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Kvitøya

Map Kvitøya

Gene­ral:Kvi­tøya (“White Island”) is the remo­test island of the Sval­bard archi­pe­la­go at 80°N/32°30’E. Kræ­mer­pyn­ten, the eas­tern point, is the eas­tern­most part of Nor­way. From here, it is only appro­xi­mate­ly 40 nau­ti­cal miles to Vic­to­ria Island, which belongs to Rus­sia. Kvi­tøya has an E-W exten­si­on of 44 kilo­me­tres and an area of 250 km2. It is almost com­ple­te­ly ice-cove­r­ed and belongs to the Nor­the­ast Sval­bard Natu­re Reser­ve. The cli­ma­te is high-arc­tic, it is sur­roun­ded by hea­vy pack ice for most of the year – or at least, this was the case until some years ago. Now, in the times of cli­ma­te chan­ge, the island is usual­ly acces­si­ble at least late in the sum­mer sea­son. Kvi­tøya is known for being the place whe­re the Swe­de Salo­mon August Andrée and his to com­pa­n­ions, Knut Fræn­kel and Nils Strind­berg, died in 1897 (see ‘histo­ry’ sec­tion below). Land­s­cape-wise and bio­lo­gi­cal­ly, it is a link bet­ween Sval­bard and Franz Josef Land fur­ther east.

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

Geo­lo­gy: Gneiss (Andrée­ne­set and Basalt (Kræ­mer­pyn­ten), both part of the base­ment. The base­ment basalts of Kræ­mer­pyn­ten are qui­te rare, other than here, they occur only on Storøya, bet­ween Kvi­tøya and Nord­aus­t­land.

Most of the island is cove­r­ed with an ice cap, hence the name Kvi­tøya (“White Island”), or Vidön in Swe­dish, the name you will find in some of the books about the Andrée expe­di­ti­on.

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

Land­s­cape: Kvi­tøya is almost com­ple­te­ly cove­r­ed by an ice cap with the clas­si­cal, hourg­lass-shaped dome. The few ice-free land are­as are each only a few km2 lar­ge and very bar­ren and rocky.

Ice cap covering Kvitøya

Ice cap of Kvi­tøya.

Flo­ra and Fau­na: The ice cap is com­ple­te­ly dead, other than the occa­sio­nal­ly polar bear pas­sing through or some snow algae, but other­wi­se the­re is not­hing living up the­re. On the ice-free parts, the­re are moss beds which can be very colour­ful, but most of the ground is free of vege­ta­ti­on. Due to the flat topo­gra­phy, the­re are no cliff-bree­ding sea­b­irds, but the­re are some Arc­tic tern colo­nies and some other birds are bree­ding, inclu­ding Red throated divers. Polar bears and wal­rus are qui­te com­mon, the lat­ter ones having haul-out sites the­re with a hig­her pro­por­ti­on of fema­les and cal­ves than fur­ther west in Spits­ber­gen. This is more typi­cal for Franz Josef Land, whe­re most fema­les spend their time, whe­re­as males tend to hang out in Sval­bard. Wal­rus groups with fema­les and cal­ves tend to be more aggres­si­ve than males.

Histo­ry: Kvi­tøya was dis­co­ve­r­ed pro­bab­ly alrea­dy 1707 by the Dut­ch­man Cor­ne­lis Giles. Under the name ‘Giles Land’ (dif­fe­rent spel­lings exist) it was seen on maps in dif­fe­rent shapes, sizes and posi­ti­ons throughout the cen­tu­ries. Even today, the shape is wrong on many maps, whe­re it is shown to be much nar­rower than it actual­ly is (the scetch map abo­ve gives the cor­rect shape).

Kvi­tøya is well known becau­se Andrée and his two fel­lows, Fræn­kel and Strind­berg, lan­ded on its wes­tern point, now known as Andrée­ne­set, after their ill-fated bal­loon expe­di­ti­on in 1897 from Virgo­ham­na on Dans­køya. After a long Odys­sey over the ice, they reached Andrée­ne­set on 05 Octo­ber and died the­re after a few weeks. Their last camp was found only in 1930, the­re is a simp­le con­cre­te memo­ri­al at the site.

Andrée expedition memorial at Andréeneset, Kvitøya

Memo­ri­al for the Andrée-Expe­di­ti­on.

The cau­se of death has been a mat­ter of deba­te ever sin­ce. Scur­vy, star­va­ti­on, exhaus­ti­on, tri­chi­no­sis, polar bears and cold were natu­ral­ly amongst the first suspects, and a com­bi­na­ti­on of any of the­se may have been pos­si­ble. Poi­so­ning from car­bon mon­oxi­de or lead (from tins) has been dis­cus­sed, and more recent­ly also botu­lism.

Nils Strindberg's grave at Andréeneset, Kvitøya

Nils Strind­berg was buried 1897 in this crev­as­se.

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last modification: 2019-02-01 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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