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

Oslo Airport, Norway

  Longyearbyen 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.

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  Trapper’s Lodge

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

The Svalbard National Seed Vault

  Hard hats must be worn upon entry to the 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.

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.

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

  United Nations Seed Vault.

United Nations Seed Vault.

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.

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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.

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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, Van Gogh

  Starry Night Over the Rhone, Edvard Munch

Starry Night Over the Rhone, Edvard Munch

  The Viking Museum.

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).

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  Train from Oslo to Bergen.

Train from Oslo to Bergen.

Bergen lives up to its reputation. 

Quaint 18th century charming town in the fjords.

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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. 

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  The Fantost Stave Church, Bergen

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. 

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  Food BARE

Food BARE

  Bergen, 1:00am.

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.

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  Leprosy Museum, Bergen.

Leprosy Museum, Bergen.

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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.

Walking around in Helsinki last night.

  Map of our route to the North Pole.

Map of our route to the North Pole.

June 18 - Breaking the Ice

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 sighting 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!

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  Our first polar bear visitor

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

A map of ice cover on land

  The world's ice cover 140,000 years ago

The world's ice cover 140,000 years ago

  The world's ice cover 20,000 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.

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 blowhole of the Bow Head Whale.

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

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

Walruses

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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.

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  Breaking through the ice

Breaking through the ice

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

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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. 

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  The remains of buildings on Cape Flora.

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.

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

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. 

  Our captain, Dimitriy Lobusov

Our captain, Dimitriy Lobusov

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.

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. 

  Fabrice

Fabrice

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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!

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. 

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  The sea ice of the Arctic Ocean.

The sea ice of the Arctic Ocean.

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June 23 - On 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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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  The cub chases the male bear away.

The cub chases the male bear away.

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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. 

Franz Josef and our route through Franz Josef Land. 

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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. 

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  Jackson Island, Cape Norway

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. 

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

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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. 

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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. 

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

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June 25 + 26 - Open Sea to Murmansk

June 25
81.5-79 degrees N 

June 26 - Murmansk, Russia
79-69 degrees N

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. 

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  Traveling into open water through Franz Josef Land towards Murmansk. 

Traveling into open water through Franz Josef Land towards Murmansk. 

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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. 

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

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

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

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