Exploration - Production | - Total in Norway

Recognition of Spitsbergen

This testimonial written by André Brun, geologist, has been taken from the magazine Total Information (n°46) in 1971.

We went to the end of the last summer to Edgeoya, a small island situated in approximately 70 km east of the island of Vestpitzbergen, main island of the archipelago.
The purpose of our mission to Edgeoya was to determine the approach which according to us, would allow the realization of oil researches in the best conditions of safety, efficiency and cost price.
We thus have, from each of the sites of landing we envisaged, studied more particularly the different possibilities of reaching, by ground way, the locations of drilling: by using first of all only the classical means, then by using less usual ways of penetration offered by the glaciers, before envisaging the " obvious " but expensive solution of the device transported by helicopter. In each of the cases, we have, so far as it was possible for us, realized our recognitions of detail by traveling on foot the portions of route, before recognized by helicopter and which could arouse important problems. This allowed us to reveal difficulties which we could not glimpse by simple air reconnaissance and to envisage the solutions to be brought to it. However, without the helicopter we would not have been able, by parking six on-the-spot days, to deliver a complete investigation: it besides got us a reassuring safety because the connection was always possible until Longycarbyen, where exists a suitable hospital.

We have on the other hand, and voluntarily, made evolve the team by interesting the participants of the mission in all the aspects of the problems - oceanographic, landing, base route, locations, etc. - without specializing them closely and by leaving them a very wide initiative. This allowed us to express a more objective opinion on the possible solutions and to make interesting observations on the behavior of the individuals.
It is indeed essential that the people chosen to participate in a campaign of this nature can support the constraints. We could indeed not neglect psychological problems which will become inevitably much more acute on the ground because of the particularly austere environment.


The environment
First of all, the geographical situation of Spitsbergen is unusual, On most maps, the distortion due to the classic representation of Mercator gives to the Spitsbergen a very false idea.
This archipelago which is only at 1 000 km of the pole has a surface of 62 500 km2, that is hardly one and a half time the size(greatness) of Switzerland, and the not ice-covered surface does not exceed(irritate) 35 000 km2. 
Spitsbergen is only 430 km of Greenland and 200 km of the François-Joseph land. We do not really know if we have to consider it as a part of Europe, America or Asia. The Threshold of Nansen is the only front door of the oceans of the globe in the pond very closed by the Arctic ocean, and Spitsbergen is posted in this entry.
The Strength of Coriolis which pushes all the marine current towards the right in the boreal hemisphere propels Gulf Stream, current warmth, to the Arctic icy region of the Threshold of Nansen. This exceptional situation confers on Spitsbergen a quite particular character. Nowhere in the World boats can raise so near of the pole in free water of ice that allows even the tourists, in summer, to admire in liner the west, mountainous Coast, cut by fjords magnificent and rich in glaciers to discover the lines appropriate to the polar nature, practically inaccessible somewhere else.
It is as well thanks to the Gulf Stream as the extreme temperature has in Spitsbergen nothing of extreme. The averages of the coldest month vary between 12 and -20°C. Points below - 35 °C are very unusual. These temperatures are daily during winter in Siberia and frequent even in Central Europe. On the other hand, if at Verkhôiansk we register extreme values reaching - 70 °C, the average of July is 15 °C. Nothing comparable in Spitsbergen where averages the hottest months exceed hardly 0 °C. It's as though we had to deal with a country in the climate eternally cool, without real summer, as tropics are eternally hot, without winter.

Nevertheless, from June, the snow gives up all which is not ice, blue channels cross slopes and walls, changing everything a vast pool of mud where it is very difficult to progress. On all the slopes of more than 2 °C, the disintegrated ground puts itself in movement and can progress of some 10 centimeters a year. It is not difficult to imagine the issue of the construction of roads, aerodromes and installations of machines of exploitation which are lucky to stay in position only on a ground strictly flat. This instability of the ground pulls on slopes an enormous superficial runoff. All the slopes are so furrowed numerous channels which are feed in muds by the solifluction sink into the ground in an incredible speed. This soil erosion stabilizes, then torrents dry up towards the end of August. By the beginning of September, falls the first snow and, until New Year, it is the pre-winter with some periods of rise in temperature, accompanied with formations of clouds but very often so swept by the blizzard. The real winter, on the other hand, brings with the cold which, as we saw it, is hardly more lively than in a harsh winter of Central Europe, a stable meteorological situation. Then the sky is so clear that big pig planets such as Venus throw, when the moon is hidden, a shadow on the snow. From March, the sun gets up, it is the clear winter.
It is during this period that works will be the easiest. But previously it is necessary to study certain problems such as:
- The research of the best site of landing and installation of the base,
- The determination of the best route and the best means of transport, allowing in all the measure of the possible to use only ground and classic ways, with reasonable cost, while protecting in the best the nature.


Points of landing and base

Tjuvfjorden is a wide bay in the southwest of Edgeoya about nautical 25 miles of wide, which penetrates of 25 miles towards into the center of the island. It offers a good protection of North-East winds, sufficient, funds and excellent anchoring.
The bay e.9t surrounded with abrupt cliffs of 450 m of top salvoes generally of a coastal strip of a width of the order of 1 km. In Tjuvfjorden, two possible points of landing were particularly studied. Andreetangen, in the southeast of the bay, is a peninsula of 16 km2 covered with tundra, which goes on in the bay by the islands of Ziegle-roya and Delitschoya. The only name of Delitschoya lets glimpse that it is a sort of Côte d'Azur (French Riviera) of Edgeoya, currents are concentrate between islands, and its situation sheltered from the cold winds, between islands, to be totally taken in the middle of winter by ices. These conditions make a hangout for the bears who come to bath there and to sleep in the sun during the clear winter. Unfortunately, this charming site is surrounded with formidable cliffs and with thousand islands which sailors avoid, if they have to by-pass Eclgeoya, even at the price of a bend of 300 km. It would be risky to land there with something else than a light boat as the one which allowed us to be sprayed abundantly with ice water, while we sounded funds.
The long beach which lines some 10 km of continuous cliff of Tjuvfjordskarvet is not, and by far, so welcoming, but at the price of some additional ice-cold showers aboard our boat, we were able to acquire the correct funds which will allow us to land without acrobatics there. This site presents besides the advantage to give access to the obvious way of penetration towards the center of the island where is the valley of Dyrdalen.
Diskobukta is another location we studied halfway up of the West coast and which could present interesting possibilities for the landing and the access to locations if the valleys where were the results, in their top, profound artillery practically insurmontable unless works having no municipality measure with our ambitions and possibilities are undertaken.


Accesses to drilling locations
It was important that progresses are recognized with a maximum of details and we quickly realized that the sight by helicopter of a ground could be very misleading. So, all the roads judged possible were traveled on foot.
The route was made, generally by team of two, a tent and foods were always put beforehand in an obvious point of the route, easy to find even in the fog, in case the bad weather would have surprised and blocked us by preventing the helicopter from picking us up.
The routes to the drilling we held and which, luckily, were also the ones which allow to avoid crossing pasters, present only a few difficulties. We had, a lot to fight with a less obvious route which, interrupted by a bubbling torrent, led to us below an impressive barrier of serac. It is interesting to note that arrived there, the only parcticable passage that we found among the blocks of ice was to follow the tracks that a small fox had left in the fresh snow fallen during the night.
It must be also possible to approach by progressing on the glaciers. These are not like our alpine glaciers always in movment. These ones are frozen below the melting point on several hundreds meters in thickness. One of their characteristics is their sudden and fast move forward, often very in wide at sea for a few years, followed by decades of total stagnation. They grow generally in front of them of enormous moraines to the restless forms which made severe obstacles for any vehicle. However, the tranquillity of their forms, the almost total absence of cracks and rimaye make it very tempting accessible roads, and they could constitute excellent aerodromes usable in winter without any other preparation than a marking if the fog did not hang on to it in a stubborn way.

Living in Spitsbergen and working hard on it to conduct this campaign is something exciting. The Project manager which we anticipated already went there three times, for its only pleasure. No human being lives permanently on Edgeoya, the sensation of isolation and the feeling of being able to rely on itslef is strongly perceived there more than somewhere else, even more that at the end of Sahara. There is hardly only in high mountain that we find a comparable atmosphere, and all the members of former expeditions know well that the selection of the men who participate at this kind of action are more selected for the quality of their human and psychological behaviors than on their physical or intellectual qualifications. It was the same for our team. We were not experimenting an adventure and men we had to send there must only be motivated by imperious need of action, we did not care of adventurers.
This feeling of isolation conditions almost all the acts, the helicopter pilot inclines rules of conduct for it and procedures to respect, but it is to the alone man that we address when it comes to get a breath of fresh air in the snowstorm or the fog, to carry help to the misled or to evacuate a wounded person.
The preparation of the campaign must be apparently made with a meticulous care.
Not a bolt or a pin will must be missing, all breakdowns and difficulties must be able to be resolved by at least two different solutions.
In brief, we say that it is not a question of having "forgotten its matches". In fact, there no time and place for improvisation. Hesitations will be too expensive and the penalty of the errors will be merciless.
We know very exactly now, thanks
to our gratitude on the spot, how to take us there. We have been thinking a lot. The approach and the progress in the time to the operations we held are, for sure, those which can best reconcile the imperatives of safety, cost price and respect for the environment, with good reason, be considered one of the last refuges for the pursued humanity.


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