Western Storfjord

Jun 22, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

We had a nagging feeling that something was about to happen to our weather. In Svalbard, when the skies are clear, temperatures warm, and winds calm, conditions are perfect for weather that will disrupt plans. The result of these conditions is fog—sometimes thick fog.

Moist, warm air flowing over cold seawater or sea ice results in fog. And in Svalbard, it can persist for days before dissipating. The best approach is to find a place where the fog is not, so it was decided that the best option was back across the northern part of Storfjord to try to find better visibility.

During the morning, while we were in the fog, we heard presentations in the lounge. The bridge was full of people searching for wildlife and clear skies. Finally, by late morning, we spotted a hole in the fog near one of the bays and glacier fronts of eastern Spitsbergen. Remnants of shore fast ice were still attached to the face of the tidewater glacier at the end of the short fjord. People on the bridge scanned the ice, searching in hopes of finding wildlife. A number of seals were spotted lying on the flat ice. The ship set on a course southward along the eastern shore of Spitsbergen.

By the time lunch was finished we had again gotten out of the fog and entered a large bay with three glaciers in the distance. Shore-fast ice persisted off the glaciers and we once again began the search for bears. And soon we spotted a female and cub, walking along the edge of the ice. The captain tried to get closer, but in the uncharted bay, we had to be very cautious. Using sonar technology and a sounding Zodiac, we had to stay a distance away, viewing the bears with binoculars and a spotting scope. The bay was too shallow to go any closer.

Having spent a bit of time viewing the sow and cub, the ship backed off and repositioned to a different location within the large bay. Fog still hung low in the distance, but we found an opening where we could safely Zodiac cruise.

Once everyone was back on board, the ship set a course southward. And again, fog set in as we traveled. The midnight sun filtered through. Night would not fall and the fog held its grip on our surroundings, but the bridge navigators expertly directed the ship along a course that would take us around the southern tip of Spitsbergen and the northward along the western coast for new adventures and, hopefully, clearer weather.

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About the Author

Bud Lehnhausen


Bud received an undergraduate degree in wildlife biology at Colorado State University. He then immediately went to Alaska where he worked and lived for 30 years. At the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Bud studied wildlife biology and received a master's degree conducting research on four species of alcid seabird nesting on a remote island in the Gulf of Alaska.

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