Svalbard… a land without footprints
The hard facts: sea levels are rising, global warming continues as the greenhouse phenomenon increases rather than decreases. The far-reaching consequences of global warming are already evident in nature: warmer climates, rising global temperatures which will speed up the melting of glaciers and ice caps causing early ice thaw on rivers and lakes and significant changes to our ecosystems. For 1We Unlimited, nature photographers Geurt Besselink and Mirjam Langelaar travelled to the Arctic to capture images of the Arctic as we know it today.
Through the break in the clouds, the beams of sunlight light up the snowy mountains. The partly melted snow creates a beautiful black and white pattern on the mountain sides. I am standing on the deck of the ship enjoying the endless beauty of Svalbard. It is a calm evening and the black and white structures are reflected as beautiful shapes in the ‘mirror’ of the gently flowing water.
Later the warm evening light casts an orange glow on the mosaic of pack ice. Then, when the sun is at its lowest, the warm colour disappears and gives way to the midnight sun that remains throughout the summer months. Svalbard experiences extreme contrasts in daylight hours between the winter and summer with peak darkness from November to half February but during the summer months it is light 24 hours a day.
At 81 ° northern latitude, with the North Pole as the nearest neighbour, nature determines the rhythm of life here. Man can only acclimatize. Svalbard is a true wilderness. It is a land of no footprints. The ones we do see are fortunately not human, but prints of the polar bear still bravely hanging on to this world of pack ice.
The Svalbard archipelago, an untouched arctic wilderness is a large protected wildlife sanctuary filled with arctic wildlife. The reserve has certainly benefited from the protected status which has been in effect for over forty years. There has been a steady increase in the polar bear and walrus population according to the experts. Perhaps climate change has influenced these numbers, or perhaps it is just a result that hunting is now controlled.
For several years, I have read many articles that state that the ice coverage in the polar region has diminished substantially because of climate change, which will have a negative effect on the polar bear population. I have also come across several articles written by scientists who claim that the decrease in ice coverage is less than expected and that there has actually been an increase in ice coverage in some areas. I am not a scientist. I am just a witness to the astounding beauty of the Arctic world; someone who wants to share this beautiful world with others and at the same time raise preservation awareness.
You could write a book about the unique wildlife of Svalbard, but equally spectacular is the flora. Despite the cold climate about 170 different arctic plant species survive here. Lovely purple tufts of ‘Purple Saxifrage’ colour the landscape. This plant has adjusted so well to the climate that it holds a world record as the most northern growing plant in the world!
Another predominant colour that embellishes the Arctic landscape is blue; the deep blue of the glacier with its steep ice walls, with jagged edge-hanging pieces of ice which can break free from the mighty ice river at any given moment. Glaciers are so magnificent and beautiful; it literally takes your breath away! Occasionally you hear a sound similar to the sound of thunder coming from high above the glacier; this is the mass of ice that is being propelled towards the sea. Screeching seagulls fly past the blue walls of ice. And then finally, the mighty sound of the calving ice crashing into the sea, spraying water metres high into the air.
Contemplation and wonder
This ancient landscape has been polished and filed by Ice Rivers for millions of years. Svalbard and everything that lives there, fills your mind with contemplation and wonder. It is a land with a soul that captures your heart.
Text Mirjam Langelaar / translation Monique Wilkinson