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Panorama of a polar desert on Nordaustand


View over a river and lagoon land­s­cape in Vibe­buk­ta towards Brås­vell­breen.

Vibe­buk­ta is a wide-open bay on the south coast of Nord­aus­t­land. It is neigh­bou­ring the lar­ge gla­cier Brås­vell­breen, which is part of the huge ice cap Aus­t­fon­na; Vibe­buk­ta is the last part of ice-free land next to the gla­cier front which cha­rac­te­ri­ses the coast­li­ne for more than 100 kilo­me­ters to the east and nor­the­ast from here. This “neigh­bour­hood” alo­ne would be enough to make Vibe­buk­ta a very spe­cia

Wide coas­tal plain in Vibe­buk­ta. The small, for­mer river beds – now dry – have some­what more vege­ta­ti­on than the sur­roun­dings, most­ly algae.

The south coast of Nord­aus­t­land is a very bar­ren and wide-open land­s­cape. At a first, distant glance it may appe­ar rather unspec­ta­cu­lar: a wide, empty plain, and behind that, yel­low-brow­nish hills­lo­pes and some snow fiel­ds rising up to very modest heights, with the ice cap in the far distance. The­re is hard­ly any vege­ta­ti­on; the few flowers are most­ly saxif­ra­ga or Sval­bard pop­py.

Purple saxifrage, Vibebukta

Pur­p­le saxif­ra­ge in Vibe­buk­ta.

Vibe­buk­ta: an inac­ces­si­ble land­s­cape

But on a clo­ser look, Vibe­buk­ta reve­als a sce­ne­ry of stun­ning beau­ty – at least to tho­se who have an eye for details. It is, in my modest opi­ni­on, actual­ly one of the most beau­ti­ful pla­ces in the who­le archi­pe­la­go of Sval­bard. Vibe­buk­ta is, howe­ver, not an easy place to get to. Get­ting to the gene­ral area is one thing – chal­len­ging enough – and get­ting into an ope­ra­tio­nal distance is yet ano­t­her one. Con­si­de­ring the wide­ly shal­low, poor­ly char­ted waters, this is some­thing gene­ral­ly reser­ved for small ves­sels and cap­tains who can make use of local know­ledge. And in the end, it is up to wea­ther, ice and the poten­ti­al pre­sence of polar bears any­way if a lan­ding is an opti­on or not.

Pan­ora­ma: View over Vibe­buk­ta from a rocky hills­lo­pe.

It needs some luck to be able to explo­re this place in situ. But when it works, it is abso­lute­ly worth the effort!

Coastal plain, Vibebukta

View over the coas­tal plain in Vibe­buk­ta from the hills­lo­pes fur­ther inland.

It starts with the see­min­gly end­less dimen­si­ons of the land­s­cape, which can be a bit over­whel­ming espe­cial­ly when you spend some silent moments here in a small group or even on your own, just sit­ting some­whe­re with a good view and enjoy­ing such a uni­que situa­ti­on. The wide-open coas­tal plain is almost com­ple­te­ly cove­r­ed with anci­ent beach rid­ges, some­thing that is striking espe­cial­ly from an ele­va­ted posi­ti­on.

Küstenebene, Vibebukta

View over the coas­tal plain in Vibe­buk­ta from a bird’s eye’s per­spec­ti­ve.

Traces of a tro­pi­cal sea 300 mil­li­on years ago

A clo­ser look at some of the rocky out­crops on the slo­pes fur­ther inland may reve­al traces of long-gone tro­pi­cal seas. In the upper Car­bo­ni­fe­rous / lower Permi­an, near 300 mil­li­on years ago, Spits­ber­gen was near the equa­tor. Back then, ani­mals inclu­ding bra­chio­pods, corals and bryo­zoa (spon­ges) lived in the­se warm, shal­low shelf seas. Today, some of the rocks in Vibe­buk­ta are full of fos­sils of this anci­ent mari­ne life! We can find simi­lar rocks (same com­po­si­ti­on, age and fos­sils) over lar­ge parts of Sval­bard up to the west coast of Spits­ber­gen from the islands off the south cape and up to Isfjord, but the abundance of fos­sils in cer­tain loca­ti­ons in Vibe­buk­ta is real­ly stun­ning.

Fossilien, Vibebukta

Fos­sils in Vibe­buk­ta.

Esker and sub­gla­cial ero­si­ve land­s­capes

Meltwa­ter river near the gla­cier.
The morai­ne-cove­r­ed rim of the ice cap Aus­t­fon­na is rising behind the river.

The­re is a geo­mor­pho­lo­gi­cal­ly very inte­res­ting area in the eas­tern­most part of Vibe­huk­ta. Clo­se to the ice cap, the­re is a meltwa­ter river flowing through a litt­le val­ley to the sea. Towards the gla­cier rim, the sce­ne­ry is domi­na­ted by the bizar­re morai­ne hills. The river its­elf has cut its bed well into the solid bed­rock. This may have hap­pen­ed at times when the area was still gla­cier cove­r­ed: sub­gla­cial (under the gla­cier) rivers may be under pres­su­re and thus achie­ve gre­at velo­ci­ty and hence grea­ter ero­si­ve for­ces.

Meltwa­ter river in Vibe­buk­ta.

Such sub­gla­cial meltwa­ter chan­nels may be fil­led up with gra­vel and sand at the end of their acti­ve time. When the gla­cier has disap­peared, the­se chan­nel fil­lings may stand out abo­ve the sur­roun­dings as long, nar­row rid­ges of soft sedi­ment. Such gla­cial land­forms are known to geo­mor­pho­lo­gists as esker. Swe­den is a clas­si­cal coun­try for eskers, which were hard to exp­lain for ear­ly geo­lo­gists befo­re the ice age theo­ry beca­me a wide­ly accep­ted con­cept. The­re are smal­ler examp­les of eskers also in Vibe­buk­ta, in this litt­le val­ley near the gla­cier.

But also the river bed, which is cut into the bed­rock, exhi­bits an inte­res­ting bit of land­s­cape.

Rocky river bed near the morai­ne-cove­r­ed gla­cier edge of Aus­t­fon­na.

Aban­do­ned river bed.

Pho­to gal­le­ry Vibe­buk­ta

And final­ly some impres­si­ons from Vibe­buk­ta, from small fos­sils to the huge land­s­cape.

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


By the way:

New book

my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (3): Die Bären­in­sel und Jan May­en”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!


This and other publishing products of the Spitsbergen publishing house in the Spitsbergen-Shop.

last modification: 2021-10-17 · copyright: Rolf Stange