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Bellsund - Van Mijenfjord - Van Keulenfjord

Map: Bellsund - Van Mijenfjord - Van Keulenfjord

F = Fri­dt­jof­breen (-gla­cier), Fri­dt­jof­ham­na (the bay near Fri­dt­jof­breen), S = Sveagru­va, M = Mid­ter­huk­fjel­let

Gene­ral: Sceni­cal­ly very varied fjord sys­tem with seve­ral bran­ches. The­re are some his­to­ri­cal­ly inte­res­t­ing sites. The land south of Bell­sund and Van Keu­len­fjord is part of the South Spits­ber­gen Natio­nal Park.

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

Geo­lo­gy: Geo­lo­gi­cal­ly, this is for me the ‘clas­si­cal’ west coast fjord, with a nice cross sec­tion through Earth histo­ry of Spits­ber­gen from the west coast to the inner part of the fjord. Near the west coast, you find the pre-Devo­ni­an base­ment with quar­zi­tes, phyl­li­tes and shist. The­re are dif­fe­rent kinds of ores and mine­rals, which led to explo­ra­ti­on and tri­al mining in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, but wit­hout any results. The devo­ni­an Old Red is miss­ing in the area, so Car­bo­ni­fe­rous kon­glo­me­ra­tes and brecci­as lie direct­ly on the base­ment, fol­lo­wed by a suc­ces­si­on simi­lar to the famous ‘Fest­nin­gen sec­tion‘, with sedi­ments span­ning the peri­od from Car­bo­ni­fe­rous to lower Ter­tia­ry. The ter­tia­ry sedi­ments are expo­sed east of the line Fri­dt­jof­breen-Mid­ter­hu­ken, they con­tain thick coals seams (simi­lar to the geo­lo­gy around Lon­gye­ar­by­en), which were mined in Sveagru­va (click here for more infor­ma­ti­on about Svea).

The tec­to­nic defor­ma­ti­on of the sedi­ments is inte­res­t­ing. Tec­to­nic acti­vi­ty during the ope­ning of the north Atlan­tic took place west of the west coast (well, makes sen­se, as that’s whe­re the Atlan­tic is). The nea­rer to the coast, the stron­ger are uplift and defor­ma­ti­on of the rocks. Clo­se to the coast, uplift was strong enough to expo­se the base­ment, which is buried under seve­ral kilo­me­t­res of sedi­men­ta­ry cover in cen­tral Spits­ber­gen. Clo­se to the base­ment, the sedi­men­ta­ry cover rocks are stron­gly defor­med and dip ver­ti­cal­ly with a N-S trend and expo­se nice folds and faults, espe­ci­al­ly beau­tiful on the nor­t­hern slo­pe of the Mid­ter­huk­fjel­let. The defor­ma­ti­on beco­mes very obvious whe­ree­ver the rocks are very hard, such as the Per­mi­an lime­s­to­nes of the Kapp Sta­ros­tin For­ma­ti­on at Akseløya. Fur­ther to the east, whe­re the sedi­ments have pre­ser­ved their ori­gi­nal, hori­zon­tal posi­ti­on, you find the clas­si­cal pla­teau-shaped moun­ta­ins.

Fold­ed lay­ers expo­sed on the nor­t­hern slo­pes of Mid­ter­huk­fjel­let.

Folded layers exposed on the northern slopes of Midterhukfjellet

Land­scape: Nice­ly varied becau­se of the geo­lo­gi­cal histo­ry. A wide ran­ge of ‘typi­cal Sval­bard-land­scapes’ can be seen within a rela­tively short distance, start­ing with the coas­tal plains forming the west coast to the jag­ged moun­ta­ins near­by to the pla­teau-moun­tain land­scape of cen­tral and eas­tern Spits­ber­gen as well as Barents– and Edgøya. The tran­si­ti­on zone is espe­ci­al­ly fasci­na­ting, with its stron­gly defor­med sedi­ments. Hard, ver­ti­cal­ly dip­ping sedi­ments stand out like walls in the land­scape and form the elon­ga­ted Akseløya as well as part of the Mid­ter­huk­fjel­let with its beau­tiful fold pat­terns to some nice capes and islands in the Van Keu­len­fjord. Should you ever have the chan­ce to go inland into Fold­da­len just sou­the­ast of Mid­ter­huk­fjel­let, you will see some nice water­falls cas­ca­ding down the hard, steep-stan­ding sedi­men­ta­ry lay­ers.

The ‘hin­ter­land’, espe­ci­al­ly in the sou­thern part, is more stron­gly gla­cia­ted than the sur­roun­dings of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, but less so than nor­thwes­tern Spits­ber­gen or the Horn­sund-area. This means that the Bell­sund is not exact­ly the clas­si­cal place in Sval­bard to expe­ri­ence lar­ge gla­ciers, but the­re are still some nice ones, such as the Fri­dt­jov­breen which can be rea­ched within a few days trek­king from Lon­gye­ar­by­en or Barents­burg.

Near the west coast, you find wide coas­tal plains, which may appear to be bar­ren and bor­ing, but have a lot to offer to tho­se who can app­re­cia­te the many beau­tiful, litt­le details: a nice pie­ce of drift­wood, an old wha­le­bo­ne near the beach, a tran­quil tun­dra pond with a bree­ding Red-throa­ted diver and other bird­life, well-deve­lo­ped series of old beach rid­ges (which are part­ly very nice to walk on) etc. Espe­ci­al­ly nice fos­sil beach rid­ges with very obvious ice wed­ges can be seen in the ent­rance area of the Van Keu­len­fjord.

Flo­ra and Fau­na: Very nice and rich tun­dra near Vår­sol­buk­ta on the nor­t­hern side of Bell­sund. The outer coast is under the influence of the gulf stream, and fer­ti­li­sa­ti­on by a near­by, lar­ge birdcliff will play a role. This tun­dra is an important place whe­re geese gather in the ear­ly sum­mer, and fox and reinde­er are abun­dant. The birdcliff its­elf is high up on the cliffs of Inge­borg­fjel­let (west of Fri­dt­jov­breen) and not direct­ly acces­si­ble, but the noi­se level is impres­si­ve. The­re are nice tun­dra are­as also in other places around the Bell­sund (Recher­chefjord, Van Keu­len­fjord). Polar bears roam the area – be careful…

Histo­ry: Bell­sund was one of the first fjords in Spits­ber­gen to be visi­ted and used by wha­lers in the ear­ly 17th cen­tu­ry. The­re are remains of wha­ling sta­ti­ons, e.g. in the Recher­chefjord. On seve­ral occa­si­ons, wha­lers were forced to win­ter and sur­vi­ved mira­cu­lous­ly. Also the Pomors used the area as a hun­ting ground for cen­tu­ries; the­re are seve­ral remains of their hun­ting sta­ti­ons near the west coast, espe­ci­al­ly north of Bell­sund. Here, some of them may be older than 1596, the date of Barents‘ dis­co­very of Spits­ber­gen.

Nor­we­gi­an trap­pers lik­ed the area becau­se of its strong fox popu­la­ti­ons. Even Belugas (white wha­les) were hun­ted in the Van Keu­len­fjord; today their bones are blea­ching in the sun and remi­ned us of the lack of wis­dom of tho­se days in Spits­ber­gen.

Beluga bones in Van Keulenfjord

Belu­ga bones at Ahl­strand­hal­vøya, Van Keu­len­fjord.

In the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, mine­ral occur­ren­ces attrac­ted more or less serious mining com­pa­nies; some of the­se occur­ren­ces did exist, but tur­ned out to be minor and/or of infe­riour qua­li­ty, other ones didn’t exist at all. The­re were hopes for zinc, gold, coal, iron, asbes­tos. Remains of tri­al mining can still be seen on both north and south side of the Bell­sund, silent wit­nesses from the ‘gold rush peri­od’ in the arc­tic (for more details, check out my book Rocks and Ice).

Pho­to-Gal­lery: Bell­sund

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

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last modification: 2019-03-26 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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