From April 11 to 21, 2014, join a Norwegian Polar Institute and WWF-Canon scientific expedition to collect critical data about Europe’s most westerly polar bear population. The population on and around the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is facing a future without summer sea ice. See all posts from the expedition here.
At distance, a single polar bear is in sight. It is like a light dot in a enormous white landscape. We are in Wijdefiorden which is a fiord which cuts right through Svalbard. Most of the fiord is open water but at the southern end, there is a layer of new ice. It is here we observe the polar bear. Polar bears are hard to detect in the snowy and icy landscape, which is an advantage if you are a predator and want to catch seals. Their claws are incredibly strong and sharp- perfectly designed for catching and holding seals. We humans, use ice picks to climb glaciers, polar bears use four, each leg is equipped with a paw with five sharpened claws. The paws are also very broad, and this helps the bear spread out more of its weight to avoid braking through thin sea ice. We hope this polar bear will get a bit closer. To our surprise, we found polar bear tracks rounding the bow. This is the second time we have foot prints of this big white predator close to the boat, without seeing it.
Today, the sun is beaming on the snowy mountain slopes. However, yesterday evening the contrast could not have been greater. As the R/V Lance travelled from Wahlenbergfjorden up Hinlopenstretet and into Wijdefiorden we hit some bad weather. The waves where crashing over the ship and the sea water froze immediately to ice when it hit me while I stood on deck. This was a lifetime experience and I could immediately understand the danger of a ship being ‘iced’ by the Arctic sea. Tons of kilograms ice can freeze solid to ship decking and the crew gets rid of it by using rubber sledge hammers and manual labor.
A relevant question might be what was I doing outside on deck in an Arctic storm? I had been asked to make a statement, in the worse weather condition as possible, to explain why we have to join forces from different countries to save the Arctic. We have to put aside all the ‘squabble’ such as between Sweden and Finland where there is always some hard feelings when our national teams meet in ice hockey or cross-country skiing.
It is amazing to be up here, and we will soon have more to say about the polar bear we spotted.