Rocky volcano at the end of the world

30 April 2005 | 12:28 Code : 5003 Geoscience events
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In a cold north-easterly breeze and bright sunshine, the MS Multanovskiy leaves the port of Kevlavik, Iceland. Captain Yuri Babkin is happy. At 11 degrees Celsius it is a warm May day near the polar circle.
In a cold north-easterly breeze and bright sunshine, the MS Multanovskiy leaves the port of Kevlavik, Iceland.
Captain Yuri Babkin is happy. At 11 degrees Celsius it is a warm May day near the polar circle.

The ship is headed for the island of Jan Mayen which lies 500 kilometres east of Greenland and belongs to Norway.
A loudspeaker calls everyone on deck. Expedition leader Rolf Stange has sighted a whale, its huge grey back becoming visible as it blows a fountain and then disappears.
Some days later we reach the volcano island of Jan Mayen in the early hours of the morning. The 2 277-metre mountain is covered in fog but as it lifts the snow-covered top shines brightly in the sun.
It is difficult to believe that a volcano is slumbering inside the mountain. The last eruption was in 1985.

The coastline consists of extremely rough cliffs and we can only reach the shore by rubber boat wearing swimming vests. The journey takes a few minutes and we find ourselves on a black sandy beach.

"The weather is extremely unpredictable. It changes from minute to minute," the head of the meteorological station tells us. It was built in 1921 and 18 people live there today. They are the only inhabitants of the island.

During the short summers the lava earth brings forth nothing more than a bit of moss, grass and a few flowers.

But the first humans came to the "end of the world" a long time ago. Irish monks inhabited the island in the sixth century. It was named after the Dutch 17th century captain Jan Mayen. Both England and Holland saw the place as an ideal whaling station. The Dutch protected their production sites with cannons against any invaders.

Skins of the white and blue foxes that once inhabited the island were also greatly sought after until they were hunted to extinction.

Jan Mayen was almost forgotten until science discovered it as an arctic outpost. During the first international polar year 1882/83 an Austrian-Hungarian expedition used the island as a base for studies on geomagnetism, hydrography and astronomical phenomena.
Rocks and stones polished by the sea and driftwood can be found all along the beaches. Two old wooden crosses can be found on a hill in memory of Norwegian whalers who lost their lives here in 1911. A handful of yellow flowers decorate the simple graves.

Rolf Stange accompanies us with a loaded rifle. The weapon is compulsory because bears could be hiding in the caves. When the wind starts picking up and we hear thunder in the distance it is time to leave. We take the boats back to the MS Multanovskiy.
Back on deck later, the passengers strain to see the island, which appears to have disappeared in clouds. The only lasting reminder is a postal stamp from the weather station.

tags: QAZVIN


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