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Home → February, 2010

Monthly Archives: February 2010 − News & Stories


Envi­ron­men­tal situa­ti­on in the Bar­ents Sea

The new envi­ron­men­tal sta­tus report of a Nor­we­gi­an working group that inclu­des a num­ber of rese­arch insti­tu­ti­ons has been publis­hed in Febru­a­ry. It sum­ma­ri­zes sci­en­tic data con­cer­ning various envi­ron­men­tal deve­lo­p­ments. The report (Nor­we­gi­an) is detail­ed and has yiel­ded expec­ted deve­lo­p­ment as well as sur­pri­ses.

Some important results:

  • As was to be expec­ted, the ice cover of the Bar­ents Sea has decre­a­sed noti­ce­ab­ly from 1979 to 2009. 2005, 2007 and 2008 were years with extre­me­ly litt­le ice. The pro­por­ti­on of mul­ti-year ice has decre­a­sed, espe­cial­ly in 2007.
  • During the same peri­od, water tem­pe­ra­tures have expe­ri­en­ced an incre­a­se of around 1°C, most­ly due to an incre­a­sed inf­lux of Atlan­tic water. This has pro­noun­ced, but com­plex effects on nut­ri­ent avai­la­bi­li­ty as well as popu­la­ti­on dyna­mics of dif­fe­rent fish (and other) spe­ci­es.
  • Sea­b­ird colo­nies in Spits­ber­gen and Nor­way have deve­lo­ped in dif­fe­rent ways, but the short mes­sa­ge is an over­all decli­ne over dif­fe­rent spe­ci­es and geo­gra­phi­cal are­as. In Spits­ber­gen, Brünich’s Guil­lemots have gone down signi­fi­cant­ly in num­bers, the hig­hest docu­men­ted loss being 36 % wit­hin the last 5 years at Fug­le­hu­ken on the island of Prins Karls For­land. Kit­ty­wa­kes have suf­fe­red los­ses of up to 43 % (Bear Island) during the same time span, whe­re­as the Com­mon Guil­lemot, a bird that is more adap­ted to sub-arc­tic con­di­ti­ons, has incre­a­sed by 38 % on Bear Island. The situa­ti­on is even more dra­ma­tic in north Nor­way, whe­re almost all sea­b­ird spe­ci­es have suf­fe­red seve­re los­ses at most loca­ti­ons, in some cases of more than 99 %.
  • The volu­mes of plastic rub­bish seem to have gone back slight­ly in recent years. Sin­ce 1998, it is not allo­wed any­mo­re to dis­po­se any plastics into the sea.
  • Con­cen­tra­ti­ons of long-lived envi­ron­men­tal toxins such as BCPs and PAKs have decre­a­sed until about 2004, but have incre­a­sed slight­ly again and are sta­ble sin­ce then.
  • Radio­ac­ti­vi­ty is still low. Main sources are nuclear wea­pon tes­ting during the 1950s and 1960s, Cher­no­byl and the nuclear repro­ces­sing plants of Sel­la­field (Eng­land) and La Hague (Fran­ce). The Sov­jet nuclear sub­ma­ri­ne K-278 Kom­so­mo­lets, that sank 180 kilo­me­tres sou­the­ast of Bear Island in 1989 and is still lying at 1858 metres depth, has not emit­ted signi­fi­cant amounts of radio­iso­to­pes – so far.
  • Die Kon­zen­tra­tio­nen lang­le­bi­ger Schad­stof­fe wie PCBs (Poly­chlo­rier­te Bifen­yle) und PAKs (Poly­zy­kli­sche aro­ma­ti­sche Koh­len­was­ser­stof­fe) gin­gen bis etwa 2004 zurück, stie­gen seit­dem aber wie­der leicht an und sind seit­dem nähe­rungs­wei­se sta­bil.

Plastic rub­bish, most­ly »lost« from fishing ves­sels.
Was­hed up onto and collec­ted from a small part of a remo­te beach in Hin­lo­pen Strait, nor­the­as­tern Spits­ber­gen.

Environmental situation in the Barents Sea - Lundehuken

Source: For­valt­nings­plan Bar­ents­ha­vet 2010

Eas­tern Sval­bard Natu­re Reser­ves: poten­ti­al clo­sure of lar­gest parts still on the agen­da

A pos­si­ble clo­sure of most parts of eas­tern Sval­bard has been dis­cus­sed on the­se pages on several occa­si­ons (see for examp­le June 2009). The Nor­we­gi­an Direc­to­ra­te for Natu­re admi­nis­tra­ti­on (Direk­to­ra­tet for natur­for­valt­ning, (DN)) had made a pro­po­sal to clo­se most of eas­tern Sval­bard for tou­rists. The Sys­sel­man­nen dis­agreed with the pro­po­sal, which would nor­mal­ly lead to major chan­ges or dis­car­ding. The pro­po­sal has, howe­ver, been for­war­ded to fur­ther bodies of the law-giving pro­cess without making any signi­fi­cant chan­ges, a very unusu­al step.

The main rea­son for the pro­po­sal was that the are­as should be kept as »untouched sci­en­ti­fic refe­rence are­as«. This rather vague rea­so­ning could not be exp­lai­ned any fur­ther, other than clai­ming a »pre­cau­tio­na­ry princip­le«. After this has met strong cri­ti­cism, natu­re pro­tec­tion was added.

The pro­po­sal is stron­gly cri­ti­cis­ed, inclu­ding:

  • Aims not well defi­ned and rea­sons not well exp­lai­ned. For examp­le, during a mee­ting in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in Octo­ber 2008, lea­ding sci­en­tists of the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te said they did not see any princi­pal pro­blems with (con­trol­led) tou­rism in the are­as in ques­ti­on, con­si­de­ring both sci­en­ti­fic and envi­ron­men­tal aspects.
  • It is doub­ted that by exclu­ding tou­rists from the­se are­as, they can be kept as (or tur­ned into) »untouched« (refe­rence) are­as, as sci­en­ti­fic acti­vi­ties take place on a com­pa­ra­ble, pos­si­ble major, sca­le any­way: signi­fi­cant num­bers of sci­en­ti­fic and sup­port staff visit the are­as – inclu­ding its remo­test parts, which are hard­ly ever visi­ted by tou­rists regu­lar­ly, spen­ding much more time in the field, using lar­ge, sta­tio­na­ry camps (tou­rists sleep on ships) and using heli­co­p­ters for trans­port on a lar­ge sca­le (com­ple­te­ly ban­ned wit­hin tou­rism).
  • More pres­su­re on loca­ti­ons that remain acces­si­ble can be expec­ted to lead to several pro­blems, such as ero­si­on. Ano­t­her pro­blem is that fle­xi­bi­li­ty has, so far, been an inte­gral part of the safe­ty of pas­sen­ger lan­dings: if weather/sea con­di­ti­ons at a given site is not favor­able or a polar bear is seen near­by, it is – so far – com­mon to turn to ano­t­her area wit­hin reach. Should such alter­na­ti­ve sites not be avail­ab­le any­mo­re, it can be expec­ted that the pres­su­re to land at a given site will incre­a­se, even under unfa­vor­able con­di­ti­ons.
  • Part of the rea­so­ning is con­ti­nuous incre­a­se of tou­ris­tic traf­fic. The fact that crui­se ship tou­rism in the last 2 years actual­ly decre­a­sed is not con­si­de­red. The rea­son for the decre­a­se is not only the eco­no­mi­c­al cri­sis, but also the (las­ting) effects of new regu­la­ti­ons, such as a ban on hea­vy oil as ship fuel which effec­tively keeps some ships com­ple­te­ly away, and new safe­ty deman­ds, which will lead to ano­t­her cou­p­le of ships not retur­ning, inclu­ding some that have been ope­ra­ting in Sval­bard still in 2009.
  • Intrans­pa­rent dis­cus­sion pro­cess behind clo­sed doors, exclu­ding the public and tho­se invol­ved, igno­ring the Sys­sel­man­nen who is obvious­ly a major offi­cial aut­ho­ri­ty with con­si­derable know­ledge of the actu­al regio­nal situa­ti­on.

Des­pi­te being rejec­ted by the Sys­sel­man­nen, the pro­po­sal has been for­war­ded by DN to the hig­her Minis­try of the envi­ron­ment, whe­re decisi­ons on fur­ther steps have to be taken.

A result of the pro­cess could be a loss of public con­fi­dence into sci­ence and admi­nis­tra­ti­on, if »sci­ence« is (ab)used as an argu­ment by poli­ti­cal decisi­on makers without solid sci­en­ti­fic argu­men­ta­ti­ve basis, simi­lar to Japa­ne­se »sci­en­ti­fic« wha­ling.

Eas­tern Sval­bard: Pro­tec­ted are­as or exclu­si­ve play­ground for sci­en­tists?

Eastern Svalbard Nature Reserves: potential closure of largest parts still on the agenda

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten and other (inclu­ding ver­bal dis­cus­sions)

Coal mining eco­no­my

The mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske could, in 2009, for the second time con­clu­de with a pro­fit of about 400 mil­li­on Nor­we­gi­an crowns (ca 48.7 mil­li­on Euro), main­ly due to good coal pri­ces befo­re the break-out of the cri­sis and advan­ta­ge­ous finan­cial busi­ness (»kull-hedging«). The loo­kout seems less bright: Store Nor­ske has to deal with fal­ling world mar­ket pri­ces, can­cel­la­ti­on of orders, and dete­rio­ra­ting coal qua­li­ty in the lar­gest mine, »Svea Nord«, near Sveagru­va, whe­re 2 mil­li­on tons were mined last year. The mine is expec­ted to be clo­sed in 2014; Store Nor­ske has plans to open ano­t­her mine in the area.

The future of mine 7, the only mine near Lon­gye­ar­by­en still in ope­ra­ti­on, is uncer­tain as it has been pro­du­cing defi­ci­ts for a num­ber of years.

Coal mining, quo vadis? He does not know eit­her. (miner in Lon­gye­ar­by­en)

Coal mining economy

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Snow mobi­les and alco­hol

The Sys­sel­man­nen (poli­ce) con­trol­led a group of snow mobi­le tou­rists who whe­re just about to start their tour. The result was impres­si­ve: 10 out of 35 had alco­hol in their blood and were not allo­wed to par­ti­ci­pa­te. The Sys­sel­man­nen calls atten­ti­on to valid gene­ral traf­fic and spe­cial snow scoo­ter regu­la­ti­ons, which inclu­des a very strict “don’t drink and dri­ve” poli­cy and poten­ti­al­ly seve­re fines.

Watch out for snow mobi­les with poten­ti­al­ly dark back­ground!

Snow mobiles and alcohol

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

High pesti­ci­de levels in Spits­ber­gen

Recent ana­ly­sis of snow and ice of gla­ciers in the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go has shown signi­fi­cant levels of pesti­ci­des, which are not used local­ly and thus come from long-distance sources in Euro­pe and over­seas. The rele­vant pesti­ci­des are long-lived and take very long time to break down, espe­cial­ly in cold cli­ma­te con­di­ti­ons. Today, they are most­ly ban­ned. The amounts thought to be pre­sent in Spits­ber­gen are up to about one ton of some pesti­ci­des, but vary local­ly.

Fur­ther rese­arch is nee­ded to inves­ti­ga­te poten­ti­al thre­ats to the envi­ron­ment.

Is the ice as clean as it seems, or…?

High pesticide levels in Spitsbergen - Alkefjellet

Source: Sval­bard Sci­ence Forum

Gold rush in St. Jonsfjord

In 2009, the Nor­we­gi­an mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske car­ri­ed out first inves­ti­ga­ti­ons to find poten­ti­al gold occur­ren­ces in St. Jonsfjord, north of Isfjord. Results show that the poten­ti­al is signi­fi­cant. Store Nor­ske intends to do dril­lings to fur­ther deter­mi­ne the poten­ti­al of valu­able metals. The aut­ho­ri­ties (Sys­sel­man­nen) have now given per­mis­si­on for the dril­lings under strict envi­ron­men­tal con­di­ti­ons.

St. Jonsfjord is out­side the pro­tec­ted are­as, which means that the future may see a new mine in Spits­ber­gen.

St. Jonsfjord

Gold rush in St. Jonsfjord

Quel­le: Sval­bard­pos­ten

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