Winter in the High Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is an experience that is hard to forget. From November to March, the sun disappears below the horizon and plunges the islands into the Polar Night. During that time, the nature and wildlife which are so vibrant in the summer months will appear to have vanished. What remains is an impression of isolation as well as a feeling of being a witness to Nature’s real slumber.
Although Svalbard is much further north of the auroral belt – the ideal zone in which to observe the Northern Lights – the Polar Night always comes with sky goodies. In the picture above, the green, reddish and purple filaments stretch across the celestial canopy above the Adventdelva valley, near Longyearbyen.
Though the words ‘Polar Night’ evoke absolute darkness, the reality is otherwise. First, with its light and rich color palette, Longyearbyen shines as like jewel. I’ve often wondered if the multicolored architecture was a way to compensate for the generally blue-white palette the of the Polar Night. Secondly, it’s worth dispelling the notion that Polar Night means absolute darkness. In reality, there is always a variation of brightness in the sky and nature around Svalbard during the winter months. The brightest time is also the most “sparkly”, when the full moon reflects in the billions of ice crystals peppering the frozen landscape. This is a sight to be seen!
Take a snow scooter and go for a mini-expeditions to Todalen – a narrow valley west of Longyearbyen – and you will feel as if you’re on the set of a sci-fi film. At least, that’s what it felt like last time I was there. Visibility can decrease if the wind started to throw ice around, but this too adds to the expedition spirit!
At 78 degrees North, Longyearbyen is the world’s northernmost inhabited settlement. It is located on Spitsbergen, the largest island in the High Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Originally established as a coal mining outpost at the beginning of the 20th century, Longyearbyen (and Svalbard) remain off the beaten track for most people. As of November 2014, around 2670 people live in Longyearbyen. Several hundred people living in the town are employed by Store Norske – a coal mining company – as well as close to 400 students attending courses at The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS)
A few times a year we do Svalbard tours to photograph the abundant wildlife in the archipelago. During this time, seeing polar bears is a quasi certainty. I hope you can join us on this epic Arctic adventure. Read more about this upcoming photography workshop: Svalbard Land of Ice and Polar Bears