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Home → March, 2012

Monthly Archives: March 2012 − News & Stories

Glau­cous gulls threa­tened by envi­ron­men­tal toxins

Long-lived envi­ron­men­tal toxins from indus­tri­al pro­ces­ses and con­ven­tio­nal agri­cul­tu­re end­an­ger spe­ci­es that are high up in the food chain, inclu­ding polar bears, ivory gulls and glau­cous gulls. This is well known and a num­ber of stu­dies have been made on the phyio­lo­gi­cal effects of the harm­ful sub­s­tan­ces, which in the arc­tic are espe­cial­ly long-lived becau­se of the cold tem­pe­ra­tures, on the indi­vi­du­al ani­mal.

Sci­en­tists from the Nor­we­gi­an insti­tu­te for rese­arch on natu­re (NINA) have now tried to quan­ti­fy the effects on a popu­la­ti­on level. The stu­dy has been made on glau­cous gulls on Bear Island. One of the results is that glau­cous gulls with high levels of toxins have alar­ming annu­al sur­vi­val rates of only 40-50 %.

Every year, dead glau­cous gulls are found on Bear Island that have high values of rele­vant sub­s­tan­ces in their tis­su­es. Due to its posi­ti­on and local cli­ma­te, Bear Island has some of the hig­hest con­cen­tra­ti­ons of envi­ron­men­tal toxins in the who­le Arc­tic.

Sam­pling a skua on Bear Island.

Glaucous gulls threatened by environmental toxins - Sampling a skua on Bear Island

Source: NINA

Bad win­ter sea­son

The warm and wet win­ter wea­ther has so far gone bad­ly over the sea­son. Both tou­rists and local tou­ring enthu­si­asts are suf­fe­ring from bad ter­rain con­di­ti­ons. Several spells of tem­pe­ra­tures well abo­ve free­zing and hea­vy rain have tur­ned snow into ice. The fjords have lar­ge­ly remai­ned open, rather than free­zing over. Popu­lar desti­na­ti­ons such as Kapp Lin­né and Noor­der­licht, the “boat in the ice” which is nor­mal­ly fro­zen in fast ice in Tem­pel­fjord in mid March, can hard­ly be reached. The situa­ti­on deman­ds a lot of fle­xi­bi­li­ty from tou­rists and tour ope­ra­tors.

Blue ice ins­tead of snow: then it is bet­ter to stay at home.

Bad winter season - Sassendalen

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (1112)

Drug abu­se in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

In autumn last year the poli­ce caught 11 young peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en with drugs. 10 of them have by now been sen­ten­ced to fines or pri­son up to 60 days (part­ly sus­pen­ded). Next to owning and sel­ling amounts of up to 100 g of can­na­bis, one per­son was also char­ged for breaching laws regu­la­ting fire­arms becau­se of impro­per sto­rage. Two per­sons were expel­led from Spits­ber­gen for up to 4 years. The local news­pa­per Sval­bard­pos­ten found out last year (after the drug raz­zia) in an inter­net poll that 911 out of 1060 rea­ders are in favor of expel­ling drug users and dea­lers from Spits­ber­gen.

The cri­mi­na­li­ty level is com­pa­ra­tively minor and main­ly direc­ted at covering own deman­ds, but has to be seen in the con­text of a small, iso­la­ted town with many young inha­bi­tants. The can­na­bis was smug­gled from Nor­way to Lon­gye­ar­by­en by mail.

In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, grass is not only gro­wing on the tun­dra.

Drug abuse in Longyearbyen: Cottongrass, Longyearbyen

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen, Sval­bard­pos­ten (1112)

Rese­arch per­mis­si­on denied

It seems as if per­mis­si­on for archaeo­lo­gi­cal rese­arch is now more often denied than given. In sum­mer 2011, vete­ran Rus­si­an archaeo­lo­gist Vadim Star­kov wan­ted to exca­va­te a Pomor site in Bet­ty­buk­ta in sou­thern Spits­ber­gen, but did not get per­mis­si­on from the Sys­sel­man­nen. Now ano­t­her app­li­ca­ti­on from Star­kov was tur­ned down. Star­kov wan­ted to docu­ment a Rus­si­an ship­w­reck, pro­bab­ly dating into the 18th or ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry, in Van Mijen­fjor­den. Parts of the wreck were pro­bab­ly used as fire­wood or buil­ding mate­ri­al. The wreck is lying on dry ground, but is most­ly cove­r­ed with soil. The inten­ti­on was to remo­ve the soil, docu­ment the wreck and cover it again. The Sys­sel­man­nen has now denied per­mis­si­on becau­se of the poten­ti­al risk of dama­ge to the wreck from wind and wea­ther during the peri­od of work. A final decisi­on will be made in Oslo (Rik­san­tik­va­ren).

Less of a sur­pri­se was the decisi­on not to fol­low a Rus­si­an app­li­ca­ti­on to build a recon­struc­ted Pomor house at Rus­se­kei­la, west of Bar­ents­burg. The recon­struc­tion should have ser­ved as a muse­um and tou­rist desti­na­ti­on. Buil­dings out­side the pre­sent-day sett­le­ments are hard­ly ever per­mit­ted. Addi­tio­nal­ly, the site in ques­ti­on is near one of the most important archaeo­lo­gi­cal sites from the Pomor peri­od and insi­de a Geo­top (pro­tec­ted area becau­se of geo­lo­gi­cal values).

The Pomors had a lar­ge hun­ting sta­ti­on in Rus­se­kei­la, bet­ween Bar­ents­burg and Kapp Lin­né. The cross is a recon­struc­tion.

Research permission denied - Russekeila

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (1012)

“Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard” gui­de­book: 3rd edi­ti­on now avail­ab­le

The third edi­ti­on of the gui­de­book “Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard” is now avail­ab­le. The book has been out of print for a while, and an updated ver­si­on had to wait until other pro­jects were finis­hed.

The third edi­ti­on fol­lows the struc­tu­re of the second one, but has been revi­sed and impro­ved through lar­ge parts of its con­tents (text, illus­tra­ti­ons) – often con­cer­ning details, but this is what makes the dif­fe­rence, isn’t it?

Click here for fur­ther details: Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard (engl.).

The cur­rent edi­ti­on is the 15th book made and publis­hed by Rolf Stan­ge (inclu­ding trans­la­ti­ons and new edi­ti­ons).

The third edi­ti­on of “Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard”.

Spitsbergen-Svalbard guidebook - 3rd edition

Tou­rism and the arc­tic envi­ron­ment: a pro­blem – real­ly?

Nor­we­gi­an poli­ti­ci­ans and often also the public seem to be con­vin­ced that tou­rists and the arc­tic envi­ron­ment are two things that don’t go tog­e­ther well. Almost as a knee-jerk, the arc­tic envi­ron­ment is descri­bed as “fra­gi­le”. Based on such assump­ti­ons that are lacking docu­men­ta­ti­on, the admi­nis­tra­ti­on is about to intro­du­ce drastic steps such as clo­sing major are­as. Such steps, that don’t even aim at an envi­ron­men­tal bene­fit but are rather to estab­lish lar­ge pri­va­te play­grounds (“refe­rence are­as”) for the admin­stra­ti­on and sci­ence that the admi­nis­tra­ti­on con­si­ders rele­vant, are lar­ge­ly based on the “føre var” prinsip­pet, the pre­cau­tio­na­ry princip­le. Gene­ral­ly a good thing, but less so if strai­ned bey­ond any limit to hide the lack of docu­men­ted know­ledge that should rather be the base for good admi­nis­tra­ti­on.

Such an overs­train of the “pre­cau­tio­na­ry princip­le” due to a lack of docu­men­ted know­ledge as a base for drastic admi­nis­tra­ti­ve steps have in recent years led to ongo­ing con­tro­ver­sal dis­cus­sions and to a decre­a­sing accep­t­ance of the admi­nis­tra­ti­on and thus to a pro­blem of legi­ti­ma­cy.

The Nor­we­gi­an Insti­tu­te for Natu­re Rese­arch (NINA) has iden­ti­fied this as a pro­blem and has now publis­hed a report based on data collec­ted during 3 field sea­sons in Spits­ber­gen (2008-2010) on 30 loca­ti­ons. NINA has obser­ved tou­rist groups, con­duc­ted inter­views with tou­rists and gui­des and asses­sed the vul­nera­bi­li­ty of sites in terms of vege­ta­ti­on, ani­mals, ter­rain and his­to­ri­cal sites. Accord­ing to the report, the gui­des have a key posi­ti­on to influ­ence the beha­viour of tou­rists and their moving pat­terns. The report does not pro­vi­de a con­clu­ding ans­wer to the ques­ti­on if tou­rism is harm­ful to the arc­tic envi­ron­ment, but makes clear that the­re is no simp­le yes or no to this ques­ti­on, and points out the lack of avail­ab­le know­ledge upon which an assess­ment can be made, also as a base for admi­nis­tra­ti­ve steps.

Tou­rists ashore on an island in Lief­defjord: how much dama­ge do they actual­ly do?

Tourism and the arctic environment - Liefdefjord

Source: NINA

Heli­co­p­ter traf­fic in Spits­ber­gen

Heli­co­p­ter lan­dings out­side the offi­cial air­fiel­ds are princi­pal­ly not allo­wed and can only be car­ri­ed out with spe­cial per­mis­si­on from the Sys­sel­man­nen. Now figu­res have been publis­hed to illus­tra­te heli­co­p­ter lan­dings in the field in 2011: the total num­ber was no less than 2403. Out of the­se, 1729 were con­nec­ted to mining and mine­ral explo­ra­ti­on, 335 were in the con­text of sci­ence. Admi­nis­tra­ti­ve heli­co­p­ter use, which can safe­ly be assu­med to be sub­stan­ti­al, is not inclu­ded.

Per­mis­si­ons for tou­ris­tic heli­co­p­ter use are princi­pal­ly not given.

Over­view of lan­dings in the field over the who­le Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go in 2011. Traf­fic hot spots were, as could be expec­ted, the poten­ti­al gold field in St. Jonsfjord and the new coal mine at Lunck­ef­jel­let. But a lar­ge num­ber of lan­dings has also taken place any­whe­re, inclu­ding the remo­test, other­wi­se strict­ly pro­tec­ted are­as. (Map © Sys­sel­man­nen på Sval­bard)

Helicopter traffic in Spitsbergen - Helicopter landings in the field

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Polar bear attack in Tem­pel­fjord

In August 2011, a 17 year old stu­dent was kil­led and 4 other ones inju­red when a very aggres­si­ve polar bear atta­cked their camp (see ear­lier arti­cles on the­se pages). The Sys­sel­man­nen has now deci­ded to clo­se the case. Accord­ing to Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties, the cau­se for the tra­gic event was “a num­ber of unfor­tu­n­a­te cir­cum­s­tan­ces that led to the tra­gic acci­dent”, but not invol­ving any cri­mi­nal offence. The case will accord­in­gly be clo­sed.

The par­ents do not agree with the Sysselmannen’s decisi­on to clo­se the case and have filed a com­p­laint to The public pro­se­cu­tors’ office of Troms and Finn­mark.

The polar bear that atta­cked the group in Tem­pel­fjor­den was at least has hungry as this very thin bear in Duve­fjord (Nord­aus­t­land). Addi­tio­nal­ly it had strong pain from the bad con­di­ti­on of his teeth.

Polar bear attack in Tempelfjord - Polar bear, Duvefjord

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

IMO: polar code not befo­re 2015

The IMO (Inter­na­tio­nal Mari­ti­me Orga­niz­a­ti­on) is an agen­cy of the UN to pro­du­ce a legal frame­work that con­trols mari­ti­me acti­vi­ty glo­bal­ly. Work on a polar code has star­ted years ago to ensu­re safe­ty of ship­ping in polar waters. Aspects of the polar code touch various fiel­ds such as the con­struc­tion of ships, safe­ty equip­ment and qua­li­fi­ca­ti­ons of Cap­tains and nau­ti­cal offi­cers, to men­ti­on a few. The envi­ron­ment is an important major focus.

The mat­ter is com­plex and part­ly con­tro­ver­si­al. A decisi­on will not be made in 2012 as ori­gi­nal­ly sche­du­led, but is now expec­ted for late 2014. The slow pro­cess is cri­ti­zi­sed by envi­ron­men­tal orga­nis­z­a­ti­ons. The pro­noun­ced incre­a­se of ship traf­fic espe­cial­ly of car­go ships and oil tan­kers in cer­tain are­as such as the nor­thwest and nor­the­ast pas­sa­ge (Canada/Alaska, Rus­sia) gives inde­ed rea­son for envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns. On the other hand, natio­nal governments can alrea­dy imple­ment important legis­la­ti­on in many are­as. The Nor­we­gi­an has intro­du­ced an envi­ron­ment­al­ly important ban on hea­vy oil in Spits­ber­gen in recent years. A simi­lar ban is in for­ce in Ant­arc­ti­ca sin­ce August 2011.

Part of the dis­cus­sion is a gene­ral ban on all ships that are older than a cer­tain year such as 1996. If such a drastic step, which would have drastic con­se­quen­ces for many ships, would be equal­ly bene­fi­cial for safe­ty and envi­ron­ment, is in many cases con­tro­ver­si­al. In the past, smal­ler ice-going ves­sels were often built very stron­gly. It would most­ly be dif­fi­cult or impos­si­ble to replace such ves­sels ade­qua­te­ly.

The com­ple­xi­ty of the who­le mat­ter is incre­a­sed by the fact that it con­cerns huge are­as with a wide diver­si­ty of all kinds of con­di­ti­ons. The west coast of Spits­ber­gen, for examp­le, is ice-free for most of the year and usual­ly easi­ly acces­si­ble for all kinds of ships. The use of ice­brea­kers in this area, which is small but has a lot of local traf­fic, would be a gre­at and envi­ron­ment­al­ly con­tra­pro­duc­ti­ve was­te of fuel and resour­ces. The near-by nor­the­as­tern cor­ner of Green­land is in con­trast one of the are­as with the most seve­re ice con­di­ti­ons on the pla­net even in sum­mer and can only be reached with hea­vy ice­brea­kers. Simi­lar regio­nal dif­fe­ren­ces exist in Ant­arc­ti­ca, as is made clear by the com­pa­ri­son bet­ween the ice-free nor­thwes­tern area of the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la with the ice-cove­r­ed cen­tral Wed­dell and Ross Seas.

The Swe­dish ice­brea­ker Oden at the west coast of Spits­ber­gen (June 2008, with the 3 heirs to the Scan­di­na­vi­an thro­nes on board).

IMO polar code not before 2015 - data-lazy-src=

The small Swe­dish ship Stock­holm, here at the north coast of Spits­ber­gen, was built in 1953 and is thus one of the oldest ships that is regu­lar­ly sai­ling in the­se waters, but also one of the most robust ones.

MS Stockholm

Sources: IMO, taz


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