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Tunheim, Siloodden


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.



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last modification: 2018-05-16 · copyright: Rolf Stange