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Home → January, 2019

Monthly Archives: January 2019 − Travelblog


Northern lights, northern lights, northern lights …

My dear friends, let me tell you, it is tough. For weeks we have been trying to get some sleep at normal times. But it just doesn’t work. This northern light is really too bad. Really, it can be annoying! You always have to go out, watch Lady Aurora dancing, take photos … yes, life in the Arctic can be hard … 🙂

Northern light

Northern light aureola, near-vertically above the photographer’s position.

It was almost warm today, just about -6°C in Adventdalen. In comparison to the last days, it felt really mild. Only the wind was a bit chilly.

Northern lights, Endalen

Ring of northern lights over Endalen.

I can’t promise that there won’t be any more aurora borealis pics in this blog during the next weeks. This is how the polar night is. On the other hand, Lady Aurora can be very moody. Sometimes she is just sleeping somewhere far away or she is just dancing for the clouds. When she is in good mood then you just have have to take the opportunity. You never know when the next one comes – maybe this is her farewell for the moment and she decides to move on to another planet or wherever.

Northern light and polar bear warning sign

The famous polar bear warning sign.

Blue lights and northern lights

The days are just flying, or rather this endless night. It will still take a while until you can talk of “days” again in Spitsbergen. But the light is coming back! There is clearly some faint dawn on the southern horizon around noon. The sun is not far anymore.

Dawn, Longyearbyen

First dawning in late January, mid-day in Longyearbyen.

Still, the polar night is obviously a good time to do things inside. And there is no lack of good opportunities. Next to all the work that never takes an end, there is, just to give one example, the already mentioned Svalbarseminar. And for Per Kyrre Reymert, the “cultural heritage oracle”, the same is true as for Maarten Loonen (see previous blog): you are guaranteed to get a solid portion of interesting arctic knowledge, and it is fun to listen to! A very entertaining hour where you can only try to memorise as much as you possibly can. Today, it was about the French Recherche-expedition (1838, 1839). Yes, that was the one with Leonie D’Aunet, the first woman who visited Spitsbergen. As far as we know, that is.

Svalbardseminar, UNIS: Per Kyrre Reymert

Per Kyrre Reymert speaking in the Svalbardseminar at UNIS about the Recherche-expedition (in Spitsbergen 1838 and 1839).

And it is certainly good to know what the guys from the Sysselmannen (government representative, police and other sovereign duties) are keeping themselves busy with. Flying drones, for example. Of course they are only doing sensible things with these drones! Who would thing of anything different … Police investigations, search and rescue operations, documenting erosion and wear and tear on cultural heritage sites … the list is long.

Svalbardseminar, UNIS: die Drohnenabteilung des Sysselmannen

The “drone-squadron” of the Sysselmannen presenting their work in the Svalbardseminar at UNIS.

It is and remains stunningly beautiful outside. The light of the moon is now less bright than last week, but the returning sun – still well below the horizon – brings several hours of blue light into the darkness during daytime.

Blue light: Helvetiafjellet, Adventdalen

The blue light hours are coming back to Spitsbergen during daytime.

A little trip into Adventdalen, far enough to escape the “big city” light pollution. The silence and the blue light are amazing! And the view into Adventdalen wettens the appetite for more. That is the way to Sassendalen, to Tempelfjord, to the east coast, … soon will the days be longer and the same goes for the trips out into nature!

Blaues Licht: Blick ins Adventdalen

View into Adventdalen during the blue light hour(s).

Soon, however, the blue light gives way to darkness again, the “days” are still short. But the night does always have something to offer. In recent days, northern light activity was a bit limited. Not that there weren’t any at all, but limited, and sometimes you do also have to sleep, so it is inevitable to miss out sometimes. It is all about being in the right time at the right place, and that little bit of luck!

Northern light, Adventdalen

Northern light over Adventdalen (I).
The lights of mine 7 and some huts in the lower right corner.

Today, we were – once again – at the right time in the right place. We just had that bit of luck. Kind of on the way to go shopping. Never leave the house without the camera 🙂

Northern light, Adventdalen

Northern light over Adventdalen (II).

Lunar eclipse over Spitsbergen

Today (21 January 2019) was the day (well, it is not really a day, the sun does not rise at all here currently) of a major astronomical event, the next one after the solar eclipse in 2015. The lunar eclipse that was visible in Spitsbergen from approximately 6 a.m. was certainly worth setting the alarm clock for.

Lunar eclipse over Longyearbyen

Today’s lunar eclipse: the “blood moon” over Longyearbyen.

After a short observation of the initial lunar eclipse over Longyearbyen, we went out into Adventdalen to get further away from the big city lights and to get a natural background for the impressive celestial event.

Lunar eclipse over Adventdalen

Lunar eclipse over Adventdalen: the “blood mmoon” over Spitsbergen (I).

The duration of the lunar eclipse was much more agreeable than that of the above-mentioned solar eclipse, the total phase of which did not last longer than 2 minutes and a few seconds. This could make the astro-photographers sweat despite of the temperatures around minus 20 degrees (C) back then.

Mondfinsternis im Adventdalen

Mondfinsternis im Adventdalen: der “Blutmond” über Spitzbergen (II).

Not that it was any warmer today, but we could take it with time: the total phase of today’s lunar eclipse was nearly an hour long, so next to taking photos, we could just enjoy the event and a sip of hot chocolate – a very good thing considering the temperature. The stars were amazing, they came out bright and strong due to the reduced moonlight. Very impressive!

Starry sky during lunar eclipse, Adventdalen

Stars during the lunar eclipse in Adventdalen.

Finally, my current ceterum censeo: I have made a new photo book, focussing on aerial photography and thus showing the Arctic from a very unsual perspective. In theory, the book is in German, but in practice, it does hardly have text. 134 out of 137 pages do just have stunning photos, placenames and a little map. Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) – Aerial Arctic shows Jan Mayen and Svalbard from the air.

Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) - Aerial Arctic

Rolf’s new photo book Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) – Aerial Arctic shows Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen from a new and stunning perspective.

Vinkelstasjon, neighbour reindeer and Science Slam

Time is flying, there is always something to do. Mostly stuff that isn’t worth mentioning, but it is really filling the days. Everyday life. Projects. Work.

Yes, and life. Friends. Being outside.

Being outside is obviously one main reason for living in Longyearbyen. It will soon be full moon and the sky is mostly clear. The light is pure magic. The Norwegians have a beautiful word for that: “trolsk”. Maybe you can use “trollish” to translate it? It is “magical”, but that does not really hit the nail on the head. With “trolsk”, we don’t associate Harry Potter but rather some kind of fairytale magic with a slight undertone of danger and gloominess. Just like the arctic: of breathtaking beauty, but with a touch of danger lurking somewhere hidden, often not being visible. Trolsk.

Most tours do currently not go anywhere remote. That is not the point now. You will find the whole beauty of the polar night in Longyearbyen’s vicinity. It is of course always an idea to go somewhere without artificial light.

Adventdalen in the polar night

Adventdalen in the polar night.

There is, of course, a lot of artificial light in and near Longyearbyen. Whenever there is a northern light you have to go to a suitable place for undisturbed observation and photography. A bit of artificial light does, of course, not hurt, often it has a charme of its own. Like the Vinkelstasjon in Endalen, which used to be a part of the old coal cableway. Today, it is illuminated during the polar night, providing a lovely eyecatcher in the dark landscape.

Vinkelstation Endalen

The Vinkelstasjon in Endalen used to be a part of the coal cableway in the past.
Today, it is part of the local history and, in the dark time, a light installation.

It is part of the practical aspects of moving around in the dark that high-vis jackets and reflectors are strongly advised. Otherwise, the risk of being hit by a car is significant and one day it will crash.

The reindeer don’t know that. They tend to stand just next to the road. And the don’t look left or right before they start crossing it.

When you leave the house in the morning and there is a reindeer next to the entrance in the dark, then it can give you a bit of a sudden weak-up. As soon as you realise that the big furry animal just in front of you is actually a reindeer, it is a bit of a relief which feels quite good.

Reindeer, Longyearbyen

Reindeer in Longyearbyen.

There is a lot going on in Longyearbyen in terms of culture, education and science. In January, there is the Svalbardseminar. Experts of various fields offer presentations to tell the public about their field of knowledge. These presentations are usually in Norwegian, hence not an attraction for international visitors, but if you understand Norwegian, then they are usually very interesting.

This week, there was a “Science Slam” scheduled. Several scientists talked about their work and research results in short lectures which were supposed to be as entertaining as educative. Everything was allowed as long as it is not generally forbidden and nobody is harmed. This worked altogether quite well.

SIOS Svalbard, Svalbardseminar, UNIS

SIOS Svalbard introducing themselves in the Svalbardseminar at UNIS.

In the photo above, SIOS Svalbard (“Svalbard integrated arctic earth observing system”) staff are introducing their organisation, the design and purpose of which is hard to grasp in just a few words. SIOS is kind of a meta-scientific organisation, trying to ensure that efficient collecting and exchange of all sorts of data is working smoothly in practice, beyond borders of different nationalities, projects and fields of science.

And then, there is of course Maarten Loonen, the Dutch specialist for bird migration, arctic geese and tundra. We meet him quite regularly in Ny-Ålesund in the summer, where he has been part of the regular outfit as long as even the oldest ones can remember. In a way that you just can’t imitate, Maarten manages to squeeze a lot of knowledge into a few minutes that is hard to remember – unfortunately, because it is fascinating stuff. Just an example: geese have a completely different digestion system than reindeer. Whatever a geese puts into herself at the front end will leave her again at the rear end after 1-2 hours. Reindeer need much more time for the same process, but they make use of a much higher proportion of the energy and nutrients stored in the plant material that they take up. Which means that what leaves a goose’s butt (my wording, not Maarten’s) is still perfectly good food for a reindeer. But not always, that depends again on what the goose has eaten. And you can actually see it on the colour of the droppings. And so on and so forth. I just can’t recall all of it, unfortunately. If you ever have a chance to listen to Maarten Loonen: go for it!

Maarten Loonen, Svalbardseminar bei UNIS

Maarten Loonen talking about arctic migrating birds, mainly geese and their importance for the arctic tundra, in the Svalbardseminar at UNIS.

Finally, my current ceterum censeo: I have made a new photo book, focussing on aerial photography and thus showing the Arctic from a very unsual perspective. In theory, the book is in German, but in practice, it does hardly have text. 134 out of 137 pages do just have stunning photos, placenames and a little map. Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) – Aerial Arctic shows Jan Mayen and Svalbard from the air.

Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) - Aerial Arctic

Rolf’s new photo book Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) – Aerial Arctic shows Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen from a new and stunning perspective.

The arctic blog continued: back to Longyearbyen!

After a winter- and christmas period in our southern home, we return to our northern home: back to Longyearbyen! We spend a few days in Norway on the way up, visiting good friends, before we board the plane in Oslo.

The flight leaves from Oslo Gardermoen in the morning and arrives in Longyearbyen mid-day. We fly away from the sunlight and into the darkness. While climbing up the ladder to the plane, we enjoy a few last moments of sunlight. They will be the last ones for several week.

Gallery flight to Longyearbyen

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

The magic of the polar night is waiting for us!

The moon is waxing – that is not a secret, that is the same everywhere on Earth at the same time. But here, it is more important than elsewhere. Not only because far above the polar circle the moon is hardly seen during the summer, because then it remains largely below the horizon unless it is new moon, when you don’t see it anyway. But now, in winter, the moon is stunning. And it is a very important light source, much more than in latitudes where the sun is more reliable in wintertime.

Polar night and moonshine in Adventdalen close to Longyearbyen

Adventdalen in the polar night (I): the moon is shining over Operafjellet.

The appearance of the country is magical. The moon is casting silver-blue light over the landscape which is covered with a thin layer of snow and ice. On photos, the moon appears very bright so you might even think it is the sun.

Photographing this kind of beauty is a challenge. Most photographs are are far too bright. Of course you can expose your photo until they look as if taken on a sunny day. The results will be beautiful but they don’t have much to do with reality. Reality IS hauntingly beautiful, and it is, well … reality! It doesn’t get much better than that, but it is hard to capture in an image. The beauty that the eye which is accustomed to darkness perceives may just appear as darkness on a reasonably realistic image. And that can also be realistic, but maybe not quite the reality, if that makes sense.

Polar night and moonshine in Adventdalen close to Longyearbyen

Adventdalen in the polar night (II): a bit darker, a bit more realistic
(? depending on how well your eyes are accustomed to darkness when you are out in the field).

I am trying to find a compromise which is close to reality and delivers the real beauty of the polar night at the same time.

Last but not least for this first entry of my arctic blog 2019 an impression from Longyearbyen in the polar night. A perspective that, I am sure, many of you will know, but possibly in very different light conditions.

Longyearbyen in the polar night

High noon in Longyearbyen in polar night. The sundial does currently have some technical problems 😉

Finally, let me mention that I have made a new photo book, focussing on aerial photography and thus showing the Arctic from a very unsual perspective. In theory, the book is in German, but in practice, it does hardly have text. 134 out of 137 pages do just have stunning photos, placenames and a little map.
Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) – Aerial Arctic shows Jan Mayen and Svalbard from the air.

Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) - Aerial Arctic

Rolf’s new photo book Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) – Aerial Arctic shows Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen from a new and stunning perspective.

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