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Yearly Archives: 2012 − News & Stories


Mer­ry Christ­mas!

… and a hap­py new year!

Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Envi­ron­men­tal toxins: new com­pounds found in Spits­ber­gen

A group of envi­ron­men­tal toxins that is new to the Arc­tic has recent­ly been tra­ced down in Spits­ber­gen. The so-cal­led sil­ox­ans are part of many cos­me­tics such as deodo­rants and others. Sil­ox­ans are very vola­ti­le, which means they can escape into the air very easi­ly and can then be trans­por­ted over lar­ge distances even to the remo­test part of the glo­be. This in its­elf is enough reason for con­cern.

In con­trast to known envi­ron­men­tal toxins such as PCB’s, sil­ox­ans are not quick­ly absor­bed and incor­po­ra­ted in the food chain, but tend to stay lon­ger in the atmo­sphe­re. The ques­ti­on if this is good or bad remains to be ans­we­red. It may increase the chan­ce of the com­pounds being bro­ken down natu­ral­ly, which hap­pens under the influence of sun­light during the sum­mer, befo­re they can do harm to orga­nisms. The con­cen­tra­ti­on of sil­ox­ans near 1 nano­gram per cubic met­re of air seems to be low, but is up to 1000 times hig­her than for PCB’s, for exam­p­le, which are known to have nega­ti­ve effects on spe­ci­es such as Polar bears and Glau­cous gulls.

The envi­ron­men­tal con­se­quence of sil­ox­ans still needs to be inves­ti­ga­ted. Detec­ting them in the envi­ron­ment is tech­ni­cal­ly dif­fi­cult, which is one reason why they have been found only recent­ly in air samples from the Arc­tic. The samples were taken on Zep­pe­lin­fjel­let near Ny Åle­sund, Spits­ber­gen.

The air che­mis­try sta­ti­on on Zep­pe­lin­fjel­let near Ny Åle­sund.

Zeppelinfjellet, Ny Ålesund.

Source: Forskning.no

Coal mining in Spits­ber­gen: defi­ci­te in 2012

The Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen is expec­ted to yield a defi­ci­te in 2012: The mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske has announ­ced to be in the red during the ongo­ing year on a sca­le that the com­pa­ny has not seen sin­ce the ope­ning of the then new mine Svea Nord 12 years ago. Today, the main reason is a seve­ral months long pro­duc­tion stop in Svea, whe­re only mar­gi­nal parts of the coal are left: the qua­li­ty is on the decrease, the pro­por­ti­on of stones within the coal is going up, making a cos­t­ly gra­ding plant neces­sa­ry.

When the best parts of the coal seams in Svea Nord whe­re mined around 2003, the com­pa­ny would pro­du­ce as much as 12,854 tons per year and employee. In 2011, this value was down to 3,922 tons. The low coal pri­ces on the world mar­ket con­tri­bu­te to the dif­fi­cult situa­ti­on. The com­pa­ny plans to redu­ce the num­ber of employees from curr­ent­ly 380, but wants to achie­ve this wit­hout dis­mis­sals.

In recent years, Store Nor­ske lea­ders have recei­ved cri­ti­zism for focus­sing on lawsuits with sub­con­trac­tors and for­mer direc­tor Robert Her­man­sen, who was then con­vic­ted and is curr­ent­ly in pri­son, but nevert­hel­ess enjoys popu­la­ri­ty, rather than mining its­elf. Curr­ent­ly, Store Nor­ske is pre­pa­ring a new mine at Lun­ckef­jel­let, north of Sveagru­va, for mining. On the long term, the com­pa­ny aims at new mines in untouch­ed are­as, pos­si­bly at the moun­tain Ispal­len south of Sveagru­va or Ope­raf­jel­let east of Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen: eco­no­mic­al­ly curr­ent­ly facing dark times.

Norwegian coal mining, Spitsbergen.

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (4912)

SAR capa­ci­ties in Spits­ber­gen: 2 lar­ge heli­c­op­ters from 2014

The Nor­we­gi­an SAR (search and res­cue) ser­vices in Lon­gye­ar­by­en will have two lar­ge Super­pu­ma heli­c­op­ters at their dis­po­sal from 2014. Curr­ent­ly, the­re is one Super­pu­ma and a smal­ler heli­c­op­ter. A Super­pu­ma can car­ry up to 18 per­sons.

Until now, the­se heli­c­op­ters have been ope­ra­ted by the pri­va­te­ly owned com­pa­ny Air­lift AS, but in the future the con­tract will go to ano­ther Nor­we­gi­an com­pa­ny, Luft­trans­port AS. The Sys­sel­man­nen (gover­nor) is accor­din­gly not the owner of the heli­c­op­ters, but has lar­ge­ly con­trol over their use for offi­ci­al and SAR pur­po­ses.

Streng­thening the SAR capa­ci­ties in Lon­gye­ar­by­en will not only bene­fit locals, sci­en­tists, tou­rists and crews of fishing ves­sels, but poten­ti­al­ly also others in “neigh­bou­ring” regi­ons: in recent years, res­cue ope­ra­ti­ons from Lon­gye­ar­by­en rea­ched as far as north Green­land and Franz Josef Land.

Super­pu­ma-helocp­ter in Spits­ber­gen (here during an exer­cise).

SAR capacities in Spitsbergen - Rescue helicopter, Spitsbergen.

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Lon­gye­ar­by­en: power sta­ti­on on fire

Fri­day (7.12.) at 6.15 a.m., the fire alarm went in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, when a fire bro­ke out in the coal power plant. The plant is taken off the net and elec­tri­ci­ty is sup­pli­ed from the reser­ve plant, while the fire bri­ga­de is doing their work.

A com­ple­te refur­bish­ment of the coal power plant has been a mat­ter of poli­ti­cal deba­te for some time. The small arc­tic town is enti­re­ly depen­dent of a relia­ble sup­p­ly with both elec­tri­ci­ty and com­mu­ni­ty hea­ting. A las­ting real black­out would soon result in an evacua­ti­on of the popu­la­ti­on.

Amend­ment: the fire was under con­trol within a few hours. The ext­ent of dama­ge was still unknown at the time of wri­ting.

The coal power plant in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Power plant, Longyearbyen.

Source: Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re

Low flight over Polar bear

Sys­sel­man­nen and Nor­we­gi­an coast­guard are curr­ent­ly cri­ti­ci­zed for a low flight over a group of wal­rus­ses on Nord­aus­t­land, in the strict­ly pro­tec­ted natu­re reser­ve Nord­aust Sval­bard. A simi­lar event invol­ving a Polar bear has now been repor­ted. On July 11, a group of tou­rists of MS Quest had board­ed 5 Zodiacs to crui­se along drift ice sou­the­ast of Sjuøya­ne (north of Nord­aus­t­land). When a swim­ming Polar bear was seen from the ship, the Swe­dish expe­di­ti­on cal­led the boats tog­e­ther to avo­id dis­tur­ban­ce: fol­lo­wing swim­ming Polar bears with any moto­ri­zed vehic­les is strict­ly for­bidden (and would wit­hout any doubt be ruthl­ess).

A near­by small air­craft ope­ra­ted by the coast­guard caught the VHF con­ver­sa­ti­on bet­ween the gui­des and the ship. The crew of the air­craft deci­ded to check what was going on, resul­ting in low flights over the Zodiacs and the Polar bear.

The expe­di­ti­on lea­der belie­ved this to be a uni­que inci­dent, until news of the low flight over wal­rus­ses sur­faced recent­ly, and then deci­ded to wri­te a report. In a first reac­tion, the Sys­sel­man­nen announ­ced that the Zodiac ope­ra­ti­on of the tou­rists might have to be che­cked for poten­ti­al dis­tur­ban­ce of the bear. The fac­tu­al dis­tur­ban­ce of the pro­tec­ted ani­mal by the coast­guard air­craft does not seem to be a mat­ter of gre­at inte­rest for the Sys­sel­man­nen, who is the hig­hest repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment in Spits­ber­gen.

The coast­guard con­siders them­sel­ves a gene­ral poli­ce aut­ho­ri­ty for the waters around Spits­ber­gen, which are under Nor­we­gi­an legis­la­ti­on. Accor­ding to other views, the duty of the coast­guard is, in Spits­ber­gen waters, exclu­si­ve­ly to con­trol fishing ves­sels. Other con­trol may be car­ri­ed out in indi­vi­du­al cases, whe­re the need may ari­se, but gene­ral­ly, it is the Sys­sel­man­nen who con­trols tou­rism in Spits­ber­gen. Now it seems as if it is the duty of tou­rism – the clo­sest thing to the “public” in the rele­vant are­as – to con­trol the aut­ho­ri­ties in the field …

Low flight over Polar bears: An inci­dent in Hol­miabuk­ta, pho­to­gra­phed by the aut­hor on July 31, 2010, when the pre­sence of seve­ral bears in Hol­miabuk­ta was gene­ral­ly known. The heli­c­op­ter is mark­ed with a red cir­cle, a Polar bear with a yel­low cir­cle*. Click here for a lar­ger ver­si­on of this image.

Low flight over Polar bear: Holmiabukta, July 31, 2010.

Amend­ment (Decem­ber 04, 2012): Regar­ding the pho­to abo­ve, the Sys­sel­man­nen sta­ted that the­re was no heli­c­op­ter flight on behalf of the Sys­sel­man­nen in the area in ques­ti­on on July 31, 2010. Accor­ding to the Sys­sel­man­nen, the heli­c­op­ter in the pho­to was pos­si­bly char­te­red by a pri­va­te par­ty.

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (47/2012)

Fly­ing low over wal­rus­ses: judi­cial after­math

The low flight of an offi­ci­al air­plane over a group of wal­rus­ses, which was both very incon­side­ra­te and against valid rules, has been repor­ted befo­re on the­se pages (see Octo­ber news). The inci­dence now seems to have a judi­cial after­math. The affair has been repor­ted to the Nor­we­gi­an office for poli­ce mat­ters. The point of the report is, howe­ver, not the actu­al flight, but the hand­ling of fur­ther inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on. Fol­lo­wing regu­la­ti­ons and com­mon rou­ti­ne, rele­vant emails should have been published, but were not. This gives rise to the sus­pi­ci­on that it was tried to keep the inci­dent away from public atten­ti­on. Accor­ding to the offi­ci­al expl­ana­ti­on, this was not the case, an expl­ana­ti­on that will hard­ly sur­pri­se.

The flight was obser­ved by a group of tou­rists who final­ly repor­ted about the inci­dent to media.

Peaceful obser­va­ti­on of a group of wal­rus­ses. Use of air­craft clo­se to such a herd is neither allo­wed nor ani­mal fri­end­ly.

Flying low over walrusses - Walrusses, Spitsbergen.

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen.

Nor­t­hern Sea Rou­te: more traf­fic

Ship traf­fic through the Nor­t­hern Sea Rou­te, also known as Nor­the­ast Pas­sa­ge, has increased ten­fold sin­ce 2010. Two years ago, the pas­sa­ge was used by only 4 ves­sels, com­pared to 46 in 2012. This season’s last 2 ships, both Fin­nish ice­brea­k­ers, are still on their way.

Most ves­sels that used the Nor­t­hern Sea Rou­te in 2012 were car­go ships trans­port­ing oil, gas and fuels, fol­lo­wed by ore and coal. The rou­te was used for the first time to trans­port LNG (liqui­fied gas) in 2012, when a Nor­we­gi­an ves­sel sai­led from Ham­mer­fest to Japan.

The Nor­the­ast Pas­sa­ge was com­ple­ted for the first time in 1878/79 by the Swe­dish explo­rer Adolf Erik Nor­denskjöld. It is about 20 days shorter than the com­mon rou­te through the Suez Canal.

The Swe­dish ice­brea­k­er Oden near Spits­ber­gen.

Northern Sea Route: icebreaker Oden.

Source: Barents­ob­ser­ver

White Hump­back wha­le

The sight­ing of a rare white Hump­back wha­le in Hin­lo­pen Strait in August is get­ting big on various media around the world. The lucky pho­tos that Dan Fisher, mate and engi­neer on board SV Anti­gua, mana­ged to get, have by now been sold through agen­ci­es, appeared on seve­ral web­sites and made it onto north Ame­ri­can tele­vi­si­on.

Apart from the white Hump­back wha­le seen this sum­mer in Spits­ber­gen, only two more ani­mals of this rare kind are known so far, an adult and a calf, both seen off Queens­land, Aus­tra­lia.

Click here for a lar­ger ver­si­on of the pho­to below.

The now famous white Hump­back wha­le, pho­to­gra­phed on 11 August 2012 by Dan Fisher.

White Humpback whale

Mer­cu­ry in Polar bear liver

Polar bears can have high con­cen­tra­ti­ons of hea­vy metals and other long-lived envi­ron­men­tal toxins in their tis­sue. The­se toxins come from indus­try and agri­cul­tu­re in lower lati­tu­des, are trans­por­ted by air and sea curr­ents even to the remo­test parts of the Arc­tic whe­re they are taken up in the food chain, final­ly con­ta­mi­na­ting tho­se who are at its top: Polar bears and birds inclu­ding Glau­cous gulls. Con­se­quen­ces include nega­ti­ve impacts on repro­duc­ti­ve and immu­ne sys­tem and gene­ral health decli­ne.

A new stu­dy has shown dif­fe­rent levels of mer­cu­ry con­cen­tra­ti­on in Polar bear liver in dif­fe­rent parts of the Arc­tic, from Alas­ka through Cana­da to Green­land. The reason for the regio­nal dif­fe­ren­ces is belie­ved to be dif­fe­rent spe­ci­es in the lower part of the food chain: planc­ton spe­ci­es that are respon­si­ble for the incor­po­ra­ti­on of mer­cu­ry into the food chain.

The­re are no data from Spits­ber­gen, whe­re Polar bears are pro­tec­ted and Polar bear liver is accor­din­gly not available for sam­pling.

Mer­cu­ry sources include coal power plants with bad fil­ter sys­tems.

Polar bears: as if their life was not alre­a­dy dif­fi­cult enough wit­hout mer­cu­ry.

Mercury in Polar bear liver - Polar bear, Edgeøya

Source: Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te

East Green­land: flights to Score­s­by­sund

Sche­du­led flights to Consta­ble Point, the litt­le air­field near the sett­le­ment Itto­q­qor­toor­mi­it (Score­s­by­sund) in nor­t­hern East Green­land, will be more com­pli­ca­ted and expen­si­ve in the future. The Green­lan­dic govern­ment has deci­ded to ter­mi­na­te the con­tract for the tri­ang­le flight bet­ween Reykja­vik (Ice­land), Kulus­uk (near Amm­as­sa­lik, sou­thern East Green­land) and Consta­ble Point. Ins­tead, the­re will be a flight con­nec­tion bet­ween Consta­ble Point and the west coast of Green­land. Locals expect pro­blems for the local com­mu­ni­ty: more or less easy and afforda­ble trans­port from Score­s­by­sund to Euro­pe has been an important life­line during recent deca­des. Among­st others, a signi­fi­cant drop of num­bers in tou­rism is expec­ted. The num­ber of tou­rists visi­ting Itto­q­qor­toor­mi­it is still not lar­ge, but eco­no­mic­al­ly important for the com­mu­ni­ty.

This will also impli­ca­te chan­ges to our trips to Score­s­by­sund in 2013.

The litt­le air­field of Consta­ble Point, near Itto­q­qor­toor­mi­it (Score­s­by­sund).

East Greenland: flights to Scoresbysund, Constable Point

Snow cover in the arc­tic on the decrease

The snow cover in the Arc­tic is shrin­king more quick­ly than pre­dic­ted. In 1979, the begin­ning of the records, about 9 mil­li­on squa­re kilo­me­t­res of arc­tic land were snow cover­ed during the spring. Until now, the figu­re has shrunk to a mere 3 mil­li­on squa­re kilo­me­t­res, a loss rate of 21.5 % per deca­de. This is more than sci­en­tists had expec­ted.

The lar­ger share of snow-free ground absorbs sun radia­ti­on, tur­ning it into warmth, rather than reflec­ting it back into space, as snow would do. The result is a posi­ti­ve feed­back: a war­mer atmo­sphe­re leads to less snow, which again results in a fur­ther warm­ing of the atmo­sphe­re. In are­as with high accu­mu­la­ti­on of bio­mass, such as Sibe­ria and parts of Cana­da and Alas­ka, hig­her soil tem­pe­ra­tures will addi­tio­nal­ly lead to increased metha­ne emis­si­ons from the ground. Metha­ne is a very aggres­si­ve green­house gas.

Snow-rich tun­dra in Wood­fjord, mid June 2010.

Snow cover in the arctic on the decrease - Mushamna

Source: Geo­phy­si­cal Rese­arch Let­ters, Avi­sa Nord­land

Fishery zone around Spits­ber­gen

In Sep­tem­ber, a Nor­we­gi­an coast­guard ship brought a Ger­man traw­ler up near Hopen. The fishing ship had too much had­dock in its car­go. The fishing com­pa­ny got a fine of 55000 NOK (ca. 7500 Euro), but did not accept the fine.

The point is not the eco­no­mic­al­ly irrele­vant fine, but the prin­ci­pal ques­ti­on of the fishery zone around Spits­ber­gen: is the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty valid in the 200 mile zone, which other­wi­se gives exclu­si­ve eco­no­mic­al rights to the sove­reign sta­te? The Nor­we­gi­an ans­wer is a clear no: accor­ding to Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties, the Trea­ty, which gives all signa­to­ry count­ries and their citi­zens equal rights of access and eco­no­mic use of natu­ral resour­ces, is valid only within the 12 mile zone. Accor­ding to this view­point, Nor­way has exclu­si­ve rights within the 200 mile zone, out­side the 12 mile zone. Most count­ries do, howe­ver, agree, that the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, which is still valid, does not give Nor­way exclu­si­ve rights to any mari­ti­me area. The clear pur­po­se of the Trea­ty, signed in 1920, was to give all signa­to­ries equal access under Nor­we­gi­an admi­nis­tra­ti­on. The Ger­man ship owner, “Deut­sche Fische­rei­uni­on”, is now pre­pared to take this ques­ti­on of prin­ci­pal importance to Nor­we­gi­an courts.

Rus­si­an traw­ler off Horn­sund. Its pre­sence is based on the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty.

Fishery zone around Spitsbergen - Russian Trawler

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (4412)

Nor­we­gi­an for­eign minis­ter about arc­tic oil and gas

The Nor­we­gi­an for­eign minis­ter Espen Barth Eide has recent­ly said cle­ar­ly what he thinks about the future of arc­tic oil and gas explo­ita­ti­on. Accor­ding to him, the ques­ti­on of envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is rest­ric­ted to a sole­ly tech­ni­cal issue, but wit­hout fur­ther poli­ti­cal rele­van­ce. The idea of lea­ving arc­tic oil and gas in the ground is not a rele­vant ques­ti­on.

The fol­lo­wing quo­ta­ti­ons (trans­la­ted from Ger­man) are suf­fi­ci­ent to get an under­stan­ding of the mes­sa­ge of the Nor­we­gi­an minis­ter:

  • “The explo­ita­ti­on of arc­tic resour­ces will take place.”
  • “If you drill respon­si­bly, then the­re should not be any pro­blems.”
  • “Some peo­p­le have the wrong per­cep­ti­on, that the Arc­tic is a glo­bal heri­ta­ge as the Ant­ar­c­tic.”
  • “We do not need spe­ci­fic regu­la­ti­ons as in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca. The regi­on is not uni­que, com­pared to other open sea are­as.”

Oil riggs in the North Sea.

Norwegian foreign minister about arctic oil and gas - Oil riggs

The com­ple­te inter­view can be read in Ger­man on Spie­gel Online..

Dark nights and blue notes in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Fri­day, Octo­ber 26, was the offi­ci­al onset of the polar night. The sun will remain behind the hori­zon until Febru­ary 15. Becau­se of the moun­ta­ins sur­roun­ding Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the sun will not be seen again in town befo­re around March, 08.

The begin­ning of the polar night is tra­di­tio­nal­ly the time for the “Dark Sea­son Blues Fes­ti­val”, fea­turing local, Nor­we­gi­an and inter­na­tio­nal Blues acts. From Fri­day to Sun­day, good, hand­ma­de music can be seen and heard in Longyearbyen’s pubs.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en in the begin­ning of the polar night.

Dark nights and blue notes in Longyearbyen

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