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Dickson Land-Billefjord

Nature, history and photos from one of Spitsbergen's most beautiful areas

Map Dickson Land, Billefjord

Map: Dick­son Land and Bill­efjord.

Gene­ral

Dick­son Land is the name for the pen­in­su­la bet­ween Dick­son­fjord and Bill­efjord. It is named after Oscar Dick­son (1823-1897), a Swe­dish indus­tri­al who spon­so­red several polar expe­di­ti­ons. Bill­efjord is very sce­nic, inclu­ding the lar­ge cal­ving gla­cier front of Nor­dens­kiöld­breen, and it has the for­mer Rus­si­an mining sett­le­ment Pyra­mi­den. Becau­se of this and the rela­tively good acces­si­bi­li­ty due to the short distance to Lon­ge­ar­by­en, it is fre­quent­ly visi­ted espe­cial­ly in the sum­mer, when boats offer day trips from Lon­gye­ar­by­en, but also in the spring (late win­ter). Addi­tio­nal­ly, Dick­son Land is one of the most beau­ti­ful and easi­ly acces­si­ble hiking and trek­king are­as of Spits­ber­gen. Long trek­kings fol­lowing the lar­ge, ice-free val­leys and high pla­teaux are pos­si­ble as well as some moun­tain clim­bing (not tech­ni­cal) and gla­cier hikes – but this is not for ever­y­bo­dy, it requi­res good phy­si­cal shape and rele­vant know­ledge and expe­ri­en­ces with all sorts of dif­fi­cul­ties and poten­ti­al hazards that are part of the natu­re of an arc­tic envi­ron­ment.

For a more rela­xed approach – but very rewar­ding! – it is pos­si­ble to get accom­mo­da­ti­on and food in the hotel in Pyra­mi­den. You will need a gui­de (or your own wea­pon etc.) for excur­si­ons, inclu­ding even acti­vi­ties wit­hin Pyra­mi­den, but this is local­ly avail­ab­le if nee­ded. Recom­men­ded!

This page is about the gene­ral area of Dick­son Land and Bill­efjord. The­re is a spe­cial page about Pyra­mi­den (click here) with a lot of infor­ma­ti­on.

Pyramiden, Billefjord

The Rus­si­an sett­le­ment of Pyra­mi­den in Bill­efjord: aban­do­ned as a mining sett­le­ment in 1998,
still acti­ve and popu­lar as a tou­rist desti­na­ti­on.

Pan­ora­mas

The­re is a num­ber spe­cial pages on this web­sites dedi­ca­ted to various indi­vi­du­al sites in the Bill­efjord area, with more infor­ma­ti­on, pan­ora­ma images and pho­tos, for examp­le:

Pro­tec­ted are­as

Sou­thern and wes­tern Dick­son Land are part of the Nord­re Isfjord natio­nal park. Bün­sow Land east of Bill­efjord is part of the Sas­sen-Bün­sow Land natio­nal park. The litt­le islands of Gåsøya­ne are a bird sanc­tua­ry (all traf­fic wit­hin 300 m from the shore pro­hi­bi­ted from 15 May to 15 August).

Bill­efjord its­elf and the land are­as around its nort­hern part are not part of any spe­cial­ly pro­tec­ted area, but the gene­ral envi­ron­men­tal regu­la­ti­ons app­ly as any­whe­re in Spitsbs­er­gen (see rules).

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

Geo­lo­gy

The area around the Bill­efjord belongs geo­lo­gi­cal­ly to the most inte­res­ting parts of Spits­ber­gen, so I dedi­ca­te some space to the mat­ter.

The pre-Devo­ni­an base­ment is expo­sed only near Nor­dens­kiöld­breen and north of the Bill­efjord. On both sides of the fjord, but espe­cial­ly in wes­tern and nort­hern Dick­son Land, red­dish sand­stones and con­glo­me­ra­tes of the Devo­ni­an Old Red give the land­s­cape an appe­re­an­ce with beau­ti­ful colours.

Old Red, Dicksonfjord

Devo­ni­an Old Red in the moun­tain Lyk­ta in Dick­son­fjord. The hig­hest part con­sists of hard Car­bo­ni­fe­rous lime­stone lay­ers. Old Red and lime­stone are sepa­ra­te by the Sval­bar­di­an uncon­for­mi­ty (see text below).

Fos­si­li­sed tree trunks found in Devo­ni­an rocks in Hug­inda­len are of tru­ly respec­ta­ble age. They belong to the oldest fos­si­li­sed remains of lar­ge plants on Earth.

The coal seams that were mined in Pyra­mi­den date to the Car­bo­ni­fe­rous, mea­ning that they are youn­ger than the abo­ve-men­tio­ned plant fos­sils (but still much older than the coal mined in Bar­ents­burg, Grum­ant­by­en, Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Ny-Åle­sund, which was all from the lower Ter­tia­ry). As the name says, the Car­bo­ni­fe­rous was a peri­od of coal for­ma­ti­on of glo­bal impor­t­ance.

In the Car­bo­ni­fe­rous and Permi­an, various sedi­ments were depo­si­ted, inclu­ding eva­po­ri­tes such as gypsym and anhy­dri­te. Attempts to mine the­se mine­rals were made in Skans­buk­ta (see histo­ry sec­tion below). They can be mul­ti­co­lou­red, giving the land­s­cape a colour­ful appare­an­ce, for examp­le the slo­pes of the moun­tains near Adolf­buk­ta and north of Bill­efjord. The­re is, for examp­le, a moun­tain cal­led Tri­ko­lorf­jel­let (‘Three colour moun­tain’).

Geology, Billefjord

Moun­tains on the east side of Bill­efjord: colour­ful geo­lo­gy from the upper Car­bo­ni­fe­rious up into the lower Permi­an.

In the Permi­an, depo­si­ti­on con­ti­nued most­ly with car­bo­na­tes, among others the hard, fos­sil-rich lime­stones of the Kapp Sta­ros­tin For­ma­ti­on (a name that you may have heard befo­re if you are inte­res­ted in the regio­nal geo­lo­gy). In Dick­son Land, they often form pro­mi­nent cliffs and water­falls.

Lyckholmdalen, Dickson Land

Moun­tain slo­pes expo­sing hard sedi­men­ta­ry lay­ers (Car­bo­ni­fe­rous and Permi­an)
in Lyck­holm­da­len, cen­tral Dick­son Land.

After a break of depo­si­ti­on in the upper­most Permi­an, Meso­zoic ‘plat­form sedi­ments’ were depo­si­ted in lar­ge parts of cen­tral and sou­the­ast Sval­bard, inclu­ding Dick­son Land, whe­re they are pre­ser­ved in the sou­thern part. In other words, regar­ding the geo­lo­gy and gene­ral cha­rac­ter of the sce­ne­ry, the­re are parts of sou­thern Dick­son Land that are more simi­lar to Bar­entsøya or Edgeøya than to Dick­son Land fur­ther north or Bill­efjord!

Phos­pho­ri­tic con­cre­ti­ons wit­hin the Tri­as­sic sedi­ments of sou­thern Dick­son Land were tought to be eco­no­mi­c­al­ly explo­ita­ble, which lead to inves­ti­ga­ti­ons initia­ted by the Swe­dish explo­rer Adolf Erik Nor­dens­kiöld and an attempt to estab­lish a colo­ny and a phos­pho­ri­te mine at Svens­ke­hu­set near Kapp Thord­sen. In the same area, the name ‘Sau­ri­er­da­len’ points to fos­sils of lar­ge mari­ne rep­tils found in sou­thern Dick­son Land.

The lively histo­ry of regio­nal tec­to­nics gave rise to an inte­res­ting geo­lo­gi­cal varie­ty wit­hin a rela­tively small area. The rocks are part­ly aes­the­ti­cal­ly fold­ed. The Bill­efjor­den fault zone runs strai­ght through the long Wij­defjord in the north and through Bill­efjord. This is one of the most important tec­to­nic linea­ments in Sval­bard.

Billefjorden fault zone

The Bill­efjor­den fault zone at Hør­bye­breen, sepa­ra­ting older base­ment rocks (dark, left side) from Car­bo­ni­fe­rous lime­stones (right).

Ano­t­her tec­to­nic event hap­pen­ed in the upper­most Devo­ni­an, the so-cal­led Sval­bar­di­an Pha­se, a very late, final sta­ge of the Cale­do­ni­an oro­ge­ny which is other­wi­se lar­ge­ly con­fi­ned to the Silu­ri­an. The result of regio­nal uplif­ting and til­ting is an uncon­for­mi­ty bet­ween the Devo­ni­an Old Red and the upper­ly­ing Car­bo­ni­fe­rous car­bo­na­tes. This is well visi­ble (at least for the trai­ned eye), as the rela­tively soft Devo­ni­an sand­stones and con­glo­me­ra­tes form soft, red­dish slo­pes top­ped by steep cliffs of yel­low­brown car­bo­na­tes (Pyra­mi­den, Tri­un­gen, Lyk­ta, Kina­murf­jel­let etc.). For an examp­le, see pho­to of mount Lyk­ta abo­ve.

Also the Qua­terna­ry geo­lo­gy is very inte­res­ting. All gla­ciers in the area have retrea­ted stron­gly in the late 20th cen­tu­ry and even more so in more recent years, lea­ving lar­ge, ice-cored morai­nes. The­re are beau­ti­ful seri­es of fos­sil beach-rid­ges for examp­le at Bruce­by­en. Solu­ti­on of sul­fa­tes and car­bo­na­tes led to the for­ma­ti­on of karst phe­no­me­na such as sink holes in Mathie­son­da­len and Gips­da­len (Bün­sow Land), and fall­out of dis­sol­ved mine­rals led to quick dia­ge­ne­sis (har­de­ning) of holo­ce­ne sedi­ments such as del­taic depo­sits and morai­nes in Mathie­son­da­len and north of the morai­ne of Hør­bye­breen.

Recom­men­ded book for fur­ther, well-digesta­ble (real­ly!) info about geo­lo­gy and land­s­cape of Sval­bard.

Land­s­cape

Accord­ing to the varied geo­lo­gy, the­re is a varie­ty of dif­fe­rent land­s­capes to be seen. Near the coast, the­re are often beau­ti­ful tun­dra are­as with very evi­dent beach rid­ges. The ‘hin­ter­land’, the area east of Bill­efjord and Bün­sow Land, is stron­gly gla­cia­ted, whe­re­as Dick­son Land is rela­tively ice-free.

Nordenskiöldbreen

The gla­cier Nor­dens­kiöld­breen is one of the main eye­cat­chers in Bill­efjord.

Around Bill­efjord, per­mo­car­bo­ni­fe­rous car­bo­na­tic rocks form part­ly spec­ta­cu­lar steep cliffs dis­sec­ted by ero­si­on, thus often forming regu­lar towers and some­ti­mes bizar­re sculp­tures such as Taran­tel­len north of Bill­efjord. This rock tower (Taran­tel­len = ‘the taran­tu­la’) is worth see­ing, but it takes a long and deman­ding hike to reach it from the nort­hern end of Bill­efjord through a steep, nar­row val­ley. It is a dou­ble arch more than 20 metres high, which loo­ks like a giant stone spi­der (see pic­tures in the Petu­nia­buk­ta gal­le­ry at the end of this page).

Sjursethfossen

Sju­rs­eth­fos­sen is the hig­hest water­fall in Dick­son Land.

Other cliffs are built up by the Permi­an Kapp Sta­ros­tin For­ma­ti­on, for examp­le on the nort­hern side of Skans­buk­ta and else­whe­re. In inner parts of Dick­son Land, the­se slo­pes often form steep can­yons and water­falls.

Skansdalen

Steep slo­pes sur­roun­ding upper Skans­da­len.

In sou­thern Dick­son Land, land­s­capes wit­hin the Tri­as­sic sedi­ments remind one of pla­ces with a simi­lar geo­lo­gy for examp­le in eas­tern Nor­dens­kiöld Land (east of Lon­gye­ar­by­en), Edgeøya etc. Here, doleri­tic intru­si­ons some­ti­mes form irre­gu­lar rid­ges and cliffs in the slo­pes. Small ice caps cover parts of the high pla­teaus, which are dis­sec­ted by steep can­yons.

View from Yggdrasilkampen towards Munindalen

Land­s­cape in cen­tral Dick­son Land: view from Ygg­dra­sil­kam­pen
across Mimerda­len and into Mun­inda­len.

In cen­tral nort­hern Dick­son Land, the Old Red with its beau­ti­ful, red­dish-brown sand­stones and con­glo­me­ra­tes domi­na­tes the appare­an­ce of the land­s­cape; here you find several ice-free val­leys with warm colours on the round lower and midd­le slo­pes (Hud­inda­len, Nathorst­da­len). On top of the­se slo­pes, hard car­bo­na­tes form steep cliffs, so it is often dif­fi­cult to reach the sum­mit.

Tundra in Nathorstdalen (Dickson Land) with slopes composed of Old Red sandstone with its warm colours

Tun­dra in Nathorst­da­len with slo­pes com­po­sed of Old Red sand­stone with its warm colours.

Fur­ther north, around Åland­vat­net and Mit­tag-Leff­ler­breen, meta­mor­phic base­ment and sedi­men­ta­ry cover rocks form a mosaic becau­se of the tec­to­nics rela­ted to the Bill­efjor­den fault zone (see abo­ve). In the area of sedi­men­ta­ry cover rocks, the­re are some moun­tains with beau­ti­ful colours, the slo­pes of which are some­ti­mes nice­ly dis­sec­ted by ero­si­on to form regu­lar towers. In con­trast, the har­der base­ment rocks form stee­per moun­tain slo­pes with a more irre­gu­lar shape. Near Mit­tag Leff­ler­breen, huge morains form chao­tic, ever-chan­ging land­s­capes around the lakes of Ålands­vat­net and Hog­land­vat­net. The lat­ter has lar­ge­ly disap­peared.

Flo­ra and fau­na

The sum­mers are rela­tively warm in Bill­efjord, and the­re is qui­te rich tun­dra near the coast and in some of the lar­ge, ice-free val­leys of Dick­son Land. On steep cliffs, the­re are colo­nies of sea­b­irds. Spits­ber­gen rein­de­er and arc­tic foxes are com­mon.

Polar bears, Billefjord

Polar bears in Bill­efjord.

In recent years (from 2013), polar bears were regu­lar­ly seen in Bill­efjord, often near Nor­dens­kiöld­breen, but also near or even in Pyra­mi­den. At least one fema­le, which achie­ved fame under the name Frost, has sett­led down and beco­me qui­te sta­tio­na­ry in the area, inclu­ding neigh­bou­ring bran­ches of Isfjord as far as Advent­fjord (Lon­gye­ar­by­en!). And she is not the only polar bear in Isfjord. So be care­ful whe­re­ver you are, inclu­ding Pyra­mi­den its­elf, whe­re the buil­dings keep you from having a good over­view over the sur­roun­dings.

Histo­ry

I do not know of any acti­vi­ties of 17th cen­tu­ry wha­lers in the area, alt­hough Bill­efjord was actual­ly named after one of them. Pomors used the area as well as Nor­we­gi­an trap­pers. Kapp Wijk Dick­son Fjord was the home of the legen­da­ry Arthur Oxaas bet­ween the wars in the 20th cen­tu­ry. Oxaas was fol­lo­wed by Harald Soleim.

Trappers' hut, Skansbukta

Old trap­pers’ hut on the south side of Skans­buk­ta.

Mining was attemp­ted at various sites in Bill­efjord in the 20th cen­tu­ry. The Scot­tish Spits­ber­gen Syn­di­ca­te (SSS) with Wil­liam Speirs Bruce inves­ti­ga­ted Car­bo­ni­fe­rous coal east of Bill­efjord and built Bruce­by­en for this pur­po­se.

Ano­t­her ear­ly attempt to explo­re mine­rals was done by the Port­land Cement Fab­ric, which estab­lis­hed mining faci­li­ties in Skans­buk­ta, but here as well as in other pla­ces the occur­rence tur­ned out to be eco­no­mi­c­al­ly worth­less. The ent­ran­ce to the mine as well as someold machine­ry can still be seen.

Lar­ge-sca­le mining was done in Pyra­mi­den. Foun­ded 1910 by a Swe­dish com­pa­ny, Rus­si­ans to over the area in 1926. But mining did not serious­ly start until 1940 and was, with inter­rup­ti­ons, con­ti­nued until 1998, when the mine was final­ly aban­do­ned (access the Pyra­mi­den page by cli­cking here for more infor­ma­ti­on).

Gal­le­ry Skans­buk­ta

Skans­buk­ta has some stun­ning sce­ne­ry, inte­res­ting histo­ry and – if you get clo­se enough at the right time of year – beau­ti­ful flowers. All this makes the place a popu­lar excur­si­on site. Some impres­si­ons from clas­sic as well as more unusu­al per­spec­ti­ves:

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

Gal­le­ry Bil­le­jord

Some impres­si­ons from Bil­le­jord. Various sea­sons, various kinds of trips, various pre­spec­ti­ves.

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

Gal­le­ry Dick­son Land

Some pho­tos from Dick­son Land, illus­tra­ting main­ly the kind of impres­si­ons you might get during long sum­mer hiking tours.

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

Gal­le­ry Petu­nia­buk­ta

And final­ly some pic­tures from beau­ti­ful Petu­nia­buk­ta, the nort­hern­most part of Bill­efjord:

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

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last modification: 2020-10-15 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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