The old mining place Tunheim is situated near the northeastern coast of Bear Island (Bjørnøya). The sea is however inaccessible from the land (and vice versa), because the coast is a vertical cliff more than 10 meters high. The land around Tunheim is a vast stone desert of sharp boulders with a striking absence of vegetation. The underlying bedrock is Carboniferous and Devonian sandstone containing several coal seams, which are easily seen on the coast. The lower seams date back to the Devonian and are thus amongst the oldest on the planet: this was the time when plant life just started to conquer dry land sufficiently to enable accumulations of organic matter big enough to be turned into coal later on.
Geological investigations seemed to indicated boundless geological treasures, and mining started accordingly in 1916. The logistical challenges such as the distance to Norway and the difficult harbour situation required investments exceeding expectations. The owners of the Norwegian company were soon facing a difficult economic situation. The Norwegian government, interested in not letting foreign interests achieve control over infrastructure and land claims in Spitsbergen in the years around the Spitsbergen Treaty (signed in 1920), stepped in with credits, payments for deliveries of coal that was yet to be mined and the acquisition of shares. Finally, further geological investigations showed in 1925 that the occurrence was much smaller than previously believed. The cessation of all activities followed immediately. Only the weather station, then located in Tunheim, was kept for another while until it was finally moved to its recent position at Herwighamna on the north coast.
Since 1925, the buildings in Tunheim are falling apart. Many consist only of foundations or ruins, few are still standing. The small railway track that connected Tunheim to the shipping facility at Siloodden to the north is rosting away. Two old locomotivs are still standing at the southern end of the track, but in a rather sad condition. Little auks breed between the rocks around Tunheim, and polar foxes roam between the buildings.
This is the old coal shipping facility at Siloodden, directly south of the bay Austervåg, where our ship (Antigua) is anchored.
Tunheim is an interesting destination for excursions for the weather station members, the distance is just a few kilometers. Tourists visit Tunheim only rarely, as both landing conditions (only at Austervåg further north) and walking on shore are anything but comfortable. A visit is nevertheless a very interesting experience for those lucky enough to make it there. The spirit of history is unmistakable and strong. Photographers with a sense for the unusual will find a playground with endless opportunities and artistic challenges. Little auks, seabirds breeding on the cliff coast and the chance to see the Arctic fox can make a visit to Tunheim an interesting nature experience. The landscape is so barren that this is quite impressive in itself. In fog, which is frequent during the summer months, it is not a place to be for those with a tendency to moods of sadness, but it is a very typical Bear Island impression. In clear weather, Miseryfjellet provides a scenic background in the south that is as characteristic for Bear Island as anything can be.
last modification: 2018-05-16 ·
copyright: Rolf Stange