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Yearly Archives: 2009 − News & Stories


Tough times in Barents­burg

The 400 inha­bi­tants of the Rus­si­an mining sett­le­ment Barents­burg have to live with dif­fi­cult work- and gene­ral con­di­ti­ons. After a fire in the mine in ear­ly 2008, when 2 peo­p­le lost their lives, mining was stop­ped for a while; curr­ent­ly, 30,000 tons per year are mined to keep the local power plant run­ning. Full pro­duc­tion on a level of 120,000 tons per year, still low on a glo­bal sca­le, will not come befo­re sum­mer 2010 – one year later than ori­gi­nal­ly hoped for. A miner has now com­plai­ned through the press about bad con­di­ti­ons, such as insuf­fi­ci­ent work power and equip­ment and, as a result of this, more or less regu­lar­ly occu­ring dan­ge­rous situa­tions. Also the wages of about one Dol­lar per hour are not exact­ly reason for hap­pi­ness.

The lea­der­ship of the mining Com­pa­ny Trust Ark­ti­ku­gol does not show any under­stan­ding for the com­plaints.

In Novem­ber 2009, Trust Ark­ti­ku­gol has lost a Nor­we­gi­an court case regar­ding use of heli­c­op­ters in Spits­ber­gen. Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties have denied the Rus­si­ans to use heli­c­op­ters for other pur­po­ses than tho­se direct­ly con­nec­ted to the mining acti­vi­ties of Trust Ark­ti­ku­gol. This is, in prac­ti­ce, rest­ric­ted to trans­port of per­so­nell bet­ween Lon­gyear­ben and Barents­burg. The Rus­si­ans want to offer com­mer­cial flights for sci­en­tists and tou­rists, in the case of the lat­ter at least to offer trans­por­ta­ti­on from Lon­gyear­ben to Barents­burg also during the win­ter. They refer to the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, which makes clear that all signa­to­ry powers and their citi­zens have equal rights for com­mer­cial acti­vi­ties in Spits­ber­gen.

Mining in Barents­burg: Curr­ent­ly a diff­cult affair.

Tough times in Barentsburg

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (46/2009)

Win­tering are­as of ptar­mi­gans

The ptar­mi­gan is the only bird that stays in Spits­ber­gen year-round. Sci­en­tists have now equip­ped some ptar­mi­gans with satel­li­te tra­ckers to fol­low them digi­tal­ly through the polar night. So far, they seem to remain in the gene­ral area, migra­ting local­ly while sear­ching for food. The Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te is publi­shing and updating the results Backhere.

Ptar­mi­gans in Spits­ber­gen

Wintering areas of ptarmigans

Source: Nor­we­gi­sches Polar­in­sti­tut

Dan­ger of ali­en plant spe­ci­es

Intro­du­ced plant and ani­mal spe­ci­es can crea­te eco­lo­gi­cal desas­ters. Ali­en spe­ci­es have alre­a­dy been found in many parts of the polar regi­ons, inclu­ding Ant­ar­c­ti­ca. In more recent times, the hig­hest risk of intro­duc­tion is use of con­ta­mi­na­ted boots that have been used else­whe­re, pos­si­bly in cli­ma­ti­cal­ly com­pa­ra­ble high moun­tain or polar are­as.

In 2008, sci­en­tists have tes­ted boots of 260 visi­tors at the air­port in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and found 500 moss frag­ments and 1000 seeds of 52 plant spe­ci­es, inclu­ding many birch seeds.

Not just a rub­ber boot, but a poten­ti­al­ly dan­ge­rous source of con­ta­mi­na­ti­on

Danger of alien plant species - Buchananhalvoya

Source: UNIS

CO2-sto­rage in Advent­da­len

The idea to run Spits­ber­gen “car­bon-free” is based on CCS: cap­tu­ring and con­se­quent sto­rage of car­bon dioxi­de in sand­stone lay­ers in the ground. After three sci­en­ti­fic dril­lings had to be abor­ted due to tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties, a fourth one has suc­cessful­ly rea­ched pro­mi­sing sand­stone lay­ers at a depth of up to 870 met­res. Less than 1000 met­res that had been hoped for, but enough in case fur­ther test­ing shows the lay­ers to be capa­ble of long-term sto­rage of CO2-emis­si­ons from, for exam­p­le, Longyearbyen’s coal power plant.

Tech­ni­ques thus deve­lo­ped by UNIS (the uni­ver­si­ty in Lon­gyear­ben) might in the future be used else­whe­re in the world.

Suc­cessful: dril­ling pro­ject near the old airst­rip in Advent­da­len

CO2-storage in Adventdalen

Source: Unis

Begin­ning of the polar night

Sin­ce appro­xi­m­ate­ly 24 Octo­ber, the sun can not be seen any­mo­re abo­ve the hori­zon. The­re will still be twi­light at noon for ano­ther cou­ple of weeks, until the polar night comes for real. It is safe to expect the sun back abo­ve the hori­zon near the end of Febru­ary.

Moon­light in Bore­buk­ta on the north side of Isfjord in Octo­ber.

Beginning of the polar night

Source: not nee­ded. This is just how it is.

New regu­la­ti­ons: His­to­ri­cal sites declared off limits, ban on hea­vy oil in Natio­nal Parks

After a long and rather con­tro­ver­si­al dis­cus­sion, Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties have deci­ded to decla­re 8 his­to­ri­cal sites in the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go off limits, start­ing 01 Janu­ary 2010.

The sites are:

  • Ebelt­oft­ham­na (Kross­fjord): The remains of the wha­ling sta­ti­on south of the lagoon.
  • Lik­ne­set (Smee­ren­burg­fjord): Spitsbergen’s lar­gest gra­vey­ard from the wha­ling peri­od.
  • Ytre Nor­skøya: the  gra­vey­ard and the blub­ber ovn fou­da­ti­ons near the south coast. The rest of the island remains acces­si­ble.
  • Hau­de­gen (Rijpfjord, Nord­aus­t­land): The WWII wea­ther sta­ti­on and a safe­ty zone around it may not be inte­red.
  • Habe­nicht­buk­ta (Edgeøya): The com­bi­ned Whaling/Pomor site
  • Zieg­lerøya, Delit­schøya, Spekkhol­men (near Edgeøya): The­se small islands with their many his­to­ri­cal sites will be com­ple­te­ly off limits.
  • Halv­må­neøya (near Edgeøya): Only the famous old trap­per sta­ti­on Bjør­ne­borg can be visi­ted, the rest of the island is off limits.
  • Mid­ter­huk­ham­na (Bell­sund): No access to the small hut (built in 1898) and the near-by remains of the 17th cen­tu­ry wha­ling sta­ti­on.

For more details such as a map of the sites, see, Sys­sel­man­nen.

It has also been deci­ded to ban the use of hea­vy (cru­de) oil in the three lar­gest Natio­nal Parks in Spits­ber­gen. Hea­vy oil is a com­mon fuel type for lar­ge ships, but is very dan­ge­rous for the envi­ron­ment in case of acci­dents.

As excep­ti­ons, it can still be used until 01 Janu­ary 2015 on the shor­test safe rou­tes to Sveagru­va, Ny Åle­sund and into Mag­da­le­nefjord.

A simi­lar ban is in force sin­ce 2007 in the lar­ge Natu­re Reser­ves in eas­tern parts of the archi­pe­la­go.

This part of the new regu­la­ti­ons is wel­co­med by con­ser­va­ti­on groups.

Tou­rists careful­ly visit a whaler’s gra­ve from the 17th cen­tu­ry at Lik­ne­set in nor­thwes­tern Spits­ber­gen.
This will not be pos­si­ble any­mo­re in the future, start­ing 01 Janu­ary 2010.

New regulations: Historical sites declared off limits, ban on heavy oil in National Parks

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

CO2-sto­rage under­ground in Advent­da­len

The idea to mana­ge a »CO2-free« Spits­ber­gen in the not too far future has suf­fe­r­ed seve­ral set­backs alre­a­dy, but is still being fol­lo­wed. So far, three rese­arch dril­lings to search for sand­stone lay­ers sui­ta­ble for CO2-sto­rage in depths of seve­ral hundred meters under ter­rain had to be aban­do­ned becau­se of tech­ni­cal pro­blems. A fourth attempt will be star­ted soon near the old airst­rip in Advent­da­len.

BThe next dril­ling will take place near the old nor­t­hern light obser­va­to­ry in Advent­da­len.

CO2-storage underground in Adventdalen

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Arc­tic Oce­an pos­si­bly sea­so­nal­ly ice-free as ear­ly as 2030

The­re has been a year-round ice-cover on the Arc­tic Oce­an sin­ce appro­xi­m­ate­ly 15 mil­li­on years. New rese­arch results indi­ca­te that this rela­tively young, but for the Arc­tic extre­me­ly important eco­sys­tem might get lost again as soon as around 2030. It has to be expec­ted that the Arc­tic Oce­an will be com­ple­te­ly ice-free during the sum­mer and that sea ice is redu­ced to a sea­so­nal cover during the win­ter and spring.

The tooth of cli­ma­te chan­ge is nag­ging on arc­tic sea ice.

Arctic Ocean possibly seasonally ice-free as early as 2030

Source: Nalân Koç, nor­we­gi­sches Polar­in­sti­tut

Ban on ente­ring carst cave

Karst caves exist due to water that cir­cu­la­tes through water-solu­b­le rock types such as lime­s­tone. DN (Nor­we­gi­an direc­to­ra­te for natu­re admi­nis­tra­ti­on), that has recent­ly gai­ned a repu­ta­ti­on for various attempts to for­bid pret­ty much any­thing that other peo­p­le might enjoy in arc­tic natu­re, has made a pro­po­sal to put a ban on ente­ring karst caves. The fact that the­re are no karst caves known in Spits­ber­gen is of no hin­der. If the­re were any, they would cer­tain­ly be inte­res­t­ing, so why not for­bid ente­ring them, just in case…

Old mine for marb­le, a crystal­li­ne car­bo­na­te rock, in Kongsfjord.
Could be a cave, who knows?

Ban on entering carst cave

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Groun­ding of Rus­si­an ship at Bjørnøya IV

All oil deri­va­tes (die­sel, lubri­ca­ti­on oil) has been remo­ved from the Rusi­an free­zing ship Petro­za­vodsk, that ran aground near the sou­thern tip of Bjørnøya on 11 May. Ope­ra­ti­ons were com­ple­ted on 05 August. Smal­ler spills of oil from the wreck did not cau­se any envi­ron­men­tal dama­ge, accor­ding to field bio­lo­gists.

The Rus­si­an owner com­pa­ny is theo­re­ti­cal­ly obli­ged to remo­ve the wreck, but is unli­kely to do so as actu­al cos­ts are expec­ted to exceed tho­se that the com­pa­ny legal­ly has cover. The future of the wreck is the­r­e­for unclear, but at least it does not impo­se any major envi­ron­men­tal hazard any­mo­re.

Pum­ping ope­ra­ti­on at the wreck of Petro­za­vodsk. Foto © Kyst­ver­ket

Grounding of Russian ship at Bjørnøya IV

Source: Kyst­ver­ket

Rus­si­an ship Petro­za­vodsk groun­ded at Bjørnøya

The Rus­si­an fishery sup­port ves­sel that ran aground at Bjørnøya on 11 May is still in the same posi­ti­on. So far, it has only been pos­si­ble to remo­ve smal­ler amount of dan­ge­rous liquids (oil, die­sel, paint), but the major part of the die­sel volu­me is still on board. Minor spills have alre­a­dy occu­red, and small num­bers of birds cover­ed with die­sel oil have been obser­ved. Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties have made pre­pa­ra­ti­ons to remo­ve all remai­ning dan­ge­rous sub­s­tances from the ship and have announ­ced that ever­y­thing will be done to com­ple­te the ope­ra­ti­ons befo­re the Guil­l­emot chicks that are curr­ent­ly sit­ting in very lar­ge num­bers on adja­cent cliffs jump into the water (they lea­ve the nes­t­ing site befo­re they can fly). So far, bad wea­ther and rough seas have made the­se ope­ra­ti­ons impos­si­ble.

Bird cliff at the sou­thern tip of Bjørnøya, near the site of the Rus­si­an wreck.

Russian ship Petrozavodsk grounded at Bjørnøya

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Chan­ge of mari­ne eco­sys­tem poses poten­ti­al thre­at on Litt­le auks 

First results of a new rese­arch pro­ject “Arc­tic Tip­ping Points” (ATP) show that high-arc­tic zoo­plank­ton spe­ci­es such as Cala­nus gla­cia­lis have star­ted to chan­ge their dis­tri­bu­ti­on are­as, migra­ting towards col­der waters, most likely due to recent warm­ing within their tra­di­tio­nal ran­ge. This may for exam­p­le end­an­ger food sup­p­ly for spe­ci­es such as the Litt­le auk, Spitsbergen’s most abun­dant bird. Chan­ges of the mari­ne food chain are in any case very likely to have dra­ma­tic con­se­quen­ces for the who­le regio­nal eco­sys­tem.

Arc­tic zoo­plank­ton at the north coast of Spits­ber­gen.

Change of marine ecosystem poses potential threat on Little auks

Litt­le auks at nor­thwes­tern Spits­ber­gen.

Little auks at northwestern Spitsbergen

Source: Sval­bard Sci­ence Forum

Lar­ge natu­re reser­ves in Eas­tern Sval­bard: “no ent­ry”

The ongo­ing dis­cus­sion con­cer­ning pos­si­ble clo­sure of most of eas­tern Sval­bard has been repor­ted repea­ted­ly on the­se pages (see for exam­p­le Decem­ber 2008). After a public hea­ring peri­od in late 2008, the Sys­sel­man­nen gave a nega­ti­ve vote to the strong rest­ric­tions that had been pro­po­sed by DN (Nor­we­gi­an direc­to­ra­te for natu­re admi­nis­tra­ti­on). Fol­lo­wing the mot­to “we vote until we get the result that we want”, DN puts the same pro­po­sal for­ward again for ano­ther public hea­ring peri­od. Opi­ni­ons can be sent to the Sys­sel­man­nen (cont­act the Sys­sel­man­nen) until 01 Sep­tem­ber 2009. A new Sys­sel­man­nen will ascend the “thro­ne” in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in Sep­tem­ber 2009. Evil to him who evil thinks…

Accor­ding to DN’s pro­po­sal, landings in the lar­ge natu­re reser­ves in eas­tern Sval­bard can only be made at 16 dedi­ca­ted locations/smaller are­as, effec­tively clo­sing many hundred kilo­me­t­res of coast­li­ne and thus some­thing like 40 % of the archi­pe­la­go to the inte­res­ted public.

Today, tou­rists can access most of the area in ques­ti­on with very few excep­ti­ons (Kong Karls Land). During a con­fe­rence orga­ni­zed by AECO in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in Octo­ber 2008, lea­ding Nor­we­gi­an sci­en­tists expres­sed that they did not con­sider tou­rism to pre­sent any serious envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns or con­flicts with sci­en­ti­fic work, not exclu­ding the need for recom­men­da­ti­ons or stric­ter regu­la­ti­ons when it comes, for exam­p­le, to indi­vi­du­al sites.

“No ent­ry” to the red are­as, accor­ding to DN’s old and new pro­po­sal
(click here for a lar­ger ver­si­on of this map)

Large nature reserves in Eastern Svalbard: no entry

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Search-and-res­cue (SAR) ope­ra­ti­ons can be expen­si­ve

…or, rather: they ARE expen­si­ve, but in the future you are more likely to pay yours­elf. So far, the­re have alre­a­dy been 52 heli­c­op­ter SAR ope­ra­ti­ons, com­pared to a total of 72 in 2008 and 60 in 2007, a signi­fi­cant increase. The most spec­ta­cu­lar case was a long-distance heli­c­op­ter flight from Spits­ber­gen to nor­t­her­most Green­land and back to evacua­te a Dane with acu­te health pro­blems. In a lar­ge num­ber of cases, snow-mobi­le or ski tou­rists have been evacua­ted in Spits­ber­gen, when frost or bad wea­ther star­ted to take a toll. The Sys­sel­man­nen sees an increased rea­di­ness to use the satel­li­te pho­ne or emer­gen­cy loca­tor bea­con. Adi­tio­nal­ly, too many tou­rists (inclu­ding locals) seem not to be well enough pre­pared with equip­ment ade­qua­te for all pos­si­ble high arc­tic con­di­ti­ons and wil­ling­ness to spend a cou­ple of days in a self-built snow cave, a com­mon and usual­ly safe method to sus­tain during extre­me wea­ther con­di­ti­ons seems to decrease.

The Sys­sel­man­nen con­siders to use the “pol­lu­ter pays prin­ci­ple” in the future.

Expen­si­ve: the Sys­sel­man­nen heli­c­op­ter
(here seen during an exer­cise)

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Groun­ded ship at Bjørnøya: Cap­tain and offi­cer sen­ten­ced

Cap­tain and first offi­cer of the Rus­si­an free­zing ship Petro­za­vodsk, groun­ded 11 May near the sou­thern tip of Bjørnøya, have been sen­ten­ced by the North-Nor­we­gi­an “tin­g­rett” to 15 respec­tively 40 days in pri­son. They have been accu­sed of being under influence of alco­hol. The offi­cer has addi­tio­nal­ly been accu­sed for having cau­sed the groun­ding by fal­ling asleep while on duty and ente­ring the pro­tec­ted zone near the sou­thern coast of Bjørnøya, which must not be ente­red bet­ween 15 May and 31 August by ves­sels lar­ger than 40 feet.

The Cap­tain was sent back home to Rus­sia after the sen­tence had been pas­sed, as both had alre­a­dy spent 15 days under arrest. 

The wreck of the Petro­za­vodsk.
Image © Kyst­ver­ket

The wreck of the Petrozavodsk

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

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