There was considerable anxiety last weekend about the ice remaining in Isfjorden after a storm ravaged the area. But the conclusion now is the Noorderlicht still has plenty of ice around its hull. Furthermore, Basecamp Spitsbergen successfuly drove on the ice in Grønfjorden on the way to Kapp Linné.
"As long as it's cold, I think the side fjords in the north and east of Isfjorden will remain safe," said Frank Nilsen, a professor of oceanography at The University Centre in Svalbard. "But a combination of mild weather and strong winds may get the ice to go in a gradual dissolving."
Warm water remains
When Svalbardposten went to press on Wednesday, there was solid ice in all of the side fjords to Isfjorden. Even in Adventfjorden, a layer of ice extended its white covering out to Hotellneset.
A similar situation existed in 2009, when Longyearbyen's fjords experienced an icy period. In January of that year the Norwegian Guard Guard vessel Svalbard had to break the Noorderlicht out of the ice at Bykaia so it could settle into the ice at Tempelfjorden.
"That year there was also a period of ice in Isfjorden itself," Milsen said. "Whereas the last really big ice year was in 2004 and before that in 1998."
But even if the ice is now settled in, there is still warm water in Isfjorden. The water enters the south of the bay, turns in Sassenfjorden and goes out to the north, according to the professor. It does not flow so easily into the northern and eastern side fjords because of soil conditions there.
"The element of uncertainty is how far down into the water column the warm water is," Nilsen said.
Wanting an observation
Researchers have not taken ice measurements in recent weeks.
"We have used a polarcirkel (boat), but using it with the ice now is out so it is parked, Nilsen said. "We must wait until the ice is safe enough that we can drill holes and measure."
Researchers at UNIS have for several years tried to get funding for an underwater observation site at the outlet of Adventfjorden with a cable extending into Hotellneset.
"We have not succeeded yet, but our hope for the future is that we will get a station in the sea that shows temperature and current speed," Nilsen said. "Such an installation can send data to UNIS, which can then publish data on an equal footing with a weather station."
Although ice is solid now in Tempelfjorden, Billefjorden, Dicksonfjorden and Ekmanfjorden, the professor said people need to be on guard.
"Since there is so much warm water around Svalbard it is wise to be wary," he said "Especially during mild weather periods."
Good for tourism
Svalbardposten spoke wiith Basecamp General Manager Steinar Rorgemoen on Tuesday after he reached Kapp Linné by driving over Grønfjorden on the way there. The Noorderlicht, which the company uses as a hotel ship, is frozen in Tempelfjorden where the ice extends to Fredheim.
"It was like the perfect dream," Rorgemoen said. "Everything is good."
Spitsbergen Travel officials are also expressing satisfaction with the conditions.
"We get to drive to the glaciers in Tempelfjorden so long as the ice is good," said Tore Hoem, the company's production manager. "Pyramiden will be available in a completely different way than usual and if there is ice in Grønfjorden that is also positive. Ice is what we want."
Importance of glaciers
The company's featured winter tour offering is to Tunabreen and Von Postbreen in Tempelfjorden. Last year they did not offer trips there because there was no ice leading to Fredheim and Spitsbergen Travel did not arrange guided trips down the back length of Kapp Schoults further inside the fjord.
"Now we can implement what we are advertising," Hoem said. "It is the glacier that is the goal."
An absence of ice is fortunately the exception.
"But if we now get ice from Elveneset to Gipsvika we are talking about great conditions and about more possibilities than for many years," Hoem said. "Fingers are crossed. It looks good."
General Manager Sveinung Toppe said the ice has varied slightly from day to day, depending on wind direction. They check the ice every time they drive out on it.
"People should check the ice for themselves," Toppe said. "The fact that there are others who have driven out there is no guarantee. Early in the season the ice probably changes faster than in April. We say that ice should be 30 centimeters thick, to have a safety margin even if local changes should be underway. People must also talk with experienced locals before they drive on the ice. Both in Tempelfjorden, Van Mijenfjorden and Billefjorden there are some local issues."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini