Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Arctic Tundra and...a Polar Bear !!

The Arctic Tundra is an intriguing landscape...this biome lies between the Taiga forest and the permanent Arctic Sea Ice. The Tundra or the treeless plains lies above 66'33 N latitude or the Arctic Circle. Here the vegetation has to contend with extreme Arctic conditions dictated by the short growing season, low precipitation and temperatures (as low as -35 C in Winter!) and wind. Even in this extreme landscape, life thrives in the short summer months....

Barnacle Geese seen with chicks at Ny Alesund. Many birds like these Geese fly to Svalbard to breed in the summer.

The beautiful 'hanging gardens' of Svalbard...most people will not believe such a riot of colour in the Arctic, which is rendered by moss and lichen in many colours and spectacular flowers!

We saw many beautiful Arctic flowers on our walks on the Tundra...

This lovely pink flower is the Moss Campion ('Silene acaulis'), which is also known as the Compass plant, as the flowers tend to concentrate according to the direction of the summer sunlight!

A herd of Svalbard Reindeer grazing on the lush summer grass...they have to feed as much as they can in the short summer season, to prepare for the long winter, where they get almost nothing to eat for about 6 months!

These Reindeer allow close approach, mainly beacuse they are in such an urgency not to waste any feeding time during the short summer! The few animals which live here have to contend with very harsh conditions..i was thinking about our Chital...they have such an easy life, with food available all the 365 days in the year!

When our Expedition leader announced one evening that we will be sailing into 'prime Polar habitat' by the morning, i could hardly sleep that night! I was out on the freezing cold observation deck very early, the next morning, scanning the distant islands for a long time. A lady next to me, asked me to check a suspicious moving object, with my 'better binoculars'...and there is was..a Polar Bear!!! I just could not believe my eyes!! A Polar Bear in the the Arctic!!
Our ship changed direction and we approached the 'Ice Bear' turned out to be a female hunting for eggs of nesting ducks on the shoreline...

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Dramatic Arctic Landscape!

The Arctic landscape is something which can evoke only one word in anybody's mind: 'Dramatic'! It is a dream-like land with ice, snow, glaciers,mountains and sea...all weaving a magical tapestry which captivated me endlessly...even today i dream of it constantly...
And what also struck me is the silence of the landscape! It is a quiet world...almost eerie at times!

The July 14th Glacier...60% of Svalbard's 62,000 km is covered by glaciers!
Some like Austfonna are as big as 8412 sq kms!

A closer view of the July 14th Glacier...the light blue colour indicates oxygen. As you know, glaciers are nothing but frozen fresh water.

Tinayrebukta fjord...a fjord is deep sea inlet, surrounded by mountains..Spitsbergen's fjords have been sculpted by huge ice-age glaciers.
You can see our ship Plancius anchored in the fjord..we were on a hike.

The fjords are beautiful with calm seas and rugged glacier-laden mountains.

In the Arctic summer one can see this kind of landscape where the snow melt exposes the rocks and can see grass,moss and even flowers! And this is also the time of 24 hours of Sunshine!

Alkefjell...touted as the most dramatic bird nesting colony in the Northern hemisphere! 350 metres high granite cliffs rise from the sea, where about 2,00,000 pairs of Brunnich's Guillemots nest on these cliffs every summer..

The Arctic is the youngest ecosystem on Earth...just 10,000 years old! It certainly has a sense of freshness!

Single year pack ice or Fast which has formed an year back...

Pack ice (multi-year) or Sea ice which we were surrounded with, when we sailed north of 80 degrees North Latitude....the realm of the Polar Bears! This ice is an accumulation of many years and can be very thick..sometimes a few metres! This ice drifts with the ocean currents and winds...the North Pole is surrounded by this kind of ice and therefore so formidable to get to!

Spitsbergen means 'pointed peaks' in Dutch...who discovered these islands accidentally in 1596 (by William Berentsz)
Please double-click on these pictures and enjoy them in a wider canvas.