Nordre Isfjorden national park

Isfjorden is one of the biggest fjords in Svalbard. The northern side of the fjord contains a vast – mostly untouched – coastal and fjord landscape, with lush vegetation and a sprawling wildlife. The area on Oscar II Land and Dickson Land also contains valuable cultural remains from the birth of the mining industry, and in 2003 the area was made a Norwegian national park.

Map of Isfjorden with Nordre Isfjorden national park

Map of Isfjorden with Nordre Isfjorden national park in the north. Map: Norwegian Polar Institute

The preserved area contains areas on the northern side of Isfjorden, from Skansbukta on Dickson Land to Eidembukta on Oscar II Land, including Nordfjorden with the bi-fjords Dicksjonfjorden and Ekmanfjorden. The marine areas north of a straight line between Kapp Thordsen and the southern tip of Erdmannflya, in Ymerbukta and Trygghamna and out to one nautical mile off shore (low water line) on the stretch between Alkepynten and the middle of Eidembukta is part of the national park.

Wildlife

Little auk

The little auk is one of the bird species that can be found in Isfjorden. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

For some periods of the year, relatively warm and saline surface water flow into Isfjorden. The glaciers provide cold fresh-water. So here there is a vertical circulation of water layers and a big biological production of plankton. The algae is consumed by several small species of crustaceans. These are then eaten by larger crustaceans and fish like capelin and polar cod. These again provide the basis of life for large quantities of sea birds and sea mammals.

In this area there are not that many sea bird species, but some of the species are found in large quantities and are concentrated in large breeding colonies. The presence of the sea birds gives the local plant life more sustenance, something that provides the land-based animals like grouse, reindeer and geese with better grazing opportunities. This also benefits the arctic fox, which has stable access to food in the bird mountains. In Isfjorden one will also find all the common bird mountain species – little auk, puffin, glaucous gull, northern fulmar, Brünnich’s guillemot, and blacked-legged kittiwake. Other birds include barnacle goose and pink-footed goose. The area is also one of the best areas for the Svalbard rock ptarmigan.

In the Isfjorden area one finds a large population of the arctic fox. The arctic fox was part of the basis of life for earlier hunting expetitions where both white and blue fox pelts were important sellable goods.

The polar is not often observed in the Isfjorden area during summer, but one might be lucky to observe it near the glaciers on the northern side of the fjord, where it lurks around on the prowl for seals.

Landscape

Isfjorden is one of the largest fjords in Svalbard, and it branches into many smaller fjords. Only the Wijdefjorden is longer. In the west one finds old bedrock that rose with the caledonian mountain range around 400 million years ago (silur/devon). The most prominant example on the carbonate rock in this area is the Alkhornet – the landmark near the entry of the fjord. Just under the Alkhorner there is a flat plain like the ones we find in big parts of the western coast of Spitsbergen. Part of this plain is made up of significantly younger marine provisions. These are less than two million years old.

Festningen har large parts of Svalbard's geological history readily available. The profile of rocks shown from Festningen and westwards continue straight across the Isfjorden and is visible again some places to the north of the fjord.

Cultural remains

Ship wreck in Skansbukta

Isfjorden has many cultural remains from human activity. In Skansbukta one finds this ship wreck, a left-over from the past. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Isfjorden is rich in cultural remains. The fjord stretches its long fingers into the deepest parts of Spitsbergen. Along the arms of the fjord lie remains from all periods of the history of Svalbard, all the way back to the whalers' early presence during the seventeenth century and up to today.

The oldest marks is found along the beaches of the fjord, leftovers from the whalers during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. In Trygghamna near the mouth of the fjord there are several blubber ovens found on the beach. The other marks of what probably was a large whaling operation have since perished. The inner arms of the fjord, like the Dicksonfjord and the Ekmanfjord, does not seem to have been attractive spots for the early whalers. They stayed in the outer parts of the fjord.

The fjord also houses several remains from the mineral excavation business from the early twentieth century. Examples of this can be found in Skansbukta and Gipsvika.