British fantasy author Michelle Paver once wrote: “To get the feel of the polar night, I went back to Spitsbergen in winter. I went snowshoeing in the dark and experimented with headlamps and climbed a glacier in deep snow.”
Monacobreen Glacier in Svalbard, Arctic Norway. Photo: Acacia Johnson
People have long been fascinated with glaciers, whether it’s the Monacobreen Glacier in Spitsbergen in the Norwegian Arctic or Jakobshavn Glacier in West Greenland. (Monacobreen Glacier is sometimes shortened to Monaco Glacier, and occasionally referred to as Glacier de Monaco.) Glaciers are huge ice masses that, like very slow-moving rivers, “flow” toward the sea almost imperceptibly over time. Glaciers are formed over periods of hundreds of years where snow compresses and transforms into ice. Many experienced Arctic travelers consider Monacobreen Glacier to be one of the most eye-catching to photograph.
Interesting facts about glaciers
Glaciers, such as Monacobreen Glacier and 14th of July Glacier in Svalbard, and Petermann’s Glacier in Greenland, are designated as such for several reasons. Here are some interesting facts about glaciers.
To be considered a “proper glacier,” the glacier must be at least .1 square kilometers (25 acres) in size. The largest glacier on Earth is the Lambert Glacier in Antarctica which is 60 miles wide and 270 miles long. Greenland’s Petermann’s Glacier (also known as Petermann’s Tongue) is 9 to 12 miles wide and about 44 miles long, making it the largest floating glacier in the Northern Hemisphere.
Glaciers behave like extremely slow-moving rivers. Glacial ice is driven by gravity, sometimes across hundreds of miles.
In the briefest of explanations, glaciers are formed by snowflakes and the passage of time. Typically, in places where snow remains year-round, new layers of snowfall arrive each year and exert tremendous pressure on the pre-existing layer. That weight crushes the previously-fallen snow (that makes up the older layers) into fine grains. Over the passage of time, these “grains” become larger and denser, gradually producing glacial ice. As one glaciologist summed it up, when the ice gets tens of meters thick, it begins to float out and downwards to areas with warmer temperatures. It’s at that point that the ice melts and calves (crashes thunderously!) into the sea.
A large chunk of ice breaking off a glacier and tumbling into the water creates an audio experience like no other—especially if you’re within a hearing range from a polar ship or a Zodiac. The distant rumbling and crashing sounds cut dramatically through the Arctic silence.
It’s estimated that glaciers contain about 60 to 70 percent of the world’s freshwater.
Glaciers in Spitsbergen
There are about 1,598 glaciers in Spitsbergen. Glaciers, of which Monacobreen Glacier is just one, cover 21,767 square kilometers of Spitsbergen, which has an area of 38,612 square kilometers.
Various types of glaciers
Glaciers aren’t the same. For instance, there are valley glaciers, cirque glaciers, and large ice caps. Spitsbergen is known for another type of glacier, which is referred to as Spitsbergen-Type Glacier. They consist of large connected areas of ice which are divided by mountain ridges and nunataks(which are isolated peaks of rock that project upward above inland ice or snow).
Monacobreen is a tidewater glacier
Quark Expeditions guests get close-up views of the expansive Monacobreen Glacier during a Zodiac excursion. Photo: Acacia Johnson
Tidewater glaciers are valley glaciers that flow (very slowly) all the way down to the ocean where they calve and tumble into the sea.
Where is the Monacobreen glacier located?
Monacobreen Glacier is considered one of the top Arctic tourist attractions. It’s located in Liefdefjorden, a 30-km long fjord in Haakon VII Land on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago in the Norwegian Arctic. Monacobreen was once known as Liefde Bay-Brae. The glacier is 146 km from the embarkation port of Longyearbyen in Spitsbergen.
Interesting facts about the Monacobreen glacier
Monacobreen Glacier is among the largest glaciers in Spitsbergen. Breen is the Norwegian term for a glacier. Monacobreen Glacier owes its name to Prince Albert I of Monaco (1848-1922), one of the founders of the study of oceanography. Today the Oceanographic Institute-Prince Albert 1st of Monaco Foundation carries on the work of studying oceans and their impact on climate. Prince Albert is reported to have surveyed the glacier on expeditions in 1906 and 1907.
The foot of Monacobreen Glacier is about 7 km wide, and 60 meters high. First-time observers are frequently caught off guard by its eye-catching bluish tint.
Monacobreen Glacier enters Liefdejorden in Haakon VII Land. It originates in the ice field near Eidsvollfjelle, the highest mountain in Haakon VII Land at 1449 meters. The mouth of the Monacobreen glacier is approximately 1400 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.
Best Way to get to Monacobreen glacier
Guests can view the imposing Monacobreen Glacier on Quark Expeditions’ Spitsbergen In Depth: Big Islands, Big Adventure. The best way to get to the Monacobreen glacier is by joining a polar voyage led by a team that’s experienced in polar travel. Polar travelers should seek out a company with an experienced team who know how to navigate the ice, can measure the strengths of the polar wind—and offer travelers the chance to explore aboard a polar-worthy ship. Ideally, a small vessel, one that carries no more than 200 passengers, is preferable to navigate fjords and hard-to-reach regions within the Arctic. Large ships cannot navigate the same fjords, inlets, and Arctic passageways as smaller polar vessels, which constitute the entire fleet of Quark Expeditions’ vessels. You can view each of the small polar vessels in our fleet gallery.
Guests who travel with Quark Expeditions also get to enjoy onboard presentations by polar experts—including glaciologists, geologists who will discuss various aspects of glaciers and icebergs.
Best time of the year to visit the Monacobreen Glacier
Travelers tend to visit the Svalbard archipelago from May to September. Quark Expeditions’ Spitsbergen In Depth: Big Islands, Big Adventure regularly schedules a July visit, which makes it possible for guests to enjoy ice formations and the region’s abundant wildlife.
What other glaciers can I visit in Spitsbergen?
One of the other popular glaciers that adventurers like to visit in Spitsbergen is the 14th of July Glacier. It’s a 16-kilometer long glacier (covering a total area of 76 square kilometers) in Haakon VII Land in the northwestern part of Spitsbergen. The waters in this area attract purple sandpipers, common eiders, barnacle geese, and arctic terns. Atlantic puffins frequently nest on nearby cliffs
What to expect on a cruise to the Monacobreen Glacier
Most guests visit Monacobreen Glacier between May and September. Photo: Acacia Johnson
View our video Life Onboard a Quark Expeditions Vessel: Incredible On-Ship Experiences. That will give you an idea of what you can expect on a cruise to the Monacobreen Glacier. Another equally insightful video is Why to Travel to Spitsbergen with Quark Expeditions.
As with any polar voyage, you want to come prepared. Start your pre-trip preparations by reading our How to Pack Your Waterproof Backpack for Shore Landings and Zodiac Cruising.
And get your camera ready to photograph Monacobreen Glacier, whether from a Zodiac or the deck of your ship. The view will be unlike any other you’ve experienced in your travels.