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Yearly Archives: 2009 − News & Stories

Rus­si­an ship wre­cked at Bjørnøya

The Rus­si­an free­zing ship Petro­za­vodsk ran aground near the sou­thern tip of Bear Island (Bjørnøya) on Mon­day, 11 May. The seas within one nau­ti­cal mile from the shore are pro­tec­ted and may not be ente­red with ves­sels lon­ger than 40 feet, as the cliffs are home to some of the lar­gest sea­bird colo­nies of the north Atlan­tic; the num­bers of bree­ding Brünich’s and Com­mon guil­l­emots amount to seve­ral hundred thou­sands and the bree­ding sea­son is just about to begin. The Petro­za­vodsk is lying on a reef just under the cliffs, which fre­quent­ly pro­du­ce rock­falls, making rem­oval of the wreck dan­ge­rous, if not impos­si­ble. The ves­sel, which was ope­ra­ting in the Barents sea tog­e­ther with Rus­si­an fishing ships, is dama­ged and seems to be loo­sing fuel, pro­ba­b­ly hea­vy oil, of which the­re seem to be about 53 tons on board.

Cap­tain and first offi­cer have been inter­view­ed in Lon­gye­ar­by­en by the Sys­sel­man­nen and will be on tri­al in Nor­way. Both had alco­hol in their blood upon arri­val in Lon­gye­ar­by­en soon after the acci­dent. The first mate was on watch at the time of the groun­ding, he was pro­ba­b­ly slee­ping (real­ly!).

Hard to belie­ve, isn’t it?
The wreck of the Petro­za­vodsk just under the cliffs of Bjørnøya. Image © Kyst­ver­ket

Russian ship wrecked at Bjørnøya

Source: Kyst­ver­ket, Sys­sel­man­nen, Sval­bard­pos­ten

First oil field  in the Barents sea opens in 2013

The Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment has given per­mis­si­on to exploit the oil field “Goli­at” with an esti­ma­ted 174 mil­li­on bar­rels oil north of Ham­mer­fest. Pro­duc­tion is sup­po­sed to start in 2013 under strict envi­ron­men­tal con­di­ti­ons. Goli­at will be the first Nor­we­gi­an oil field in the arc­tic Barents sea; “Snøh­vit” which is alre­a­dy in use is sole­ly a gas field.

Fos­sil fuels: future tech­no­lo­gy for the Arc­tic, at least accor­ding to Nor­we­gi­an plans
(this is the coal power plant in Barents­burg, admit­ted­ly slight­ly pole­mi­cal)

First oil field  in the Barents sea opens in 2013

Source: Nor­we­gi­sche Regie­rung Pres­se­mit­tei­lung

New Spits­ber­gen-news­pa­per

It has often been said that the local news­pa­per “Sval­bard­pos­ten” might well need some com­pe­ti­ti­on. Final­ly, the Ame­ri­can jour­na­list Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni, curr­ent­ly based in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, is now publi­shing “Ice­peo­p­le – The world’s nor­t­hern­most alter­na­ti­ve news­pa­per”, on the web (click here). Spitsbergen.de wis­hes good suc­ces!

(© ice­peo­p­le)

New Spitsbergen-newspaper icepeople-Logo

Source: Ice­peo­p­le

Rus­si­ans lost court case con­cer­ning heli­c­op­ter flights

The Nor­we­gi­an-Rus­si­an legal dis­pu­te con­cer­ning pos­si­bly ille­gal heli­c­op­ter flights has alre­a­dy been men­ti­on. In April, the “Nord-Norsk Tin­g­rett” has pas­sed its sen­tence: The Rus­si­ans have to pay a sen­tence of 50.000 Nor­we­gi­an crow­ner. The Rus­si­ans cla­im that artic­le 3 of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty pro­vi­des equal rights to citi­zens of all signa­to­ry nati­ons and might appeal.

Nor­we­gi­an law is in force also in Barents­burg.

Russians lost court case concerning helicopter flights

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (16/2009)

Coal mining in the Arc­tic on the way towards future  

Bjørn Arne­stad, mana­ging direc­tor of the Nor­we­gi­an coal mining com­pa­ny “Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kull­kom­pa­ni” (SNSK), has com­men­ted on the future of his com­pa­ny and on the Sval­bard white paper of the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment that has recent­ly been published (see below). The­re are enough coal reser­ves, inclu­ding mines that do not exist yet, until 2023, but SNSK still needs to deve­lop new busi­ness ide­as for the time after 2023. Ship­ping ser­vices across the then most likely lar­ge­ly ice-free Arc­tic Oce­an might be an opti­on, accor­ding to Arne­stad. About the white paper, he said that he is as satis­fied with it as if he had writ­ten it hims­elf, as the Nor­we­gi­an governmnent puts clear empha­si­ze on future coal mining on Spits­ber­gen.

The fact that the­re is a rela­ti­onship bet­ween coal mining and cli­ma­te chan­ge has obvious­ly not had an influence on this stra­te­gi­cal decis­i­on, alt­hough – offi­ci­al­ly – hig­hest envi­ron­men­tal stan­dards are sup­po­sed to be para­mount for all eco­no­mic acti­vi­ties in Sval­bard and cli­ma­te chan­ge has been iden­ti­fied as the one major sin­gle thre­at to the arc­tic envi­ron­ment and eco­sys­tems.

It seems almost iro­nic that the coal mining com­pa­ny SNSK might bene­fit from cli­ma­te chan­ge by uti­li­zing new ship­ping rou­tes in then ice-free waters.

Coal mining: future acti­vi­ti­ty in the Arc­tic?
(mine 7 near Lon­gye­ar­by­en)

Coal mining in the Arctic

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (16/2009)

Poli­ti­cal visits to Ny Åle­sund

Ny Åle­sund has recent­ly recei­ved a num­ber of high-ran­king poli­ti­cal visi­tors. EU-commission’s vice pre­si­dent Gün­ther Ver­heu­gen visi­ted the Ger­man-French rese­arch sta­ti­on and the sou­ve­nir shop on 16 April. Italian’s minis­ter of for­eign affairs Fran­co Frat­ti­ni fol­lo­wed on 29 April to open the new Ita­li­an “Amund­sen-Nobi­le” cli­ma­te rese­arch tower. In Febru­ary and March, two Nor­we­gi­an minis­ters, Lars Peder Brekk (agri­cul­tu­re and food) and Hel­ga Peder­sen (fishery and coas­tal affairs) had alre­a­dy been to the litt­le rese­arch vil­la­ge at Kongsfjord. 

The first tower in Ny Åle­sund was built in 1926, also with signi­fi­cant Ita­li­an con­tri­bu­ti­on.

Political visits to Ny Ålesund

Source: King­s­bay

New Sval­bard White­pa­per published

The Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment publishes a new white paper about every 10 years to defi­ne a frame for the fur­ther deve­lo­p­ment of Sval­bard. The latest one was issued 17 April as “Stortings­mel­ding No 22, 2008-2009” and under­lines the future importance of coal mining and sci­ence for the local eco­no­my and deve­lo­p­ment. Also tou­rism will be deve­lo­ped careful­ly, focus­sing on cen­tral are­as around Lon­gye­ar­by­en. A watchful eye will be kept on crui­se tou­rism in the East Sval­bard natu­re reser­ves, an issue that has recent­ly been dis­cus­sed con­tro­ver­si­al­ly. The importance of local jobs and eco­no­my is empha­si­zed.

Important mile­stone: “Stortings­mel­ding
nr 22«

New Svalbard Whitepaper published

Source: Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment (direct­ly to the docu­ment. 3.2 MB, 121 pages, Nor­we­gi­an)

Sval­bard­mu­se­um: new exhi­bi­ti­on

The Sval­bard­mu­se­um in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has ope­ned a new exhi­bi­ti­on with his­to­ri­al annexa­ti­on signs, dating back to tho­se days when Spits­ber­gen was No Man’s Land until 1925, when the Spits­ber­gen-Trea­ty came into force. Until then, ever­y­bo­dy could easi­ly cla­im a pro­per­ty, for exam­p­le for mining pur­po­ses. Over­lap­ping claims by many per­sons and com­pa­nies who tried to find their for­tu­ne in the fro­zen ground lead to chao­tic situa­tions and to the obvious need for pro­per legis­la­ti­on and admi­nis­tra­ti­on.

Remains of annexa­ti­on sign in Ebba­d­a­len (Bil­lefjord).

Svalbardmuseum new exhibition

Source: Sval­bard­mu­se­um

Increased ava­lan­che risk

Increased amounts of snow­fall have lead to a signi­fi­cant­ly increased ava­lan­che risk ever­y­whe­re on slo­ping ter­rain in Spits­ber­gen. Whilst the snow mobi­le sea­son is in full swing, the SAR-team of Sys­sel­man­nen and local Red Cross need to go out regu­lar­ly to res­cue peo­p­le from ava­lan­che are­as. For one per­son in March, all help came too late: a local per­son could only be found dead under the snow mas­ses. In ano­ther ran­ge of inci­dents, peo­p­le got away with the shock. Gre­at care needs to be taken during any win­ter tra­vel in Spits­ber­gen.

The ava­lan­che risk is signi­fi­cant­ly lar­ger than it has been in the past. This is due to increased snow­fall and thus to chan­ging wea­ther pat­terns.

Beau­tiful, but poten­ti­al­ly dan­ge­rous: win­ter in Spits­ber­gen.

Increased avalanche risk

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Sun fes­ti­val in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

On the lati­tu­de of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the sun is theo­re­ti­cal­ly sin­ce appro­xi­m­ate­ly 20 Febru­ary abo­ve the hori­zon again, at least for some mid-day minu­tes. But from Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the sun will not appear abo­ve the moun­ta­ins befo­re 08 March, an event that is tra­di­tio­nal­ly given a warm wel­co­me in shape of various cul­tu­ral and social hap­pe­nings from 08 to 14 March, inclu­ding a num­ber of lec­tures, pre­sen­ta­ti­ons and con­certs.

The last and the first sun­rays of the year are a major event any­whe­re in the Arc­tic.

Sun festival in Longyearbyen

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Com­mer­cial ren­ting of fire­arms

The Sys­sel­man­nen has stop­ped al com­mer­cial ren­ting of fire­arms, which are nee­ded for tra­ve­ling any­whe­re in Sval­bard out­side the sett­le­ments for pro­tec­tion against poten­ti­al polar bear attacs. Accor­ding to the Sys­sel­man­nen, the­re is no legal base for ren­ting out fire­arms. An inte­rim solu­ti­on, which might enable ack­now­led­ged wea­pon trad­ers in Lon­gye­ar­by­en to rent fire­arms to per­sons who hold a licen­se to own such wea­pons, is curr­ent­ly being work­ed on.

No step any­whe­re in Spits­ber­gen out­side the sett­le­ments wit­hout a sui­ta­ble fire­arm! 
Not being able to rent one would make life quite dif­fiu­lt for indi­vi­du­al tou­rists.

Commercial renting of firearms

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Eas­tern Sval­bard

The cur­rent dis­cus­sion of kee­ping eas­tern Sval­bard open for tou­rists or clo­sing it lar­ge­ly has been descri­bed pre­vious­ly on this site. Now the Sys­sel­man­nen has published his recom­men­da­ti­on for the upco­ming law­gi­ving pro­cess. Remar­kab­ly, he has cho­sen not to recom­mend the ori­gi­nal pro­po­sal, which sug­gested to clo­se eas­tern Sval­bard with the excep­ti­on of 16 desi­gna­ted landing sites / are­as. The Sys­sel­man­nen con­siders this approach too strict and not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly backed up by strong argu­ments.

A final decis­i­on is to be made by the govern­ment in Oslo.

Accor­ding to the ori­gi­nal pro­po­sure, tou­rist landings in eas­tern Sval­bard would have been rest­ric­ted to the green are­as. The red coast­li­ne would have been for­bidden.
Click here for a lar­ger ver­si­on of the map.

Eastern Svalbard

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Good news abour envi­ron­men­tal toxins

Long-lived envi­ron­men­tal toxins such as PCBs, insect repell­ents and fire­pro­of mate­ri­als con­tai­ning bro­mi­ne are enri­ched in the arc­tic food chain and pro­vi­de a serious enri­von­men­tal thre­at to spe­ci­es on high tro­phic levels such as Ivo­ry gulls, Glau­cous gulls and Polar bears.

From 1995 to 2004, con­cen­tra­ti­ons of such sub­s­tances have drop­ped by 50 to 80 % in tis­sue of Rin­ged seals in Spits­ber­gen. Rin­ged seals are an important food source for Polar bears and com­mon­ly used for human con­sump­ti­on in Green­land and arc­tic Cana­da.

The decrease shows cle­ar­ly that legal mea­su­res in count­ries that are major pro­du­cers can pro­vi­de signi­fi­cant impro­ve­ments. Future chal­lenges con­sist in inclu­ding new­ly deve­lo­ped, but simi­lar sub­s­tances in the legal frame­work and in intro­du­cing such laws world­wi­de. Most wes­tern count­ries have adopted simi­lar laws and signed inter­na­tio­nal agree­ments (“Stock­holm-con­ven­ti­on”), but some important count­ries are still miss­ing, such as the USA.

Polar bear and Ivo­ry gull at lunch.
Unde­si­reable addi­ti­ves are likely to be pre­sent.

Good news abour environmental toxins

SvalSat-satel­li­te sta­ti­on near Lon­gye­ar­by­en

SvalSat, based on Pla­tå­ber­get near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, was instal­led in 1996/97 as a base sta­ti­on to recei­ve data from satel­li­tes in polar orbits. The com­bi­na­ti­on of good infra­struc­tu­re of near-by Lon­gye­ar­by­en and the posi­ti­on clo­se to the pole make SvalSat uni­que and an important link in the chain of glo­bal satel­li­te sys­tems. Curr­ent­ly, the­re are 16 minor and lar­ger anten­nas stan­ding on Pla­tå­ber­get, but the num­ber is to be enlar­ged soon. Major demand is expec­ted when the Euro­pean satel­li­te-based navi­ga­ti­on sys­tem “Gali­leo” will be estab­lished in a few years, pro­vi­ding an alter­na­ti­ve to the US mili­ta­ry-con­trol­led GPS.

The Nor­we­gi­an Ant­ar­c­tic sta­ti­on Troll will ser­ve a simi­lar pur­po­se in the sou­thern hemi­sphe­re. 

Anten­nas of SvalSat on Pla­tå­berg near Lon­gye­ar­by­en (pho­to: Michel­le van Dijk).

SvalSat-satellite station near Longyearbyen

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten No 2, 2009

Polar bears like reinde­er

Recen­ty, a sur­pri­sing obser­va­ti­on has been made in Wij­defjord (cen­tral Spits­ber­gen), when a polar bear kil­led a reinde­er – so far, it has lar­ge­ly been assu­med that polar bears eat dead or inju­red reinde­er, but don’t hunt ani­mals that are in good shape. This rai­ses the ques­ti­on if the obser­ved beha­viour is real­ly as rare as assu­med (alt­hough this was not the very first obser­va­ti­on of its kind) or if it is more com­mon.

Should it turn out that polar bears are actual­ly able to catch reinde­er, then this might be an advan­ta­ge for the bears in case their main habi­tat, the drift ice, con­ti­nues to shrink due to cli­ma­te chan­ge.

Polar bear on land: pre­fers reinde­er over stones.

Polar bears like reindeer

Source: Tom­my San­dal (Austfjordnes/Wijdefjord), published in Sval­bard­pos­ten


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