Polar bear

Nuclear Ninety North

Eclipse of the Midnight Sun

August 1st, 2008

Back     Contents     Next

Ziegler Island

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L209.jpg

2008-07-28 08:44 UTC Click images for reduced size. 81°3.98'N 56°5.30'E

Our first landing in Franz Josef Land would be on Ziegler Island. We had intended to land on Payer Island, but heavy fog prevented helicopter operations, so we diverted to Ziegler Island instead. While approaching the island, a female polar bear and cub were spotted on the sea ice between the ship and the island. This was to be our last polar bear sighting.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L210.jpg

2008-07-28 08:48 UTC 81°3.99'N 56°5.34'E

Ziegler Island is visible across the ice as helicopter transfers from the ship began. Note the round holes in the melt ponds in the foreground. These are breathing holes used and maintained by seals. The polar bears we saw above were patrolling these holes in search of a meal.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L211.jpg

2008-07-28 09:48 UTC 81°4.02'N 56°5.21'E

The helicopter returns from delivering a batch of passengers before picking us up for our trip to the island.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L212.jpg

2008-07-28 10:01 UTC 81°4.21'N 56°17.91'E

After landing, the first impression of the landscape is its apparent bleakness. But when you look closer, there is life everywhere.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L213.jpg

2008-07-28 10:01 UTC 81°4.21'N 56°17.91'E

Note the colours among the dark volcanic basalt rock. These are lichens and wildflowers we'll see in more detail below. The containers at the left were brought to the island by an Austrian film production company making a documentary about the Payer-Weyprecht Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition which discovered Franz Josef Land in 1873.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L214.jpg

2008-07-28 10:03 UTC 81°4.21'N 56°17.81'E

So-called “reindeer moss” (Cladonia rangiferina) is abundant on the island. This is actually a lichen, not a moss, and is not eaten by reindeer in Franz Josef Land because none inhabit the archipelago.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L215.jpg

2008-07-28 10:04 UTC 81°4.20'N 56°17.83'E

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L216.jpg

2008-07-28 10:12 UTC 81°4.15'N 56°17.81'E

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L217.jpg

2008-07-28 10:15 UTC 81°4.15'N 56°17.80'E

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L218.jpg

2008-07-28 10:16 UTC 81°4.14'N 56°17.80'E

The arctic poppy (Papaver radicatum) is one of the most prolific plant species in Franz Josef land. The flowers, which track the Sun as it moves in a helix in the Arctic sky, give a yellow cast to slopes with soil in which it prospers.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L219.jpg

2008-07-28 10:25 UTC 81°4.10'N 56°17.66'E

These extreme Arctic environments are all about microclimates. Note how this trench, shielded from the wind and supplied by meltwater from winter snow, is host to reindeer moss and other flora which are sparse in the surrounding rock.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L220.jpg

2008-07-28 10:28 UTC 81°4.10'N 56°17.60'E

Looks like a seal had a really bad day here. I'd put it down to a polar bear.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L221.jpg

2008-07-28 10:28 UTC 81°4.10'N 56°17.60'E

Death, and life.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L222.jpg

2008-07-28 10:41 UTC 81°4.07'N 56°17.21'E

These plants are tiny—I'm sorry I didn't bring anything on this landing to provide a distance scale; on subsequent visits to the islands I used a 1 Euro coin to provide a sense of scale.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L223.jpg

2008-07-28 10:44 UTC 81°4.08'N 56°17.06'E

Look at the arctic poppies in bloom on the slope before us and in the distance. The containers from the movie crew are visible on the other side of the lake.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L224.jpg

2008-07-28 10:45 UTC 81°4.09'N 56°17.01'E

The ship is visible in the distance. After delivering everybody to the island, the helicopter stands down for a hour or so to refuel, and then begins shuttling people back to the ship. All of the yellow dots are arctic poppy flowers.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L225.jpg

2008-07-28 10:48 UTC 81°4.09'N 56°17.02'E

I'm pretty sure this is a saxifrage. I'm not certain about the species, but it looks kind of like a purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) which is common in the high Arctic.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L226.jpg

2008-07-28 10:59 UTC 81°4.19'N 56°16.71'E

Lichens are among the hardiest lifeforms on our planet, and they are abundant in the Arctic. This rock is host to a variety of lichens.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L227.jpg

2008-07-28 11:00 UTC 81°4.19'N 56°16.71'E

These furry little critters are everywhere. They look like spiny tribbles, but I'm pretty sure they're lichens.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L228.jpg

2008-07-28 11:06 UTC 81°4.26'N 56°16.69'E

Wow! They said the Arctic was barren, but look at this. Another lichen, of course.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L229.jpg

2008-07-28 11:27 UTC 81°4.07'N 56°17.50'E

What's this? No, it's not some kind of fungus, but Arctic cotton grass (Eriophorum scheuchzeri), a sedge which grows in boggy areas formed by meltwater in the Arctic summer.

Eclipse 2008 gallery image L230.jpg

2008-07-28 11:36 UTC 81°4.22'N 56°17.81'E

Time's up—farewell to Ziegler Island and back to the ship.

by John Walker
August 20th, 2008
  Back     Contents     Next

This document is in the public domain.