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AMASE 2007: Geology Tour
We are sitting anchored outside of Longyearbyen while we drop off the UNIS student and Steelie and Ivar go ashore to arrange return shipping of our equipment. We will leave shortly to continue sailing up Isfjorden to Billefjorden. It feels familiar, but undesirable to be around so many buildings, ships, construction equipment and whirring helicopters again. Longyearbyen could hardly be called a bustling metropolis, but it feels like one after seeing no signs of civilization beyond the Lance for the last week and a half. I’m looking forward to leaving again.

We sailed up Isfjorden to Asvindalen, not quite as far as where we were in Ebbadalen last year. After having sailed for more than 24 hours, everyone was ready to get off the ship. We disembarked and split into two groups; the rover team set up for a tech demo and the rest of us took a geology tour up large gully. We saw an evaporite outcrop very similar to the “dinosaur eggs” gypsum deposits we saw last year. There were also numerous fossiliferous carbonates and bioherms.

This is one of the sites on Svalbard that exhibits classic, large-scale geology. A huge fault (The Billefjorden Fault Zone) can be traced down the fjord, and the Devonian Red Beds (where we deployed the rover on Bockfjorden) are folded here. Additionally, the succeeding strata have been faulted and folded, and are beautifully exposed on both sides of the fjord. There are more colors in the rocks here, and they are accentuated by bright sunlight and green plants thanks to the bird colonies high up to the east. The Nordenskiold Glacier is visible in the distance, with its crevassed surface and blue-white shades.

After the main geology tour, Ivar led a smaller group of us on a search for a rock glacier in the next valley over. Rock glaciers are an unusual phenomenon that are not well understood, but basically consist of ice chock full of rocks and covered in rocks so they appear as talus slopes that are able to sustain abnormally steep slopes. It is hard to judge distances here with no scale markers such as trees on the horizon and our 20 minute jaunt turned into a 3 hour round trip hike. We passed several debris flows, a shapely evaporite “dino egg”, and turned the corner to find a series of large moraines. While we poked around the moraines looking for the rock glacier, Ivar realized he could see rock glaciers on the other side of the fjord and that the valley he had been thinking of was farther up Isfjorden.

We were a bit bummed to not see a rock glacier up close, but while poking around a moraine, I stumbled across two beautiful rugose coral fossils! As geology goes, I don’t know anything about fossils or sedimentary “soft rocks”, having spent more time studying volcanoes and “hard rocks”. Granted, there were fossils everywhere in this area, but since I had found my very first fossil only a few days before at the Redbeds, I was very excited about the coral. They are two well-preserved pieces with some colored replacement minerals inside the coral. They were weathering out of a carbonate and I extracted them with some very careful hammering.

After we all returned to the ship that evening, we sailed to the other side of the fjord, which was still basking in golden sunlight. Here, on the beach, the Lance chef had arranged a BBQ on the beach. We ate grilled steak, chicken and hot dogs and had potato salad. It was delicious and a fun social activity. As the sun sank in the sky, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. Morten built a fire and we socialized in small groups until it was time to head back to the ship and to bed.

Kirsten Fristad
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center