Svalbard Archipelago, 79 to 80° North

The above images are from The Black Mirror Diary,  a multifaceted project featuring  tidewater glacial fjords on the very northern tip of the Svalbard archipelago at 79.46 degrees North.  Between these shores and the North Pole there is only  open ocean and pack ice.   We arrived at the end of the archipelago in the middle of October 2016 on the eve of polar night.   During our ten day sail northward the  available light each day was  growing palpably briefer with every circuit of the clock, and by  the time we reached Smeerenburg, the ruins of a Dutch whaling station established there at the beginning of the 17th century, the sun would not clear the mountains to the east again for another four months.   Even though it was officially the beginning of winter the few brief snow squalls we experienced always gave way to long warm rains that erased the snow from the mountains, a process that intensified the banks of fog rising off of the glaciers.  We worked in twilight much of the time in a blue grey gloaming infused  with the compressed  light of all that ancient ice, the oldest of which fell as snow 100,000 years ago.  We made two landings each day when the weather would allow accompanied always by a contingent of four shotgun bearing women who served as polar bear guards and a dog named Nemo who kept watch over the deck throughout our weeks at sea.  Each day we kept waiting for the snow to return, and each day the warm rains only intensified.  By the end of December, what we were observing was confirmed:  2016 was the first year in recorded history that the high arctic territory of Svalbard had an annual temperature average above freezing.

This year's Arctic sea ice minimum extent is 911,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average, shown here as a gold line. Credits: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/C. Starr  

This year's Arctic sea ice minimum extent is 911,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average, shown here as a gold line.

Credits: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/C. Starr