Thursday, 19 May 2016

Hornsund fjord, Svalbard - a Polish arctic station in total remoteness.

The Svalbard Archipelago extends from 74º N to 81º N, which anywhere else would make it an uninhabited land, like Franz Josef Land or Severnaya Zemlya, or Axel Heiberg in Arctic Canada. There is no reasonable purpose for humans to live there, except for coal mines, but these, which increased mainly on the early 20th century, will soon be closed. There are no ancient settlements, no native tribes, and in fact there is no History there until whale hunters started seasoning at the south of Svalbard since the 19th century, before the coal mine era.

Historic remains of a coal mine railway.

Why are 2 700 people living in Svalbard ? Well, because some scientific stations and a decent little town (*) were created there in recent years, coal miners are well paid, and life can be attractive to some - there is an University dedicated to Arctic studies, good housing, all the basic urban features, subsidies, and great Nature above all - a large Arctic environment with breathtaking mountains, glaciars and fjords, the oportunity to watch spectacular auroras and see polar bears (from a safe distance), all having the comfort of civilization within reach; hazardous all that is, though, and danger is also part of the appeal.

On the western side of the southern tip of Spitsbergen, under a somewhat milder climate, Hornsund Fjord is the location of a polish scientific station, Polska Stacja Polarna.

The 2 kilometres wide fjord's mouth faces west to the Greenland Sea, and it goes as long as deep to 30 km

Calving glaciar Samarinbreen.

Hansbreen glacier, close to the station.

One wonders why does Poland invest in Arctic studies so intensely. And they have antarctic stations too ! My congratulations to Poland's polar research effort.

Polska Stacja Polarna.

Poland carries out research on Svalbard as one of the countries that signed the Spitsbergen Treaty - the international agreement setting the status of the archipelago in 1921.

The polish station: a wooden one storey T-shaped building, plus a few small annexes.

The first Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) expedition to Hornsund took place in 1957, when the station was built. Since 1978, expeditions are organised each year including researchers from Polish and foreign universities, and tourists from cruise ships.

Polish Polar Station Hornsund

Coordinates: 77º 00' N, 15º 33' E
Regular crew: max. 25 researchers

The station was erected in July 1957 by the Polish Academy of Sciences Expedition during the International Geophysical Year. The station is 10 m above sea level, at the shore of Isbjørnhamna bay.

Hornsund got its name in 1610, when a British whaler found shelter here during a storm. The crew that went ashore found some reindeer horns scattered on the ice-packed fjord, which looked like a “sund” (sea strait).

The station sits on a flat marine terrace in Isbjørnhamna bay.

The main building of the station contains accomodation providing sleeping quarters for 25 persons. The main building also contains the kitchen, living room, library, six laboratories, a radiooperator room, a medical bay, two bathrooms, toilets, and a warehouse for food and equipment.

The generators are situated in a separate building. All buildings are heated, and the station is also equipped with additional facilities like boat garages, two houses for geomagnetic measurements, and a separate hut for environment monitoring situated 700 m away at a small lake.

From that lake fresh water is taken in summer time  with a pipeline, while in winter, snow and ice is collected for melting.

The comfortable living room.

Full-year activities at the station include meteorology, seismology, geomagnetism, ionospheric sounding, glaciology and environmental monitoring. In summers and winters, the station functions as a base for research on geology, geodesy, geomorphology, oceanography and biology.

Multimedia room.

Expeditions and international science teams often arrive by ships like the Oceania, a regular visitor to Hornsund.

The tall ship RV Oceania is a research vessel of the Polish Academy of Sciences, equipped with several laboratories.

Twice a year, the supply ship comes from Poland, with the new wintering crew, summer research and technical groups, fuel, and food. The remaining supplies for winter are transported to the station in autumn, usually in September. But in winter, with frozen sea, supplies are delivered by helicopter.

Fruit is the best appreciated in winter.

Supply ships must anchor 1-2 km from the shore.

The MS Horyzont II, a light icebreaker and research vessel of the polish Academy of Sciences, has 50 passanger capacity and is equiped with several laboratories; she is the main supply and crew transport ship.

Pack ice from the Arctic Ocean or ice from calving glaciers may block the entrance to the fjord or access to the shore.

Unloading is organised with the use of two tracked amphibious, assisted if necessary with inflatable boats.

Those two amphibious vehicles help in load transport and dislocation on the area around the station.

First day of spring sunshine

Lucky them polish !

(*) Longyearbyen, see here

The following video, filmed from inside the Horyzont II, shows the valiant ship amidst a tempest in the Greenland Sea: