Getting There is Half the Fun:  Voyage to Jan Mayen, August 1973

            Following the unexpected eruption of Beerenberg on Jan Mayen in September, 1970, and the consequent emergency evacuation of weather and navigation station personnel from that remote island, the Seismological Observatory at the University of Bergen, Norway, assumed the task of developing a seismic and volcanic activity warning system.  I was an invited consultant because of my volcano monitoring experiences in Hawaii. Together with the Norwegian Defense Department, Observatory staff designed a seismic refraction experiment to detect the locations and sizes of possible magma chambers beneath the island. Primary seismograph stations were established at the middle and each end of the island together with a patterned array of sonobuoys at sea to record shocks generated by 25 depth charges shot from two Royal Norwegian Naval frigates, the KNM 'Trondheim' and the KNM 'Stavanger', as they cruised around the island.

            We departed on the 'Trondheim' for Jan Mayen from Tromsö in northern Norway on 13 August 1973 into the face of what the Norwegian Navy termed a "small storm."  Now a frigate is warship built for speed, not stability, especially in such a storm that not only produced waves high and strong enough to sweep over the bow and break windows in the forward cannon of the 'Trondheim', but also forced half its crew and me to huddle below decks in our bunks, seasick for three days. Although mid-August, it was hardly "your basic summer cruise!"

KNM Trondheim in calm seas following the small storm.

            But once we arrived at Jan Mayen, the weather miraculously cleared, the gale winds ceased, and bright sunshine allowed shirtsleeve working. During the seismic shooting, two of us camped at the north end of the island with a seismograph and the technician's two big dogs. On our second day, which was just beautiful by all Jan Mayen standards, the project chief and I took a memorable day hike up the flank of Beerenberg to the 1970 eruption area. It is a trackless, lava-covered 'moonscape' lacking any vegetation whatsoever, and is seldom, if ever, seen or visited by anything except by multitudes of birds and rare hikers wanting to reach Beerenberg's summit. Several fumaroles were actively steaming, and the whole area looked as though the eruption had happened only yesterday instead of three years before. What a geologic adventure to hike over such youthful lava flows and cinder cones and to imagine their fiery formation!

            After such a glorious hike, a swim was certainly in order, so I stripped down, but just as quickly as I jumped into the sea, I jumped back out. Several of the 'Trondheim's' crew stood giggling on the shore; not one followed me into the sea, perhaps because the sea temperature was just 3° Celsius.  What a shock!  Brrrrr!


KNM Trondheim crew was prepared to rescue me during my swim in 3° C seawater.

            Due to an unfortunate recording error, the seismic refraction experiment was only marginally successful in inferring the presence of three possible magma chambers, of which the one beneath Beerenberg may have supplied the magma for a two-day eruption in 1985, also 30 km from the weather and navigation station. That eruption gave as little warning to the island's personnel as the one in 1970, but the experience gained in 1970 obviated another difficult and costly evacuation in 1985.

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