In addition to all the rocks we saw, there were also tons of glaciers in Svalbard.
Unsurprisingly for an Arctic region, perhaps, but I didn’t realize that we would be spending so much time so close to the ice. There were a few nights during the week when we anchored virtually right next to large marine-terminating glaciers, which came right up to the water.
We also passed tons of glaciers in the mountain valleys as we sailed on by.
And our final hike took us up into a valley where there was a glacier off in the distance. We hiked toward it for 2 hours, but this is still as close as we got. It’s incredible just how big these things are.
We did get the opportunity to see how the ice interacts with the rock around it. Here is the side of a glacier that’s flowing down toward the water. As the ice moves, it grinds down the rock underneath it, leading to erosion and the production of glacial sediments.
But depending on where they are, rocks can instead help to hold back the ice from advancing into the water. This is an important process because ice melts more readily when it’s in contact with the warmer water. Below, a large rock formation at the front of the glacier is acting to buttress the ice from moving more quickly.
In the center of the picture below, you can see the position of the rock in the middle of the glacier. Toward the right on the ice, you can see a dark line coming down perpendicular to the ice edge. That line is dirt and debris that shows where two glaciers come together. These two might have grown out of different valleys upstream and combined as they got further downstream.
There was a limited amount of floating ice in the water when we were there because it was the height of summer. During the winter in Svalbard, all of these channels are frozen over and people travel by snowmobile instead of by boat. Warmer temperatures during the summer months lead the sea ice to melt and retreat out to sea, leaving open water behind. The glaciers can still calve, leaving floating ice in the water, but we didn’t see much.
We did pass one piece of ice that survived long enough to get washed up onto shore.
These loose chunks of ice break off of the front of the glacier where it reaches the water, like shown below. It’s obvious in the photo how fractured the ice is along the front. A lot of it looks like it will crumble into the water at any time. Keep in mind that this wall of ice is more than 50 feet tall. That’s a lot of ice.
We didn’t see a lot of movement in the ice when we were there, but there was a resounding while we were hiking nearby toward the end of the week. We were probably over a mile away at the time. Even from that distance, cracking ice makes a thunderous roar; an intimidating sound by any standard.
Even though we didn’t get much chance to explore or talk about the ice while on the trip, I’m glad we got to see so much of it. After the rest of the group figured out that ice was my specialty, I got a lot of questions about what we were looking at. I’m glad other people appreciated the glaciers and how important they are in shaping the landscape, especially in carving out a lot of the valleys we were seeing.