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Pyramiden - Dickson Land - Billefjord

D = Dick­son Land
P = Pyra­mi­den
B = Bruce­by­en
L = Long-

Map Dicksonland-Billefjord

Gene­ral: Dick­son Land is the name for the pen­in­su­la bet­ween Dick­son­fjord and Bil­lefjord. It is named after a Swe­dish indus­tri­al of the 19th cen­tu­ry, who spon­so­red seve­ral Swe­dish expe­di­ti­ons. The Bil­lefjord is very scenic, inclu­ding the lar­ge cal­ving gla­cier front of Nor­dens­ki­öld­breen. Becau­se of this and becau­se of the short distance to Lon­ge­ar­by­en, the Rus­si­an mining sett­le­ment Pyra­mi­den (clo­sed in 1998), it is fre­quent­ly visi­ted espe­ci­al­ly in the sum­mer, when boats do day trips into the Bil­lefjord from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Visits have beco­me some­what less fre­quent sinc Pyra­mi­den is clo­sed, but Dick­son Land is still one one the most beau­tiful and easi­ly acces­si­ble hiking and trek­king are­as of Spits­ber­gen. Long trek­kings fol­lo­wing the lar­ge, ice-free val­leys and high pla­teaus are pos­si­ble as well as some moun­tain clim­bing (not tech­ni­cal) and gla­cier hikes – pro­vi­ded safe step­ping, good phy­si­cal shape and rele­vant equip­ment and expe­ri­ence (see rules).

Geo­lo­gy: The area around the Bil­lefjord belongs to the geo­lo­gi­cal­ly most inte­res­t­ing regi­ons of Sval­bard. The pre-devo­ni­an base­ment is expo­sed only near the Nor­dens­ki­öld-gla­cier and to the north of the Bil­lefjord. On both sides of the fjord, but espe­ci­al­ly in wes­tern and nor­t­hern Dick­son Land, red­dish sand­sto­nes and con­glo­me­ra­tes of the Devo­ni­an Old Red give the land­scape an appe­re­an­ce with beau­tiful colours. Tree trunks found in the­se rocks are of tru­ly respec­ta­ble age, and tog­e­ther with the Devo­ni­an coal seams which were mined in Pyra­mi­den, they belong to the oldest fos­si­li­sed remains of lar­ge plants on Earth – most coal occur­ren­ces world­wi­de date to the youn­ger Car­bo­ni­fe­rous or are even youn­ger. Vege­ta­ti­on which could poten­ti­al­ly be tur­ned into coal later just star­ted to cover the first land sur­faces in the Devo­ni­an. In the Car­bo­ni­fe­rous and Per­mi­an, various sedi­ments were depo­si­ted, among others eva­po­ri­tes such as gypsym and anhy­drite. The­se mul­ti­co­lou­red sedi­ments give the land­scape a colourful appare­an­ce, for exam­p­le the slo­pes of the moun­ta­ins near Bruce­by­en and north of the Bil­lefjord. The­re is one moun­tain cal­led Tri­ko­lorf­jel­let (‘Three colour moun­tain’). In the Per­mi­an, depo­si­ti­on con­tin­ued most­ly with car­bo­na­tes, among others the hard, fos­sil-rich lime­s­to­nes of the Kapp Sta­ros­tin For­ma­ti­on. In the Dick­son Land, they often form pro­mi­nent cliffs, over which some­ti­mes water­falls cas­ca­de down.

Almost horizontal layers of Carboniferous and Permian sediments, dissected by erosion to form protruding towers (Skansbukta)

Almost hori­zon­tal lay­ers of Car­bo­ni­fe­rous and Per­mi­an sedi­ments, dis­sec­ted by ero­si­on to form pro­tru­ding towers (Skans­buk­ta).

After a break in the upper­most Per­mi­an, the typi­cal Meso­zoic ‘plat­form sedi­ments’ were depo­si­ted in most parts of Sval­bard, inclu­ding Dick­son Land, whe­re they are pre­ser­ved in the sou­thern part, as the stra­ta are gent­ly dip­ping to the south. Litho­lo­gi­cal­ly, they are simi­lar to the Tri­as­sic suc­ces­si­on of Edgeøya, also inclu­ding dole­ri­tic intru­si­ons from the upper Juras­sic and Creta­ce­ous. Phos­pho­ri­tic con­cre­ti­ons within the Tri­as­sic sedi­ments of sou­thern Dick­son Land were tought to be eco­no­mic­al­ly explo­ita­ble, which lead to inves­ti­ga­ti­ons by Swe­dish expe­di­ti­ons, among others with Adolf Erik Nor­dens­ki­öld. The name ‘Sau­ri­erd­a­len’ points to fos­sils found in sou­thern Dick­son Land.

The lively histo­ry of regio­nal tec­to­nics gave rise to an inte­res­t­ing geo­lo­gi­cal varie­ty within a rela­tively small area. The rocks are part­ly aes­the­ti­cal­ly fold­ed. The Bil­lefjor­den fault zone runs straight through the long Wij­defjord in the north and through the Bil­lefjord. This is one of the most important tec­to­nic linea­ments in Sval­bard, it has got a long and com­plex histo­ry start­ing well befo­re the Cale­do­ni­an oro­ge­ny in the Sil­uri­an and las­ting at least into the Meso­zoic. This struc­tu­re has been decisi­ve for regio­nal ero­si­on, sedi­men­ta­ti­on and later defor­ma­ti­on: uplifted blocks on one side suf­fe­r­ed ero­si­on, whe­re­as the sub­si­ding block on the other side was cover­ed with sedi­ments. Actual­ly, the Bil­lefjor­den fault zone is not only one straight fault, but rather a com­plex zone of a num­ber of faults. This is nice­ly visi­ble for exam­p­le north of Hør­bye­breen.

Ano­ther tec­to­nic event hap­pen­ed in the upper­most Devo­ni­an, the so-cal­led Sval­bar­di­an Pha­se, a very late and final stage of the Cale­do­ni­an oro­ge­ny which is other­wi­se lar­ge­ly con­fi­ned to the Sil­uri­an. The result of regio­nal uplift and tilt is a dis­cordance bet­ween the Devo­ni­an Old Red and the upper­ly­ing Car­bo­ni­fe­rous car­bo­na­tes. This is nice­ly visi­ble, as the rela­tively soft Devo­ni­an sand­sto­nes and con­glo­me­ra­tes form soft, red­dish slo­pes top­ped by steep cliffs of yel­low­brown car­bo­na­tes (Pyra­mi­den, Tri­un­gen, Lyk­ta, Kina­murf­jel­let etc.).

Also the Qua­ter­nary geo­lo­gy is quite inte­res­t­ing. Many gla­ciers have lar­ge, ice-cored morai­nes, and the­re are beau­tiful series of fos­sil beach-rid­ges for exam­p­le at Bruce­by­en. Solu­ti­on of sul­fa­tes and car­bo­na­tes led to the for­ma­ti­on of karst phe­no­me­na such as sink holes in Mathie­son­da­len and Gips­da­len (Bün­sow Land), and fall­out of dis­sol­ved mine­rals led to quick dia­ge­ne­sis of holo­ce­ne sedi­ments such as del­taic depo­sits and morai­nes in Mathie­son­da­len and north of the morai­ne of the Hør­bye­breen.

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

Land­scape: Accor­ding to the varied geo­lo­gy, the­re is a varie­ty of dif­fe­rent land­scape impres­si­ons to be seen. Near the coast, the­re are often nice tun­dra are­as with very evi­dent beach rid­ges. The ‘hin­ter­land’, the area east of Bil­lefjord and Bün­sow Land, is stron­gly gla­cia­ted, whe­re­as Dick­son Land is rela­tively ice-free. Around Bil­lefjord, per­mo­car­bo­ni­fe­rous car­bo­na­tic rocks form part­ly spec­ta­cu­lar steep cliffs dis­sec­ted by ero­si­on, thus forming some­ti­mes nice­ly regu­lar towers, some­ti­mes bizar­re sculp­tures such as Taran­tel­len north of Bil­lefjord. This rock tower (Taran­tel­len = ‘taran­tu­la’) is worth see­ing, but it takes a long and deman­ding day-trip to reach it from the nor­t­hern end of the Bil­lefjord through a steep, nar­row val­ley. It is a dou­ble arch more than 20 met­res high, which looks like a giant stone spi­der. Other, also spec­ta­cu­lar and often regu­lar cliffs are built up by the Per­mi­an Kapp Sta­ros­tin For­ma­ti­on, for exam­p­le on the nor­t­hern side of Skans­buk­ta. In inner parts of Dick­son Land, the­se slo­pes often form steep can­yons.

Water­fall cas­ca­ding down hard car­bo­na­te lay­ers of the Kapp Sta­ros­tin For­ma­ti­on in wes­tern Dick­son Land.

Waterfall cascading down hard carbonate layers of the Kapp Starostin Formation in western Dickson Land

In sou­thern Dick­son Land, land­scapes within the Tri­as­sic sedi­ments remind one of simi­lar places for exam­p­le in eas­tern Nor­dens­ki­öld Land (east of Lon­gye­ar­by­en), Edgeøya etc. Here, dole­ri­tic intru­si­ons some­ti­mes form irre­gu­lar rid­ges and cliffs in the slo­pes. Small ice caps cover parts of the high pla­teaus, which are dis­sec­ted by steep can­yons.

In cen­tral nor­t­hern Dick­son Land, the Old Red with its nice­ly red­dish-brown sand­sto­nes and con­glo­me­ra­tes domi­na­tes the appare­an­ce of the land­scape; here you find lar­ge, ice-free val­leys with warm colours on the soft lower and midd­le slo­pes (Hud­ind­a­len, Nathorst­da­len). On top of the­se slo­pes, hard car­bo­na­tes form steep cliffs, so it is often dif­fi­cult to reach the sum­mit.

Tundra in Nathorstdalen with slopes composed of Old Red sandstone with its warm colours

Tun­dra in Nathorst­da­len with slo­pes com­po­sed of Old Red sand­stone with its warm colours.



Fur­ther north, around Åland­vat­net and Mit­tag-Leff­ler­breen, meta­mor­phic base­ment and sedi­men­ta­ry cover rocks form a mosaic becau­se of the tec­to­nics rela­ted to the Bil­lefjor­den fault zone (see abo­ve). In the area of cover rocks, you find some nice, colourful moun­ta­ins, the slo­pes of which are some­ti­mes nice­ly dis­sec­ted by ero­si­on to form regu­lar towers. In con­trast, the har­der base­ment rocks form stee­per moun­tain slo­pes with a more irre­gu­lar, inpre­dic­ta­ble appe­re­an­ce. Near Mit­tag Leff­ler­breen, huge morains form chao­tic, ever-chan­ging land­scapes (Ålands­vat­net, Hog­land­vat­net).

Flo­ra and Fau­na: The­re is quite rich tun­dra near the coast and in some of the lar­ge, ice-free val­leys of Dick­son Land. On steep cliffs, the­re are colo­nies of sea­birds, but other­wi­se, this part of cen­tral Spits­ber­gen does not have too much wild­life. Around the Bil­lefjord, the­re are small num­bers of reinde­er, but despi­te of having been the­re quite often, I have seen them very few times only.

Histo­ry: I do not know of any acti­vi­ties of 17th cen­tu­ry wha­lers in the area. Pomors used the area as well as Nor­we­gi­an trap­pers; espe­ci­al­ly Dick­son Fjord which was home to the legen­da­ry Arthur Oxaas bet­ween the wars. The Bil­lefjord was used for mining on a num­ber of occa­si­ons in the 20th cen­tu­ry. The SSS (Scot­tish Spits­ber­gen Syn­di­ca­te, with Wil­liam Spier­ce Bruce) inves­ti­ga­ted Car­bo­ni­fe­rous coal seams east of the Bil­lefjord in Bruce­by­en, which they built for this pur­po­se. Ano­ther ear­ly attempt to explo­re mine­rals was done by the ‘Port­land Cement Fabric’, which estab­lished mining faci­li­ties in Skans­buk­ta, but here as well as in other places the occur­rence tur­ned out to be eco­no­mic­al­ly wort­hl­ess. The ent­rance to the mine as well as some­old machi­nery can still be seen. Lar­ge-sca­le mining was done in Pyra­mi­den. Foun­ded 1910 by a Swe­dish com­pa­ny, Rus­si­ans to over the area in 1926. But mining did not serious­ly start until 1940 and was, with inter­rup­ti­ons, con­tin­ued until 1998, when the mine was final­ly aban­do­ned.

Remains of a gypsym mine in Skans­buk­ta.

Remains of a gypsym mine in Skansbukta



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