Autumn in the high Arctic

In the previous post I showed an image of a Polar Willow in autumn colours. On the west coast of Spitsbergen this is a good sign that summer is over and autumn has started. In the north and east however, there are no ‘trees’ that can turn yellow. The climate is a lot harsher and autumn sets in in  a different way.

In the morning we tried to have a zodiac cruise near Storøya, one of the easternmost islands of the Spitsbergen archipelago. However, we had to abort the operations when we had filled the first few zodiacs due to strong winds (up to 25 knots) and a strong swell (about 1.5 meters high). I spend about 1.5 hours in the zodiac at temperatures around freezing with snow every now and then. The best way to wake up in the morning, I must say. I was one of the zodiacs that actually had loaded passengers when we decided to abort and they really liked it and didn’t want to go back…

Walruses and Ortelius in the snow


Back on board we decided to sail toward the Sjuøyane, the northernmost islands of the archipelago, hoping to find some shelter there. When we arrived there during dinner the swell was a bit less as in the morning, but the wind was picking up and it was -1ºC and snowing every now and then. Excellent conditions for a real high arctic autumn zodiac cruise. We boarded passengers and had a look what we could find. Phippsøya, the largest of the Sjuøyane, is home to a large colony of Walrus, and we found several groups in the water. Some of them where really curious, popping up right next to the zodiac sometimes to great excitement of the passengers in my zodiac. We even saw a few mothers with young calves, something you don’t often see in Spitsbergen. After cruising around and absorbing the high Arctic atmosphere, we found a place to have a quick landing. Not to have a real walk, but just enough to be able to stretch our legs a bit and have a different view on this high arctic landscape covered in fresh snow. It was nice to see how different people enjoyed this atmosphere. Some walking up to a higher viewpoint, some just sitting down to enjoy the views, while others couldn’t resist picking up some of the trash that littered the beach. After twenty minutes it was time to go back into the zodiacs and head back towards the ship. By the time everybody was on board, it was almost 11pm, but the bar buzzed with excitement about this landing for a long time after that…

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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