Day 10. Ny-Ålesund
June 1 is in midsummer and the middle of the Arctic Floating University expedition. The mountains around get higher and internet less accessible. Today’s landing was in Ny-Ålesund.
65 million years ago, Svalbard was covered with tropical forests. In 1610, coal deposits were discovered in King Bay but it is only in 1916 that the Kings Bay Company bought this land and started developing Ny-Ålesund. The company built houses, a hospital, a canteen, coalmines, railroads, an airport, electric and telegraph stations. Two hundred people overwintered in Ny-Ålesund in the 1920s.
Coalmines did not bring much profit. Eight people lost their lives in accidents in the mines from 1917 to 1929. Mining was abandoned in 1929 and Kings Bay became state-owned. The first tourists came to Ny-Ålesund in 1935. A year later, the North Pole hotel was opened. Fishing which took the place of mining as well as tourism both stopped during World War II.
“Thank you for a great holiday. The scenery is perfect and the air too. I felt as a part of a big happy family”
Betty Brown, London, August 1938 (the hotel guest book)
1950 was marked by a Ny-Ålesund renaissance. New houses, a bakery and a hangar were built. Coalmines were reestablished in 1956 and completely closed in 1963 after a catastrophe: on November 5, 1962, 21 people were killed in a mortal accident and 11 were never found.
Nowadays Ny-Ålesund is the northernmost all-year round settlement. Kings Bay owns and operates the town. Norwegian authorities support research work in Ny-Ålesund, take care of cultural heritage and develop the green community. About 40 people live here all the year round. A shift lasts in average from one to six years.
The researchers from different countries and continents who could have never known each other meet in the canteen and have meals together. A shop is open two days a week.
In summer, there are up to 180 residents in Ny-Ålesund together with the scientists that come from the mainland. There are modern facilities in all the houses, internet, television and telephone. Water is taken from a lake to the southwest from the town. Twice a week, air traffic connects Ny-Ålesund with Longyearbyen.
How do people get to Ny-Ålesund? They apply for a job on Svalbard or they work in the Kings Bay that sends its employees here for several years.
Some miss their families and friends. They also miss warm sunshine and green grass.
In 1974, scientists from the Universitties of Tromsø, Trondheim, Oslo, Denmark, Germany and the USA appeared in Ny-Ålesund. That is how the town became a research base with unique conditions for environmental and atmospheric studies.
Each year spring starts earlier and warm waters approach. It worries local people who work in 20 scientific institutions in Ny-Ålesund. The research centre does not easily give permission for scientific work here: those who can lead their investigation elsewhere usually get a negative response. They support only the projects that can be elaborated just in Ny-Ålesund conditions.
We spend four hours in Ny-Ålesund and saw shreds of tundra here and there, with tiny saxifrage flowers. Special signs remind us that it is permitted to walk only on the roads and pathways. Geese and seagulls feel comfortable with their brood around a lake. We even saw geese protect their fledglings from an arctic fox who evidently suffered from malnutrition. We saw caribous who grazed in the tundra.
There are mountains all around. It may seem that it would take ten minutes to reach them but as you walk, they get only higher and further.
We learnt about the arctic swallows that come here for the summer to breed and then turn back to warm countries where they perish.
While we were sitting on the shore of the Arctic Ocean and waiting for the boat that would take us back to Professor Molchanov, we thought that everything in nature is creative even the living beings have to sacrifice their lives. It all happens naturally.