There is excitement at Basecamp Spitsbergen and aboard the Noorderlicht, which is frozen into Tempelfjorden and will be used as a tourist destination. It has been difficult in recent years to find ice to freeze into. Everything looks far better this year.
"We have now driven snowmobiles from Fredheim and out to the boat which is frozen in Tempelfjorden," said Steinar Rorgemoen, general manager of Basecamp Spitsbergen. "The situation may change, but there are better prospects now than there have been for several years."
He emphasized that although they have driven snowmobiles on the ice, they have not gone
out far enough to offer assurances it is generally safe.
"Everyone must take their own precautions," he said.
Basecamp tourists will be able to start staying on the boat Feb. 15 if the ice holds.
"We are optimistic," Rorgemoen said.
Ice observers at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in Tromsø were surprised when they saw ice beginning to form in the fjords of Isfjorden.
"On Wednesday the ice picture that we see shows that Billefjorden, Dicksonfjorden, Ekmanfjorden and most of Tempelfjorden is packed with ice," said Trond Robertsen, an observer at the institute. "In Borebukta and in Ymerbukta there is also ice, but this is more volatile floating ice. In addition, Van Mijenfjorden is icy pretty far out."
He warned against relying on the ice being passable. Some powerful weather systems toward the end of the week makes it highly likely there are uncertain conditions in many places.
"It is not easy to say how this will turn out," he said. "At worst, the ice can be churned up into slush. What I can say for sure is that a small storm coming from the south first and then shifting to the north will do anything with the ice in the fjord system. This weekend people should move in areas with the greatest caution."
What about the longer-term ice prospects this winter?
"They look good," he said. "You will get cold weather with winds from the north and it can quickly freeze again."
Ragnheid Skogseth, an oceanography researcher at The University Centre in Svalbard, said there is still warm water in Isfjorden.
"In the northernmost fjords the warm waters as far do not need to go as far because of soil conditions," she said. "If the warm water is going further up into the water column, it can also get into these fjords."
The risk for that to happen is present with the weather statistics reported Wednesday.
"One should always be careful when there are such changes in the weather," the researcher said.
She said she does not know how far down into the water column the warm water is now since UNIS has not taken measurements in the middle of Isfjorden since November.
Measurements taken in Adventfjorden recently showed a temperature of minus 1.5 degrees Celsius in the upper 30 meters of water. The freezing point is about minus 1.8 degrees, but is dependent on the water's salinity.