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Map Gronfjord-Grumant

G = Grønfjord, B = Bar­ents­burg, C = Colesbukta/Colesdalen, Gr = Grum­ant­by­en

Gene­ral: Sou­thern coast of the Isfjord with an acti­ve and several aban­do­ned Rus­si­an coal mining sett­le­ments. The future may see a new Rus­si­an coal mine in the Cole­s­da­len, which is one of the richest tun­dra are­as of Sval­bard. Baren­burg is still an acti­ve Rus­si­an mining sett­le­ment and one of the most popu­lar (or, to be more pre­cise, one of the most fre­quent­ly visi­ted) tou­rist desti­na­ti­ons in Sval­bard. It is a day­t­rip both in the sum­mer by boat and in the win­ter with snows­coo­ters.

The area has nice tun­dra and good hiking oppor­tu­nities.



Geo­lo­gy: Solid bed­rock con­sists of most­ly hori­zon­tal stra­ta of the lower Ter­tia­ry, the youn­gest solid bed­rock of Sval­bard. The­re are alter­na­ting lay­ers of sand-, silt- and clay­stone; the sand­stones are coal-bea­ring and part­ly rich in fos­sils (imprints of lea­ves like from hazel­nut trees etc.). The chan­ge from sand- to clay­stone is due to chan­ging rela­ti­ve sea level and thus of chan­ging depo­si­tio­nal envi­ron­ment from del­taic to deeper shelf and can nice­ly be seen in the slo­pes, espe­cial­ly when you ascend one of the few moun­tains towe­ring abo­ve the wide-ran­ging pla­teau, which is 4-500 metres high. In some of the sand­stones, you can find nice ripp­le marks and other sedi­men­ta­ry struc­tures.

The stra­ta are most­ly hori­zon­tal and tec­to­ni­cal­ly undis­tur­bed, but the­re are some smal­ler faults. A thrust cuts the rocks just east of Grum­ant­by­en and is nice­ly visi­ble from the Isfjord. This fault cau­sed dif­fi­cul­ties for the Rus­si­an mine in Grum­ant­by­en, which was one of the rea­sons for clo­sing the mine in 1962. In Bar­ents­burg, mining of the coal which is mined several hund­red metres below sea level is con­ti­nued until today.

Fuglefjellet between Bjørndalen and Grumantbyen with horizontal sedimentary layers which are dissected by erosion, thus forming protruding towers

Fuglef­jel­let bet­ween Bjørn­da­len and Grum­ant­by­en with hori­zon­tal sedi­men­ta­ry lay­ers which are dis­sec­ted by ero­si­on, thus forming pro­tru­ding towers.

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

Land­s­cape: Cha­rac­te­ris­tic pla­teau-shaped moun­tains with wide pla­teaus in an ele­va­ti­on bet­ween 400 and 600 metres. Few moun­tains tower abo­ve this pla­teau and reach a good 1000 metres abo­ve sea level; other­wi­se, the rocks once covering the who­le pla­teau have been ero­ded. The area is most­ly ungla­cia­ted and has some of the lar­gest ice-free val­leys of Sval­bard (Farda­len, Cole­s­da­len, Grøn­da­len, Reinda­len). The val­ley bot­toms are most­ly occup­pied by brai­ded rivers, the lar­ger bran­ches of which can be dif­fi­cult to cross (espe­cial­ly Advent­da­len, Sas­senda­len, Reinda­len, but other rivers can also be dif­fi­cult depen­ding on wea­ther, sea­son etc. Never try to cross with bare feet!). The net-like rivers of the­se rivers form aeste­tic pat­terns, which are espe­cial­ly nice when seen from an ele­va­ted posi­ti­on. Ano­t­her spe­cial­ty of the lar­ge, ice-free val­leys are pin­gos: per­ma­frost phe­no­me­na con­sis­ting of lar­ge, ice-fil­led cones, up to 30-40 metres high. Pin­gos are abundant, for examp­le, in Advent­da­len, Reinda­len and Grøn­da­len.

Flo­ra and Fau­na: The tun­dra near the coast belongs to the richest tun­dra are­as of Sval­bard, espe­cial­ly in Bjørn­da­len and Cole­s­da­len. Rein­de­er are accord­in­gly abundant. Steep cliffs near the coast are home to sea­b­ird colo­nies, such as Fuglef­jel­let bet­ween Grum­ant­by­en and Bjørn­da­len. A fau­nistic spe­cial­ty in Sval­bard, which is other­wi­se free of rodents, are mice which live in the sett­le­ments. Sur­pri­sin­gly, they have sur­vi­ved until today in Grum­ant­by­en, alt­hough the sett­le­ment was aban­do­ned in 1962. They have not spread bey­ond the area of the old buil­dings.

Histo­ry: The Isfjord was one of the first parts of Spits­ber­gen to be dis­co­ve­r­ed and used exten­si­ve­ly. The name Hol­len­derda­len tells alrea­dy that Dut­ch wha­lers from the 17th cen­tu­ry fre­quen­ted the area, which was later used by both Pomors and Nor­we­gi­an trap­pers. At Fin­nes­et south of Bar­ents­burg, the­re was a wha­ling sta­ti­on in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, which fea­tured a radio sta­ti­on for com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on with the main­land. The radio sta­ti­on was in 1933 moved to Kapp Lin­né becau­se of a topo­gra­phy which was more sui­ta­ble for radio com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on.

As is evi­dent from the name, Bar­ents­burg was ori­gi­nal­ly foun­ded by a Dut­ch mining com­pa­ny, but qui­te soon it was sold to the Rus­si­ans. At the moment, it is the only acti­ve Rus­si­an mining sett­le­ment in Spits­ber­gen, alt­hough mining acti­vi­ties are cur­r­ent­ly decli­ning here. In 2005, the­re were only 600 peop­le living in Bar­ents­burg, most­ly from Ukrai­na, whe­re the­re are coal mines with a simi­lar geo­lo­gy. Trust Ark­ti­ku­gol, the mining com­pa­ny which is owned by the sta­te, also used to run a mine in Grum­ant­by­en, which once was the lar­gest sett­le­ment of Spits­ber­gen with a good 1200 inha­bi­tants, which is hard to belie­ve when you see the few houses which are left at the steep coast. The mine and con­se­quent­ly also the sett­le­ment were aban­do­ned in 1962.  Becau­se of the lack of sui­ta­ble ancho­ring posi­ti­ons and har­bour faci­li­ties at Grum­ant­by­en, the coal was ship­ped from Cole­s­buk­ta. The old sett­le­ment the­re was the har­bour for Grum­ant­by­en. The future may see a new Rus­si­an coal mine in Cole­s­buk­ta, pos­si­b­ly with road con­nec­tion to Bar­ents­burg. Neit­her a mine in Cole­s­da­len, which is an area with extre­me­ly rich tun­dra, nor a road would be desi­ra­ble from an envi­ron­men­tal posi­ti­on.

Grumantbyen (1999)

Grum­ant­by­en (1999).


By the way:

New book

my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (3): Die Bären­in­sel und Jan May­en”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!


This and other publishing products of the Spitsbergen publishing house in the Spitsbergen-Shop.

last modification: 2013-10-11 · copyright: Rolf Stange