Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The legendary latitude 80º N :
six locations on land.

This time Utima Thule will be travelling on a parallel to the equator, 80º to the North. From East to West, from Arctic Canada to Arctic Siberia.

Land at 80ºN. Few places on Earth reach that latitude:
Axel Heiberg Island and Ellesmere Island, in Arctic Canada; northernmost Greenland, east and west; the Norwegian Svalbard IslandsFranz Josef and Severnaya Zemlya archipelagos, on the Siberian Arctic waters.

Flower plants can grow at 80º N, during the precious but short spring-summer months, like these poppies in Svalbard.

Let's start in Axel Heiberg, one of the northernmost islands of the Arctic Archipelago of Canada. The arctic desert terrain was chosen as a good approach to Mars surface and adequate for tests and training in similar conditions. So, NASA installed a base there - the MARS station ("McGill Arctic Research Station"), near the 80º N latitude.

One of he driest regions on Earth - rain is short and occasional.

'Lost Hammer' spring is a case study - methan-eating bacteria can survive there at -60º in extreme hypersaline water and without oxygen !

McGill station, 79º 26' N.


Next, in Ellesmere Island, the largest and northernmost island of the same Canadian Archipelago.

Eureka Sound and the West coast of Ellesmere.

Tanquary Fjord is one of the largest fjords in Ellesmere.

At 80º N, the most remarkable place is probably the station Eureka, a permanent base for military and weather studies founded in 1947.

Eureka station in the distance, on the ice plain.

There have been several generations of buildings. The latest operations centre was completed in 2005.

Let's move eastwards, through Nares Strait. Next stop at Greenland, to meet the Humboldt Glacier (or Sermersuaq, in inuit), the widest tidewater glacier in the Northern Hemisphere:

Its front is 110 km wide, bordering the Kane Basin in North West Greenland.

Reflections in Kane Basin.

Station Nord81º N

Aarhus University Villum, Station Nord

Just 1 degree north of 80º, the danish Station Nord is one of the coldest research stations on earth, on the remote northeast Greenlandic coast:

- 40º C is a 'normal' temperature there.

Now we cross the North Atlantic to the European (Norwegian) Svalbard Archipelago. The 80th parallel hardly touches the northern tip of the islands.

Magdalenefjorden is a short but wide fjord around 79º 30' N, on the west coast of Spitsbergen, the largest island. Arctic cruises frequently visit the spectacular fjord and its glaciers.

The nearest settlement is Ny Ålesund, to the south at 79º N, a station several times highlighted here at U.T.:

But also in Svalbard there is another reddish ground where NASA is testing for the Mars expedition: the Bockfjorden and the surrounding red sandstone mountains.

Bockfjorden, at 80ºN, is an intriguing place where hot meets cold. The ice sheet is gone, dry and cold environment coexist, hot springs still simmer, exhaling gases from Earth's mantle. Shaped by volcanism, ice, and liquid water, the place reminds of how Mars might have once been.

The Sverrefjell volcano created this unique Arctic evironment.

One of several hot thermal sources created by the Sverrefjel.

AMASE expedition testing a robot.

Franz Josef Land

These very very remote islands are mostly north of the 80th parallel, far from the Siberian Arctic coast. Bell island is on the spot, exactly at 80º.

Bell Island has also fascinated arctic explorers and scientists.

Nagurskoye, Alexandra Land island.

This Russian base, at 81º N, was longtime uncared-for, but is presently a beauty among its peers.


Cape Tegettoff, Hall Island, 80º N

There are few spots on the planet more suited to a science fiction movie.


Severnaya Zemlya is still more isolated, south of nowhere. Perfect for some misanthrope to build a hut far from any civilization, up in the Russian high Arctic. Surely there is a station, a meteorological station, at Golomyanniy, 79º 33' N, on Sredniy Island, where Russia is building a larger military base.

The station at Golomyanniy works since 1954.

The chief meteorologist


Surprisingly, animals - some of them quite large ! - live at this latitude:

The pretty arctic fox, Novaya Zemlya.

The edgy and skittish muskox, Ellesmere Island.

The charming but fearsome Polar Bear, Franz Josef Land.

Why not end as I began, with an 80º N arctic flower?