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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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