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Nature and history of a famous fjord in north Spitsbergen

Liefdefjord map

Lief­defjord is a branch of Wood­fjord in north Spits­ber­gen.


Lief­defjord is in nor­thwest Spits­ber­gen. It is part of the Wood­fjord area: loca­ted on the west side of Wood­fjord. This main fjord of the sys­tem is much lar­ger than Lief­defjord, with 60 km (Wood­fjord) ver­sus 30 (Lief­defjord). For the geo­gra­phy nerds: the boun­da­ry bet­ween the two is the line from Wors­leyne­set at the sou­the­ast point of Reins­dyr­flya to Roos­ne­set (for fur­ther geo­gra­phi­cal detail, refer to the topo­gra­phic map of the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te.

The land­scape around Lief­defjord is very varied, from the wide-open plain of Reins­dyr­flya in the nor­the­ast to the jag­ged, alpi­ne peaks and the lar­ge gla­ciers of the inner part. Mona­co­b­reen is the lar­gest and the most famous one of the­se gla­ciers. It is main­ly this gla­cier and moun­tain sce­n­ery that has made Lief­defjord famous.


Spec­ta­cu­lar cen­tre­pie­ce of the sce­n­ery in Lief­defjord:
Mona­co­b­reen and, fur­ther back, Seli­ger­breen (bird’s eye view, 2023).

In 2019, seve­ral bird sanc­tua­ries were estab­lished in Lief­defjord. The­se com­pri­se the island groups Andøya­ne (inclu­ding Ring­hol­men), Ler­nerøya­ne, Måkeøya­ne and Stas­jonøya­ne. A mini­mum distance of 300 met­res from the shore is requi­red by law during the bree­ding sea­son (15 May – 15 August).

bird sanctuary Liefdefjord: Stasjonsøyane

Stas­jonsøya­ne: part of the Lief­defjord bird sanc­tua­ry.

Lief­defjord Pan­ora­ma

The­re are seve­ral pages within this web­site dedi­ca­ted to indi­vi­du­al sites in Lief­defjord. The­se pages have pho­to gal­le­ries, back­ground infor­ma­ti­on and 360 degree pan­o­r­amic images:

  • Vil­la Oxford, a trap­per hut and its sur­roun­dings on Reins­dyr­flya
  • Andøya­ne, a group of small islands in nor­t­hern Lief­defjord
  • Texas Bar, a trap­per hut on the west side of Lief­defjords.
  • Næs­sø­pyn­ten, Old Red sand­stone with small water­falls at Roos­fjel­la.

Geo­lo­gy and land­scape

The Lief­defjord area con­sists of a varied geo­lo­gi­cal mosaic which makes a gre­at con­tri­bu­ti­on to the stun­ning and varied sce­n­ery. It is actual­ly not that dif­fi­cult to get a basic idea of the geo­lo­gy, hence it is worth spen­ding some thoughts on it. This requi­res essen­ti­al­ly some inte­rest in the mat­ter, but you don’t have to be an expert. Hence, this sec­tion is a bit lon­ger.

To start with, the­re is the geo­lo­gi­cal base­ment: schist (sla­te) and marb­le. The­se are rocks that were recrystal­li­sed during a pha­se of high tem­pe­ra­tu­re and pres­su­re during the Cale­do­ni­an oro­ge­ny (moun­tain buil­ding pha­se) some 450 mil­li­on years ago: ori­gi­nal­ly, schist had been mud­s­tone and marb­le had been lime­s­tone, and pres­su­re and heat tur­ned them into schist and marb­le, respec­tively.

Geology Liefdefjord: folded marble (crystalline basement), Hornbækpollen

This fold­ed marb­le in Horn­bæk­pol­len is part of the geo­lo­gi­cal base­ment.

Second­ly, the­re is a youn­ger sedi­men­ta­ry cover , but it is fair to say that „youn­ger“ is a rela­ti­ve term, the­se rocks are lite­ral­ly as old as the hills 🙂 when the Cale­do­ni­an moun­ta­ins were for­med, they were imme­dia­te­ly atta­cked by ero­si­on. The ero­ded mate­ri­al that ori­gi­na­ted from the Cale­do­ni­an moun­ta­ins was depo­si­ted in sub­si­ding low­lands neigh­bou­ring the ele­va­ted moun­ta­ins. Due to the huge amount of sedi­ment and the subs­i­dence (cau­sed by tec­to­nic move­ments), sedi­ment piles with a thic­k­ness of up to 10 kilo­me­t­res or even more could deve­lop over mil­li­ons of years. The oldest part of this sedi­ment pile con­sists of coar­se con­glo­me­ra­tes, while the youn­ger lay­ers are fine-grai­ned sand­stone and silts­tone. Some of the­se lay­ers show a beau­tiful red colour due to iron oxi­de. For the­se reasons, the­se sedi­ments are coll­ec­tively known as the Old Red. They were depo­si­ted during the Devo­ni­an, bet­ween 360 and a good 400 mil­li­on years ago.

Geology Liefdefjord: Old Red, Andøyane

Devo­ni­an red sand­stone: “Old Red”, here on Andøya­ne.
Polar bear for sca­le 🙂

Both struc­tu­ral parts, base­ment and Old Red, can be seen in Lief­defjord and neigh­bou­ring are­as (Raud­fjord, Wood­fjord, Wij­defjord). Tog­e­ther, they form a mosaic of rough­ly north-south tren­ding stripes which are sepa­ra­ted from each other by tec­to­nic faults (cracks).

Geology Liefdefjord: Old Red, Roosfjella

Old Red in full sple­ndor at Roos­fjel­la.

The dif­fe­rence bet­ween the older base­ment rocks and the (rela­tively) youn­ger Old Red is easi­ly visi­ble becau­se of their dif­fe­rent colours, struc­tures and beha­viour when wea­the­ring at the sur­face: base­ment rocks tend to be respon­si­ble for stee­per slo­pes and poin­ted moun­ta­ins such as the ones west of Mona­co­b­reen inclu­ding Stortingspre­si­den­ten (1001 met­res). Old Red land­scapes usual­ly have moun­ta­ins with less steep, even roun­der slo­pes such as Roos­fjel­la east of Ler­nerøya­ne which is a striking appearance due to its colour. And the flat islands and low­lands north of Lief­defjord – Måkeøya­ne, Andøya­ne and Stas­jonsøya­ne as well as Reins­dyr­flya – are all Old Red land­scapes with distinct red­dish colours and a noti­ceable lack of ele­va­tions.

Ler­nerøya­ne, final­ly, are an inte­res­t­ing mix­tu­re of both base­ment and Old Red (but base­ment rocks are domi­nant here).

This isn’t to say, of cour­se, that Old Red land­scapes are never steep and base­ment land­scapes are never low-lying. Gene­ral­ly spea­king, any­thing is pos­si­ble in a given indi­vi­du­al case, depen­ding on a huge varie­ty of fac­tors inclu­ding tec­to­nic histo­ry. But in the case of Lief­defjord, it is a good start­ing point to under­stand the struc­tu­re of the land­scape.

Geology Liefdefjord: basement, Lernerøyane

Geo­lo­gi­cal mosaic: light-grey marb­le and dark shist on Ler­nerøya­ne.


The geo­lo­gy sec­tion abo­ve is a good start­ing point to under­stand the land­scape in Lief­defjord. As men­tio­ned the­re, the outer (nor­t­hern) part of the fjord has rather low-lying, wide-open land­scapes con­sis­ting of Old Red sand­stone with its often beau­tiful colours. Remains of sub-fos­sil ele­va­ted beach rid­ges are almost omni­pre­sent in this area, alt­hough not as distinct and easi­ly seen as in other parts of Spits­ber­gen which are geo­lo­gi­cal­ly bet­ter sui­ted to make this phe­no­me­non more easi­ly visi­ble. The­re are huge erra­tic bould­ers in many places.

Coastal landscape Reinsdyrflya

Coas­tal land­scape on the south side of Reins­dyr­flya.

Inner Lief­defjord is cha­rac­te­ri­sed by high, rug­ged with steep slo­pes and sharp peaks con­sis­ting of crystal­li­ne base­ment rocks.

Mountains west of Monacobreen

Moun­ta­ins west of Mona­co­b­reen.

The most pro­mi­nent eye­cat­chers are obvious­ly the lar­ge gla­ciers in inner Lief­defjord, main­ly Mona­co­b­reen with its 4 kilo­met­re wide gla­cier front and its neigh­bour to the west, Seli­ger­breen.


Mona­co­b­reen (to the left), the moun­tain Stortingspre­si­den­ten (cent­re)
and Seli­ger­breen (to the right), 2016.

Mona­co­b­reen and Seli­ger­breen shared a gla­cier front north of the moun­tain Stortingspre­si­den­ten but the con­nec­tion was lost in 2016 due to the retre­at of the­se gla­ciers, when the rock slo­pe of Stortingspre­si­den­ten beca­me expo­sed on the shore.

Seligerbreen and Monacobreen

Seli­ger­breen (fore­ground), Stortingspre­si­den­ten (cent­re) and Mona­co­b­reen (back­ground), 2018.

Flo­ra and fau­na

The­re are exten­si­ve tun­dra are­as in the low­lands in outer Lief­defjord. They have a wide ran­ge of inte­res­t­ing flower spe­ci­es inclu­ding moun­tain avens and moss cam­pi­on, pur­ple saxif­ra­ge and spi­der plant and many others. The colour dis­play of the flowers in high sum­mer is beau­tiful.

purple saxifrage, Andøyane

Pur­ple saxif­ra­ge on Andøya­ne.

As the name Reins­dyr­flya („reinde­er plain“) sug­gests, reinde­er are not uncom­mon in this vast low­land area, but the den­si­ty is actual­ly lower than what one might expect. Arc­tic foxes are com­mon and so are polar bears, alt­hough it is my per­so­nal impres­si­on that polar bear sightin­gs were more fre­quent in Lief­defjord in the years from 2000 to 2010 than they have been sin­ce. Back then, it was almost a safe bet to check the south side of Reins­dyr­flya inclu­ding the near­by islands for bears. And of cour­se chan­ces are still that the king of the Arc­tic is around some­whe­re in that area or else­whe­re in Lief­defjord, but may­be not as fre­quent­ly as back then. But as said, this is just my per­so­nal impres­si­on.

Bearded seal, Monacobreen

Beard­ed seal near Mona­co­b­reen.

The small island groups (bird sanc­tua­ries, see abo­ve) have bree­ding popu­la­ti­ons of various ground bree­ders inclu­ding com­mon eider ducks, king eider ducks and long-tail­ed ducks as well as grey phalar­opes, to men­ti­on just a few. Ler­nerøya­ne do not have signi­fi­cant bree­ding popu­la­ti­ons of the­se or other birds; it is a bit hard to under­stand why they were declared a bird sanc­tua­ry tog­e­ther with the other islands in 2019.

grey phalarope, Stasjonsøyane

Grey phalar­opes at Stas­jonsøya­ne.

Inner Lief­defjord tends to be steep and rocky and vege­ta­ti­on is accor­din­gly more spar­se and rest­ric­ted to sui­ta­ble loca­ti­ons. The­re is a smal­ler bird cliff with kit­ti­wa­kes high up on steep slo­pes bet­ween Texas Bar and Horn­bæk­pol­len.

kittiwakes, Monacobreen

Kit­ti­wa­kes loo­king for food in tur­bu­lent melt­wa­ter near Mona­co­b­reen.


The ear­liest chap­ters of Spitsbergen’s histo­ry, wha­lers and Pomors, are not repre­sen­ted in Lief­defjord. If they were the­re at all, then they did not lea­ve any visi­ble traces.

Regar­ding ear­ly expe­di­ti­ons which con­tri­bu­ted to map­ping and gene­ral know­ledge about the area, we have to men­ti­on Duke Albert I. of Mona­co (expe­di­ti­ons in 1906 and, 1907; that’s obvious­ly whe­re the name “Mona­co­b­reen“ comes from). Also in 1907, the Ger­man jour­na­list and Spits­ber­gen enthu­si­ast Theo­dor Ler­ner was in Lief­defjord with his litt­le expe­di­ti­on. They did some map­ping in then area (pla­cen­a­mes: Stas­jonsøya­ne – they had a geo­de­tic sta­ti­on the­re, but that was actual­ly not­hing more than a topo­gra­phic land­mark – and Ler­nerøya­ne).

Trap­pers had their hun­ting grounds in Lief­defjord. Neigh­bou­ring Wood­fjord was usual­ly the core of their ter­ri­to­ry and the place whe­re they had their win­tering sta­ti­ons (main­ly Mus­ham­na and Gråhu­ken). They had a cou­ple of smal­ler huts in Lief­defjord which they used to extend their hun­ting area. Two of the­se huts are still exis­ting, Texas Bar (built in 1927) and Vil­la Oxford (1924). Both were built by a then young Hil­mar Nøis, who beca­me one of the veterans of the trade in Spits­ber­gen and thus achie­ved local fame. He was far from being the only one in his fami­ly who spent their lives hun­ting and win­tering in the Arc­tic. His uncle Mar­tin Pet­ter­sen Nøis was invol­ved when Texas Bar was built.

Trapper hut Texas Bar

Texas Bar, a trap­per hut in Lief­defjord and today a popu­lar tou­rist site, as is made obvious by ero­si­on.

The­re were more trap­per huts in Lief­defjord, but some were des­troy­ed during the second world war by the Ger­mans who had a war wea­ther sta­ti­on known as Kreuz­rit­ter in Sørd­a­len on Reins­dyr­flya (nor­thwest of Andøya­ne) in 1943-44. The­re are still some scat­te­red remains of the sta­ti­on and the gra­ve of sta­ti­on lea­der Knös­pel, who died when a mine explo­ded that he tried to defu­se just befo­re they were to be picked up.

War weather station Kreuzritter

Remains of the war wea­ther sta­ti­on Kreuz­rit­ter.

In 1990-92, Lief­defjord was the main working area of a lar­ge sci­en­ti­fic expe­di­ti­on led by geo­gra­phy pro­fes­sor Blü­mel from Stutt­gart in Ger­ma­ny, the SPE (Ger­man Geo­sci­en­ti­fic Spits­ber­gen Expe­di­ti­on). They did main­ly work on geo­mor­pho­lo­gy, that is pro­ces­ses con­tri­bu­ting to land­scape deve­lo­p­ment (sedi­ment trans­port in rivers, soli­fluc­tion), gla­ciers, geo­lo­gy and biology/ecology. Andre­as Fie­ber, a young expe­di­ti­on mem­ber, died during an acci­dent when a slush ava­lan­che rus­hed down from a snow-cover­ed area and a gla­cier.

Memorial cross Andreas Fieder, Liefdefjord

Memo­ri­al cross for Andre­as Fie­ber who died in 1992 in an ava­lan­che on the area behind the cross to the left.

Pho­to gal­lery – Lief­defjord

Pic­tures from the years 2009 to 2023. The gal­lery is a coll­ec­tion of impres­si­ons from Lief­defjord, from the wide-open tun­dra and low­lands of Reins­dyr­flya and near­by islands (Stas­jonsøya­ne, Andøya­ne) to the alpi­ne moun­tain and gla­cier sce­n­ery at Mona­co­b­reen and the ice that often covers the fjord the­re. Wild­life, flowers, various times of year from the ear­ly to the late sum­mer with all sorts of wea­ther, light and snow con­di­ti­ons are repre­sen­ted to give an idea of the varie­ty of the land­scape and natu­re (and some histo­ry) of the area.

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



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last modification: 2023-10-26 · copyright: Rolf Stange