The Station’s history

The establishment of the Hornsund Polish Polar Station in Spitsbergen

The history of the Hornsund Polish Polar Station goes back to the 1950s.

In connection with the upcoming 3rd International Geophysical Year (3rd IGY), the Polish 3rd IGY Committee of the Board of the Polish Academy of Sciences was appointed and led to organising a year-round research expedition to Spitsbergen, whose operations were to be based at the Polish Polar Station built there.

In spring of 1956, Stefan Z. Różycki, the manager of the Expedition Subcommittee, and Stanisław Siedlecki, designated to be the manager of the Polish expedition, agreed on the location of the Polish station and its framework research programme at the conference of 3rd IGY participants in Oslo.

In August and September 1956, a Reconnaissance Expedition headed by Stanisław Siedlecki worked in Hornsund. The expedition consisted of Krzysztof Birkenmajer, Maciej Kuczyński, Jerzy Piotrowski and Stanisław Rafałowski. They carried out preliminary geological surveys at the site where the Station was to be built, and determined the exact location of the station building.

After the reconnaissance group returned to Poland, preparatory work commenced on the proper expedition. Siedlecki began assembling the wintering team, which ultimately numbered ten: Stanisław Siedlecki (geologist, expedition leader); Roman Trechciński (radio engineer, deputy leader), Stanisław Baranowski (glaciologist), Tadeusz Makarewicz (meteorologist), Jerzy Jasnorzewski (astronomer, surveyor), Wiesław Wiśniewski (astronomer), Ryszard Bajer (radio operator), Zbigniew Jaworowski (medical doctor), Zdzisław Czeppe (geomorphologist, climatologist) and Maciej Zalewski (expedition administrator, hydrologist).

In addition, the expedition included a large group of employees of various universities/colleges and institutes who planned to carry out research during the summer, as well as a technical group tasked with building the Station and preparing it for wintering.

The Station’s principal building, designed by Jerzy Piotrowski, was modular in structure and consisted of elements prefabricated in Poland. The station was 30 m long and 8 m wide, housed ten single rooms, a large scientific laboratory, a mess hall, a radio room, a kitchen and a bathroom.

The electrical system was fed via a set of batteries charged by an internal combustion generator while the water system used a small tank filled with water transported from a nearby lake or melted from snow and ice.

The cornerstone of the Station was laid on 23 July, 1957. In late September, the summer and technical groups returned to Poland while the first Polish wintering expedition began its work in Hornsund. The expedition’s task of implementing the programme of the 3rd IGY was completed in September 1958, and subsequently the Station was handed over to the Governor of Svalbard for management.

Interim period – seasonal expeditions and Norwegian trappers

During the summer seasons of the years 1959, 1960 and 1962, small seasonal expeditions led by Siedlecki worked at the station to continue research initiated by the 1957/1958 expedition.

For the next five years, the Station stood empty. In the 1967/1968, 1968/1969, 1969/1970 and 1970/1971 winter seasons, the Station was used by Norwegian trappers as a hunting base. Trappers with their dogs lived and stored their fox and bear pelts there. The Station was not maintained in any way. As a result, the building fell into significant disrepair during these years.

In 1972, the Norwegian authorities established the South Spitsbergen National Park, thus putting an end to hunting in this area.

In 1970-75, the Wrocław University cooperated with the PAS Institute of Geophysics to conduct summer research in Spitsbergen. Expedition participants resided at the Station and attempted to restore it to a functional condition. This work, however, was a far cry from the refurbishment that the Station required.

Year-round expeditions begin

The year 1978 was a breakthrough year in the history of the Station. As the result of a huge inter-ministerial programme, which made it possible to conduct polar research in the Arctic and Antarctic for many years, an expedition comprising of a wintering group of ten and a 30 or so men-strong scientific and technical summer group left for Spitsbergen. Their job was to refurbish and prepare the Station for wintering in, as well as to restart programs of scientific observations conducted in the 3rd IGY and intermittently over the following years.

The Station building was upgraded, a new one was erected to house electricity generators and workshops, fuel tanks for the generators were also installed. The Station was also fitted with a new electrical system, as well as plumbing with hot and cold running water. Since that year, the Station has operated continuously.

In the same year, an Independent Polar and Marine Research Lab was created within the PAS Institute of Geophysics, and has been conducting research and thematically supervising the Station ever since as the Polar and Marine Research Department.

In 1979, an extension was built to the old building and called the summer base. It houses dormitories and additional toilets: it was to serve members of scientific groups working at the Station during the summer seasons. Some finishing work on the summer base was only completed in the summer of 1980.

An establishment of international significance

The Station witnessed the Polish political/economic turning point of the 1980s in the form of growing problems with funds for its maintenance, staffing problems, difficulties with ship charters and the related experiments with supplies. However, it survived this difficult period and, at the turn of the centuries, started to develop at a very fast pace.

The 1st International Glaciological Symposium, which took place at the Station in the spring of 1992, marked the beginning of a boom in scientific cooperation with foreign research centres.

Participation in the upcoming 4th International Polar Year 2007-2009 brought new means of communication (satellite links, television, Internet), new scientific instruments (including automatic weather stations, ion probes, GPS terminals, a chromatograph and new types of seismic apparatuses), and huge technical changes, such as the construction of a fuel terminal, a new biological sewage treatment plant, an extension to the main Station building, or the replacement of amphibious cargo carriers.

The current equipment, infrastructure and living conditions at the Hornsund Polish Polar Station render it a model European research platform combining the advantages of a logistics base for continuous observations (with wide-ranging field observation capabilities, including the operation of instruments located on remote glaciers) with those of a scientific facility housing several labs.

Traditional research programmes (meteorology, seismology, Earth magnetism) have gradually been supplemented with observations of the ionosphere, atmospheric electricity, UV, as well as perennial permafrost and glaciological monitoring. During the summer seasons, intense geological, geomorphological, oceanographic and biological research is carried out.

Long-term research conducted by Polish scientists in cooperation with well-known foreign centres render the Hornsund Fjord region one of the best identified areas in the European Arctic sector, while the operations and achievements of the Hornsund Polish Polar Station give Polish scientific achievements in polar research great global recognition.