• Walking polar bear, Svalbard

Highlights and main attractions of the Pack Ice

Highlights and main attractions of the Pack Ice

Let’s start off with a description of different ice formations. Any ice that floats through the sea and is moving (on an almost constant basis) is generally called drift ice. Drift ice is most often frozen seawater, but can also be made up of icebergs calved from land-borne glaciers. Drift ice moves across the sea, and is usually fairly easy to navigate through, due to large patches of open sea between chunks of ice. When these large pieces of ice drift together, and are pushed up against each other by wind and currents leaving little or no open water between them, they become pack ice. 

Much harder to navigate through, and only accessible with a high ice class ship, the pack ice is the hunting ground for polar bears, who wander for miles in search of seals asleep on the ice. Once a seal is in the water, polar bears stand a very slim chance of catching up to them, so the bears rely on being able to sneak up behind seals on the pack ice. Seals are very sensitive to any movement and any vibration on the ice, so the bears have quite a tough job trying to get up close without disturbing the seals and losing their meal! 

M/S Stockholm, Svalbard Expedition Ship

Location and activities

When you travel determines exactly how far you have to sail to find the pack ice. Early in the season, there is often a lot of pack ice around Svalbard’s northernmost islands. As the season progresses and the weather gets warmer, the pack ice retreats north, and eventually leaves the islands all together. Ships often have to sail for several hours to reach the edges of the pack ice, before pushing through into the ice in search of polar bears Once thing you can be sure of, is that where there is pack ice, there are polar bears. Often it is patience that is the key for spotting the bears, that and a well-trained eye. Expert expedition leaders have years of experience in the Arctic and are used to spotting bears moving slowly along the horizon. 

Some ships spend less time in the ice because they are not as capable of breaking back out of the ice that re-freezes around them, so again, a small ship which is strong enough to park in the ice is key to spotting the bears. Often just turning off the engines and waiting is the best way to see the bears, as curious youngsters often head over to the ships to explore. You’ll be amazed at the scenery this far north. 

The whites, blues and pinks of the pack ice are breath-taking, and you really do get a sense of being at the top of the world surrounded by such a pristine wilderness, where the only sounds are the ones made by your ship.


Contact one of our Destination Specialists to start planning your journey to Svalbard. Please note we recommend a budget of from £8,000 / $10,000 USD per person for our style of trip to this destination.

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