a total population of 2000, is the main town of Spitzbergen, the largest of the islands of the Svalbard Archipelago. It is also the farthest northern town in the world, inhabitable only because it is located at the furthest north point of the Gulf Stream. 

    Svalbard is located 560 nautical miles north of the northern most point of main land Europe, and is closer to the North Pole than it is to Oslo. It is the same latitude as the northern most coast of Greenland.

    Trapper’s Lodge

    After checking into the Trapper’s Lodge, we met Arni Bragason who is the Director of the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre (Nord Gen) to visit and enter the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is to provide a safety net for the international conservation system of plant genetic resources. The seed bank that is located in Aleppo, Syria was in danger of being destroyed during last week’s bombing. The Svalbard Seed Vault has 90 percent of the seeds that are stored in Aleppo. thus insuring that these seeds will not become extinct. 

    The Svalbard National Seed Vault

    Hard hats must be worn upon entry to the Seed Vault.

    All of the seeds in the Svalbard Seed Bank are original varieties of the crops and can be used to regenerate crops that are becoming extinct or have been damaged by natural and other disasters. 

    As the world’s population increases and fertile land decreases, the Seed Vaults are essential in keeping the world population fed. Most of the world’s population live on rice, wheat, sorghum and maize.

    Temperatures are kept at -30 degree F in the Svalbard Seed Vault.

    In order to gain entry to the Seed Vault, 5 doors must be unlocked.

    United Nations Seed Vault.

  • June 5, 2015 | Svalbard, Norway

    Map of the Arctic, note position of Svalbard.

    After sleeping until 11:00 we wandered around Longyearbyen. Cute town where the main means of transportation is a snow mobile.

    At 3:45 we set out for our first A-Star helicopter flight. Pretty cold and not great visibility but still great photos.

    Today we flew over fields of glaceirs through Wedel Jarlsberg Land in Svalbard, Norway - this particular snow ridge is called Konglomeratfjellet.

    Broken Sea Ice, Wedel Jarlsberg Land.

    Nathorstbreen, blue ponds on glacier, Wedel Jarlsberg Land. 

     Konglomeratfjellet Glacier, Wedel Jarlsberg Land.

    Can’t wait for tomorrow!

  • June 6, 2015 | Svalbard

    Video: Svalbard - Bill Megalos

    I have fallen in love with my Hasselblad 5D. The photographs are amazing and I can truly paint with my camera!

    Each day we wait for the weather to clear so we can fly over Svalbard.

    We finally left Longyearbyen to cross the Isfjorden Fjord at 3:00 and tried to chase the Sun, arriving home at 10:00.

    Getting outfitted to lean out the open helicopter door at 5000ft.

    Taking images with my Hasselblad.

    After 3 hours we stopped to refuel at Austifjordes where Ragnhild Rossenland and Frode Skar have been given the privilege of living in this Trapper’s cabin for a year. They have just renewed and will be staying one more year.

    They are completely self sufficient, living on seal, reindeer, fish and birds that they have hunted. By using salt and smoke to preserve their food, they are able to have food throughout the winter when it is dark 6 months of the year..  A small wind generator gives them electric and a team of Greenlandic Huskies keep the Polar Bears away and are used to pull their sled.

    Ragnhild and Frode’s home.

    Ragnhild and Frode’s beautiful greenlandic husky.

    Reindeer antlers.

    Ragnhild brewing coffee.

    From left to right: Henning (our pilot), Ragnhild and Frode (the trappers), Angela, Diane, Bill

    Images of Svalbard

    Tomorrow is our last day in the A Star Helicopter. We hope for sun.

  • June 7, 2015 | Svalbard

    Video: Bill Megalos - Svalbard

    We tried to make the most of our last day in Longyearbyen. Flying over Isfjorden to the Three Crowns - The Krone.

    Three Crowns

    We stopped in Stemmeknausane for 3 hours. Photographing the unbelievable panorama, taking some 4x5 and 35mm infrared photos and having a picnic lunch.

    We continued flying over Abrahamsenbreen (the Snake Ice River).

    The Snake Ice River

    Over Woodfjorddalen (the Blood River)

    Landing on an ice cap.

    And stopped at an abandoned trappers lodge at 79.40 degrees to refuel. 

    Returning at 10:30pm just in time for dinner which closes at 11:00

    Tomorrow we leave at 9:15 to go to Ny-Alesund!

  • Jun 8, 2015 | Ny-Ålesund

    Video: Bill Megalos - Ny-Ålesund

    We left Longyearbyen and arrived in Ny-Alesund on our twin engine plane at 11:15. Ny-Alesund, located at 78 degrees N is an international research center where scientist’s study the arctic environment and its relationship to wildlife and atmosphere.

    After checking into the Nordpol Hotel and having lunch we visited our first scientist, Vittorio Pascuali who is doing research on the Lepidurus Articus. These crustacean invertebrates are one cm long and live in the Arctic’s fresh water ponds. 

    The native animals of the Arctic Reindeer, Polar Bears, and the Arctic Fox all have systems that allow them to live for 5 months of the year in darkness and 5 months of the year in light without changing their behaviour. (ie. they do not experience any difference in rest patterns the way humans do)

    The Lepidurus Articus have the same genes as the Arctic Mammals and Vittorio is doing research to see if these invertebrates will behave the same in darkenss as in light since they do not live in darkness and only live in the the summer months for a very short time, after the pond defrosts. 

    He showed us the eggs that he has collected and will know the behavior of these invertebrates in six weeks after they have hatched and have gone through their life span.

    Vittorio, Behavioural chamber.

    We then walked around Ny-Alesund and learned of its important history. It is here that Ronald Amudsen (the first person to reach the South Pole) died. 

    In 1928 Umberto Nobile had launched a Dirigible from Ny-Alesund to go to the North Pole. When he arrived, he could not land and turned around, only to crash off the coast of Ny-Alesund. In trying to rescue Nobile, Ronald Amundsen’s plane crashed and he was killed.

    Around 9:00 at night the sun was strong, weather warm and sky clear. We wanted to go for a hike at 11:00, it was so beautiful. We are hoping for the same tomorrow night.

  • June 9, 2015 | Ny-Ålesund

    Video: Birds - Bill Megalos

    A day of science at Ny-Ålesund.

    Ny-Ålesund has many science teams that travel here throughout the world to study the Arctic conditions on their special field of interest. 

    The current teams are:

    Dirigible Italia | Vittorio Pascuali | Researching the Lepidurus Articus (small crustacean) 

    University of the Netherlands | William Van de Poll & Gemma Kulk | Monitoring phytoplankton in the arctic

    University of Oslo | Dr Ketil Hylland & Anne Haar | Researching the effects of pollutants on Glaucous gulls and other marine birds DNA structure

    Alfred Wegener Institute | Dr Inka Bartsch & Dr. Katrine Zacher | Studing the impact of climate change on the Kelp population. 

    The Norwegian Polar Institute | Dr. Uver | an atmospheric scientist working with the Norwegian Institute for Polar Research, monitoring atmospheric gasses in Ny-Alesund since 1987

    After breakfast we visited William Van de Poll and Gemma Kulk, who are accessing the physical condition of the phytoplankton in the water column of Kongsfjorden. Phytoplankton is the basis for the vast majority of oceanic and also many freshwater food webs. 

    Will a change in temperature and light affect the productivity of phytoplankton?

    William Van de Poll

    Gemma Kulk (carries a rifle which must be done on the island in case of polar bear attack) 

    Taking their equipment down to the wharf to collect phytoplankton samples.

    Dr Ketil Hylland and Ane Haarr measure the damage caused by long range pollutant’s that are transported by wind and ocean currents to the Glaucous Gulls in the Arctic. These gulls are a top predator and therefore a great arctic bird to study with respect to accumulated pollutants. They compare the contaminant level with the amount of genetic damage that occurs by separating the DNA from the nucleus of blood samples collected.


    Dr. Ketil Hylland


    Ane Harr

    Glaucous Gull

    We met with Dr Inka Bertsch and Dr Katrine Zacher of the Alfred Wegener Institute at the Marine Biology Laboratory. They are involved with a long term project studying the effects of the environment on the Arctic Kelp population. Kelp is extremely important for all marine life. It provides a way for fish, crustaceans and other ocean life to be shielded from UV light and radiation.

    Dr. Katrine Zacher


    Dr. Inka Bertsch

    Divers collecting Kelp from the ocean floor.

    Kelp specimen in the Marine Biology Laboratory.

  • June 10, 2015 | Ny-Ålesund

    Video: Icebergs - Bill Megalos

    The sun is out!

    I had planned that on this day I would travel around the Kongsfjorden by boat to photograph the glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife of the area. So lucky that the weather cooperated!

    After suiting up in our wet gear which probably weighs at least 15 pounds, we board our small boat to explore the Kongsfjorden.

    I obsess over a small piece of an iceberg that is now a beautiful sculpted piece of ice. I had not had the opportunity to use my infrared film and the glow of this ice is a perfect time to try it. 

    Being on a boat and having to be precise with focus for infrared is challenging. 

    The iceberg.

    Kongsfjorden is where all of the scientists are doing their research. This time of year, Glaucous Gulls, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Eider ducks are breeding and protecting their eggs on cliffs and small islands. These areas are protected. We search for a rock that is not protected where we can set up our tripod in order to capture the essence of the Fjord. What seemed to be hard rock was actually rock covered in deep mud. Bill’s feet get engulfed in the mud. With great effort, he is released and we search for another spot.

  • June 11/12 | Oslo, Norway

    We leave the Arctic Wilderness and arrive in Oslo. The activity of a big city brings us back to reality. 

    Oslo is absolutely gorgeous. Many turn of the century buildings in pristine condition.

    We are at the Grand Hotel built in 1917 in the middle of town. Our dinner on the first night is at Sawan, I highly recommend it. Thai/Japanese, quite interesting and a delicious combination. Great wine list.

    One day in Oslo brings us to the Munch Museum where there is an amazing exhibition. Van Gogh & Munch. Two extraordinary artist’s breaking with tradition and painting their emotions.

    Starry Night, Van Gogh

    Starry Night Over the Rhone, Edvard Munch

    The Viking Museum.

    Of course a visit to Oslo includes the famous Viking Museum, where there are two full size Viking ships and artifacts from the 12 th century when they were buried . 

    Tomorrow, Bergen!

  • June 12/13 | Bergen

    The trip to Bergen through the mountains is a must. We go from fertile farm land and crystal blue lakes to snow capped peaks and frozen rivers. Now back to sea level with huge cliffs surrounding fertile land along new valleys. Finse is the highest train station in Norway (4000 feet).

    Train from Oslo to Bergen.

    Bergen lives up to its reputation. 

    Quaint 18th century charming town in the fjords.

    After checking into our hotel Bill and I go off to the Fantoft Stave Church in Bergen. Originally built in 1150 in Fortun and then moved to Fantoft in 1883. It was burnt down in 1992 by a radical group and rebuilt in 1997, very few still exist and are quite beautiful. 

    The Fantost Stave Church, Bergen.

    We have an amazing Norwegian dinner at BARE. So far the Norwegian food has been extraordinary. Very fresh, innovative, and beautiful presentations. 

    Walking home. Bergen is one club after another. A thousand people line the streets, Music everywhere. 

    Food BARE.

    Bergen, 1:00am.

    The next morning we walk the streets of Bergen and search for the Leprosy Museum.

    The Norwegian doctors were one of the first to provide housing, food and medical treatment for those inflicted with leprosy. Quite a tribute to Norway.

    Leprosy Museum, Bergen.

  • June 14/15 | Helsinki, Finland

    Angela and I spent the day editing and blogging. It is our last day before we embark on the 50 Years of Victory Russian Nuclear Powered Icebreaker to the North Pole. 

    We will not be in communication with the outside world until June 27, but we will be keeping a blog and will release it upon our return!

    Tomorrow we depart for Murmask, Russia where we spend some time photographing and touring before departing on the boat. 

    Walking around in Helsinki last night.

    Map of our route to the North Pole.

  • June 16 | Murmansk, Russia + Out to Sea

    Video: Bill Megalos - Murmansk
    Bill Megalos was able to capture a sense of Murmansk and its people.

    69-72.5 degrees N

    We arrived in Murmansk, which became an official town on Oct 4, 1916. During WWII the allies used Murmansk as an entry point from the Baltic Sea to supply arms to Russia to help defeat the Germans. 

    Due to the strategic location of Murmansk most of the original architecture was destroyed and rebuilt in the 1950′s during the Soviet era. The architecture of Murmansk is from this era.




    Murmansk.


    Buildings in Murmansk city

    Soviet Wall Art.

    We visited the hull of the submarine that exploded in 2001 off the shore of Murmansk. All of the crew were killed and to this day no one knows why there was an explosion. 

    Submarine hull.

    We then went to the Lenin Icebreaker. It was the first nuclear powered icebreaker built in 1959. Since it’s retirement in 1989, it has become a museum.

    The Icebreaker, Lenin.

    Inside the icebreaker, Lenin.

    On the wharf in Murmansk.

    The last stop before embarking on our ship was to the monument of the soldier. It stands 3000 feet high on a hill overlooking Murmansk. Dedicated to all of the Russian soldiers that have defended Russia. 

    Monument to the soldier.

    We finally arrive at 50 Years of Victory (50 Let Pobedy) our vehicle to get to the North Pole. This Nuclear Powered Russian Icebreaker is the only passenger boat that goes to the North Pole. It holds 102 passengers and 120 crew, 14 quark expedition leaders and 10 catering staff. This boat is the first arctic icebreaker to feature a spoon shape bow. It took 20 years to build and is the latest addition to Russia’s Nuclear fleet, beginning its first voyage in 2007. 

    50 Years of Victory is an expedition boat and not meant as a cruise boat, but there is a small gym, pool and sauna, library, bar and dining room. The passengers that have come this far all want to do something unique. Reaching the North Pole is almost impossible and this Russian Icebreaker is one of the only ways to attain this goal.

    Our Russian Icebreaker, 50 Years of Victory. 

    The bow and the stern.

    Angela thinking of the Arctic.

  • June 17 | 50 YOV | The Arctic Ocean

    Video: Open Sea - Bill Megalos
    Bill captures the beginning of our journey on the open ocean and inside the ship.


    72.5 - 79 degrees N


    The history of 50 Years of Victory

    This vessel is one of six Arctic class icebreakers operated by the Russian Atomic Fleet of Murmansk. It is 159m long and 30m wide.

    It has a 48cm thick cast steel prow which an “ice tooth” of 20m. Ice breaking is assisted by an air bubbling system, specialized hull design, friction reducing allot belt, and capability of rapid movement of ballast water. It can either go forward or astern, breaking ice up to 5m thick while navigating. Its maximum speed is 22 knots per hour and 3 knots per hour while continually breaking ice.


    50 Years of Victory.

    The power is supplied by 2 pressurized water KLT-40 nuclear reactors, each containing 245 enriched uranium fuel rods. Both are contained in a closed reinforced compartment under reduced pressure.

    Each reactor is shielded by steel, high density concrete and water. Each set on boilers drives 2 steam turbines, which provide the power for the ship.


    An engine room tour lead us far under deck into the workings of the ship.


    This expedition has several specialists who provide us information on our journey to the North Pole. Sir Bob Headland, a historian from Cambridge University, presented a lecture on the “
    Unveiling of the Arctic”. He provided an overview of the explorations throughout history which have lead to the formation of the Arctic Map. 



    Early Map of the Arctic


    Fabrice Genevois, a french Biologist, discussed the Ecology of Seabirds. Arctic Seabirds (Arctic Terns, Glaucous Gulls, Ivory Gulls, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, and Northern Fulmars) are circumpolar and travel great distances through the arctic. They nest on inaccessible rocks throughout the Arctic. 



    Guillemots and Kittiwakes 


    We are still in open water forging towards the Ice, getting to know each other and talking with the expedition team. 



    On the open water in the Barents Sea.

  • June 18 | Breaking the Ice

    Video: Pack Ice - Bill Megalos

    Around 10:00 AM in the middle of our lecture, Glacial Landscapes of Russia, given by Colin Souness., we felt a bump and then there was an announcement,  “Polar Bear siting at 12:00″..

    Taking a break from the lecture we all ran to see our first Polar Bear! Each Polar Bear has its own personality and this one was quite curious to see what this huge thing was that was coming towards her ((we think it was a female). She came closer and closer to us and stopped quite a bit to look up at us.. After a while, she became bored and walked away.. What a beautiful animal!




    Our first polar bear visitor.


    Colin continues his lecture on Glaciers. Each glacier has accumulation (input) and loss (output). Fresh snow accumulates and through compression and recrystallizing forcing the snow downhill. Not all glaciers are white. There is a lot of debris within the glacier and some glaciers are totally debris. There is permafrost in the layers of some of the glaciers.


    A map of ice cover on land.


    The world's ice cover 140,000 years ago.


    The world's ice cover 20,000 years ago.


    The image on the left is a debris glacier and on the right is an example of permafrost layers within a glacier.


    In the distance we spot the blowhole of a Bow Head Whale, one of the oldest living whales in existence. Arctic Whales have no dorsal fin and a very large and strong head to break the ice.

    The blowhole of the Bow Head Whale.

    The Bow Head Whale captured by one of our expedition leaders, Jimmy.

    Two male walruses are lying on the ice. A female and her cubs dove into the water after noticing that there was a polar bear about 2 miles away. Polar bears normally will not attack a walrus.  The skin of a Walrus is 1 inch thick and too much of the Polar Bear’s energy would be used to prey on such thick skin.. Much better to eat a seal.



    Walruses.

    The ice pack is magnificent. When we break it, it falls and becomes a puzzle of a thousand pieces, exposing the deep blue water. Ultraviolet light waves bounce off the ice and expose that end of the spectrum.. A feast for the soul.

    Watching this movement is like listening and feeling an orchestra. . Each instrument contributes to the whole sound and feel of the moment.





    Breaking through the ice.


    While we travel through the ice, the Glaucous Gulls fly above, catching the wind generated by our boat. 


    The Glaucous Gull.

    We approach Franz Joseph land from the south and stop in front of Cape Flora which has been the site of many explorations both failed and successful. Jackson’s expedition on the Eira in 1872 was one of the successful expeditions and remnants the camp still remain. 




    The remains of buildings on Cape Flora.

    Traveling a little further into Franz Joseph Land, we stop in front of Rubini Rock.

    This is the best place in the Arctic for the Guillimot, Kittiwake, and Glaucous Gull to nest. This enormous volcanic rock provides ledges for these birds to nest and since it surges directly out of the ocean there is no beach. This allows them to breed without the threat of predators.





    We watch and listen to the fantastic sounds emanating from this Rock.

  • June 19 | Into the Pack Ice

    Video: My Ship - Bill Megalos


    83-87 degrees N

    This morning Jim Zakreski gave a lecture, Nanook: the biology of the Polar Bear. The Polar Bear is a marine mammal that lives on the ice in the arctic polar region. 

    They feed on ringed seals but will occasionally eat walrus, sea birds, beluga whales, narwhal and occasionally kelp and berries. When a Polar Bear eats seal, he will only eat the blubber, which will provide a good source of energy. Each bear will eat between 30-45 seals each year to sustain them through the winter. 

    There are approximately 20,000 Polar Bears living today. They are genetically related to the brown bear that migrated north millions of years ago in search of food.  The oldest Polar Bear fossil dates from 130mya. 

    Polar Bears life expectancy is 27 years and they can weigh up to 2200 pounds. By dissecting a premolar, the age of the Polar Bear can be determined. Polar Bears have an exceptional sense of hearing and can detect sounds several hundred meters away. Their skin is black in order to absorb heat and their fur keeps them insulated. When they dive in the water their nostrils close and a membrane falls over their eyes. 


    The beautiful polar bears exploring.


    Another day of watching the ice break. It is getting thicker and the crevasses and pieces are becoming larger. It is mesmerizing. I cannot stop taking photographs. So far, I think I have taken 600 photographs of just the ice formations that occur as the ice is broken by the icebreaker.




    The shapes and reflections of light and color on the ice are mesmerizing.

    As we travel through the ice, we come across several large icebergs that have drifted from far away glaciers. 


  • June 20 | Into the Pack Ice

    Video: Bill Megalos - Ship In Ice

    87-89 degrees N 

    The breaking of the ice has become more intense. We are hitting very thick ice (up to 5 meters thick). The icebreaker proceeds but when it hits a tough piece of ice that we hit, we have a sensory experience. Watching the ice undulate. Smelling the fresh crisp air. Feeling the vibrations of the boat as the ice is disturbed and then falls back on itself. Hearing the explosions of ice as they break apart. 

    How can i describe this experience?



    Breaking through the ice.

    We are all excited to be reaching the North Pole. The crew has planned a huge day for us tomorrow. And as a prelude they performed a small play dedicated to Neptune. We received a ceremonial syringe of vodka as we danced to some great music on the bow of the boat.  


    Out on the bow celebrate our journey to the pole. 




    Neptune.



    Vodka is distributed to all! 


    Bill and I cannot stop photographing the ice.

  • June 21 | Arrival at the North Pole | Summer Solstice

    VideoBill Megalos - North Pole Solstice.

    90 degrees N

    We wake up at 8:00am to find out that we are still almost 60 nautical miles from the North Pole. At 4 knots/hour 60 nautical miles could take up to 15 hours! The ice is very thick and we travel slowly….The fog has come in an visibility is low. 

    The Geographic North Pole is a fixed location on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. It is 690km from the nearest land as is the northern axis of rotation of the Earth. After many attempts by various explorers to Dirigible, Norge, flew over the North Pole on May 12 1926. The expedition included Roald Amundsen from Norway, Umberto Nobile, from Italy and Ellsworth from the United States. It was not until 1948 that a landing was confirmed at the North Pole by a soviet scientific team, the Sever- 2 expedition. 




    Summer Solstice celebrations & our GPS location 

    At 6:29 we reach the North Pole. More celebrations! Flags from China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, United States and an international peace flag from our Tibetan Monk fly on the Bow. Champaign is poured, music is played and people cannot take enough photos! 





    The GPS determines that we have definitely reached the North Pole and all our representative countries celebrate! 




    The “Bipolar Crew” - All of us have been to both the North and South Pole. On the far left one of our expedition leaders Solan; a fellow passenger, Howard, Me, Paul and Bob, who is our Arctic and Antarctic specialist. 


    Bill and I excited for our arrival at the Pole! 


    The ice is pretty thin and we need to stop in an area where the ice is thick enough to stop our boat and continue our celebration on the ice. It takes one and a half hours to find that piece of ice. 

    Upon arrival we all gather in a circle on the ice and our resident Tibetan Monk gives a chant to celebrate our arrival at the North Pole. Everyone then disperses to take part in the Air Ballooning. Satellite phone calls to home, photographing in front of the North Pole Marker and some of us participating in a Polar Plunge. 




    Angela and I did our “Polar Plunge” where the water was -1.5 degrees C….after a shot of vodka, we quickly ran to the sauna.


    As I walk through the pressure ridges on the ice pack. I photograph the ice formations and the intense royal blue hidden inside the ice. 





    Towards the end of the evening we take an ice walk with expedition leader Collin into the beautiful white landscape and lake a moment to soak in our surroundings as armed guards stand by to look out for polar bears. 



    All of the different shades of white you can imagine.



    The blue of the ice under the snow is highlighted by the filtering of the longer light waves of yellow, orange and red. The ultraviolet end of the spectrum is then absorbed allowing for a radiant blue to appear in the ice. 

    It is 3:00am and we finally embark 50 Years of Victory to begin our journey south. 

     

  • June 22 | Headed South

    90 - 88.5 degrees N 

    This was pretty lazy day for us. We are returning back on our tracks and moving pretty fast through the ice. We watch the ice reform after being broken on our trip up to the North Pole. While we stop to set up the Zodiacs for our trip to Franz Joseph Land, the boat remains still and I can capture the patterns of the ice and snow. 

    Bill and I have interviewed our Captain, Dimitriy Lobusov, who has been captain of several icebreakers since 1993. We thought that he would be able to give us an account of the changes that have occurred in the ice pack over the past several years. He was not able to give an accurate answer because our vessel has not had a consistent schedule. This was the earliest in the year that 50 Years of Victory has ventured to the North Pole. Last year’s first trip began on June 20. However, during the rest of the year, this vessel travels through out the North East Passage and he has noticed that there is less ice now in the North East Passage than in the past. 


    Our captain, Dimitriy Lobusov 

    Fabrice’s lecture. The World of Seabirds: ecology and conservation issues, talks to the environmental threat of pollution and fishing with respect to the ocean. Sea birds depend on the ocean as a source of food. Thousands of Albatross are being killed every year because of line fishing. 

    The fisherman casts a long line with hundreds of hooks with bait in hopes of catching hundreds of Albatross. The hooks not only catch the fish but kill those that do not grab the bait. Both chemical and physical pollution affect fish. This pollution is transferred to seabirds that eat fish. 

    Sea birds eat what is on the surface of the ocean, whether it is a fish or a bottle cap. Fabrice showed us a photograph of an Albatross chick that had died. When scientists opened the stomach of the chick, they found hundreds of small pieces of plastic, including combs, bottle caps and even a lighter! 


    Fabrice



    A baby chick was found dead off the coast of Midway, Hawaii. After dissection, the above is what was found in its stomach.


    The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of the five oceans. It includes the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, East Siberian Sea, and others. It receives a fresh water influx from many of the world’s largest rivers, especially those draining through Siberia. Most modern exploitation is for fish. 

    The depth of the ocean at the North Pole is 4261 meters and its ice may drift 20km per day. Extraction of hydrocarbons from below the sea bed is already a major industry and this activity is likely to increase. The North passage is regarded as Russian but there are disputes over Canadian rights over the Northwest passage. 





    The sea ice of the Arctic Ocean.

  • June 23 | One the way to Franz Josef Land

    88.5-84 degrees N

    We are getting ready for our stop in Franz Josef Land. The morning begins with a lecture by Jim on “Pinnipeds of the North.” The seal family dates back to 21-24 million years ago. Pinniped means, “winged foot.” Seals used to live on land and what used to be their front feet are now flippers. 

    There are three types of seals:

    1: True Seals - These seals have ears and lack the ability to walk on land, they can lift themselves on the surface of the ice. They have short coats and a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm. Examples are the ringed seal, harp and hooked seal. 

    2: Earless - These seals have a heavy neck and their front flippers can propel them on the ground. They have a heavy, thick coat. An example is the Elephant and Bearded Seal. 

    3: Walruses - These seals are earless but can use their flippers to move, they also have a thick layer of skin and a thick layer of blubber. 

    Walrus means “tooth walker” they are the third largest marine mammal. They can weigh up to 4000 pounds and be 3-4km long. They eat mainly mollusks. They scrape the bottom of the ocean to gather clams at 12 per minute and store 20-30kg in their stomachs. Their mouths have a strong sucking motion, which allows them to suck the food right out of the shell. They use their tusks to help them out of the water.


    This was a day for Polar Bear sightings. We see a large male Polar Bear who has a blood stained mouth. He has just finished eating a seal and is wandering around. He is very curious about our ship and comes up to us to inspect. 

    While we are photographing this bear, a female and her two cubs approach us. The cubs are quite playful. One is particularly curious and keeps on pursuing the male bear. Evidently this behaviour is quite rare to see. The male bear is not interested in the female or her cubs since he is quite full of seal. The little cub continues to chase the male bear away. 

    Finally, the mother and her cubs leave and the male bear goes in the opposite direction.   


    A mother and her cubs approach the ship - one cub is extremely curious and stands on his hind legs with his arms crossed to see what is going on in the ship. 




    The cub chases the male bear away.

  • June 24 | Franz Josef Land

    84-81.5 degrees N

    We spend the day traveling through the Austrian Channel in Franz Josef Land. 

    Franz Josef Land is the largest Archipelago in the Arctic, composed of 200 island. An Austrian Expedition led by Julius Payer aboard the Tegethoff originally sighted this Archipelago in 1873. Franz Josef Land was named after Franz Josef who was the emperor of the Austrian- Hungarian Empire at this time. It became a Russian territory in 1926 and was proclaimed a National Park in 2010.



    Franz Josef and our route through Franz Josef Land. 

    Zodiac trips to Jackson Island on Cape Norway begin at 5:00am. Jackson Island is located in the northwestern part of Franz Josef Land at the beginning of the Austrian Channel. 






    Jackson Island, Cape Norway

    We reach Cape Norway and set out for Jackson Island on the zodiacs. Jackson Island is filled with beautiful colored moss and vegetation. It also has beautiful snow formations which might be great as an infrared photograph. 





    Another Polar Bear Sighting!!! A mom and her small cub coming towards the ship. Very cute. 



    Then a male bear appears and the mom and her cub leave. The male is also interested in our huge icebreaker. As he is looking at the boat at quite close range, he immediately turns and charges towards a seal that happens to be lying on the ice behind him. 

    He runs as fast as he can, the seal sees him and dives into the water at exactly the same time as the bear. We expect the bear will come up to the surface with the seal but he emerges quite disappointed. For the next 30 minutes, the bear wanders, sniffs, and submerges his nose into the water in search of a seal. He finally walks away. 





    Traveling through the Austrian channel, we stop at Stolicska Island near Apollonova Island. This area is surrounded by glaciers and a popular place for resting Walruses. 




    Continuing through the Austrian Channel, we stopped at Wilczek Land where we flew over extraordinary glaciers and sea ice. 



  • June 25 + 26 | Open sea to Murmansk

    June 25 81.5- 79 degrees N 

    June 26 79-69 degrees N | Murmansk, Russia

    Last night five of us stayed on the Bow until 1:00am to experience the majestic beauty of sailing through the icebergs in the Austrian Channel. 

    The 25th and 26th were days at sea. We are in open water, making our way back to Murmansk. 


    Traveling into open water through Franz Josef Land towards Murmansk. 

    The sea is calm and we are all trying to get ready for the reality of cell phones, internet and the news.

    This trip has been THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME…

    So few have ever reached the North Pole… so many things could have gone wrong. Weather, thick ice that cannot be broken, timing...

    All went perfectly well. The first to ever be at the North Pole during Summer Solstice. The third earliest voyage to reach the North Pole. The 53rd surface vehicle ever to reach the North Pole. Pretty amazing!

    I would like to share with you some of my favorite images.
    I am glad you enjoyed the voyage. 


    The landscape of Svalbard captured during 3 days of aerial photography. 


    Blue and green Ice, mesmerising glaciers, and the landscape of the North Pole.