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Yearly Archives: 2010 − News & Stories

PCB-project completed

Good Christmas news: The project to remove local PCB sources from Spitsberen is now completed with the final delivery of relevant items from the Russian settlement Barentsburg to Longyearbyen for destruction in Finland.

Over three years, a total of 4.762 items, mostly older electrical components, containing the long-lived, dangerous environmental toxin PCB, have been removed from settlements in Spitsbergen. 3.750 of these come from the Russian settlements Barentsburg and Pyramiden.

Barentsburg: Spitsbergen’s largest PCB-provider

PCB-project completed - Barentsburg

Source: Sysselmannen

Pass control in Longyearbyen

Starting 01 February 2011, everybody will have to present a passport or ID card when entering or leaving Spitsbergen territory. This is due to regulations of the Schengen treaty, which requires pass control on the outer borders. Because of the Spitsbergen treaty signed in 1920, Spitsbergen („Svalbard“) is not part of the Schengen treaty area (citizens of all signatory countries have unlimited right of residence), opposed to Norway, the Schengen border is between Norway and Spitsbergen. Accordingly, Norwegian authorities are obliged to introduce pass or ID card control at Longyearbyen airport for all passengers, including Norwegian citizens.

As Norwegian citizens do not (yet) have ID cards, they can alternatively use a driving license issued after 1998, bank card or military ID papers. Children, who do usually not have driving license etc., may be identified by an accompanying adult. Once Norway has introduced national ID cards, it has to be used by Norwegian citizens to enter or leave Spitsbergen.

Longyearbyen airport: soon with pass control

Pass control in Longyearbyen

Source: Norwegian government press release No 156-2010, 15 December 2010.

Northern light activity maximum in 2013/14

Northern light activity is connected to the activity of the sun, which constantly sends charged particles into space that react with the Earth’s higher atmosphere and magnetic field. The sun’s activity varies slightly with an 11 year periodicity. The next maximum is expected near 2013/14. Northern light fans should be on watch that winter.

Northern light in Spitsbergen, October 2008.

Northern light activity maximum in 2013/14 - Borebukta

Source: Nordlicht-Forscher Dag Lorentzen (UNIS, Longyearbyen), Svalbardposten

Jan Mayen Nature Reserve

The Norwegian island of Jan Mayen north of Iceland has been declared a nature reserve on 19 November 2010. The protected area includes the whole island with the exception of the station area and the landing strip. Additionally, a 12 mile zone around the island is also protected.

The regulations are similar to those concerning the nature reserves in the Spitsbergen islands, but tourism – very limited on Jan Mayen anyway – will have to deal with restrictions: landings from ships inside the nature reserve are prohibited unless the station commander gives permission (this formalizes a common routine) and camping is only allowed for station crew and their guests.

Visitor on Jan Mayen

Jan Mayen Nature Reserve - Eggoya

Source and more details (Norwegian): press release of the Norwegian government

Brunich’s guillemot on the Norwegian Red List

If you have seen the birdlife of Spitsbergen, then you will never forget the concentration of wildlife at the cliffs where up to several ten thousand breeding pairs of Brunich’s guillemots are crowded together on incredibly steep cliffs. The decrease in numbers has now lead to the species being included in the Norwegian Red List. Mainland Norway has seen a number of seabirds colonies virtually disappearing in recent years. The situation in Spitsbergen is not (yet) that bad, but the new classifaction sends a clear signal. The reasons for this development are not yet fully understood, but are likely to be linked to changes of food availability, which may again be related to climate change and/or overfishing.

The Brunich’s guillemot is not the only species that is new to the latest edition of the Norwegian Red List. This does not necessarily mean that the new species, mostly grasses, are in a situation worse than they used to be: In some cases, the reason is simply more information, for example about a very limited distribution area which is in itself reason for concern.

Other species could be removed from the list.

Brunich’s guillemot, Bear Island.

Brunich’s guillemot on the Norwegian Red List - Fugleodden

Sedov visit to Spitsbergen

The world’s largest sailing ship that is still sailing is visiting Spitsbergen in late September. Sedov, built in 1920 in Kiel (Germany), is a four masted steel barque with about 4200 square meter of sails.

SV Sedov in Barentsburg

Sedov visit to Spitsbergen

Historical hut burnt in Brucebyen

One of four historical huts in Brucebyen burnt completely down on August 17. A group of young hikers had left hot ashes behind when they left the hut, which had been built in 1919/1920 as part of a coal mining camp.

Source: Svalbardposten

Reindeer hunt

The annual reindeer hunting season was opened August 15. The hunting areas are limited and the number of animals taken is controlled. The population between Sassendalen and Grøndalen, where the hunting areas are located, has been on the decrease during the last 5 years and there has been a low number of calves this year.

Reindeer calf and cow in Todalen, late June 2010.

Reindeer hunt

Source: Sysselmann

Natural emergency harbours in Spitsbergen

The Norwegian coastal authorities have been out on a field trip around Spitsbergen’s coasts to evaluate locations where ships might seek shelter in case of emergency. Representatives of the Norwegian Polar Institute, the ministry of the environment, the governor and the Norwegian research institute on marine technology (MARINTEK) were on board during the field cruise.

On the west coast, the best sites known so far are in Magdalenefjord, Trygghamna and Hornsund. The experts and officials involved want to discuss further sites and publish their recommendations within 2010. The need for more emergency shelter sites is seen because of increased ship traffic in Svalbard waters.

Quelle: Svalbardposten

Sea ice, plancton and related issues …

The polar sea ice has its widest distribution during the late winter. The return of the sunlight in spring brings the algal bloom under the ice floes. As a result, zooplankton comes from deeper water layers to the ice to feed on the algae. These small animals are again prey for larger organisms such as fish and seals and thus, directly or indirectly, for the whole rest of the food chain up to polar bears. The basics of this system are common knowledge, but scientists are still working on many important details.

Marine biologists from the university in Longyearbyen (UNIS) have found out that the little crustaceae (in this case Calanus glacialis) are perfectly adapted to the seasonal development of sea ice in spring. The adult females eat as much as they can in the twilight under the closed sea ice cover, until they are able to reproduce. Two months later, their offspring is large enough to profit from a second algal bloom when the sea ice breaks up. These young, fat crustaceae are ideal food for polar cod, seals, seabirds such as guillemots and whales.

In case the sea ice is getting thinner and thinner due to climate change, the breakup will be earlier and the second algal bloom accordingly earlier. As a result, the young phytoplankton might not yet be old enough to feed sufficiently, which might lead to significant weakening of this important link in the arctic food chain, possibly leading to major disturbances of the arctic ecosystem as we know it.

Sea ice, plancton and related issues ...

The colouration of the ice is due to algae. In the middle a beached representative of the arctic marine fauna that depends on the algal bloom for food.

Source: Svalbard Science Forum

New dinosaur fossils

It has been know for a long time that Spitsbergen is an Eldorado for palaentologists, including those specialized in dinosauria. The discovery of a Pliosaur at Janusfjellet, north of Longyearbyen, in 2007 has raised worldwide attention not only amongst specialists. In 2009, three skeletons of Ichthyosauria (marine carnivorous dinosaurs) were found and to be retrieved this year, when the scientists made another spectacular discovery: a Plesiosaur with a three meter long neck. Now, the researches want to use their findings to reconstruct the course of evolution in the polar sea of the Cretaceous.

Source: Svalbardposten

Two paddlers and an bear

Two young Norwegians had set out to circumnavigate the whole archipelago of Spitsbergen, including Nordaustland, in their sea kayaks, but their journey came to a very sudden end on the north coast of Nordaustland, when they were taken by surprise by an aggressive polar bear in their tent during the night. The trip wire, which had been set up correctly, was not triggered when the bear entered the camp and dragged one of the two young men out of his sleeping bag and away from the camp. The second paddler managed to shoot the bear soon. Both men were soon brought to hospital with the governor’s helicopter. The injuries of the one who was pulled out of the tent by the bear were not serious and he recovered quickly, as expected.

It is still unknown why the trip wire had failed when the bear walked through. Two pins were pulled out of the mechanism, as they are supposed to, but the alarm mines did not explode. A few days earlier, some wind had been enough to trigger the alarm.

Two paddlers and an bear

During summer, when the sea ice is retreating from the coast, access to seals, their main prey, is more difficult for polar bears. If they remain on shore, they will try to find carrion, bird eggs or anything else that is digestable, which can make hungry bears dangerous also for man. In Spitsbergen, it is common (and required) to protect camps with trip wire during the night. Alternatively, dogs can serve the same purpose.

Source: Svalbardposten and Sysselmannen

New geodetic station planned in Ny Ålesund

The Norwegian mapping authority wants to establish a new geodetic station at Brandalspynten near Ny Ålesund. Both the Norwegian Polar Institute and NERC (Natural Environment Research Council, Großbritannien) are against the plan in its current shape. They agree that existing infrastructure should be used for the purpose, rathern than building new bridges and roads. NERC fears that other projects might follow in case authorities open for establishing new buildings and infrastructure outside Ny Ålesund. Until now, the area around Brandalspynten is untouched wilderness.


New geodetic station planned in Ny Ålesund - Koldewey

Source: Svalbardposten

Underground CO2 storage in Adventdalen

Researches are currently working to establish the reservoir capacity of sandstone layers in Adventdalen for carbon dioxide. The equipment used for previous tests has not been strong enough to explore the full potential. Testing is done by pumping water into the layers 970 metres under the surface, starting with a rate of 10 liters/minute and increasing gradually to 500 liters/minute. The results will help to evaluate the question if the layers in question are suitable to store large amounts of carbon dioxide safely. If so, carbon dioxide will be pressed down in liquid state, thus water as testing substance. A 400 meter thick permafrost layer is supposed to keep the liquid gas inside. If testing works according to plan, UNIS scientists plan to continue with further test drillings in 2011.

Adventdalen in summer 2010: the street from Longyearbyen to mine 7 is passing the old northern light observatory and the blue, chimney-like building were test drilling for the CO2 storage site is carried out.

Underground CO2 storage in Adventdalen - Nordslysstation

Source: Svalbardposten

Will Bear Island get its own cenotaph?

The fishery support vessel »Petrozavodsk«, that ran aground on Bear Island in May 2009, will until further remain in its position on the southeastern coast of the island. Authorities have not yet decided how to deal with the wreck. Several options have been discussed, amongst them leaving it where it is, sinking it in deeper waters or cutting it up and removing it. All of these options have in common that they have environmental effects and are expensive. Meanwhile, the vessel has broken up into two parts, which are still on the rocks directly under several hundred meters high, near-vertical cliffs, which makes all operations difficult and dangerous. Oil, fuel and other dangerous liquids and goods were removed soon after the wreckage; it cannot be excluded that further dangerous substances have remained on board.

Source: Svalbardposten


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