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Home → April, 2012

Monthly Archives: April 2012 − News & Stories


Spe­ci­es “polar bear” older than belie­ved so far

So far it has been assu­med that the spe­ci­es polar bear (Ursus mari­ti­mus) has a rather recent ori­gin in the upper Plei­sto­ce­ne, may­be 100.000 or maxi­mum 200.000 years ago. This would indi­ca­te a very clo­se rela­ti­ons­hip to brown bears and a quick adap­ti­on to the high arc­tic envi­ron­ment.

A stu­dy recent­ly publis­hed in Sci­ence has now indi­ca­ted a much older ori­gin for the spe­ci­es. The aut­hors sug­gest an evo­lu­tio­na­ry age of appro­xi­mate­ly 600.000 years (con­fi­dence inter­vall 338.000 to 934.000 years, mid- to lower Plei­sto­ce­ne). Older stu­dies are sup­po­sed to be mis­led by gene­ti­cal con­ta­mi­na­ti­on from cross-bree­ding, an error source belie­ved to be avoided in the new stu­dy.

Polar bears as a spe­ci­es have accord­in­gly had signi­fi­cant­ly more time to adapt from the sub-arc­tic habi­tat of brown bears to the high arc­tic. If this has any impli­ca­ti­ons for the adap­t­ati­on time of polar bears to recent chan­ges in envi­ron­ment and cli­ma­te remains an unans­we­red ques­ti­on at the time being.

Small polar bear fami­ly in Spits­ber­gen. Their ances­tors were alrea­dy roa­ming through the ice in mid-Plei­sto­ce­ne times.

Species polar bear older than believed so far - Polar bear family, Spitsbergen

Source: Sci­ence

East Green­land 2013

Star­ting in 2013, Rolf Stan­ge and the “Geo­gra­phi­sche Rei­se­ge­sell­schaft” will be offe­ring trips not only in Spits­ber­gen, but also in East Green­land. We will spend some days in Ammas­sa­lik and then board the Ice­lan­dic schoo­ner Hil­dur to explo­re Scores­by­sund, the world’s lar­gest fjord sys­tem, for a week.

The trip will be Ger­man spea­king. Click here for more info: East Green­land 2013.

Hil­dur in Scores­by­sund, East Green­land.

East Greenland 2013 - Hildur in Scoresbysund

Big oil is watching Spits­ber­gen

The oil and gas indus­try will focus rese­arch acti­vi­ties on on-shore are­as of Spits­ber­gen. Even though oil and gas pro­duc­tion is unli­kely on the islands not only for fra­gi­le legal rea­sons, but also due to more solid geo­lo­gi­cal cir­cum­s­tan­ces: here it is easy to stu­dy what is hid­den under the sea floor fur­ther south in the Bar­ents Sea. The so-cal­led Bar­ents Shelf is belie­ved to have signi­fi­cant poten­ti­al for hydro­car­bon pro­duc­tion.

Main­ly of inte­rest are Tri­as­sic and Juras­sic sedi­ments that are rich in orga­nic mate­ri­al and wide­ly spread in cen­tral and sou­the­as­tern parts of Sval­bard. Equi­va­lents of the­se rocks near the Nor­we­gi­an coast have alrea­dy tur­ned out to be pro­duc­ti­ve. Several oil com­pa­nies have alrea­dy announ­ced their inte­rest to con­duct geo­lo­gi­cal excur­si­ons to the­se parts of Sval­bard.

Tri­as­sic rocks in Sas­senda­len. The­se rocks are inte­res­ting for the oil and gas indus­try.

Big oil is watching Spitsbergen - Triassic sediments, Sassendalen

Source: Net­ta­vi­sen for Geo­mil­jøet

Eas­ter keeps the winter’s pro­mi­se

After a disap­poin­ting ear­ly sea­son, the Eas­ter wee­kend brought dream con­di­ti­ons in Spits­ber­gen: good ter­rain con­di­ti­ons for tours and bright sunshi­ne. All tho­se who went out on tours by snow mobi­le, ski or dog sledge could enjoy won­der­ful days in a friend­ly win­ter arc­tic. Tra­di­tio­nal­ly, both locals and tou­rists are out in the­se days in con­si­derable num­bers. Nevertheless, it was a calm wee­kend for the emer­gen­cy ser­vices: a polar bear that was seen near Lon­gye­ar­by­en tur­ned out to be a rein­de­er, and an avalan­che trig­ge­red by a a per­son on ski did not do any dama­ge.

Even the ice seems to come to the coasts slow­ly, both the drift in the north and east and the fast ice in the fjords, but not to the degree that is nor­mal in April. The sai­ling boat Noor­der­licht, that is usual­ly fro­zen in the ice in Tem­pel­fjord, even visi­ted Lon­gye­ar­by­en befo­re Eas­ter, but retur­ned to stay in an ice chan­nel that had been crea­ted in 7 hours work with axes and chain saws. The first visi­tors could alrea­dy be wel­co­med on the “ship in the ice”.

The only bad news seems to be rumours about repeated dis­tur­ban­ce of a young polar bear fami­ly on the east coast of Spits­ber­gen by incon­si­de­ra­te or even reck­less snow mobi­le dri­vers. It is said that the­se are indi­vi­du­al locals from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Com­p­lains have been filed both by other locals and by orga­nis­ed tou­rist groups.

Ski hiking in Spits­ber­gen.

Easter keeps the winter's promise - Gipsdalen

The “boat in the ice”

Nor­mal­ly in April, the sai­ling boat Noor­der­licht is fro­zen in solid ice in Tem­pel­fjord to ser­ve as a desti­na­ti­on for snows­coo­ter or dog sledge tours. This year, the “boat in the ice” is a “boat without ice”: until now, the fjords have sim­ply not fro­zen due to the lar­ge­ly unusual­ly mild wea­ther and the high water tem­pe­ra­tures. Befo­re Eas­tern, Noor­der­licht even left Tem­pel­fjord to visit Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

The ice chart shows an unusu­al lack of fast ice for the sea­son. Nor­mal­ly, most smal­ler fjords on the west coast and lar­ge are­as in the east are fro­zen over with solid fast ice in April. But what is “nor­mal” the­se days?

The “boat in the ice”: Noor­der­licht in Tem­pel­fjor­den, April 2010.

The boat in the ice: Noorderlicht in Tempelfjorden, April 2010

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

PCB-con­cen­tra­ti­ons in polar bears on the decre­a­se

Hard to belie­ve, but the­re are good news for polar bears: bio­lo­gists from the uni­ver­si­ty of Trond­heim (Nor­way) have done rese­arch on tis­sue sam­ples collec­ted from fema­le polar bears. Their results show that poly­chlora­ted biphe­nyls (PCB) have drop­ped signi­fi­cant­ly bet­ween 1998 and 2008. The values for young bears are 59 % lower and tho­se of adult fema­les have decre­a­sed by 55 %. The actu­al con­cen­tra­ti­ons are still well capa­ble of doing harm to a bear’s repro­duc­ti­ve and immu­ne sys­tem, but the trend is without doubt good news.

PCBs have been used world­wi­de for mul­ti­ple tech­ni­cal pro­ces­ses, inclu­ding coo­ling agents and electric parts. Sin­ce 2004, the­re is a ban on PCB pro­duc­tion wit­hin the Stock­holm con­ven­ti­on sys­tem that has been signed by most major coun­tries, with a few excep­ti­ons, noti­ce­ab­ly the USA.

Small polar bear fami­ly in sum­mer drift ice north of Spits­ber­gen.

PCB-concentrations in polar bears on the decrease - Polar bears

Source: Uni­ver­si­tät Trond­heim

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