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Woodfjord

Natur and history of a fjord in northern Spitsbergen

Woodfjord map

Wood­fjord is a lar­ge fjord on the north coast of Spits­ber­gens.
The­re are two bran­ches on its wes­tern side: Lief­defjord and Bock­fjord.

Gene­ral

Wood­fjord is a lar­ge fjord on the north coast of Spits­ber­gens. It is a actual­ly a fjord sys­tem with seve­ral bran­ches: Lief­defjord and Bock­fjord are also part of the Wood­fjord-area.

The west side of Wood­fjord is part of the Nor­thwest Spits­ber­gen Natio­nal park, the island groups in the ent­rance to Lief­defjord are bird reser­ves (see Lief­defjord). The east side of Wood­fjord is not a spe­ci­al­ly pro­tec­ted area, but the Sval­bard envi­ron­men­tal law is valid the­re just as ever­y­whe­re.

Woodfjord, outer part

View from north to south over the outer part of Wood­fjord (Gråhu­ken).

Wood­fjord cuts with seve­ral slight bends 60 km from north to south into the island of Spits­ber­gen. The­re are no major bran­ches other than the two fjords on the west side men­tio­ned abo­ve and the­re are only a few smal­ler bays. Some small capes struc­tu­re the coast­li­ne and the­re are no islands (Stas­jonsøya­ne and Måkeøya­ne are part of Lief­defjord, even though this may be a bit of geo­gra­phi­cal hair-split­ting). Com­pared to other fjords that are more stron­gly struc­tu­red by bays, pen­in­su­las and islands, Wood­fjord is a bit of a long tube.

Woodfjord, inner part

View from south to north over inner Wood­fjord.

The hydro­lo­gy and geo­mor­pho­lo­gy of the fjord its­elf is quite spe­cial: Wood­fjord is almost ever­y­whe­re pret­ty deep, 60-100 met­res in the inner part and in the outer part, north of Bocks­fjord and Ver­dah­ls­pyn­ten, more than a 100 met­res. Even clo­se to the shore it is so deep that it can be dif­fi­cult to find sui­ta­ble anchor depths (at least for smal­ler ships which pre­fer to drop anchor on 5-20 met­res of water). It is usual­ly eit­her too deep or too shal­low to drop anchor, the­re is most­ly not much in bet­ween!

And when the wind is blo­wing in a north-south direc­tion (or the other way around), then Wood­fjord can be some­thing of a wind chan­nel with very strong fun­nel­led winds. But on a good sum­mer day, the land­scape with its red slo­pes and green tun­dra can be almost pain­ful­ly beau­tiful and it can appear to be kind of almost mel­low and soft, at least com­pared to the rug­ged, steep moun­ta­ins and huge gla­ciers in its wes­tern neigh­bour Lief­defjord. Wood­fjord does not have any such land­scape fea­tures, no gla­ciers any­whe­re near the shore. Andrée-Land bet­ween Wood­fjord and Wij­defjord fur­ther east is inde­ed one of the least gla­cia­ted parts of Spits­ber­gen.

Wood­fjord pan­ora­ma

The­re are seve­ral pages on this web­site dedi­ca­ted to indi­vi­du­al sites in Wood­fjord, with pho­to gal­le­ries, more back­ground infor­ma­ti­on and 360-degree pan­ora­ma images:

  • Vel­komst­pyn­ten the nor­the­ast point of Reins­dyr­flya, with a ruin of a hut built by the famous trap­per Stock­holm-Sven.
  • Gråhu­ken in the north, whe­re Chris­tia­ne Rit­ter win­tered (“A woman in the polar night”, see histo­ry sec­tion fur­ther down on this page.
  • Mus­ham­na, a famous trap­per hut.
  • Wig­dehl­pyn­ten, a litt­le pen­in­su­la with typi­cal land­scape fea­tures of inner Wood­fjord.

Geo­lo­gy

The geo­lo­gy of the regi­on dic­ta­tes the land­scape and it can real­ly be an eye-cat­cher. This makes it wort­hwhile spen­ding some thoughts on it, some­thing that does not requi­re any pre­vious know­ledge, just some inte­rest in the mat­ter. So let’s go ahead 🙂

You can also read the rele­vant sec­tion on the Lief­defjord page. The geo­lo­gy in Wood­fjord is simp­ler than in Lief­defjord. In Wood­fjord, the geo­lo­gi­cal base­ment is not expo­sed at the sur­face, in strong con­trast to Lief­defjord.

One term is enough to descri­be the geo­lo­gi­cal buil­ding mate­ri­al of Wood­fjord: Old Red. In (kind of) short words: the Old Red is a thick pile of sedi­ment lay­ers depo­si­ted near 400 mil­li­on years ago. Short­ly befo­re that (well, in geo­lo­gi­cal terms), col­li­si­on of tec­to­nic pla­tes had crea­ted a huge moun­tain chain: the Cale­do­ni­an moun­ta­ins. Just as any moun­tain area rising abo­ve its sur­roun­dings, the Cale­do­ni­an moun­ta­ins whe­re expo­sed to ero­si­on as soon as uplift had star­ted, and the ero­ded sedi­ment was trans­por­ted to and depo­si­ted in the sur­roun­dings low­lands. As the­se low­lands were sub­si­ding at the same time, thick sedi­ment piles could accu­mu­la­te, with thic­k­nes­ses rea­ching 10 kilo­me­t­res and more.

In the ear­ly stages of this pro­cess, when the Cale­do­ni­an moun­ta­ins had just been uplifted so that the land­scape fea­tured huge dif­fe­ren­ces in alti­tu­de within a short hori­zon­tal distance, the depo­si­ted sedi­ment ten­ded to be of coar­se grain size and not well sor­ted: we are tal­king about brecci­as and con­glo­me­ra­tes, often depo­si­ted in steep, tor­ren­ti­al rivers, as slo­pe sedi­ment or allu­vi­al fan: typi­cal sedi­men­ta­ry envi­ron­ments on the frin­ges of any high moun­tain area.

Later, the dif­fe­rence in alti­tu­de beca­me less pro­no­un­ced and sedi­men­ta­ti­on accor­din­gly cal­mer, more fine-grai­ned and bet­ter sor­ted. Typi­cal results include silts­tone, often depo­si­ted as mud in wide lakes and lagoons, and even well-sor­ted dune sands, to men­ti­on two examp­les. At times, the low­lands were even cover­ed by shal­low sea.

Shell imprint, Gråhuken

Fos­sil finds are rather rare in Wood­fjord. Imprint of a shell at Gråhu­ken.

In the warm and semi-arid cli­ma­te of that time, che­mi­cal wea­the­ring pro­du­ced lar­ge amounts of hema­ti­te, an iron oxi­de with a distinct red­dish colour. Hema­ti­te, is, howe­ver, not pre­sent in the who­le sedi­ment pile. The red lay­ers that gave the Old Red its name (the second half, that is) form the older (struc­tu­ral­ly lower) part of the who­le pile. The time when the­se sedi­ments were depo­si­ted was the Devo­ni­an.

Woodfjord, Old Red landscape

Wood­fjord: an Old Red lands­hape.

It is not­hing you can take for gran­ted that a sedi­ment pile sur­vi­ves a peri­od of time as long as almost 400 mil­li­on years. It cer­tain­ly hel­ped that the sedi­men­ta­ti­on area subs­i­ded so that the accu­mu­la­ting sedi­ment was pro­tec­ted from ero­si­on (in con­trast to uplifted are­as = moun­ta­ins which are expo­sed to ero­si­on). Subs­i­dence hap­pen­ed along faults (huge cracks). The resul­ting struc­tu­re is a gra­ben. This par­ti­cu­lar case is among­st geo­lo­gists known as Andrée Land gra­ben, after the land area of Spits­ber­gen bet­ween Wood­fjord and Wij­defjord fur­ther east.

The red lay­ers of the Old Red can be found many in inner Wood­fjord. Fur­ther north, the rocks are grey rather than any­thing else (pla­ce­na­me “Gråhu­ken” = Grey Hook). In the south, the moun­ta­ins are red. A beau­tiful colour and a stun­ning land­scape expe­ri­ence on a day with good wea­ther and light!

Devonian, Mushamna

Grey sec­tion of the Old Red (“Grey Hook for­ma­ti­on”), Mus­ham­na.

On the west side of Wood­fjord, on Reins­dyr­flya, you have the red lay­ers of the Old Red also in the nor­t­hern sec­tion of the fjord

Now we have cover­ed about 99 % of the geo­lo­gy of Wood­fjord. For tho­se with some spe­cial inte­rest it should be men­tio­ned in addi­ti­on that the­re was vol­ca­nic acti­vi­ty in the area during the Neo­ge­ne (com­ment: youn­ger Ter­tia­ry, as it was known befo­re, but the term “Ter­tia­ry” is offi­ci­al­ly not in use any­mo­re). In the Mio­ce­ne, to be more pre­cise, about 15 mil­li­on years ago. Lava streams fil­led the shal­low val­leys of the land­scape back then. This land­scape was later stron­gly ero­ded. Then, the lava streams tur­ned out to be more resis­tent to ero­si­on then the sur­roun­ding Old Red. As a result, the for­mer val­leys, then fil­led with lava streams, now form some of the hig­hest peaks in cen­tral Andrée Land – val­leys were tur­ned into moun­tain tops! This is cal­led inver­ted reli­ef by geo­mor­pho­lo­gists. You can see some rem­nants of tho­se lava streams with colum­nar struc­tures on moun­tain tops east of inner Wood­fjord (east side).

Lava flow, Miocene

Fore­ground: Devo­ni­an Old Red. Upper slo­pes in the back­ground: Mio­ce­ne lava flows.
Ver­dals­pyn­ten area.

The­re was more vol­ca­nism during the Qua­ter­nary (“ice age”). This is now evi­dent espe­ci­al­ly in neigh­bou­ring Bock­fjord, whe­re the­re is an ero­ded vol­ca­nic ruin and some warm springs (don’t expect too much, they don’t compa­re to their rela­ti­ves in Ice­land and else­whe­re). In Wood­fjord, the­re is an ero­ded vol­ca­nic plug now known as Halv­dan­pig­gen. It is a rock column stan­ding out from a slo­pe 800 met­res high as a geo­lo­gi­cal detail men­tio­ned here for curiou­si­ty and the sake of com­ple­ten­ess.

Halvdanpiggen, eroded volcanic plug

Halv­dan­pig­gen (mid right), an ero­ded vol­ca­nic plug.

Land­scape

The lar­ge-sca­le land­scape fea­tures are direct­ly lin­ked to the geo­lo­gy and the local cli­ma­te. A fact that will quick­ly catch the atten­ti­on of any curious visi­tor is the absence of gla­ciers near sea level in Wood­fjord. In con­trast, the­re is a cou­ple of lar­ge, ice-free val­leys, some­thing that other­wi­se is pret­ty rare in most parts of Spits­ber­gen.

Verdalen, a large unglaciated valley in Andrée Land

Ver­da­len, a lar­ge ung­la­cia­ted val­ley in Andrée Land.

The nor­t­hern part of Wood­fjord, espe­ci­al­ly at Gråhu­ken and Reins­dyr­flya, is sur­roun­ded by lar­ge coas­tal plains cover­ed by series of fos­sil beach rid­ges due to post­g­la­cial iso­sta­tic land uplift.

Coastal plain with fossil beach ridges, Gråhuken

Coas­tal plain with fos­sil beach rid­ges at Gråhu­ken.

Low­land are­as are con­sider­a­b­ly smal­ler in inner Wood­fjord and most­ly rest­ric­ted to some capes and some val­leys with val­ley bot­toms fil­led by brai­ded rivers. Other than that, the moun­tain slo­pes are most­ly coming clo­se to the shore. Com­pared, for exam­p­le, to inner Lief­defjord or the nor­thwest cor­ner of Spits­ber­gen, the moun­ta­ins are less steep and jag­ged, with more roun­ded slo­pes. Ano­ther exam­p­le of the geo­lo­gy taking con­trol of the land­scape, in co-ope­ra­ti­on with cli­ma­te.

Lowland, Verdalen

Low­land at Ver­dals­pyn­ten.

The­re are some spe­cial fea­tures here and the­re local­ly. The most well-known one is cer­tain­ly the lagoon of Mus­ham­na, which is sepa­ra­ted from the fjord by a long, nar­row spit that lea­ves just a nar­row ent­rance to the lagoon its­elf which is one of Spitsbergen’s best shel­te­red and most beau­tiful ancho­ra­ges for smal­ler ves­sels that can get in the­re.

Mushamna

Ent­rance into the lagoon of Mus­ham­na.

For tho­se with some spe­cial inte­rest in geo­mor­pho­lo­gy, the­re is a pin­go in Ver­da­len, alt­hough it is cer­tain­ly not Spitsbergen’s most spec­ta­cu­lar spe­ci­men of this lar­ge per­ma­frost phe­no­me­non. But it is, at least, one of rather few pin­gos more or less clo­se to the coast.

In inner­most Wood­fjord, gla­cial retre­at has left a huge morai­ne land­scape and the lake Jäder­in­vat­net with a huge melt­wa­ter river from the lake to the fjord. The red colours of this landc­sape, on a good sum­mer day with blue sky, are stun­nin­gly beau­tiful! Author’s opi­ni­on, that is 🙂

Flo­ra and fau­na

Polar bears roa­ming around any­whe­re in Wood­fjord are cer­tain­ly not rare, and reinde­er can be found any­whe­re, alt­hough not in gre­at den­si­ty. But all in all, wild­life is not what makes Wood­fjord stand out: the­re are no wal­rus colo­nies (you may of cour­se meet the odd wal­rus or two res­t­ing on a beach any­whe­re) and no spec­ta­cu­lar sea­bird colo­nies. But the nor­t­hern part of Wood­fjord, espe­ci­al­ly the ent­rance area, has a repu­ta­ti­on for being an area that is regu­lar­ly fre­quen­ted by wha­les, inclu­ding lar­ge finn and blue wha­les.

Blue whale

Blue wha­le in outer Wood­fjord.

The low­land are­as are to vary­ing degrees cover­ed by tun­dra. In the north, around Gråhu­ken, the coas­tal plain is very bar­ren and polar-desert-like. The­re is more vege­ta­ti­on on the west side, on Reins­dyr­flya.

Steppe vgetation

Step­pe vege­ta­ti­on in inner Wood­fjord.

Fur­ther in the fjord both the vege­ta­ti­on and often also the soil sur­face make it pret­ty clear that the local cli­ma­te is dry. Spe­ci­es like the moun­tain avens are com­mon, and desic­ca­ti­on cracks and mine­ral pre­ci­pi­ta­ti­on can be seen many places, giving evi­dence of pre­ci­pi­ta­ti­on being excee­ded by eva­po­ra­ti­on

desiccation cracks, Wigdehlpynten

Desic­ca­ti­on cracks, Wig­dehl­pyn­ten.

Histo­ry

It is said that the­re is a gra­vey­ard from the time of the ear­ly wha­lers on Reins­dyr­flya, some­whe­re near Mull­er­ne­set. Other than that, the­re are no traces from tho­se ear­ly years in Wood­fjord – but some (Nor­we­gia­nis­ed) pla­cen­a­mes inclu­ding Mus­ham­na (“Mou­se har­bour”) and Vel­komst­pyn­ten (“Wel­co­me point”). Pomors have cer­tain­ly used the area, such as in Mus­ham­na, whe­re faint remains of a Pomor hun­ting sta­ti­on can be seen near the lagoon (on its north or rather nor­thwest side).

Trap­pers in the “Nor­we­gi­an peri­od” of trap­ping used the Wood­fjord field, which included Lief­defjord, often in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. Espe­ci­al­ly the 1920s were a busy peri­od, when Hil­mar Nøis and other mem­bers of his adven­tur­ous fami­ly from Andøya (Ves­terå­len) built cab­ins such as the one in Mus­ham­na (the old one near the shore), Vår­flues­jøen (“Fis­ke­bay”), Gråhu­ken, Wors­leyne­set (“Vil­la Oxford”) and others.

Hut built by Hilmar Nøis, Mushamna

Old trap­per hut (built in 1927). A real “Nøis-hut” (see text).

Next to Mus­ham­na, the hut at Gråhu­ken is cer­tain­ly the most famous hut in Wood­fjord and bey­ond. This is whe­re Chris­tia­ne Rit­ter win­tered tog­e­ther with her hus­band and Nor­we­gi­an Karl Niko­lai­sen in 1934-35, an adven­ture that later resul­ted in the now famous book “A woman in the polar night”.

The Gråhu­ken hut was used for win­terings also in later years, and the­re are actual­ly two more published books of win­terings at Gråhu­ken: “Vin­ter­land. Glimt fra ei ark­tisk dag­bok” (Bjar­ne Nord­nes and Åsa Johans­son, 1975) and “Gråhu­ken. Fangst og ferie på 80 gra­der nord” (Marit Karlsen Bran­dal, 2017, from a win­tering in 1982-83).

Trapper hut at Gråhuken

The famous trap­per hut at Gråhu­ken.

In 1987, the Nor­we­gi­an adven­turer and trap­per Kjell Reidar Hovels­rud built his beau­tiful hut at Mus­ham­na, which he later sold to the Sys­sel­mes­ter who used to lend it to inte­res­ted peo­p­le for win­terings to keep the tra­di­ti­on ali­ve for a while, but this has not been done any­mo­re for some years. Too much effort, as they say … well, any­way. Read more about the histo­ry of the huts and trap­pers in Wood­fjord by cli­cking on the lin­ked names of the huts in the text abo­ve. The­re is a book (actual­ly seve­ral ones) by Kjell Reidar Hovels­rud about his arc­tic adven­tures. Good read! If you read Nor­we­gi­an, that is.

Hut at Mushamna

The hut built in 1987 by Kjell Reidar Hovels­rud. It is now owned by the Sys­sel­mes­ter.

Pho­to gal­lery – Wood­fjord

A wild mix­tu­re of impres­si­ons from Wood­fjord, from Gråhu­ken in the north to the inner­most part of the fjord. Land­scapes, wild­life, huts, …

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

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last modification: 2023-11-18 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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