My best Arctic trips, Part 4

When you get to travel somewhere you have wanted to, that’s a great feeling.

I loved driving down the fiords in Norway.

It took a while before I could find some sun. First, I had to buy some boots. I stopped in Alta where I found a pair of blue rubber boots with a reflective stripe: I would keep these on for most of the next week.

In Alta, I wanted to see the rock art. I had visited Qajartalik, off the coast of Nunavik, with its mysterious mask carvings.

But Alta was different: it was a World Heritage Site, a designation that brings money and protection.

Anyone could pick up a piece of ancient mummified wood in Nunavut’s High Arctic, or write graffiti over Nunavik’s delicate rock carvings.

Protecting fragile Arctic prehistory is not an easy task. But when a site has the status of a World Heritage Site, the job is much easier.

Money, attention and protection: these were among the benefits of being a World Heritage site, which were obvious in Alta.

There, several thousand rock carvings, some of them more than 6,000 years old, have been on the World Heritage list since 1985.

This listing opened doors to new money and global publicity. After that thousands of people from all over the world came to Alta to see the rock carvings and visit the interpretation centre. At the same time, there were strict laws protect the rock carvings.

The carvings in rock, of people, boats, animals and fish, show some of the beliefs and rituals of the ancestors of today’s Saami people, the original inhabitants of this part of the Arctic.

The rock carvings are thought to be a link between the people and spirit world, and the tranquil shore zone where the early Saami carved these drawings, the place the world of spirits and people met.

An international agreement governing World Heritage Sites preserves and protects these places to highlight mankind’s cultural and natural heritage.

But neither Nunavut nor Nunavik have any sites on the World Heritage list: in 2020, there are 1121 of them around the world.

Top candidates for World Heritage sites status in Canada’s Arctic continue the ancient rock carvings near Kangiqsujuaq, and the fossil forest on Axel Heiberg Island, not protected yet as a territorial part.

The rock carvings at Alta are painted orange-red, because more recent rock art in Norway was painted that way.

But Hebba Helberg from the University of Tromsø told me there’s no proof that this is the way they were originally painted.

Hebba Helberg

“When you paint them, you’re interpreting them in a way,” he said when I ran into him in Alta.

The curators of the Alta site still let people experience the carvings as they were in nature, as a way of encouraging visitors to return as often as necessary to see the carvings.

During that summer of 2006, Helberg was supervising students who removed lichens from the rocks and uncovered even more carvings.

That kind of constant research is what the status of a World Heritage Site listing could provide — something Canada’s two vulnerable Arctic sites do not yet enjoy.

So you have missed Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3? Catch up…to be continued…

My best Arctic trips, Part 3

I was on a long trip north that had started in Finland….and I continued to drive, down the coast of Norway.

On the way south.

I knew that Arctic had more than enough wind for anyone. So I decided to take a detour to the 16 wind turbines in Havøygavlen’s Arctic Wind Park: they were producing clean energy from this plentiful natural resource, much like Nunavut or Nunavik could.

Located at 71 degrees latitude, the Arctic Wind Park, which opened in 2003, was the most northerly collection of wind turbines in the world.

And there I was.

The view to the sea from the wind farm in Havøysund on a sunny warm day.

When I drove to Havøysund, the giant towers appeared suddenly on a hillside, looking more like lost extraterrestrial invaders than like producers of clean energy.

The enormous towers made little noise, although when the sun fell slightly on the horizon, they cast long, eerie shadows, stretching all the way down to Havøysund below.

The 80-metre-high towers, together with the reinforced plastic blades, each weighed 250 tonnes.

And, when they were working efficiently, they produced about 120 gigawatt hours of electricity, five times more than Havøysund, population about 1,000, would use in a year/

The rest of this power was exported to distant consumers via the power grid.

Arctic Wind, a subsidiary of several power corporations in Norway, owned the $44 million wind park—and planned to recover its entire investment by 2014.

Looking out after the turbines was a staff of three, who spent most of their days scanning what was going on inside the towers from computer screens in an office. Regular maintenance was done on the turbines twice a year.

But Inge Lynghamar of Arctic Wind told me he sometimes had to scale a ladder in the middle of the turbines’ tower to fix a problem or to check on how they were running.

Lynghamar was a fan of his wind park: “This is pure energy,” he said.

And one that operated with few problems. The turbines were made to run for about 20 years without major repairs.

The main concern of the wind park’s guardians was the level of wind: when there was none, production dropped.

However, winds of more than 70 kilometres an hour could cause the turbines to stop, and it could take some time to get them back on line.

“The best speed is 41 to 50 km an hour,” Lynghamar said. “If you have a good and stable wind it really works.”

Temperatures along this Arctic coast line only dropped to -15 C in winder he said, but Lynghamar said the turbines could be fitted with a heating system to withstand the colder temperatures found in Canada’s Arctic.

The shadows from the windmills, with Havøysund below.

The Arctic Wind Park’s impact on the environment had been minimal, Lynghamar said. Birds didn’t even run into the park’s towers, although in other parts of Norway there had been some bird collisions.

Lynghamar said fishermen appreciated the towers because they could use them to see the direction of the wind was and how strong it was blowing.

“If it doesn’t look good, they go back to bed.”

And the Arctic Wind Park had also become a bit of a tourist attraction. When the park was built, a restaurant-café was built at the far end of the park to overlook the sea. That’s where I ate on the first evening I arrived in Havøysund.

But shadows from the towers did fall across Havøysund at some times of the day and during certain times of the year. Shadows from the turning blades of the turbines caused some people in some other communities to complain, but Lynghamar told me when that happened, the turbine blade responsible for the flickering shadow would be set to stop for a while.

In any event, shadows weren’t much of a problem in a region where there was constant sun in the summer and darkness for three months of winter.

The marina in Havøysund.

The sun was shining when I was in Havøysund. I was the only person staying in a small bed-and-breakfast. I decided to stay two nights. But when I woke up on the third day, it was pouring rain. I had no rubber boots with me. I decided to leave and head down the coast, hopefully to some sun.

Did you miss Part 1 and Part 2? Catch up….to be continued….