The Most Stunning Landscape Available on Earth

Tuesday 2015-09-01 evening

This afternoon, we were treated to some of the most stunning landscapes available on planet Earth. The sun emerged from a thick layer of clouds just before we all boarded the zodiacs revealing a polar bear swimming in the distance. Our day star cast its warmth and light on the glacier and icebergs we were about to explore, highlighting their stark yet whimsical character. The icebergs, which are so luminous as to seem they were glowing from an internal energy source, were scattered across the waters of Palanderbukta. We were so astounded by the incredible natural beauty of this particular area that it took us a few moments to realize that there was a group of walruses frolicking in the water not far in front of us. First there were five, then seven, then ten young walruses all poking their heads out of the water and behaving the way dolphins do when they spy hop. It was exciting to see these big marine mammals bobbing up and down in the water checking us out and enjoying their afternoon as much as we were.

Some zodiacs stayed on the water for a couple hours cruising next to the glacier, and others made land so Elysium members could disembark and explore. This landing in Palanderbukta could not have been more rewarding for photographers if we had designed the place ourselves. We anchored on a rocky beach made up of stones created by glaciers and polished by an unforgiving sea and punctuated by ice chunks of every shape and size that looked as if they have been forged from glass. From wide angle to macro, this location provided gorgeous images for absolutely everyone. If it had not been for the encroaching cold and sharp wind, we probably would have stayed there for days.

These few hours we spent on sea and land will forever be ingrained into our collective memories and will serve to remind us of the incredible beauty that envelops the top of our blue planet.

Distant swimming polar bear, photo credit: James Stone

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Lanscapes of Palanderbukta, photo credit: Alex Rose

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Reindeer, photo credit: Wendy McIlroy

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Under the Surface

Tuesday 2015-09-01 afternoon

Our science team went for it today. Our resident scientists sent a Video Plankton Recorder (VPR) equipped with a conical plankton sampling net to 200 metres to find what was happening below the surface. We found plankton that was endemic to the Arctic sea and the community of plankton looked extremely healthy. Copepods in the genus Calanus were particularly abundant, but we were also able to observe arrow worms, ctenophores, and tiny, free-swimming marine snails. This first VPR sample was conducted in Hinlopen Stretet and we will continue sampling as we travel north towards the pack ice to try to determine whether or not the composition of the planktonic community differs depending on temperature. This can help give us insights into the impacts of warming water on these critical communities at the bottom of the Arctic food chain.

Plankton is the food of the Arctic that everything depends on, that everything eats. Plankton must continue to thrive “because it is the life blood of the ocean”. Inside the glass laboratory jars, this “life blood” was swimming about in a frenzy, showing us the amazing diversity of life beneath the waves that we can’t see. We can collect, sample, identify, and observe these tiny animals while on the Elysium expedition, but Dr. Cabell Davis (the head of our science team) will be sending the plankton we collect back to the U.S. for further analysis. We’re already looking forward to the next plankton tow tomorrow to see if there’s an obvious difference in the animals we observe. Oh, I have to go for now, there is a bow fin whale right next to the boat and I need to grab my camera!

Photo credit: Alex Rose

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Photo credit: Gwen K. Noda

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Morning with the Moon and the Sun

Tuesday 2015-09-01 morning

The windy weather continues, so we are planning our itinerary for today to visit places sheltered from the worst of it.

We reached anchor around 4am this morning. The moon and sun are both visible making for a beautiful morning.

This morning’s plan is to visit Alkefjellet, an island with a cliff that is home to a nesting guillemots during the breeding season (we are at the very end of that season). The steep wall extends down into the water for divers who want to explore below. Snorkelers will have the choice to go out for a swim or go with everyone else who will have a zodiac cruise tour along the wall to look for arctic foxes who, at this time of year, are recovering guillemot eggs that they have hidden away in previous weeks.

As for the afternoon, we’ll check the weather around lunch time and maybe we will go to Palander Bukta (bukta means "bay") to look for walruses on ice floes and, perhaps if we are lucky, go for a walk on a glacier!

Photo credit: Gwen K. Noda

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Northwest Svalbard

Monday 2015-08-31 morning

During the night, we traveled even further north.  The wind picked up and small white caps could be seen all around us.  We knew last night that the plan for today would depend very much on the weather conditions.

Right now, we are anchored in between Amsterdamoya and Danskoya (oya means “island”) where is it currently windy and mostly cloudy.  The diving option today is to dive a gentle slope and do some macrophotography.  The snorkelers will go to a sheltered bay at a former whaling station called Virgohamna on Danksoya to try to photograph some harbor seals.  The dry teams will go ashore at Smeerenburg, another former whaling station on Amsterdamoya, to photograph walruses and go for a short hike.

After lunch, we will probably sail for about 5 hours to another location.  The weather is looking too rough for what we originally wanted to do this afternoon.

Amsterdamoya/Smeerenburg: 79°43’57”N, 11°01’27”E

Danskoya/Virgohamna: 79°43’11”N, 10°55’43”E