How Spitsbergen and its coal measures developed:-
During Devonian times Spitsbergen lay south of the equator and for much of the time was submerged so that sedimentary rocks built up. Periodically the land would rise above sea level leading to erosion and terrestrial deposits. Most prominent amongst the terrestrial sediments are the coal seams which are the result of the lush tropical swamp vegetation growing in Devonian / Carboniferous times. It is this compressed, fossilized biomass that used to be mined at Pyramiden (and is the subject of another Earthcache).
Another long period of marine submersion and gradual northern drift followed until the change from Cretaceous to the Tertiary age saw the fracturing of the continental plate on which Greenland, Ellesmere Island and Spitsbergen sat. Spitsbergen stayed as one corner of the Eurasian plate while Greenland & Ellesmere drifted off along with Canada on the North American plate as the Atlantic Ocean developed.
At the start of these Tertiary times, around 60 million years ago, Spitsbergen had reached the latitude of today’s southern Norway and consisted of low-lying flatlands covered in extensive swamps. Over the millennia these formed deep layers of peat which were later covered by further sedimentation and formed new coal measures. It is this Tertiary coal that is mined at Longyearbyen, Barentsburg & Sveagruva. It was also during the Tertiary period when there was a second great disruption of the sedimentary layers and folding of the east and west coasts of Spitsbergen brought pre-Devonian rocks to the surface and formed the jagged alpine mountain ranges that give Spitsbergen its name. The more central areas were unaffected by the folding and just rose, which is why most of the mountains in the Longyearbyen region are flat topped and have horizontal strata.
Early mining in the Longyearbyen region:-
Across from Longyearbyen on the north side of Adventfjord are the former mining villages of Moskushamn and Hjorthamn. The former gets its name from the Musk Oxen which were introduced here from Greenland but you will not see any today as they have long since died out.Mining started here in the early 1900’s around 2.5 km west of the listing co-ordinates at “Advent City” - a mine owned by some English entrepreneurs from Sheffield. In the first winter the workers rebelled, held the manager under house arrest and went on strike! Bankruptcy followed and the mine closed after only a few months production but some of the buildings were moved to Hjorthamn, where a new mine opened in 1917 on the south side of Hjorthfjellet.
The entrance to this mine is visible high above the listing co-ordinates and most of the miners had to walk up to the mine and live up there for around 7 months at a time. Supplies were moved up to the mine, and coal carried down to Moskushamn harbour, by a conveyor track, the remains of which can still be seen. In spite of the almost horizontal seams, this was not an easy place to mine and the pits closed in 1921. The mine was known as the “Ørneredet” or ‘Eagle’s Nest’ and the buildings near the mineshaft were renovated in 1991 by the local population with the help of the Svalbard Museum.
The unpainted buildings near the shore are also the remains of part of the mining operation. During WW2 these were used as military headquarters but were partially destroyed when the German battleships Scharnhorst and Tirpitz came into Adventfjord and shelled the mining installations.
To log this Earthcache:-
To get to this spot you will almost certainly have come with one or more guides, probably armed in case of polar bears. You could try asking your guide (or use Svalbard museum) to answer the first 2 questions but you’ll have to make your own observation on site for question 3 & 4.
1) As previously noted, mining was difficult here. Can you suggest one thing about the coal layer here that caused production to cease, even though the seam was not exhausted?
2) Coal was extracted from the mountain by “Tearing down the mine”. Try and explain in a few words what this involved.
3) Estimate how high the coal measures at the ‘Eagle’s Nest’ mine are above sea level
4) From the hills above Longyearbyen (at N78o 13.300 E 015 o 36.356) you can see 8 gantries still standing and a few wire cables – the remains of the conveyor system for the coal extracted from the ‘Eagle’s Nest’ mine. How many of these gantries can you see from the listing co-ordinates?