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Map Hornsund

Horn­sund. Click on the yel­low are­as to view pho­to gal­le­ries of the indi­vi­du­al are­as.
I = Isbjørn­ham­na (Polish Station)/ Hans­breen, G-B = Gnå­lod­den, Bur­ger­buk­ta, T = Tres­kelen, B = Bre­pol­len, B = Bau­taen, S = Sama­rin­vå­gen, H = Horn­sund­tind, G = Gås­ham­na

Pho­to Gal­le­ries: Horn­sund

Gene­ral: The most beau­tiful fjord in Spits­ber­gen (as Bell­sund, Isfjord, St. Jons­fjord, Kongsfjord, Smee­ren­burg­fjord, Lief­defjord etc. 🙂 ) and defi­ni­te­ly the sou­thern­most one. Gre­at sce­n­ery! If the wea­ther allows for some good views, that is. Horn­sund cuts appro­xi­m­ate­ly 25 kilo­me­t­res deep into the island.

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

One of many calving glacier fronts in the Hornsund

One of many cal­ving gla­cier fronts in the Horn­sund.

Becau­se of the topo­gra­phy, the­re are rela­tively few landing sites, but just crui­sing through the Horn­sund can be ama­zing – pro­vi­ded the wea­ther doesn’t screw things up. The Polish sta­ti­on is the only rese­arch sta­ti­on out­side the sett­le­ments; it is remar­kab­le, that Pol­and has kept its sta­ti­on, whilst other count­ries have aban­do­ned theirs – Swe­den with Kinn­vi­ka on Nord­aus­t­land, The Net­her­lands with Kapp Lee on Edgeøya. The­re is not an awful lot of tun­dra, but at some spots, the vege­ta­ti­on can be very rich and colourful. This is part­ly due to fer­ti­liza­ti­on by very lar­ge Litt­le auk colo­nies. The­re is a num­ber of inte­res­t­ing cul­tu­ral monu­ments.

See­mingly para­dox, the­re is more drift ice in the Horn­sund than fur­ther north at the west coast. This is due to a cold cur­rent which comes from the nor­the­ast on the eas­tern side of Sval­bard and then around the south cape and up the west coast. It brings a lot of ice to the sou­thern part of the west coast, so the Horn­sund is usual­ly blo­cked with ice in the ear­ly sum­mer, even if the other fjords fur­ther north are alre­a­dy ice-free. It also brings a lot of cold, polar water­mas­ses into the Horn­sund, which stays in the inner part of the fjord, thus pro­vi­ding a high-polar mari­ne eco­sys­tem in direct neigh­bour­hood to the more sub­arc­tic waters influen­ced by the gulf stream. This pro­vi­des for an inte­res­t­ing fau­nal cross-sec­tion from sub­arc­tic to high arc­tic within a small area, an inte­res­t­ing field of work for sci­en­tists.

The Horn­sund area is part of the South Spits­ber­gen Natio­nal Park.

Geo­lo­gy: Varied. The Horn­sund offers a rela­tively repre­sen­ta­ti­ve cross sec­tion through the geo­lo­gy of Sval­bard, simi­lar to the Bell­sund. In com­pa­ri­son, the stra­ti­gra­phy is more com­ple­te in the Horn­sund, as the Devo­ni­an Old Red is pre­sent here, and the base­ment is crop­ping out in a lar­ger area, from the west coast into cen­tral parts of the fjord. The Horn­sund­tind con­sists of crystal­li­ne base­ment car­bo­na­tes (upper Pro­tero­zoic). Other­wi­se, the base­ment in the Horn­sund area is domi­na­ted by weak­ly to medi­um meta­mor­pho­sed sedi­ments (addi­tio­nal­ly to various car­bo­na­tes, the­re are schists, phyl­li­tes, quar­zi­tes etc.). Mag­ma­tic rocks play only a very sub­or­di­na­te role, as oppo­sed to the base­ment in nor­t­hern Sval­bard.

The sedi­men­ta­ry cover rocks start on the eas­tern side of Bur­ger­buk­ta and Sama­rin­vå­gen. On the nor­t­hern side, it starts with Devo­ni­an con­glo­me­ra­tes and sand­sto­nes (‘Old Red’), fol­lo­wed by the pro­mi­nent Kapp Sta­ros­tin For­ma­ti­on with its hard, fos­sil-rich lime­s­to­nes. They are dip­ping ver­ti­cal­ly, simi­lar to the situa­ti­on in the Bell­sund, forming con­spi­cuous pen­in­su­la (Tres­kelen) and moun­ta­ins. Bau­taen is quite spec­ta­cu­lar: grin­ded down by gla­cial ero­si­on from both sides, it looks as a need­le, if you look from the right per­spec­ti­ve, and is thus almost as striking as Horn­sund­tind with its 1429 m, despi­te its lower height.

Bautaen, Hornsund


A very nice sec­tion can be seen on the eas­tern side of Bur­ger­buk­ta, whe­re the lower slo­pes expo­se Devo­ni­an Old Red, over­lain by dark Tri­as­sic sedi­ments and final­ly top­ped by the yel­lo­wish-brown Per­mi­an car­bo­na­tes, to which the Kapp Sta­ros­tin For­ma­ti­on belongs – and, to make this all even bet­ter, nice­ly fold­ed as an anti­cli­ne (lar­ge fold, cen­tral part is bent up or ‘against’ (‘anti’) the sky).

Hyrnefjellet east of Burgerbukta with nice anticline (which means that the layers are bent upwards)

Hyr­nef­jel­let east of Bur­ger­buk­ta with nice anti­cli­ne (which means that the lay­ers are bent upwards). The lower­most lay­er (just below image cent­re) Devo­ni­an Old Red, then light-brown Car­bo­ni­fe­rous and main­ly Per­mi­an car­bo­na­tes final­ly fol­lo­wed by dark Meso­zoic sedi­ments.

Simi­lar­ly to the situa­ti­on fur­ther north in the Bell­sund, the defor­ma­ti­on of the rocks is striking.

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 (east of Bur­ger­buk­ta, Tres­kelen, Bau­taen).  Fur­ther to the east, whe­re the sedi­ments have pre­ser­ved their ori­gi­nal, hori­zon­tal posi­ti­on, you find the clas­si­cal pla­teau-shaped moun­ta­ins; this is the case east of Bre­pol­len, the inner­most part of the Horn­sund.

Plateau-shaped mountains composed of nearly horizontal sediment layers east of the Hornsund.

Pla­teau-shaped moun­ta­ins com­po­sed of near­ly hori­zon­tal sedi­ment lay­ers east of the Horn­sund.

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

Land­scape: Spec­ta­cu­lar. The outer coast north and south of Horn­sund fea­tures lar­ge coas­tal plains. The first moun­tain chain is rela­tively ice-free, the­re are some lar­ger, part­ly ice-free val­leys such as Gås­ham­na, whe­re you can find very nice frost-pat­ter­ned ground.

The cen­tral and inner parts of the Horn­sund are stron­gly gla­cia­ted, so the­re are almost no tun­dra are­as the­re. The­re are almost ver­ti­cal rock­walls and wild moun­ta­ins around Bur­ger­buk­ta and Sama­rin­vå­gen. West of Sama­rin­vå­gen, the migh­ty Horn­sund­tind is towe­ring over the fjord with its 1429 met­res, but you need quite a bit of luck with the wea­ther to see it form tip to toe. The­re are gla­ciers cal­ving into all side bays, so the­re is often a lot of ice on the water; ice­bergs, grow­lers and ber­gy bits, as the wha­lers used to call small pie­ces of ice.



Bre­pol­len, the inner­most part of the Horn­sund, is almost com­ple­te­ly sur­roun­ded with gla­ciers. Becau­se of the gene­ral, well-known retre­at of gla­ciers also in Spits­ber­gen, which is very pro­no­un­ced in Bre­pol­len, the­re are more and more morai­nes visi­ble at the coast, to a lar­ger degree than indi­ca­ted on the scetch map abo­ve.

Flo­ra and Fau­na: Becau­se of the topo­gra­phy, the­re are few tun­dra are­as, but the vege­ta­ti­on can be very colourful near bird colo­nies. Here, you can find reinde­er, fox, geese etc. The Horn­sund is well-known for its lar­ge colo­nies of Litt­le auks, the­re are hundreds of thou­sands of them bree­ding in the Horn­sund; most of Svalbard’s Litt­le auks breed eit­her here or in the nor­thwest of Spits­ber­gen. Litt­le auks breed under lar­ge bol­ders, which means that you can’t see the nest its­elf. The bree­ding sites are usu­s­al­ly inac­ces­si­ble due to the steep and rocky ter­rain, and in other loca­ti­ons such as near the Polish sta­ti­on, the­re are some­ti­mes rese­arch pro­jects going on, which means the­se sites can be off limits for tou­rists.

Reindeer enjoying rich vegetation under a colony of Little Auks in the Hornsund

Reinde­er enjoy­ing rich vege­ta­ti­on under a colo­ny of Litt­le Auks in Horn­sund.

Becau­se of the curr­ents, which bring drift ice from the east and around the south cape of Spits­ber­gen into the Horn­sund, this fjord is an important migra­ti­on area for polar bears. Even though this is most­ly true for the win­ter sea­son, you have to be very careful in the area also in the sum­mer – the­re is alway a bear some­whe­re in the Horn­sund, pos­si­bly behind the big bould­er, direct­ly behind you…

Histo­ry: Long and quite inte­res­t­ing. Simi­lar to the Bell­sund, it was among­st the first fjords which was dis­co­ver­ed by wha­lers in the 17th cen­tu­ry. The Horn­sund got its name from Jonas Poo­le, an Eng­lish wha­ler, after some of his men had found a pie­ce of reinde­er ant­ler the­re. It is pos­si­ble that Poo­le belie­ved that the Horn­sund was actual­ly a strait through which it was pos­si­ble to sail to the east coast of Spits­ber­gen, so he cal­led it ‘Hor­ne Sound’ and not ‘Hor­ne Bay’ or simi­lar. The­re are remains of blub­ber ovns and gra­ves visi­ble at seve­ral loca­ti­ons.

Also the Pomors have used the Horn­sund for hun­ting pur­po­ses.

Whaler's (or pomor's) grave in Hornsund

Whaler’s (or pomor’s) gra­ve at Gnå­lod­den, Horn­sund.

Among­st the expe­di­ti­ons which have visi­ted Horn­sund, for exam­p­le the one of the Aus­tri­an-Hun­ga­ri­an Count Hans Wilc­zek in 1872 can be men­tio­ned. Wilc­zek was an important spon­sor of polar expe­di­ti­ons such as the ‘Tege­thoff’ expe­di­ti­on with Karl Wey­precht and Juli­us Pay­er, during which Franz Josef Land was dis­co­ver­ed. The bay Isbjørn­ham­na on the nor­t­hern side of the Horn­sund is named after Wilczek’s ship, the ‘Isbjørn’, which Wilc­zek used to accom­pa­ny the ‘Tege­thoff’ for a while in the Barents Sea. After they had sepa­ra­ted near Nova­ya Zem­lya, Wilc­zek sai­led fur­ther to Spits­ber­gen and visi­ted Horn­sund. Also Wilc­ze­kod­den on the west side of Isbjørn­ham­na is named after him, as is Hans­breen fur­ther to the east.

The Swe­dish-Rus­si­an Arc-de-Meri­di­an expe­di­ti­on (1899-1904) had one of their main quar­ters in Gås­ham­na.

Horn­sund was known among­st trap­pers as an excel­lent hun­ting area for polar bears. It was accor­din­gly fre­quent­ly used for win­terings in the first half of the 20th cen­tu­ry. One of the more famous figu­res of tho­se times was Wan­ny Wold­stad, a woman from north Nor­way who spent seve­ral years in Horn­sund in the 1930s. She did not just keep the house tidy while her part­ner was out hun­ting, but she went out and did all the hard and dan­ge­rous work hers­elf. Bra­ve any­way, and cer­tain­ly in the con­text of the 1930s in Nor­way. Some­ti­mes she took her two sons with her for the win­tering, who were in their teenage years.

Trappers' hut in Hyttevika, used by Wanny Woldstad

Trap­pers’ hut in Hyt­te­vi­ka, used by Wan­ny Wold­stad and others.

Ano­ther old trap­pers’ hut is situa­ted beau­tiful­ly under a bird cliff at Gnå­lod­den:

Gnålodden, Hornsund

The old trap­pers’ hut at Gnå­lod­den.

Pol­and estab­lished a sta­ti­on in Isbjørn­ham­na during the Inter­na­tio­nal Polar Year 1957-58. The sta­ti­on was kept bey­ond the polar year and, after a while, it was staf­fed year-round, so sin­ce the ear­ly seven­ties, the­re are con­stant­ly sci­en­tists in the Horn­sund. During the win­ter, the crew is redu­ced to a core team, whe­re­as in the sum­mer the­re are often guest sci­en­tists from dif­fe­rent nati­ons. During the years of the iron curtain, the sta­ti­on in the Horn­sund was a very valuable plat­form for polish sci­en­tists also to get in touch with wes­tern col­le­agues. Among­st the most important tasks of any polar sta­ti­on are long-term stan­dard mea­su­re­ments within meteo­ro­lo­gy, Earth magne­tism, seis­mo­lo­gy, nor­t­hern lights etc. Addi­tio­nal­ly, the­re are dif­fe­rent pro­jects within cer­tain, limi­t­ed time­frames. Whe­re­as the focus used to be on geo­mor­pho­lo­gy and geo­lo­gy for a long time, nowa­days gla­cio­lo­gy has beco­me very important; gla­cier stu­dies, among others to under­stand the rela­ti­onship bet­ween gla­ciers and cli­ma­te chan­ge. The near­by Litt­le auk colo­ny makes zoo­lo­gy and arc­tic eco­lo­gy an obvious field of stu­dy, and so do the inte­res­t­ing ocea­no­gra­phic mosaic of the Horn­sund (see ‘gene­ral’ sec­tion).

Polish research station in the Hornsund

Polish rese­arch sta­ti­on in Horn­sund.

The first suc­cessful ascent of Horn­sund­tind (1429 m) was achie­ved by the Ger­man clim­bing expe­di­ti­on of Dr. Rie­che in 1938. Horn­sund­tind is tech­ni­cal­ly much more deman­ding than the hig­her moun­ta­ins of nor­the­as­tern Spits­ber­gen in the Atom­fjel­la area, the hig­hest one being New­ton­top­pen (1713 m).


Treskelen Brepollen Gnålodden, Burgerbukta Samarinvågen Hornsundtind Gåshamna Isbjørnhamna (Polish research station), Hansbreen


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last modification: 2019-04-22 · copyright: Rolf Stange