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Scientists predict that if the current climate changes continues, southern Spitsbergen may change beyond recognition in a few years. If the Hornbreen and Hambergbreen glaciers continue to retreat and a few kilometers of ice melts, then around 2050 the Hornsund Fjord will become a strait. Thus, Sørkapp Land will become an island of the Svalbard archipelago.
Hornsund – pack up and go on
After sailing from the capital of Svalbard, Longyearbyen, we arrived at the Polish Polar Station Hornsund. We spend only one very intense day here. We need to unpack the crates that were shipped to the station two months before our arrival. Then we complete the equipment and check if the measuring devices are working properly. We also prepare cameras, frames, probes and protective suits. They allow you to survive for several dozen minutes after falling into arctic water. Additionally, properly dressed and fastened, the air trapped in the suit will keep the unfortunate person afloat. Polar explorers call them “Hansens” or “Vikings”. I had the pleasure of testing one of them in arctic water. It passed the exam perfectly.
Packed and armed with rifles and new measuring devices, we get on the Magnus Zaremba again and head towards the eastern coast – Hambergbukta Bay.
East Coast – Hambergbukta
We spend three days in the bay. During this time a lot is happening. At first, the weather is not so good – fog and the temperature around freezing point quickly cool down our enthusiasm. Despite this, we are going on a reconnaissance. We need to find potential places for mounting measuring devices and timelapse cameras. The conditions are very unfavorable, and we return to Magnus, freezing cold, waiting for warm tea and a sleeping bag.
The next day we wake up in a completely different place. Full sun, blue sky, no smallest cloud on the horizon. Only now we can see the majesty and the amazingness of the eastern coast. I’ll remember for a long time wild, rocky shores and ice cliffs several kilometers long.
We go to work with much more enthusiasm.
In previously selected locations, we install temperature and pressure sensors, as well as a timelapse camera. It is designed to take a photo of the ice cliff every second. In this way, we want to observe and capture the calving mechanism – the breaking off of icebergs from the glacier.
During this time, I am responsible for drone flights and the photography of the ice cliff.
During one of the flights, I was near to crash a drone. The Phantom 3, which was a few hundred meters away from me, suddenly started to malfunction with the GPS connection. His position was no longer stable, the wind began to bear him very much. As I saw something wrong, I tried to get the machine back on Magnus as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the lack of stabilization made it impossible to land on the boat. So I made a quick decision to land the drone on the beach. Despite the high speed on landing, and the broken image on the phone (the drone started to go completely crazy), I was fortunate enough to place it on the sand.
When flying at high latitudes, unfortunately such unexpected situations can happen. The manufacturer does not guarantee any accidents that occur in such remote areas. The GPS satellite system can be unreliable, especially on days of increased activity in the sun. How do you know if the sun is active today? We can see the so-called Kp index by typing it into a well-known search engine. A value above 3 may disrupt the proper functioning of our drone. In Svalbard, we couldn’t check it, for the obvious reason – no internet.
Several decades ago, the entire Hambergbukta Bay was covered by glaciers.
Due to the rising temperature in Svalbard, they are gradually melting. We decided to go to one of the surrounding mountains to see with our own eyes the still existing ice cap formed by the Hambergbreen and Hornbreen glaciers and thus connect Spitsbergen with Sørkapp Land.
In the afternoon, we reach the shore with the pontoon. After that we cross the retreating glacier and head towards the Professorrygen mountain. We overcome rocky slopes that resemble loosely piled piles of gravel. Probably many other people have not stood in this place so far. After a short but intense climb, we reach the summit of Professorryggen.
There is an amazing panorama from the top of the mountain. The Hambergbreen – Hornbreen ice cape, the bay where the Magnus Zaremba is anchored and the Hornsund fjord are very well visible.
If these glaciers continue to retreat at such a rapid pace, scientists predict that in about 30-50 years a strait will form where Hambergbreen and Hornbreen are today. Then Sørkapp Land will become an island. This event could have a significant impact on the Svalbard ecosystem. Usually the waters from the west are warmer – it is influenced by the Gulf Stream. In the east, however, they are usually a few degrees colder. The mixing of these two water masses may change the way the ecosystem functions so far.
We return to the ship around 3 am. However, there is no need to take out the headlamp, which we don’t even have in our backpacks. After all, we are in the Arctic, where it is now a polar day. The midnight sun, which hangs low over the horizon, gives an incredibly beautiful light. Our ship, glaciers, and the entire wild and raw surroundings look extremely beautiful in it. See for yourself (movie)!