General: Murchisonfjord is a rather small fjord on the western side of Nordaustland, in the northern Hinlopen Strait. It is about 15 km long and 10 km wide and named after Sir Roderick Murchison, an English 19th century geographer. With its many small islands, its barren, desert-like landscapes, a geology that makes for some beautiful colours and structures, some of Svalbard’s oldest fossils and last but not least some unique historical sites including the Swedish-Finnish station of Kinnvika which goes back to 1957, it is a very interesting area.
Geologie: Weakly metamorphic sediments, mostly dolomites and quarzite, which belong to the basement (Hecla Hoek), with steeply dipping strata. The same rocks as on Lågøya further north or further south on the northern side of Wahlenbergfjord. In places, you can find some of Spitsbergen’s oldest fossils that are visible with the naked eye: stromatholites, or colonies of calcareous algae, dating back to the Neoproterozoic. In other words, the age of these fossils is not far from one billion years. And yes, stromatholites are the guys to which we owe the oxygen in the atmosphere.
Book recommendation for further, detailed and easily understandable (yes, really) information on the topics geology/landscape.
Landscape: Barren, wide-open polar desert. The surroundings of Murchisonfjord are largely ice-free. The larger number of small islands in Murchisonfjord are a peculiar landscape feature. These are made up of hard, steeply dipping layers, and the NNW-SSE trend is quite obvious on maps and charts.
Søre Russeøya is the largest island in Murchisonfjord. Gently rolling elevations with good views over the landscape near and far; desert-like, barren, stony tundra with the occasional frost-patterned ground and fossils literally as old as the hills (much older, actually): upper proterozoic stromatholites, or in other words colonies of single-celled calcareous algae, not much younger than a billion years.
Indre Russeøya is smaller than Søre Russeøya, but maybe more varied in terms of landscape features. It is a bit more structured by rocky hills and has some beautiful bays and lagoons.
Flora and fauna: Very barren. The only vegetation worth mentioning is near a bird colony at Floraberget. Sightings of walrusses are regular.
History:Russing hunters (Pomors) used the area for hunting into the 19th century and left some visible traces. The most prominent ones are two orthodox crosses which are still standing on islands – the only original ones of their kind in the whole archipelago which are still standing.
One out of only two original orthodox crosses erected by Pomors in Spitsbergen on an island in Murchisonfjord.
20th century trappers have visited Murchisonfjord only on relatively few occasions, but the modern history of professional polar bear hunting went on for as long as it was legal. Caribou is a trappers’ hut bit west of Kinnvika, on the coast of Hinlopen Strait. The name seems locally unusual, seemingly indicating north American influence. It was built in 1972 by the Norwegians Fredrik Rubach and Odd Ivar Ruud, father and son, who wintered there subsequently to hunt polar bears. Polar bears were completely protected in Spitsbergen in 1973, and this was accordingly the last wintering of hunters on Nordaustland. Unfortunately, the hut is deteriorating, as you can see on the indoor panorama here, which was taken in 2013.
Kinnvika is certainly the most famous place in Murchisonfjord. Situated in a well sheltered bay on the northern side of the fjord, it was a research station built during the International Geophysical Year 1957-59 as a Swedish-Finnish effort. The station was quite substantial, with no less than 10 buildings spread over some area in case one of them would catch fire. An old amphibian vehicle is still there and some other stuff, some of it dating back to the Geophysical Year 1957-59, others is younger: in 2003-04, Marie Tieche and Hauke Trinks wintered in Kinnvika, and the station was put into use again, following the original intention of the place being a research area, during the latest International Polar Year of 2007-08, when scientists from 10 countries investigated the area in detail. The ice cap Vestfonna was an important focus of their work.
And of course the Swedish and Finnish guys from 1957-59 did not forget to build a sauna! It is certainly the northernmost one in Svalbard.