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Journey into the history of the Earth The world’s northernmost inhabited place

Spitsbergen, the world’s northernmost inhabited place, is a mecca for geologists on account of its rock formations. A Wintershall team visited the island to seek insights for its activities in the Barents Sea.

The August day starts early on board the Stalbas ship. The Wintershall experts are on the ship preparing for the first research trip as part of a 12-day excursion. This is the second time that the team has visited the remote archipelago.

Svalbard is an archipelago situated north of the Norwegian mainland and the Barents Sea at 78°N. The largest island in the archipelago is Spitsbergen, at 61,022 square kilometers.


We’re looking for formations that reveal stratigraphic structures. Svalbard is a mecca for geologists.

Arild Kjeldstad
 Deputy Head of Exploration and
 Barents Sea Team Leader

Its many rock formations enable us to discover what our seismic measurements cannot capture here,” explains Arild Kjeldstad.

Wintershall Norge already holds five licenses in the Barents Sea. Wintershall is the operator in three licenses and a partner in two others. After being lowered into the water from the supply ship, inflatable dinghies set off for the first goal of the day. Two rifles are always on board, which the experienced colleagues use in emergencies to protect themselves from polar bear attacks.

This time the Wintershall team is looking for formations that might provide information about which future projects in the Barents Sea might be interesting.

The participants have to complete a tough program to see the desired formations, discuss the possible findings, and collect samples for the planned rock archive. The group sets off early, and all involved have to be physically fit and good climbers.


Field work also means suffering and sweat. We have some very steep climbs ahead of us before we can see the best geological formations.

Klaus Fischer
Senior Geophysical Advisor

Klaus Fischer is thrilled that he can again practice his discipline on the ground.

“In the field, we discuss possible interpretations while looking at the formations directly in front of us. This always results in interesting findings. We also get to know each other really well, which is helpful for the rest of our work together. The days are long, and we’re usually a good 12 hours onshore before we’re back on board the ship. That really bonds us together!”

Shirley van Kreveld is there for the second time, and is also already well familiar with the archipelago. She says that, as a geologist, the field trip is a privilege that she appreciates because it leads to a better understanding of her work. Her colleague Nadine Friese is very impressed with the excursion. It’s her first field experience of this kind; until now she has only worked with seismic data.

Her perception of scale has also altered since she has seen that spots in seismic datasets are in reality 40-metre-high mountain crops.

It’s really great actually being able to see the geological structures in nature. You can see the size and dimensions of the formations, and get an immediate appreciation of everything in a way that a seismic survey cannot achieve.

Nadine Friese

At the end of August it remains light in Svalbard for almost 24 hours, which suits the expedition group’s scientific curiosity.

After 12 days at sea, with stops at nine different locations and the formations that can be found there, Arild Kjeldstad summarizes the main findings of the field research. “In the previous field tips we very much focused on formations from the Triassic period. This time we wanted to expand our range of knowledge to include the Jurassic and Permian geological eras. In addition, we have also looked at further Triassic formations.

This provides us with a much more complete picture. We want to make good use of this knowledge when evaluating areas for the future licensing rounds.”

A digital rock archive is to be established with the rich collection of samples

The geologists rely on a mixture of high technology and traditional sampling when it comes to appraisal and documentation. Photos have already been taken on site, which are now being further interpreted in the office. These extremely high-resolution aerial photos, which can be scaled up to reveal the smallest detail.

The photos help not only when preparing the field trips, but also later when assessing the rock formations for potential reservoirs. In the end 140 rock samples weighing a total of 100 kilograms were collected as well. This marks the beginning of a new digital rock archive, whereby the samples from nature, along with other media, such as the aerial and panoramic photos and existing seismic data, will provide an excellent source for assessing potential in all future projects in the Barents Sea. And to keep expanding the archive, there will no doubt be further expeditions to explore the Earth’s geological history. The team is hoping that the polar bears will be keeping their distance.

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