Svalbard is part of the Arctic region and lies above the Arctic Circle (66° 33’N). It is a region with midnight sun, polar nights and temperatures below 10 °C during the warmest month. The name Arctic comes from the Greek word ἀρκτικός (arktikos), ”near the Bear, northern”. It probably refers to either Ursa Major or Ursa Minor, the star constellations.
The arctic climate in Svalbard is not what it used to be. This is because of the shrinking sea ice resulting in a warmer climate. Warmer climate means the Arctic region is shrinking and the animals and plants have a tougher time trying to survive. The Arctic holds up to 1/5 of the Earth’s water supply which will end up in the oceans probably raising the sea level.
Let’s say that this trend isn’t going in the right direction. Some argue why as there are natural fluctuations in the global weather pattern. Others that it is human influence, i.e. global warming. I don’t hold the answers, but I can say that it wouldn’t harm anyone if our energy was cleaner.
The situation at Svalbard
The ice situation on Svalbard was fairly good when I arrive in late April. This meant better conditions for the Polar bear as the hunt on the pack ice. And that we had to spend more time trying to track them down.
I really like the concept of being on the same terms as the animals. One leave less of a footprint doing an expedition like this instead of going by boat. I do understand the reasoning with using boats, but I would have a hard time travelling on one if they actually break up the pack ice. To me that is habitat destruction in a really sensitive environment. So, if I ever do a boat trip around Svalbard. Then, I need to be certain that the boat won’t break up the pack ice.
You might wonder how we slept during the expedition. Of course under canvas in a tent, just like in Africa. You needed to be prepared for it as the cold climate will drain your energy reserve. It is essential to try to stay warm all the time. That is of course hard when you find things to take photos of as the camera gear will be cold.
Still you get used to the routines, but of course a little comfort from time to time isn’t bad. Sadly we had above 0 °C during one day and it was evident how fast the conditions turned then. That night we actually use the hotel at Pyramiden because it rained. Sleeping under canvas is never the best option if it rains. Especially not in the Arctic region. That said, we had the luxury of getting a warm shower, cold beer and let everything dry up at the hotel. I didn’t feel bad about that I must admit.
Polar bear cub walking
Did Svalbard deliver?
Well even if we had hard times weather-wise I would say yes. Seven night or days on an snow mobile expedition on Svalbard will make an impression. That I am most sure of after doing it myself.
We had the pleasure of encountering Polar bear with cubs twice. It was special to be able to work with both families and to watch them interact. One normally say that young animals are curious and the first set of cubs we meet approached us closely. The female seemed to be fine with this which surprised me a little. She must have understood that we didn’t pose a threat for the cubs.
The habitat was magnificent in its own brutal way. It is tough place and I wouldn’t recommend anyone to go there if they don’t grasp this. You need to be prepared for it and please use knowledgeable guides. We sadly got to witness another snow mobile group whom didn’t understand the hazards and they later on had a snow mobile that went through the pack ice, no ones hurt. Their guide completely neglected the fact that the ice was thin in that particular fiord. We took a huge detour to avoid the fiord, but they tried to cross it twice and got lucky the first try.
It was also really nice to camp at Northern Fulmar colonies as you then had the possibility to work with them at times. They didn’t like the presence of the Arctic fox whom didn’t seem to be bothered by their attacks.
Will I go back?
Most probably I would say even if I like warmer climate much more.
I would like to try to capture more of the habitat another time as it was magnificent. I often find landscapes hard to do justice, but I would like to give it a try.
The midnight sun was beautiful even if we could have a little better luck with the light. Still we had good light at times which you can see in the photo album.
I went bush camping in Mana Pools in October 2018. It gave me a new insight into what he bush can bring you even at a famous place like Mana Pools in northern Zimbabwe.
The Zambezi River 2018
The Zambezi river is one of the finest and least spoiled rivers in the world. The basin has some of Africa's finest national parks, and many valuable species, ecosystems and wilderness areas survive thanks to the Zambezi river.
Hungary Bee-eater Bonanza 2018
This is my photo album from the Hungarian Bee-eater Bonanza workshop in June 2018. 7 days of photography gave us plenty of good opportunities to work with the animals of the Puszta.
My second snow mobile expedition on Svalbard was very different to the first. Colder, harsher and sunny for almost the complete trip.