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Yearly Archives: 2008 − News & Stories

Barents­burg: Rus­si­an heli­c­op­ter flights

A law dis­pu­te is beco­ming a poli­ti­cal issue: In 2007, the Rus­si­an heli­c­op­ter com­pa­ny Spark Plus ope­ra­ted seve­ral heli­c­op­ter flights from Kapp Heer (Barents­burg) which were not cover­ed by the licence issued by Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties, inclu­ding flights for Rus­si­an sci­en­tists and for a film pro­ject. Accor­ding to Nor­we­gi­an offi­ci­als, the licence covers only flights bet­ween Barents­burg and Lon­gye­ar­by­en and bey­ond this area only flights direct­ly con­nec­ted to the acti­vi­ties of the Rus­si­an mining com­pa­ny Trust Ark­ti­ku­gol (TA). TA has rejec­ted a fine, now the case will be taken up by a court in Nor­way. Bey­ond this, the mat­ter is dis­cus­sed on a poli­ti­cal level. Accor­ding to the Rus­si­ans, the Nor­we­gi­an pro­ce­du­re offends the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty. The Nor­we­gi­ans argue that rele­vant parts of the trea­ty con­cern govern­men­tal acti­vi­ties, but not tho­se of com­pa­nies or pri­va­te per­sons. In prac­ti­ce, the situa­ti­on means a mono­po­ly of the Nor­we­gi­an heli­c­op­ter com­pa­ny Air­lift in Sval­bard.

After mine acci­dents and other tech­ni­cal pro­blems in Barents­burg, mining will only start again in sum­mer 2009. TA has announ­ced to open a “shop­ping cent­re” in Barents­burg and to moder­ni­se other infra­struc­tu­re (hotel, tele­com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons etc.).

Nor­we­gi­an coast guard heli­c­op­ter near Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Accor­ding to Nor­we­gi­an law, only Nor­we­gi­an air­craft may ope­ra­te in Nor­we­gi­an air space, excep­ti­ons can be per­mit­ted.

Barentsburg Russian helicopter flights

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Coal pro­duc­tion in Sveagru­va pro­fi­ta­ble

In 2008, about 2 mil­li­on tons of coal were mined alre­a­dy until ear­ly July, more than 300 000 tons more than expec­ted. This tog­e­ther with rising pri­ces on the world mar­ket makes for smi­ling faces in the manage­ment of the Nor­we­gi­an mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kull­kom­pa­ni (SNSK), which is making pro­fit – a rare event in the long histo­ry of the com­pa­ny. SNSK expects to have paid its debts back by the end of the year. The coal is expor­ted to Euro­pe, whe­re about 60 % are used in ener­gy pro­duc­tion and 40 % in the steel indus­try.

The area of Svea from abo­ve.

Coal production in Sveagruva profitable

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

New sta­ti­on in Ny Åle­sund

Ny Åle­sund is beco­ming incre­asing­ly popu­lar as a base for polar rese­arch. The latest new­co­mer from the far east, after Chi­na and Korea, is India, which ope­ned a sta­ti­on in ear­ly 2008. Rus­sia has alre­a­dy expres­sed inte­rest and may be the next nati­on to fol­low. Ita­ly, that has alre­a­dy a sta­ti­on in Ny Åle­sund, plans to open a “cli­ma­te tower” to con­duct atmo­sphe­ric rese­arch, which is expec­ted to be ope­ra­tio­nal in the sum­mer of 2009.

The Indi­an rese­arch sta­ti­ons in Ny Åle­sund. 

New station in Ny Ålesund

The Ger­man rese­arch sta­ti­ons in Ny Åle­sund.

The German research stations in Ny Ålesund.

Sources: Sval­bard­pos­ten, Sval­bard Sci­ence Forum

Pro­mi­nent visi­tors to the ice

Spits­ber­gen has had a lar­ger num­ber of pro­mi­nent visi­tors in June and July. In late June, mem­bers of the three Scan­di­na­vi­an roy­al fami­lies went on a crui­se into the ice on board the Swe­dish ice­brea­k­er Oden, and minis­ters of a num­ber of count­ries visi­ted Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Ny Åle­sund to meet col­le­agues and to dis­cuss issues inclu­ding cli­ma­te chan­ge. The seed vault near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, ope­ned ear­lier this year, was also high on the wish­list, but the doors usual­ly remain clo­sed, even for high-ran­king visi­tors such as for­mer US-pre­si­dent Jim­my Car­ter, who wan­ted to visit the seed vault in ear­ly July tog­e­ther with CNN-chef Ted Tur­ner, mul­ti­mil­lionaire Geor­ge Sor­os and Goog­le foun­der Lar­ry Page.

Accor­ding to the local news­pa­per Sval­bards­pos­ten, 76% of the local popu­la­ti­on con­sider pro­mi­nent visi­tors unim­portant. 

The Swe­dish ice­brea­k­er Oden with the Scan­dia­vi­an Crown Prin­ces on board.

Prominent visitors to the ice

Start of sum­mer sea­son 2008

Ear­ly and mid June sees the onset of the arc­tic “high sum­mer”. The sum­mer tou­rist has begun, and the first ships have alre­a­dy arri­ved Lon­gye­ar­by­en. An extra­or­di­na­ry amount of snow has fal­len during the past win­ter and spring; locals say that they have never seen so much snow befo­re. In Lon­gye­ar­by­en at sea level, most of the snow has mel­ted by now (10 June), but in many places, the­re is still a lot of snow at sea level (which on the other hand is not so uncom­mon at this sea­son).

The ice situa­ti­on seems to be “bet­ter” than in 2006 or 2007 in that sen­se that the­re seems to be more sea ice this year. Nor­t­hern and eas­tern parts of the archi­pe­la­go are still most­ly sur­roun­ded by drift ice, and it will be inte­res­t­ing to fol­low the deve­lo­p­ment throug­hout the sum­mer. In recent years, even the nor­the­as­tern­most parts of Sval­bard were acces­si­ble as ear­ly as late June/early July.

Snow-rich ear­ly sum­mer. Ear­ly June, Trygg­ham­na.

Start of summer season 2008

Ice chart as of 09 Juni 2008 (© Nor­we­gi­an Meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal Insti­tu­te)

Ice chart as of 09 Juni 2008

Hur­ray! Start of sea­son soon!

Hurray! Start of season soon!

The PCB-pro­ject is making pro­gress

In 2007, con­cen­tra­ti­ons of the long-lived envi­ron­men­tal toxin PCBs hig­her than expec­ted have been found in and near the sett­le­ments in Spits­ber­gen. Buil­ding mate­ri­als (paint, con­cre­te) and elec­tri­cal parts seem to be major sources. The hig­hest values were found in the Rus­si­an sett­le­ments of Barents­burg and Pyra­mi­den. PCBs from the­se local sources have alre­a­dy been found in the bot­tom sedi­ments in the near-by fjords.

Both Rus­si­an and Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties have appar­ent­ly alre­a­dy made some pro­gress in remo­ving the dan­ge­rous mate­ri­als. Almost 1000 elec­tri­cal parts (con­den­sa­tors from light­ing instal­la­ti­ons) have alre­a­dy been remo­ved, and ano­ther 2000 is to fol­low as soon as repla­ce­ment parts have arri­ved. The­se are said to be on the way alre­a­dy. It is also announ­ced that in Pyra­mi­den, which was aban­do­ned in 1998, all rele­vant parts will soon be com­ple­te­ly remo­ved.

All con­ta­mi­na­ted mate­ri­als will be ship­ped to Lon­gye­ar­by­en and from the­re to the main­land for dis­po­sal in Fin­land as part of the gene­ral Nor­we­gi­an gar­ba­ge manage­ment sys­tem.

In the Nor­we­gi­an sett­le­ments and sta­ti­ons (Isfjord Radio, Lon­gye­ar­by­en, Ny Åle­sund and Sveagru­va), samples were taken from soil, paint and other mate­ri­als to iden­ti­fy PCB sources. Known sources have alre­a­dy been remo­ved. The aim is to remo­ve all mate­ri­als con­tai­ning PCBs within a short time frame.

Light­ing in Barents­burg.

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Per­ma­frost on Mars

The news of the suc­cessful landing of the NASA space­craft “Phoe­nix” on Mars on 25 May 2008 went around the world. Now, images have been published that show sur­face struc­tures that resem­ble frost pat­ter­ned ground which is com­mon in the Arc­tic. The stone rings shown in the NASA images are not per­ma­frost struc­tures: their deve­lo­p­ment does not requi­re per­ma­frost, but fre­quent and strong free­zing and tha­wing. But more important­ly, they requi­re water/ice for their for­ma­ti­on. 
The NASA images.

Stone rings in Spits­ber­gen (Wood­fjord).

Permafrost on Mars

Source: NASA

Van Mijenfjord – Sveagru­va – Lun­ckef­jel­let

Van Mijenfjord is the ship­ping rou­te to the Nor­we­gi­an mining sett­le­ment of Sveagru­va. It is most­ly blo­cked by the long, nar­row island of Akseløya, which increa­ses the local fjord ice deve­lo­p­ment signi­fi­cant­ly. Recent­ly, Norway’s stron­gest ice­brea­k­er, KV “Sval­bard”, had to give up brea­king the ice to Sveagru­va in a distance of 10-12 kilo­me­t­res to the sett­le­ment. The thic­k­ness of the ice was near one met­re, and one out of four main engi­nes of the ves­sel was not working. Fol­lo­wing behind KV “Sval­bard” was a car­go ves­sel with sup­pli­es and equip­ment for the mine. The­se had to be unloa­ded in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and taken to Sveagru­va on the ground with bull­do­zers and by air.

KV “Sval­bard” had alre­a­dy bro­ken a lead through most of the length of the fjord. Becau­se of its uni­que geo­gra­phy (blo­cked by the abo­ve-men­tio­ned island) and in the light of recent cli­ma­te chan­ges, the fjord is the only one on the west coast of Spits­ber­gen whe­re regu­lar local ice for­ma­ti­on is likely to occur for some time in the future. Fjord ice is an important habi­tat for arc­tic wild­life spe­ci­es such as seals who give birth to their off­spring on fjor ice and for Polar bears as hun­ting ground and so on.

Brea­king the ice in Van Mijenfjord regu­lar­ly is thus cri­ti­cis­ed by envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­sa­ti­ons. It is one of the reasons why many are scep­ti­cal to the plans of the SNSK (Nor­we­gi­an mining com­pa­ny) to estab­lish a new coal mine at Lun­ckef­jel­let north of Sveagru­va. Ano­ther reason is the lar­ge amount of car­bon that is stored in the ground in shape of coal, which would be released to the atmo­sphe­re in case of mining and sub­se­quent bur­ning.

SNSK argues that their coal is more envi­ron­men­tal­ly fri­end­ly than other coal on the world mar­ket due to its low metha­ne con­tent. During mining of one ton in Svea, only 0,9 m3 of metha­ne are released to the atmo­sphe­re in con­trast to 20-40 m3 as the glo­bal avera­ge, accor­ding to SNSK.

Ano­ther argu­ment used against the plans for a new mine is the posi­ti­on very clo­se to the boun­da­ries of the Nor­dens­ki­öld Land Natio­nal Park (part­ly even insi­de). Regu­la­ti­ons for pro­tec­ted are­as in Spits­ber­gen are very strict.

SNSK plans to open the new mine in 2013.

Fjord ice in Van Mijenfjord i April.

Van Mijenfjord - Sveagruva - Lunckefjellet - data-lazy-src=

Envi­ron­ment: New pol­lut­ants / Rising values of atmo­sphe­ric CO2

It is well known that envi­ron­men­tal pol­lut­ants such as PCBs that ori­gi­na­te from indus­tria­li­zed count­ries accu­mu­la­te in the food chain in the Arc­tic to high levels in spe­ci­es such as Polar bears and Glau­cous gulls, both top pre­da­tors in this envi­ron­ments. Trends in “old” toxins have been obser­ved to be decre­asing in recent years, due to bans of rele­vant sub­s­tances for exam­p­le in the EU. It takes a long time for levels to decrease becau­se all rele­vant sub­s­tances have in com­mon that they are long-lived, they are still used ille­gal­ly and some count­ries have so far fai­led to issue bans.

The bad news is that new orga­nic pol­lut­ants have been found. Pro­duc­tion of che­mi­cals for fire­pro­of mate­ri­als (elec­tro­nics, fur­ni­tu­re, clot­hing) seems to be the most signi­fi­cant source. Per­fluo­rooc­ta­ne­sul­fo­nic acid (PFOS) seems to be an important new thre­at; this sub­s­tance has alre­a­dy rea­ched high levels for exam­p­le in fat tis­sue of Polar bears in Sval­bard. 
Also regio­nal CO2 levels con­ti­nue to show alar­ming trends. CO2 is mixing quick­ly in the atmo­sphe­re over the glo­be, which means that regio­nal trends reflect the glo­bal deve­lo­p­ment. The atmo­sphe­ric obser­va­to­ry on Zep­pe­lin­fjel­let near Ny Åle­sund in Spits­ber­gen, the avera­ge for the first 100 days of 2008 was 391.1 ppm (parts per mil­li­on), as com­pared to 388.8 ppm for the same peri­od in 2007. Sin­gle mea­su­re­ments bey­ond 400 ppm are likely to be obser­ved in 2009. 

Tha­wing ice of a pin­go in Spits­ber­gen. Natu­ral part of the com­plex life cycle of such a per­ma­frost struc­tu­re. Or result of man-made cli­ma­te chan­ge. 

Tha­wing ice of a pin­go in Spits­ber­gen. Natu­ral part of the com­plex life cycle of such a per­ma­frost struc­tu­re. Or result of man-made cli­ma­te chan­ge.

Environment - New pollutants - Rising values of atmospheric CO2

Source: Sval­bard Sci­ence Forum

Acci­dents in Barents­burg

In recent weeks, the Rus­si­an mining sett­le­ment of Barents­burg has suf­fe­r­ed from seve­ral acci­dents. Three per­sons died during a heli­c­op­ter crash at Kapp Heer, the heli­c­op­ter base near Barents­burg, The air­craft col­l­i­ded with a buil­ding during a landing attempt in bad visi­bi­li­ty con­di­ti­ons. On Thurs­day, 17 April, Barents­burg repor­ted fire in the coal mine. One miner was found dead a while later, while a second one is still miss­ing.
The­re are still 500 peo­p­le living in Barents­burg.  

Accidents in Barentsburg - data-lazy-src=

New laws for tou­rism in pro­tec­ted are­as

New regu­la­ti­ons for the gro­wing tou­rist traf­fic in Svalbard’s natio­nal parks and natu­re reser­ves have been in pro­cess for a while. In March 2008, the gover­nor (Sys­sel­man­nen) has published some details, inclu­ding:

  • Ban on cru­de oil (com­mon fuel for lar­ger ships) in natio­nal parks and natu­re reser­ves. The­re may be excep­ti­ons for Kongsfjord (Ny Åle­sund), the sai­ling rou­te into Bell­sund (Sveagru­va) and Mag­da­le­nefjord (important desti­na­ti­on for lar­ge crui­se ships).
  • Cer­tain sites that are con­side­red to have major his­to­ri­cal or bio­lo­gi­cal value and that con­side­red are espe­ci­al­ly vul­nerable will be clo­sed for visi­tors.
  • Addi­tio­nal­ly, tou­rist landings in the natu­re reser­ves in eas­tern Sval­bard will be rest­ric­ted to cer­tain are­as. 
    Legis­la­ti­on is in pro­cess, a time sche­du­le is not published.

The Hau­de­gen sta­ti­on from World War II in Rijpfjord (Nord­aus­t­land) is among­st the sites that are likely to be clo­sed to visi­tors.

New laws for tourism in protected areas

Deve­lo­p­ment of tou­rism in Spits­ber­gen

The­re were 86 097 over­night stays in hotels and guest­hou­ses in Spits­ber­gen in 2007 (2006: 83 049, 1998: 46 201). The num­bers have been con­stant­ly gro­wing except from a minor decrease in 2003. Most guests were Nor­we­gi­ans (ca. 68 %), fol­lo­wed by Swe­des and Ger­mans (both near 5 %), Bri­tons, Danes, French­men and Dutch.

Num­bers show pro­nou­ced peaks during the main sea­sons in March/April and during the sum­mer (late June-August). The local tou­rism indus­try aims for bet­ter use of their capa­ci­ties during the off-sea­son inclu­ding the polar night.

The lar­ge per­cen­ta­ge of Spits­ber­gen tou­rists who come on board major crui­se ships and do not stay over­night in any hotel is not included in the num­bers abo­ve. 

The “Nord­pol Hotel­let” in Ny Åle­sund.

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten 11/2008.

Plans about new coal mine

SNSK (Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kull­kom­pa­ni, the Nor­we­gi­an mining com­pa­ny) has announ­ced to open a new coal mine at Lun­ckef­jel­let in 2013. Lun­ckef­jel­let is bet­ween Sveagru­va and Reind­a­len in Nor­dens­ki­öld Land. Lun­ckef­jel­let is sup­po­sed to have explo­ita­ble coal seams with a thic­k­ness of around 2 met­res, total­ling to appro­xi­m­ate­ly 10 mil­li­on tons.

Explo­ra­ti­on dril­lings have also been car­ri­ed out recent­ly in Coles­da­len (sou­thwest of Lon­gye­ar­by­en), alt­hough wit­hout eco­no­mic­al­ly signi­fi­cant results so far. Plans for fur­ther inves­ti­ga­ti­ons in Nathorst Land (bet­ween Van Mijenfjord and Van Keu­len­fjord) have been announ­ced.

2007 was the most pro­duc­ti­ve year in SNSK’s histo­ry until now. More than 4 mil­li­on tons of coal have been mined in Sveagru­va (near-by Sen­tral­fel­tet, to be accu­ra­te); in addi­ti­on come almost 80,000 tons from gruve 7 near Lon­gye­ar­by­en. In 2006, the pro­duc­tion was 3,6 mil­li­on tons, 70 % of which were sold to Ger­ma­ny (main cus­to­mers: Eon (elec­tri­ci­ty) and steel pro­duc­tion).

The pro­ject is not undis­pu­ted. Cri­ti­cism includes inter­fe­rence with the untouch­ed envi­ron­ment: among­st others, the mine requi­res a road to be built across a gla­cier. Also, envi­ron­men­ta­lists accu­se the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment to app­ly dif­fe­rent stan­dards to the sta­te-owned SNSK than is gene­ral­ly com­mu­ni­ca­ted to the inter­na­tio­nal public. Oslo pro­mo­tes cli­ma­te-fri­end­ly pro­ce­du­res both for the main­land and for Sval­bard.

The posi­ti­on of the envi­sa­ged mine at Lun­ckef­jel­let.

For more infor­ma­ti­on, see: Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kull­kom­pa­ni (news­let­ter “bedrifts­nytt”)

Seed vault offi­ci­al­ly ope­ned

On 26 Febru­ary the new seed vault or “Doomsday Vault” as it is often cal­led by the press was offi­ci­al­ly ope­ned. Loca­ted near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, it is sup­po­sed to be able to sur­vi­ve glo­bal cata­stro­phes inclu­ding nuclear wars, direct mis­sile attacks and extre­me cli­ma­te chan­ge. The pur­po­se is to store seeds of agri­cul­tu­ral plants to pre­ser­ve their diver­si­ty for future gene­ra­ti­ons in times of mas­si­ve loss of bio­di­ver­si­ty that we curr­ent­ly expe­ri­ence. The seed vault is Spitsbergen’s big­gest media issue sin­ce the Ita­lia-cata­stro­phe in 1928.

Ent­rance to the seed vault.

Deep in the moun­tain: the seed vault.

Seed vault officially opened

© both pho­tos: Mari Tefre/Global Crop Diver­si­ty.

For more infor­ma­ti­on, see: Glo­bal Crop Diver­si­ty Trust

Spec­ta­cu­lar finds of dino­saur ske­le­ton remains in the Isfjord area

Parts of dino­saur bones from Isfjord have been known sin­ce the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, but things real­ly star­ted to hap­pen when Nor­we­gi­an pal­aen­to­lo­gists found remains of no less than 28 indi­vi­du­al mari­ne rep­ti­les near Dia­ba­sod­den (Tem­pel­fjord in Isfjord), dating to the Juras­sic (about 150 mil­li­on years old). Most of them are Icht­h­y­o­saurs that loo­ked more or less simi­lar to dol­phins, others are Ple­sioraurs, lar­ger pre­da­tive rep­ti­les. One Plio­saur (sub­group of Ple­si­o­saurs) must have been 15 met­res long and is thus the lar­gest of its kind that has been found so far, as has recent­ly been announ­ced.

Ske­le­ton of the “mons­ter”, as the 15 m lar­ge Plio­saur is inof­fi­ci­al­ly cal­led. Only the red parts have been found.

Plio­saur having break­fast, as “seen” by an artist.

Spectacular finds of dinosaur skeleton remains in the Isfjord area - data-lazy-src=

Field work at Knor­ring­fjel­let.

Spectacular finds of dinosaur skeleton remains in the Isfjord area - data-lazy-src=


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