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Yearly Archives: 2011 − News & Stories


Polar bears

An interesting article about polar bears in the light of climate change has been published by the Russian Academy of Science. Click here to read the article.

Little polar bear family in northern Spitsbergen. Polar bears have to cope with climate change and environmental toxins and face accordingly an uncertain future.

Polar bear family

Libya and the north pole

The new Libyan government has announced a flight to the north pole together with representatives of NATO member states that took part in the 2011 military campaign. The flight aims at an increase of the feeling for togetherness within the Libyan society and a positive reception in the world public.

The Sysselmannen has, however, denied permission for a fuel stop in Longyearbyen. The organizers of the flight said they were disappointed and would try to take the issue up to a political level.

Longyearbyen airport: Not available to the Libyan government on their way to the north pole.

Libya and the north pole - data-lazy-src=

Spitsbergen: UNESCO world heritage site?

Parts of Spitsbergen may be added to the world heritage site list of the UNESCO. In 2012, a working group of the Norwegian government will start to compile an application that can be submitted to the UNESCO at a later stage.

Spitsbergen: Unique nature and history and thus a potential UNESCO world heritage site. Here remains of a blubber oven from 17th century whaling at Smeerenburg.

Spitsbergen: UNESCO world heritage site? - data-lazy-src=

Ny Ålesund: new geodetic station

Until now the geodetic station in Ny Ålesund is situated near the airfield, about 1 km from the village. The Norwegian topographic agency that is running the station intends to build a new station near the coast at Brandalspynten, a peninsula not far from Ny Ålesund. This is controversial because there is a general consensus that the environment near Ny Ålesund is to be kept in a natural condition as much as possible, to preserve the ecological and scientific values. The Norwegian ministry for the environment has now announced that permission will be given to build the new station.

It is expected that 5 years will be needed to build the new station and both stations will run parallel for 3 years to synchronize the data.

The old geodetic station at the airfield near Ny Ålesund

Ny Ålesund Geodetic station

Source: Norwegisches Umweltministerium

New coal mine at Lunckefjellet

The Norwegian department of economy and trade has announced that permission for a new coal mine at Lunckefjellet will be given. The mining company Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani (SNSK) has applied for this permission to replace the mines at Sveagruva, which are declining in terms of quality and quantity of coal. The department has mentioned mainly economical reaons.

The Norwegian department of economy and trade is the most important shareholder of the SNSK.

Opening a new mine close to a national park is a controversial matter. The Norwegian government keeps saying it wants Svalbard to become “the best administered wilderness in the world” and pushes to close major areas to the public (see first December note). To the Norwegian government, opening a new mine near a ecologically very important tundra area seems to be less environmentally harmfull than small boats, rubber boots and limited visitor numbers in barren areas.

Environmental obligations, including a cleanup after the end of mining activities, are part of the permission.

Reindalen. The new mine will be directly south of it (right side).

Reindalen

Source: Norwegisches Wirtschafts- und Handelsministerium

East Svalbard

The working group of the Sysselmannen has produced a map as a base for the ongoing discussion about a management plan for east Svalbard. The current proposal will be forwarded to the Norwegian directorate for nature administration in January 2012. Later, it will go through another public hearing. The map below is the basis for the current proposal.

East Svalbard

The current proposal distinguishes several zones for eastern Svalbard:
 
Zone A: »scientific reference area«, which will most likely be a no go area for everybody except a few scientists selected by the administration.
Zone B: No traffic during the breeding season.
Zone C: specific site-specific guidelines
Zone D: local bans on traffic at cultural heritage sites, in force since 2010
Zone E: Kong Karls Land (already off limits)
 
Map: Sysselmannen

Source: Sysselmannen

Polar bear research: field season 2010

Every year, field biologists from the Norwegian Polar Institute work on Polar bears in Spitsbergen by anesthetizing them from helicopters. Then, the bears are measured, samples are taken and in some cases a sender is attached to the bear to follow their migrations. Due to adverse weather conditions, the 2010 season was less successful than usual: only 53 bears were caught, including 25 adults, the remaining younger ones. 70 % of these 53 had been caught before.

This kind of work, that often involves following fleeing bears for some distance with helicopters, is controversial, but data regarding population, migration and concentrations of environmental toxins would be difficult to aquire otherwise.

Polar bear family, Spitsbergen

Polar bear research - field season 2010

Sources: Svalbardposten, Norwegisches Polarinstitut.

High levels of environmental toxins in Glaucous gulls

First results of fieldwork for a master thesis by Anja Johansen Haugerud show that glaucous gulls in Spitsbergen are still suffering from environmental toxins. Samples taken in Kongsfjord in 2010 and 2011 were found to have high levels of substances such as PFC, PCB, PFAS which are used for example in impregnation for outdoor clothing, fire extinguishing foams and surface finishing of frying pans and cooking pots and assumed to have negative effects on, amongst others, the hormone system.

Glaucous gull in Spitsbergen

High levels of environmental toxins in Glaucous gulls - data-lazy-src=

Goldrush in St. Jonsfjord

The public hearing regarding the application for further geological investigations of the gold occurrence near St. Jonsfjord is completed. 12 Institutions including the Norwegian Polar Institute and several governmental departments have forwarded their comments to the Sysselmannen, who will consider them when issuing the detailed requirements for the environmental auditing.

The current procedure concerns is limited to geological investigations, including drilling. In case the occurrence should be economical, then the application for a potential mine would be a completely new process on a larger scale and with open outcome.

St. Jonsfjord is at the west coast of Spitsbergen, between Isfjord and Kongsfjord, outside the protected areas

Goldrush in St. Jonsfjord

Source: Sysselmannen

MS Nordstjernen: final season in 2012

MS Nordstjernen, built in 1956 in Hamburg, is one of the last classical, old-style Hurtigruten ships. Until 2008 she was a regular summer guest in Spitsbergen; since then, she was used in regular traffic along the Norwegian coast. In 2011, she will be back for one last season in Spitsbergen for a classical programme of 3-day cruises along the west and north coast.

MS Nordstjernen is the last ship in Spitsbergen carrying out cruises that remind of the style of classical cruises of the earlier 20th century. After the 2012 season, she will be taken out of traffic.

A classical ship at a classical place: MS Nordstjernen in Magdalenefjord

Nordstjernen

Source: Svalbardposten

Military use of SvalSat?

The Spitsbergen treaty (often called “Svalbard treaty”) does not allow military facilities in Svalbard. It has often been a matter of debate what is actually to be considered a “military facility”, but permanent installations may clearly not serve military purposes.

The Norwegian author Bård Wormdal has now claimed in a new book that the satellite antennas of SvalSat on Platåberg near Longyearbyen are regularly used to download data from military satellites. Wormdal wrote this happened, amongst others, during the NATO operations in Libya. This would be a clear violation of the rules of the Spitsbergen treaty, which is still in force.

SvalSat is a system of satellite antennas to download data from satellites in polar orbits. The 7 antennas are owned by Kongsberg Satellite Services who is responsible for the overall operation, EUMETSAT, NASA and the American weather service. Services such as GPS and the future European equivalent Galileo also buy capacities.

SvalSat on Platåberg near Longyearbyen: Civil or “dual use”?.

SvalSat

Source: NRK Nyheter

Narcotica abuse in Longyearbyen

In Longyearbyen, it is an open secret that drugs beyond legal ones are being consumed by locals. During the last weekend, the Sysselmannen together with the Norwegian mainland police have caught 9 persons in connection to drug abuse, 2 of them also for dealing. All 9 are locals.

Haze in the arctic: not always a pure nature experience.

Ismasefjellet

Source: Sysselmannen

Temperate water in Spitsbergen’s fjords

Temperate Atlantic water has entered the fjords on the west coast of Spitsbergen, resulting in a decreasing chance for a large-scale solid ice-cover in coastal waters compared to last winter. The relatively strong ice-formation of last year may be amongst the reasons: the cold, salty water that sinks down gives way to inflowing Atlantic watermasses.

In the end, the wind conditions are decisive for fjord ice formation.

Fjordeisbildung braucht ruhiges, kaltes Wetter. Hier Eis in Auflösung im Juni, Liefdefjord.

Temperate water in Spitsbergen’s fjords - data-lazy-src=

Compulsory pilotage?

The Norwegian ministry for fishery and coast has plans to introduce compulsory pilotage in Svalbard for certain ships, such as passenger vessels with a length of 70 metres or more and a width of 20 metres or more, possibly also smaller ones, 24 metres long or more. Background is a report that states that cruise tourism involves a „serious environmental risk“, such as oil leakage in case of groundings.

Before relevant legislation may come into force, it has to go through a hearing process.

Ship aground: always a bad thing. Here the former coastguard ship Kongsøy on well charted rocks near Smeerenburg.

Compulsory pilotage? - Kongsoy

Source: Svalbardposten

Longyearbyen Lokalstyre elected

Big Spitsbergen policy comes from Oslo and partly from the Sysselmannen in Longyearbyen, who is appointed by the government in Oslo. Longyearbyen Lokalstyre has rather the function of community council. During elections on October 9 and 10, 907 out of 1592 voters have elected the new Lokalstyre. Arbeiderpartiet (Socialists) won with by far with 43,7 % of all votes.

The political differences between the 5 parties in Longyearbyen are rather small. The most colourful programme may be that of the „Konsekvenslista“, which has 2 elected members in the Lokalstyre. Their main goal of closing the Lokalstyre is considered chanceless even by themselves, but they see their main task in being political watchdogs.

Longyearbyen: In 100 years from company town to local democracy.

Longyearbyen Lokalstyre elected - data-lazy-src=

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