Friday, 19 April 2019

Súðavík, remote in the remotest far North of... Iceland!

Now heading for the the remotest area in Iceland: Westfiords (Vestfirðir), a large Arctic peninsula with a coastline heavily indented by dozens of fjords surrounded by steep hills. Communications by land are difficult, roads are extremely winding and most of the time ice-covered.

Súðavík lies in Álftafjörður, one of many fjords subsidiary to the Ísafjarðardjúp, a larger fjord, almost a gulf.

Súðavík is one of several similar fishing villages on Iceland's northwest coast, in Westfjords. A main street (Aðalgata) with some two- or three-storey wooden houses, some painted white, others blue, a few red; a tiny white wooden church; and a fishing harbour. Two things matter the most about Suðavik: it lies at 66° N, just under the Arctic Circle, and is surrounded by a glorious scenery:


Coordinates: 66° 01′ N, 22° 60′ W
Population: ~220

One of the old residents house during the 'Blueberry Festival'.

The village's main activities currently are fishing, fish processing and tourism.

There are summerhouses and guest agents operating in Súðavík, such as a sea angling company and a tour guide business.

Swanfjord Guesthouse 

A modern holiday house in Túngata

The blue house of the Arctic Fox Centre, set in a magnificent scenery.

The highlight in town is the Arctic Fox Centre (Melrakkasetur), a museum and research centre devoted to the protection of the Arctic fox. It's housed in the oldest and best preserved wooden house in town.

Foxes are the only native mammal in Iceland. The Arctic Fox Centre was established in 2007, and is presently directed by Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir, one of the founders. The Environmental agency of Iceland is responsible for wildlife management.

A visiting school in Summer brings joviality to an usually gloomy place.

There is a nice café for the visitors' comfort.

At 66ºC, that really is luxury.

The Centre under Northern Lights

The church in Súðavík is a modest small wooden building from the 19th century.

The church was moved here from another location nearby in 1963.


Súðavík was sadly on the news in January 1995, when an avalanche fell on the village early in the morning and destroyed several buildings, most of them residents' houses. Fourteen people were killed and twelve were injured. Severe snow storms made the rescue work difficult and dangerous.

At a public meeting in 1995, it was decided that the village should be rebuilt at a safer location.

Over fifty new houses were built, the industries in the area were relocated with the exception of the freezing plant, which continues to operate.

New housing.

The Amma Habby, local restaurant and café. 

But it's Nature that reigns here, almost unchallenged.

The recently built road tunnel under Northern Lights:

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The gorgeous Arctic Fox, celebrated as 'Mikkl' by Christiane Ritter

I have published here some time ago my sympathy for the arctic ermine or marten, a gorgeous little animal. Leonardo painted one in the arms of Cecilia Gallerani (Dama com l'Ermellino).

But the Arctic fox is equally gorgeous, mainly in the height of its winter coating of pristine white fur.

This thick fur protects the fox to below -50ºC, which is quite necessary because foxes don't hibernate - they have to be out on the ice hunting for food during all the winter season. They have to leap high and fall head and forepaws first, punching into the ice to catch some underlying prey (e.g. lemmings).

After extensive hunting since the 19th century, the arctic fox is not endangered presently except in Scandinavia; on the contrary, in some areas managed hunting must take place to keep the population under control. Or else the henhouse may suffer...


The shrewd look of the fox, probably fatal for the preys.

The Arctic fox population has a circumpolar distribution, mainly in the low arctic/sub-arctic areas:

The species has some local variations, the most important being the foxes of Iceland, Greenland, Arctic Canadá, Pribilof Islands and the islands of the Bering Sea, Siberia, plus an important population in the Wrangel Island.

Vixen playing in the dawn, Wrangel Island

A Centre for Protection of the Arctic Fox has been installed in the village of Súðavík, Iceland.

Súðavík, 66°01′ N, 22°59′ W

To close, a short litterary excerpt from A Woman in the Polar Night, by Christiane Ritter, one of the ever best books by a female author. During her retirement in a remote cabin in the Svalbard frozen desert, Ritter is visited by a fox, then named Mikkl, and some domestic kind of attachment grows between them.

" Mikkl now demonstrates his attachment to us by sleeping close to the hut throughout the night. He lies curled up on his bed of straw with his bushy brush over his nose. The sleeping, shining-white fox fits in wonderfully with the stillness of the night, which still remains magically bright. Mikkl is like a fragment of the mysterious Ice Age, lying hidden in the frozen, quiet brightness. In the transparent heavens the large moon looks quite near, not as it does in Europe where its light is cold and distant. Here it seems to belong to our world, the luminous picture of a sharply out-lined ice-landscape."

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Concordia Station - France and Italy together in Antarctica

Dome C and Concordia, on Antarctic's East Ice Sheet.

Here, not far from the South Pole, as in the International Space Station, humanity behaves in a friendly and cooperative way that we'd like to see also at home, which is Europe in this case.

France and Italy have built a common house on the southernmost iced territories of the planet, living together in harmony under -30 to -80º C on the top of a vast polar desert.

Concordia: 75° 05′ S, 123° 19′ E

Concordia, nice name ! , is situated on Dome C, one of the coldest hills of ice at the Antarctic plateau, 3233 meters high. It started working in 2005 as an all year round research station, with a crew of 12 to 15 in permanent occupancy. A team of seismologists, glaciologists, astronomers and climatologists.

The Station is built in a pleasant unique architecture: two large faceted cylinders are the main three-storey buildings; they rest on six hydraulic legs that allow horizontal level adjusting and elevation control as ground level rises with snow accumulation. The two structures are connected at first floor by an insulated enclosed walkway.

Left, the red annex with generators and boilers; then the walkway gallery across the two main buildings, ending in a stairway to the ground

One building is dedicated to somehow 'quiet' activities like labs, accommodations, hospital, communications, weather station. The normal accommodating capacity is up to 65 members, and occupation varies from 12 to 20 in Winter, to over 70 in Summer, when heated tents are used outside.

The other building hosts more noisy social activities: meeting room, offices, library,  restaurant and kitchen, gym, media room.

Generators, the heating system, water treatment and other technical facilities are installed in the red annex cabin.

Local transportation is done by snowmobile tractors.

Dome C is the top of a soft slope, like an upwards deformation of the Ice Cap. Temperature outside is never above -25ºC, at the peak of Summer in January, but can plunge down to -80º C, when a minute of exposition can be fatal; 'normal' is around -40º, like inside a powerful freezer. Very low humidity - driest air - but fortunately not strong winds, as in other domes in Southeast Antarctic.

The feeling to be living in the future, some centuries ahead, in pristine environment and total quietness.

Ice vehicle prototype by Lotus, reaching 130 km/h, under tests during the Solar Eclipse in 2014.

This dryness and quietness is the reason why the site was chosen: it makes an exceptional location for astronomical observations. Besides, atmospheric pollution is absent, and there are no lights around - except full Moon and the Austral Auroras (Southern Lights). Concordia works in full cooperation with ESA - European Space Agency.

One of the astronomic observation devices.

In any direction around, there is 'nothing' in a 1000 km radius, except the Russian Vostok base, 600 km to the north through impracticable terrain. But over 1000 km eastwards the coastline is reached, where other stations are located - McMurdo, Scott, Dumont d'Urville. From there comes the biofuel, spare parts, tools or other equipment, transported by a long convoy of containers pulled by snow tractors on catterpillar treads, known as "The Raid". The two way journey takes a month.

'The Raid' supply convoy arrives at Concordia.

The hardest time is the 9 month full isolation between February and November, when air supply is impossible due to weather conditions. SOS, available with a small Twin-Otter, is also disrupted in the 5 winter months.

Concordia has its own airport in the form of a runway over 1.5 km long. The arrival of the first plane in November is always celebrated: a Canadian Basler 67, the most solid and efficient aircraft to land and take off in short distances on ice terrain, brings the long waited fresh supplies.

Apples, oranges, vegetables, newspapers...

Christmas happens in the best season - December is in Summer at this latitude - and with freshly supplied stocks.

The Basler 67 is a high-tech updated version of the old DC3, from 1942.

Nights can be magic:

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