Published: April 2009

Svalbard

Svalbard

Ice Paradise

The rich life of Svalbard, Norway’s Arctic archipelago, faces a creeping thaw.

By Bruce Barcott
Photograph by Paul Nicklen

Five minutes past midnight in Svalbard: The wild world is awake and clattering. At the edge of a sheltered estuary in the Adventdalen, a valley on a cluster of islands halfway between Norway and the North Pole, a flock of arctic terns soar and wheel in the perpetual daylight. They're agitated. A pair of glaucous gulls—chick snatchers, egg stealers, the Arctic's formidable winged predators—are approaching from the east. The terns put up a fierce defense. They flash their red beaks at the gulls and turn themselves into a cloud of sharpness.

The gambit works. The gulls bypass the terns and circle inland, passing over a pair of ground-nesting eiders, a kennel of sled dogs, and a solitary reindeer feeding on the tundra.

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