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07 July 2002 - Ny Å;lesund, Spitsbergen

RRS James Clark Ross Diary

Position at 1200: 66° 57.9'S, 009° 19.9'E
Distance steamed since Grimsby (10/09/01): 53352 Nautical Miles
Air temperature: 12.2°C; Sea temperature: 14.0°C

Svalbard and heading southwards.....

You may remember that when we left you last week we were heading to try and get our lost lander back. Fortunately the weather did hold, but our luck did not, and the equipment remained firmly on the seabed, even an attempt later in the week was not to be successful. This was a shame and a disappointment for an otherwise very successful cruise, which has been both very enjoyable as well as obtaining a lot of very valuable data and samples.

Tuesday morning found us once more in Kongsfjord, to deploy another lander for sea trials and to complete the sampling regime for the stations in this area.

Back in Kongsfjord. Click to enlarge Back in Kongsfjord. Click to enlarge

In addition to the direct scientific activities, our return to Kongsfjord was to enable NERC (Natural Environmental Research Council) our parent body to host a reception marking ten years of their involvement in the Ny Ålesund Research station, of which there will be more later. This was much appreciated by those onboard, as it gave us a longer visit to explore the base and immediate area. Though we could not stray too far as there had apparently been a polar bear sighting nearby. They might appear very cuddly on TV, but they can be very dangerous and should be treated with the greatest respect.

JCR alongside the jetty at Ny lesund. Click to enlargeThe James Clark Ross alongside the jetty at Ny Ålesund. Click to enlarge.

Apart from the reception, the great social occasion of the visit was allowing all those suffering from world cup withdrawal to take part in some football matches. These were going to be eleven-a-side until it was realised that a great mound of gravel had been deposited in the middle of the "pitch" requiring the switch to five-a-side games. This could have been a ploy on behalf of the base as they managed to win both games 1-0, with the crew/scientists game ending 0-0. The pitch you might notice was quite hard with a loose covering (otherwise known as gravel) but the right wing was also very rutted leading to some interesting tackles or was it just the fact that the PSO Graham Shimmield was playing on that side? Below we have some images of the game;

Football. Click to enlarge Football. Click to enlarge
football. Click to enlarge football. Click to enlarge

After all the action we have the teams group photograph and an image of the terraces!

The team photo. Click to enlarge The required Scottish football fan. Click to enlarge

Above: Left - Team Photograph. Right - Martyn Harvey - we think! Click on the image to enlarge them.

Wednesday saw our departure from Kongsfjord for the last time this trip. Our last undertaking being the return to the seabed of an instrument mooring that we had serviced during the cruise. A Norwegian ship will finally collect it in a few months time. Then it was off, initially back to the site of the lost lander with a revised plan of attack; unfortunately the sea was determined not to give up it's treasures. So, we turned southwards at last and completed our final full station off Bear Island in the early hours of Saturday morning, then it was off back to Sula Ridge to recover the photo lander tomorrow (Monday) morning. Thursday this week will see the end of this cruise, as we exchange our present scientific personnel in Stornoway for a much smaller group from BGS (British Geological Survey), but more of them next week.

As you will notice from our position at noon today, tonight will see our first bit of real darkness we have had for a few of weeks. Well dusk anyway.

Ny Ålesund, Spitsbergen - A Brief Introduction

The Ny Ålesund International Arctic Research Station is on the island of Spitsbergen, the island in turn is part of the Svalbard archipelago. The settlement was created to exploit coal, but now it exclusively exists for science. It supports the activities of up to fifteen nations and is the world's northernmost community. This is assisted by the milder, than might be expected, climate at this high latitude. This is due to the Gulf Stream which still exhibits a force this far north giving a average temperature for the coldest month (February) of -14°C and +5°C for the warmest (July).

Ny Ålesund. Click to enlargeNy Ålesund Today. Click to enlarge


The Mining Starts

  • 1610 - Jonas Poole, a English Whale Hunter, reports finding coal on the river banks of Kongsfjord.
  • 1916 - The Kings Bay Kull Compani AS (KBKC) starts mining and creates the settlement of Ny Ålesund. It mines the area until 1929 having been supported by the Norwegian State on numerous occasions. The State finally acquires all the shares in KBKC in 1933.

Polar Exploration

Being so close to the North Pole, only 1,231 km, made it an ideal starting place for expeditions, particularly aerial ones. Several of which included;

  • 1925 - Roald Amundsen attempts to reach the Pole by means of seaplanes along with American Lincoln Ellsworth, but is forced to land short of their goal. They spend several weeks on the ice before managing to return to safety.
  • 1926 - Amundsen and Ellsworth return to Ny Ålesund along with the Italian Umberto Nobile intending to cross the pole to Alaska using the airship "Norge". The expedition was successful and is marked both in Ny Ålesund and Alaska by identical monuments. see below.

Monument to Roald Amundsen. Click to enlargeMonument to Roald Amundsen. Click to enlarge.

  • 1928 - Nobile returns with the intention of flying the airship Italia to the North Pole, but he crashed onto the ice. Only Nobile and half his crew were rescued. However, Amundsen who took part in the search in a seaplane, vanished without trace.


With the end of mining in 1929 a maintenance team was left to look after Ny Ålesund. During which time the now state owned KBKC set about supplying the fishing industry that was growing in and around the fjords. This lead to the decision to open a hotel in 1936 by converting an old barrack building. It still exists today and the North Pole Hotel can be seen below.

North Pole Hotel. Click to enlargeNorth Pole Hotel. Click to enlarge.

Mining Returns

  • Although mining had started again in 1940, it had to be abandoned because of World War Two.
  • 1945 - saw the resumption of large scale mining operations. However, conditions were hard and several disasters occurred coinciding with a downturn in the price for coal.
  • 1962 - November of this year saw a disaster that resulted in the deaths of 21 people and ultimately resulted in the closure of the mining operations the following year.

Science comes to Ny Ålesund

  • 1964 - was the year that science really came to Ny Ålesund with the Norwegian Government signing and agreement with the European Space Research Organisation and the Norwegian Research Council tasked with running the station. It was also used as base for field research by the French and British at this time.
  • 1974 - saw KBKC once more taking responsibility for the facilities when the Norwegian Research council closed their station.
  • 1990's - have seen vast expansion in the scientific activities with NERC moving here in 1991 and building a new facility in 1992.

Although most institutes have built their own laboratory facilities the central accommodation and infrastructure is still operated by KBKC or Kings Bay AS (KB) as it became known in 1998, so removing the coal reference.

The coal history is never far away and various aspects of the mining days can still be seen around by the visitor, of whom there is an increasing number as Ny Ålesund emerges onto the tourist map. Below we can see a coal train on display near the wharf, you might be able to make out Dave Cutting, our Chief Engineer, as he checks out the boilers.

Dave Cutting on Coal Train. Click to enlargeMining Train with Chief Engineer? Click to enlarge.

Find Out More About Ny Ålesund

For more information about NERC's activities in Ny Ålesund you can check out the Arctic Science part of this BAS website or for more about the Kings Bay Company and the other operations at Ny Ålesund, have a look at the Kings Bay website.

Pets Corner!

In addition to the Arctic terns who seem to make their nests everywhere, particularly the roads, and then object as people pass by dive bombing them, there were also some other animals around. You may have spotted the Barnacle goose in the foreground of the JCR picture earlier, but also around the town there were some Arctic fox sights for some lucky people. A little easier to spot were the reindeer, a small herd of which were introduced to the local area in the late 1970's I believe and of course there was some Huskies. Only three mind you kept at this time for sledging and recreation in the winter. Despite the apparent frowns on their faces they were very affectionate. The bottom picture shows John McGowan one of our AB's with his new friend.

Huskies in their pen. Click to enlarge A Reindeer out on the town. Click to enlarge
John and friend. Click to enlarge

Above: Top left - Huskies in their pen. Top right - A reindeer "out on the town". Bottom - John and "friend". Click on the images to enlarge them.

Photographic Credits

This week thanks go to Jeremy Robst, John Derrick, Ivan Ezzi and Martyn Harvey for allowing me to use their images.