Dave Walsh writes from Esperanza, currently sailing the Arctic ocean as part of Greenpeace's Arctic Under Pressure Expedition 2010.

While we’ve been off the coast of Svalbard, we’ve had had all kinds of weather – but luckily, no storms. We’ve sailed to 81 North, 1000km from the North Pole and 1600km from the Arctic Circle, where we’ve strange pale rainbows. Appearing inside fogs, these mysterious shape shifting arcs seem to come within touching distance of the Esperanza. Many on board had never heard of the phenomenon of fogbows – now we’ve seen so many we’ve become a little blasé about them. Well some of us – Rosso told me off for “spoiling the thrill” by circulating explanations of fogbows.  Well, I may know how they form, but it doesn’t ruin the magic for me.

Fogbows are like rainbows, but not quite. For a start, as you might guess, they happen inside fogs, which are formed by much smaller water droplets than the rain of rainbows, so the light is far more diffuse. The fogbows have been appearing around the Esperanza’s shadow on sea ice, and at all angles, and have added another magic dimension to the Arctic summer, where there is no darkness, and no sunsets.

Last week, we were surveying the sea floor using drop camera and ROV near Sjuøyane, or the “Seven Islands” (depending on how you count them), off the far northeast of Svalbard. We’ve seen many remarkable places on Svalbard’s coast, but there’s something subtle about the Sjuøyane area that tickles the imagination – and that’s probably reinforced by the knowledge that not many people get to go there.

Bathed in 24 sunshine some days, and obscured by fog the next, Sjuøyane appears and in amongst the sea ice. Each of the islands seems to have been named during an expedition by Otto Torrell and Adolf Erik Nordensköld in 1861. These two gentlemen very charitably named the islands after members of earlier British expeditions. As a result, there’s Phippsøya, the flat-topped Nelsonøya and Waldenøya after members of the 1773 expedition by Phipps that included a young and later famous Horatio Nelson as midshipman. There’s also Parryøya and Rossøya after members of Parry’s 1827 expedition. James Clark Ross also went to achieve later notoriety of his own, as commander of polar expeditions.

However, as it was the birthday of one of fellow crewmembers at the when we were in the area, I’ll change history a little bit, and claim that Rossøya is actually named for the Esperanza’s very own Italian deckhand and Renaissance man, Rossano.

Rossøya, which is actually a small skerry, is deemed not big enough to a true island of the Sjuøyane (which would make it “Eight Islands”).  This may be the case – but tell that to the puffins. Rossøya is the northernmost breeding ground for Atlantic puffins, something that made Tatiana happy – it was also her birthday that weekend.

We’ve had had these enigmatic clown-faced puffins circling the ship, often with a fogbow as a backdrop, sometimes in loose formation with the more ubiquitous Brünich’s guillemots. The puffins only appear in ones and twos, but the guillemots are more social, and can be seen standing upright on pieces of sea ice. Several people have noted that the guillemots look a lot like penguins – albeit penguins that can fly. But everyone knows there are no penguins in the Arctic, they live in the Antarctic. Or do they? Tune in for tomorrow’s blog to find out more…


All photos: © Nick Cobbing / Greenpeace