Arctic Winter (04:49)
Svalbard lies in total darkness for four months per year. In January, the average temperature is -40 Celsius. Polar bears thrive in the sunless environment, hunting ringed seals beneath the sea ice by waiting at their breathing holes.
Northernmost Mammals (03:36)
Svalbard reindeer burn their summer fat reserves and chisel through ice to scrape frozen moss and lichen from rocks. Arctic foxes scavenge frozen carcasses and feed on polar bear leftovers. The moon and Aurora Borealis provide light.
The sun returns after four months, providing one hour of light per day. Mountains and glaciers bring coal to the surface; several nations have claimed its deposits. The Soviet town of Pyramiden was abandoned due to high survival costs.
Within four weeks of the sun's return, days are 12 hours long. Copepods feed on thawing algae under the sea ice, transforming solar energy into oil stored in their bodies.
Melting sea ice draws approximately six million birds that feed on copepods and fish. With only four months to raise young, they stake out nests and breed. Svalbard now has 24 hours of daylight.
Arctic Spring (04:38)
Constant daylight melts snow. The compass plant has a central heating system; flowers first bloom on the south side. Abandoned mining carts offer wind shelter for plant life. By late May, reindeer feed on grass and risk overheating.
Arctic Summer (03:05)
Arctic foxes shed their coats and establish summer breeding territories. Females have 90 days to raise their young. As the ice cover falls below 50%, polar bears expend more energy catching seals than they gain from consuming them.
Walrus Behavior (06:21)
Walruses nap on beaches during the Arctic summer. Underwater, they use their tusks and whiskers to dig up clams. They were hunted nearly to extinction for blubber, along with beluga whales. Life expectancy was short for European whalers.
Open water melts Svalbard's glaciers, setting them in motion. As giant chunks break off, meltwater brings plankton to the surface, attracting sea birds. Protected in 1961, beluga whales feed on fish near glacier bases.
Mid July (03:50)
Sea birds nested on cliffs race to feed their chicks before migrating south, fertilizing the tundra below. Arctic fox cubs must learn to fend for themselves before winter; parents become exhausted hunting food.
Arctic Drama (04:06)
Arctic terns come 30,000 kilometers from Antarctica—the longest migration of any animal. Their chicks have three weeks to prepare for the return flight. Starving polar bears become land scavengers; terns dive-bomb the predators to protect their chicks.
Summer's End (02:22)
In late August, the day length begins to wane. Birds force their chicks into flight to migrate south and reindeer maximize grazing. Polar bears welcome the coming winter.
Credits: Seasonal Wonderlands: Svalbard (00:38)
Credits: Seasonal Wonderlands: Svalbard
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