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Yearly Archives: 2008 − News & Stories


Motorised traffic banned from Bolterdalen

Motorised traffic may be banned in Bolterdalen after 01 March in the future. Bolterdalen, tributary to Adventdalen east of Longyearbyen, is a frequently used snow mobile route during winter and spring towards, for examplem Sveagruva.

Those who want to promote environmentally sound tourism in Spitsbergen such as dogsledging have demanded larger snow-mobile-free areas for a long time.

Bolterdalen
(hatched).

Motorised traffic banned from Bolterdalen

Source: Sysselmannen

EU funding research in Spitsbergen

The “Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System” (SIAEOS) projekt is designed to understand environment and climate with their components land, sea, ice and atmosphere. EU will fund this project with initially 400 Millionen NOK (ca. 43 million Euro) and subsequently 70 Millionen NOK (almost 8 million Euro) annually. 

Important part of the scientific infrastructure in Spitsbergen: the EISCAT-radar near mine 7 in Adventdalen.

EU funding research in Spitsbergen

Source: UNIS

Closing eastern Svalbard for organized tourism – an ongoing discussion

The plan to close the large nature reserves in eastern Svalbard largely for organized tourism has been mentioned several times on this site (click here and here). The public discussion is going on, as reflected by a number of articles and several letters to the editor of the local newspaper Svalbardposten, a common platform for (public) discussions concerning Spitsbergen. The undemocratical, intransparent procedure is being criticised, as is the fact that the Norwegian Polar Institute – a major political influence in the current process – is at the same time the player with by far the highest level of activities in relevant areas.

Local politicians demand to “discriminate locals positively”.

Another reason for criticism is that the argumentative base for the closure of such large areas are restricted to the “precautionary principle” and the “scientific demand for large, undisturbed reference areas” – a very thin line of argumentation, given that many scientists do not support this demand.
 
The following quotations may shed light on the process:

“Tourism as it is currently managed is not an environmental problem in Svalbard” (Arne Malme, Senior environmental officer, Sysselmannen. October 2008)

“I like strikt rules as long as they are there for others but not for me” (a researcher active in the Arctic, known to the present author. Summer 2008)

The plan is to prohibit landings of organized tourists in eastern Svalbards in all areas except designated places which are marked with green on this map (additionally, local restrictions apply to several of these landing sites). Click here for a larger version of the map.

Closing eastern Svalbard for organized tourism - an ongoing discussion

Sources: Svalbardposten

Natural fluctuations of reindeer: 2008 not a good year in Spitsbergen

It was quite obvious in the field due to many dead reindeer, but now it is “official”, because founded on scientific data: 2008 was not a good year of the Spitsbergen reindeer. During freezing following on a warm spell early in 2008, the tundra was covered with a layer of ice, which made access to food difficult. In April 2008, the animals were on average 21 % less in weight than normal, and only 10 % of the adult females had calves in June.

Strong annual fluctuations of the reindeer population are natural and quite normal in Spitsbergen. The population can quickly recover in good years, although it may become exctinct locally.

Not doing great: Spitsbergen reindeer in De Geerdalen (July 2008).

Natural fluctuations of reindeer: 2008 not a good year in Spitsbergen

Source: Svalbard Science Forum

Coal mining remains vital for Longyearbyen’s economy

A new study shows that Longyearbyen will depend on coal mining for a long time into the future. Even if activities within both research/higher education and tourism were doubled, they could not replace mining, which creates several hundred local jobs, both directly and indirectly. A loss of these jobs would lead to significant loss of other functions including important public services (school, …), according to a study now published by NIBR (Norsk Institutt für by- og regionforskning = Norwegian institute for city and regional research). 

Central in Longyearbyen, not only as a monument: coal miner.

Coal mining remains vital for Longyearbyen's economy

Source: Norsk Institutt by og regionforskning

New museum in Longyearbyen: Svalbard Airship Museum will open on 15 November

After a long time with a lot of work, the Svalbard Airship Museum will open its doors on 15 November. It is dediacted to the airship expedtitions that were launched in Virgohamna (1906-09) and Ny Ålesund to reach the North Pole. The new museum is located in the former cowshed (where the Svalbardmuseum was until a few years ago).

The famous airship mast near Ny Ålesund under construction in 1926. It was used by Roald Amundsen to launch the Norge and to years later again during Umberto Nobile’s Italia-expedition.

New museum in Longyearbyen: Svalbard Airship Museum will open on 15 November

Source: Svalbard Airship Museum

PCBs in Russian settlements

Scrap containing PCB, especially condensators from electric installations, have been removed by the Russian mining company Trust Arktikugol from the settlements of Pyramiden (abandoned in 1998) and Barentsburg. The items have been delivered to Longyearbyen for disposal. Pyramiden is now believed to be largely free of relevant materials; work in Barentsburg will be continued.The items delivered recently contain about 30 kg of highly toxic PCBs. Cooperation is working very well, according to Norwegian authorities, who are happy about the results achieved so far: a potential source for future contamination of the environment with dangerous substances has been largely removed, and further progress is expected for the near future.

Additionally, light elements containing mercury have been removed.

In summer 2007, higher PCB concentrations have been detected near the settlements in Spitsbergen, especially near the Russian ones. 

Scrap machinery in Barentsburg: potential source for dangerous environmental toxins.

PCBs in Russian settlements

Source: Sysselmannen

Police report against Norwegian Polar Institute

Probably for the first time, the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) has been reported to the police by a private person (Olav Vik Solheim) for having anesthetized and marked a large number of polar bears (150-200 per year in recent years). This includes following the bears with helicopters, a procedure that is not exactly easy on the animals.Soleim criticizes that the numbers of bears marked are unnecessarily high and that there is a strong inequality between different actors in the field: anybody who disturbs a polar bear, for example with a snow mobile, risks heavy fines.

The Sysselmannen has dropped the case already after a couple of days, because a punishable offence was deemed unlikely and because it would have been very difficult to investigate the case for the police. Solheim has announced that he wants to take further legal steps.

Polar bear in Spitsbergen. He does not care if disturbance is legal or not, he does not like it anyway.

Police report against Norwegian Polar Institute

Source: Svalbardposten

New American report about climate change in the Arctic

A new report about recent climatic changes in the Arctic has been published by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Click here for the report.
 
The behaviour of single glaciers cannot be used directly as an indicator for climate change, but the retreat of Monacobreen in Spitsbergen is impressive and no more or less dramatic than that of other glaciers. The island in the foreground was under the ice of the glacier that can be seen in the middle of the picture until no more than a few years ago. 

The behaviour of single glaciers cannot be used directly as an indicator for climate change, but the retreat of Monacobreen in Spitsbergen is impressive and no more or less dramatic than that of other glaciers. The island in the foreground was under the ice of the glacier that can be seen in the middle of the picture until no more than a few years ago.

New American report about climate change in the Arctic

Source: NOAA

Passport control in Longyearbyen

So far, there is no pass control for travellers from Norway to Longyearbyen (or vice versa). This will probably change, as Norway is part of the Schengen treaty, but Svalbard is not. 

Airport Longyearbyen: soon with passport control

Passport control in Longyearbyen

Source: Sysselmannen

New regulations for ship-based organized tourism in Eastern Svalbard

The public hearing process for the current proposal for new regulations for ship-based organized tourism in the nature reserves in Eastern Svalbard has been opened on October 10 (for some more details on the proposal, scroll down to April news or click here). The hearing will be going on until December 10. Should the current proposal come into force, then the flexibility of expedition ships in the areas in question (the complete eastern part of the Svalbard archipelago) would be significantly reduced. The proposal is controversial. The law will not be passed before the Norwegian parliament (Stortinget) has issued a new white paper on Svalbard in spring 2009.

The issue was discussed during a conference of Expedition Leaders who work with ship-based tourism in Svalbard and other polar regions in Longyearbyen, October 07 and 08. The result is a letter to the Norwegian administration that addresses weaknesses of the current proposal and points out alternatives. 

Hiking in Palanderbukta on Nordaustlandet -soon history?

New regulations for ship-based organized tourism in Eastern Svalbard

“Clean up Svalbard”: tourists collecting garbage, partly dangerous to wildlife, from a remote beach in northeastern Svalbard. This will then also be history.

Source: Sysselmannen, AECO-Expedition Leader conference in Longyearbyen Oktober 06-08, 2008

Spitsbergen’s glaciers on the run

“On the run” may not be the right translation, but some of them show a behaviour that scientists call a “surge”, that is a rapid advance at a speed that exceeds the normal one by a factor of up to 100, after a quiet phase of many decades. This phenomenon is common for glaciers on Svalbard. Monica Sund, a geologist at UNIS, has identified surging glaciers, including Kroppbreen which is in a very early state of a surge – a scientifically very interesting discovery. 

Comfortlessbreen in Engelskbukta, June 2008. The steep (land-based) terminus indicates surging behaviour.

Spitsbergen's glaciers on the run

Source: Svalbard Science Forum

Gold in Spitsbergen

Store Norske Gull (SNG), daughter of the mining company Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani, has collected rock samples along the west coast of Spitsbergen, between Kongsfjord and St. Jonsfjord, hoping to find gold occurrences of economical value for potential future mining.

SNG had already investigated deposits north of Kongsfjord in 2003, but the exploration was stopped in 2004 on a political level: the vicinity to both the Northwest Spitsbergen National Park and the research facilities in Ny Ålesund made commercial drilling and potential activities on an industrial level undesirable. 

St. Jonsfjord at the west coast of Spitsbergen, between Isfjord and Kongsfjord. The area may have economically valuable gold deposits.

Gold in Spitsbergen

Source: Svalbardposten

CO2-storage in Adventdalen

A new drilling project has been started in early August in Adventdalen. The purpose is to investigate the ground down to 1000 metres to find sediments that are capable of storing large amounts of carbon dioxide. In case of success, the storage capabilities of the system will be tested during a second phase. The long-term aim is to store all CO2 of Longyearbyen’s coal power plant in the ground. If the other settlements in Spitsbergen were to receive their energy through cables from Longyearbyen, then the power supply of almost the whole island could be organised without any emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

The coal power plant in Longyearbyen.

CO2-storage in Adventdalen

Source: Svalbardposten

Arctic sea ice

A new research project is expected to bring predictions of sea ice development in the Arctic closer to reality. In Svalbard, there has been more ice this summer than in recent years, but the current lack of ice in other parts of the Arctic is dramatic.

A lonesome belt of drift ice west of Magdalenefjord, late June 2008.

Arctic sea ice

Source: Svalbard Science Forum

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