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Monthly Archives: May 2012 − News & Stories


No “ozone hole” abo­ve the arc­tic this year

At least occa­sio­nal­ly, the­re are good news from the envi­ron­men­tal sec­tor: After the alar­mingly strong deple­ti­on of the stra­to­sphe­ric ozone con­cen­tra­ti­on in the high arc­tic mea­su­red in 2011, the “zone hole” seems to be “men­ded” by natu­re this year, as the­re hasn’t been any com­pa­ra­ble ozone loss this spring.

The reason is the slight­ly hig­her tem­pe­ra­tu­re in the hig­her atmo­sphe­re com­pared to last year: Only tem­pe­ra­tu­re lower than -78°C enable “ozone kil­lers”, arti­fi­ci­al com­pounds such as CFCs, tog­e­ther with sun radia­ti­on to crack ozone mole­cu­les.

Stra­to­sphe­ric ozone fil­ters lar­ge amounts of natu­ral UV radia­ti­on and is thus high­ly important for all living things, from sin­gle-cel­led orga­nisms to humans. Important sci­en­ti­fic work on the atmo­sphe­ric ozone is car­ri­ed out, among­st others, by the Alfred Wege­ner Insti­tu­te in Ny Åle­sund.

Radio­son­de to be released in Ny Åle­sund.

Radiosonde to be released in Ny Ålesund

Source: Spie­gel-Online

Polar bear attack in Tem­pel­fjor­den: case clo­sed in Nor­way

Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties will not con­ti­nue with any fur­ther cri­mi­nal pro­se­cu­ti­on regar­ding the polar bear attack on a camp in Tem­pel­fjor­den in August 2011, during which a 17 year old was kil­led and 4 other ones part­ly serious­ly inju­red. The Sys­sel­man­nen deci­ded alre­a­dy in late Febru­ary that the inci­dent was a com­bi­na­ti­on of seve­ral extre­me­ly unlu­cky cir­cum­s­tances rather than a cri­mi­nal offence (see Febru­ary news on this web­site). This decis­i­on was now con­firm­ed by the attour­ney in char­ge in north Nor­way.

This does not con­cern pos­si­ble fur­ther cri­mi­nal pro­se­cu­ti­on by Bri­tish aut­ho­ri­ties.

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 Tempelfjorden: case closed in Norway - Polar Bear, Duvefjord

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Attack on Utøya: Vil­jar Hans­sen from Lon­gye­ar­by­en bears wit­ness in Oslo

Five young per­sons from Lon­gye­ar­by­en were direct­ly struck by the attacks on Utøya and Oslo, whe­re 77 peo­p­le whe­re kil­led by the extre­mist Anders Beh­ring Brei­vik, who is often cal­led ABB in Nor­way to avo­id spea­king out his full name. Among­st the five from Lon­gye­ar­by­en was Johan­nes Buø, who lost his life at the age of four­teen. Vil­jar Hans­sen (18) was hit by five bul­lets and sever­ely inju­red.

On Tues­day, June 22, Vil­jar Hans­sen made his state­ment as a wit­ness at the court in Oslo. Accor­ding to mem­bers of the audi­ence and hims­elf, he was part­ly even able to make his state­ment with some humour. Later he said that his state­ment was an important and very hel­pful step for him to get over the events. He also said that the pre­sence of ABB made litt­le impres­si­on on him.

As ever­y­whe­re in Nor­way, the attacks were recei­ved as a public shock in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and tho­se invol­ved were met with gre­at empa­thy.

Utøya: a nice litt­le holi­day island until July 22 of last year, when it beca­me the site of Norway’s most ter­ri­ble vio­lent fel­o­ny in post-war histo­ry. (Foto: Wiki­me­dia Com­mons).

Viljar Hanssen from Longyearbyen bears witness in Oslo: Utøya

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (20/2012)

Inter­na­tio­nal cli­ma­te sym­po­si­um in Ny Åle­sund

The sixth cli­ma­te sym­po­si­um in Ny Åle­sund was held from 21 to 23 May. It is an almost annu­al mee­ting sin­ce 2006 bet­ween com­pa­ny lea­ders, poli­ti­ci­ans and sci­en­tists, inclu­ding Nor­we­gi­an trade minis­ter Trond Gis­ke and E.ON CEO Johan­nes Teys­sen. Rajen­dra Pach­au­ri, chair­man of the Inter­go­vern­men­tal Panel on Cli­ma­te Chan­ge of the UN, had to can­cel his par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on on short war­ning. His speech was trans­mit­ted via video screen to the sym­po­si­um. Pach­au­ri empha­si­zed that the avera­ge glo­bal tem­pe­ra­tu­re rose by 0,74 % during the 20th cen­tu­ry and if this trend is to con­ti­nue, a 2,5°C rise until the end of the 21 cen­tu­ry would be the result. An esti­ma­ted 20-30 % of the glo­bal human popu­la­ti­on would loo­se their homes as a con­se­quence.

The sym­po­si­um does not pro­du­ce major breakth­rough decis­i­ons. Norway’s trade minis­ter Giskke sent a doubtful signal the­se days when denot­ing that he might be open for long-term coal mining in Spits­ber­gen. So far obser­vers com­mon­ly under­stand that the recent­ly ope­ned coal mine at Lun­ckef­jel­let is to be Spitsbergen’s last one.

The sixth cli­ma­te sym­po­si­um in Ny Åle­sund was as always held under Roald Amundsen’s watchful eyes.

International climate symposium in Ny Ålesund - Ny Ålesund

Source: VG,(Ver­dens Gang, Nor­we­gi­an news­pa­per), Press release of the Nor­we­gi­an Minis­try of Trade

Pilo­ta­ge in Spits­ber­gen

The cur­rent plans of the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment to intro­du­ce com­pul­so­ry pilo­ta­ge in Spits­ber­gen in a simi­lar way as in Nor­way meets cri­ti­zism and worries tho­se con­cer­ned. Lea­ding staff mem­bers of the respon­si­ble Nor­we­gi­an coas­tal aut­ho­ri­ty (Kyst­ver­ket) have now expres­sed that they see that the cur­rent pro­po­sal needs to be adjus­ted to the dif­fe­rent con­di­ti­ons in Spits­ber­gen.

Small ships with pas­sen­ger num­bers less or even far less than 100, that ope­ra­te tours around Spits­ber­gen that can last up to more than 2 weeks, would most­ly be forced to ter­mi­na­te their sai­lings in Spits­ber­gen imme­dia­te­ly if com­pul­so­ry pilo­ta­ge comes into force as announ­ced, invol­ving cos­ts of seve­ral hundred Euro per hour. All ves­sels lon­ger than 70 met­res and all pas­sen­ger ves­sels lon­ger than 24 met­res are con­cer­ned.

Theo­re­ti­cal­ly, expe­ri­en­ced nau­ti­cal offi­cers can get fair­way cer­ti­fi­ca­tes, which means that they do not need to have a pilot on board. Given the cur­rent legis­la­ti­ve pro­po­sal, this will howe­ver in prac­ti­ce be impos­si­ble for most. To men­ti­on only one exam­p­le of the beau­ro­cra­tic obs­ta­cles: The navi­ga­tor needs to have sai­led the rele­vant pas­sa­ge at least 6 times in every direc­tion. This may make sen­se for the Nor­we­gi­an coast­li­ne with its traf­fic pat­terns that are most­ly shut­tle traf­fic. In Spits­ber­gen, most ships cir­cum­na­vi­ga­te the main island or the who­le archi­pe­la­go. As this is tra­di­tio­nal­ly almost always done in a clock­wi­se direc­tion, the­re are Cap­ta­ins who have done this count­less times – but only in one direc­tion, so for­mal­ly they don’t qua­li­fy for a fair­way cer­ti­fi­ca­te.

Due to this and simi­lar regu­la­ti­ons, an esti­ma­ted near 80 % of even the most expe­ri­en­ced Cap­ta­ins will not be able to obtain fair­way cer­ti­fi­ca­tes. If the offi­ci­al pilot will be able to con­tri­bu­te with any know­ledge that such Cap­ta­ins and offi­cers do not have is yet ano­ther ques­ti­on.

Pilo­ta­ge is announ­ced to come into force step­wi­se until 2014. A decis­i­on is due in June.

MS Stock­holm in drift ice at the north coast of Spits­ber­gen. The ship and her Cap­tain are local mari­ti­me veterans.

MS Stockholm near Verlegenhuken

Source: NRK

Rus­si­an-Nor­we­gi­an oil coope­ra­ti­on in the nor­t­hern Barents Sea

In ear­ly May, the Nor­we­gi­an Sta­toil and the Rus­si­an Ros­neft have signed a con­tract in Moscow in the pre­sence of prime minis­ter (now pre­si­dent) Putin to joint­ly explo­re and exploit the Per­seyevs­ky oil field in the Rus­si­an sec­tor of the nor­t­hern Barents Sea. The Per­seyevs­ky field ist east of Spits­ber­gen, west­s­ou­thwest of Franz Josef Land. The eco­no­mic poten­ti­al is belie­ved to be near 35-40 bil­li­on US-$. The sea is 150-250 met­res deep and regu­lar­ly cover­ed with sea­so­nal drift ice.

Seis­mic explo­ra­ti­ons are sup­po­sed to cla­ri­fy the geo­lo­gi­cal struc­tures over the next years. The first explo­ra­ti­ve dril­ling is plan­ned for 2020.

The con­tract also includes Nor­we­gi­an-Rus­si­an coope­ra­ti­on for seve­ral oil- and gas fields in Russia’s far east. In return, Ros­neft will get enga­ged in Nor­we­gi­an acti­vi­ties in the North Sea and the Nor­we­gi­an sec­tor of the Barents Sea.

Oil plat­forms in the North Sea. Views simi­lar to this one will get more and more com­mon also in the nor­t­hern Barents Sea.

Russian-Norwegian oil cooperation: Oil platforms

Source: Barents­ob­ser­ver

Oil spill in the Rus­si­an Arc­tic

A serious oil spill occur­red in the Rus­si­an Arc­tic in late April. Lea­ders of the depart­ment of the envi­ron­ment of the auto­no­mous Nenets obser­ved an oil foun­tain, about 25 met­res high, for at least one day on April 20 and 21 on the field Trebs, which is loca­ted on the main­land of Rus­sia south of the island of Nova­ya Zem­lya. They say it took at least 36 hours to get the leaka­ge under con­trol. Until then, an esti­ma­ted 2,200 tons of oil were spil­led out over at least 1,5 squa­re kilo­me­t­res of tun­dra, inclu­ding reinde­er gra­zing grounds. At least initi­al­ly, local water­ways are said to remain unhar­med.

The ope­ra­tor of the Trebs field, the Rus­si­an com­pa­ny Bash­neft, is exer­cis­ing a very rest­ric­ti­ve infor­ma­ti­on poli­cy, which makes it very dif­fi­cult to judge the fur­ther deve­lo­p­ment.

Accor­ding to Green­peace Rus­sia, the Rus­si­an indus­try is respon­si­ble for near 20.000 oil spills – annu­al­ly. Most of them do not lead to con­se­quen­ces for the ope­ra­tors and hap­pen wit­hout any public awa­re­ness.

The Trebs field of the Rus­si­an Bash­neft.
Image © Bash­neft.

Oil spill in the Russian Arctic: The Trebs field of the Russian Bashneft

Source: Barents­ob­ser­ver

Isfjord: curr­ent­ly a sub-arc­tic fjord

The most­ly rela­tively mild wea­ther of the last months is only of secon­da­ry importance for the fact the the fjords on Spitsbergen’s west coast are curr­ent­ly lar­ge­ly ice free. The warm water tem­pe­ra­tu­re is the most important fac­tor. The water tem­pe­ra­tu­re in the ent­rance to Isfjor­den is curr­ent­ly at 1,5 degrees Cel­si­us or even more through the who­le water column. Sea­wa­ter free­zes near -1,7 degrees C. Nor­mal­ly, parts of the water column should be below zero.

The reason is the curr­ent­ly strong influence of the West Spits­ber­gen cur­rent (“gulf stream”) that has pushed col­der arc­tic waters out and away from the west coast. This chan­ges not only the phy­si­cal cha­rac­te­ristics of the west coast fjords from high arc­tic to rather sub arc­tic, but also the local flo­ra and fau­na. Cod has been found more and more com­mon­ly in the bot­tom waters, tog­e­ther with had­dock (ano­ther mem­ber of the cod fami­ly). Living blues­hell have been obser­ved for the first time in Isfjord in 2004 and has now been found in the har­bour of Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Her­rings rea­dy for repro­duc­tion as has now been found is ano­ther “first” for the­se waters.

It can be assu­med that the­se spe­ci­es have come to stay. Con­se­quen­ces for local eco­sys­tems are dif­fi­cult to pre­dict.

Outer Isfjord seen from Alk­hor­net.

Isfjord

Source: Mari­ne bio­lo­gists from UNIS, Jør­gen Ber­ge, Ole J. Løn­ne, Tove M. Gabri­el­sen, in Sval­bard­pos­ten 17/2012.

Bear Island will get its own “port”

Bear Island (Bjørnøya), situa­ted half way bet­ween Skan­di­na­via and Spits­ber­gen, has always had a bad repu­ta­ti­on for dif­fi­cult landing con­di­ti­ons: the island does not have any har­bours or well shel­te­red fjords. Landings and any trans­port by boat are accor­din­gly high­ly depen­ding on wea­ther con­di­ti­ons.

The situa­ti­on is sup­po­sed to see some impro­ve­ment for the Nor­we­gi­an wea­ther sta­ti­on on the north coast of Bear Island. A 26 met­re long con­cre­te wave brea­k­er is sup­po­sed to make boat ope­ra­ti­ons on the small pier easier. Con­s­truc­tion work is sche­du­led to start in late July 2012. Curr­ent­ly, the pier can not be used during hea­vy wea­ther.

Ships will, howe­ver, have to stay at anchor off the coast. Small boats will have to be used for any ship-to-shore ope­ra­ti­ons also in the future, when con­s­truc­tion works have been com­ple­ted.

The cur­rent “port” at the wea­ther sta­ti­on on Bear Island on a rare fair­wea­ther day.

Bear Island will get its own port - Bjørnøya Radio

Source: Fol­ke­bla­det

Nor­we­gi­an wha­ling sea­son has star­ted

The Nor­we­gi­an wha­le hun­ting sea­son 2012 has star­ted a few days ago. 20 ships share a quo­ta of 1286 Min­ke wha­les. Last year’s quo­ta was simi­lar, but “only” 533 wha­les were brought in due to the small demand and dif­fi­cul­ties to sell the meat and other pro­ducts.

The first cat­chers are on their way and have alre­a­dy har­poo­ned seve­ral wha­les around Bear Island. Bear Island belongs to Spits­ber­gen (Sval­bard), whe­re strict regu­la­ti­ons app­ly for tou­rism – in con­trast to this, wha­ling does not seem to be a pro­blem for Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties, a per­spec­ti­ve not shared by envi­ron­men­ta­lists.

Wha­le cat­cher with moun­ted har­poon gun. The foto shows the Pet­rel, a wreck bea­ched in South Geor­gia that has not been used for deca­des. The tech­ni­que is, howe­ver, still the very same.

Norwegian whaling season has started - Harpoon gun

Source: Finn­mark­dag­bla­det

East Sval­bard manage­ment plan

The exas­pe­ra­ting dis­cus­sion about new regu­la­ti­ons for the eas­tern parts of the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go (Sval­bard) is con­ti­nuing. Dri­ving force behind the pro­cess is the Nor­we­gi­an direc­to­ra­te for natu­re admi­nis­tra­ti­on (DN), which belongs to the Depart­ment of the Envi­ron­ment in Oslo. Pre­vious pro­po­sals of a new manage­ment plan ela­bo­ra­ted by the DN have even been rejec­ted by the Sys­sel­man­nen, the hig­hest repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment in Spits­ber­gen, as too weak­ly based on argu­ments and too far going in its legal con­se­quen­ces. The revi­sed ver­si­on is soon to be sent to a public hea­ring pro­cess, but the DN has alre­a­dy pro­ven that it is not inte­res­ted in the opi­ni­on of third par­ties. Obser­vers say that DN is for­cing an ideo­lo­gi­cal­ly moti­va­ted legal pro­cess wit­hout a strong foun­da­ti­on that should be defi­ned as based on know­ledge. Far-rea­ching rest­ric­tions to public access to major are­as are argued to bene­fit sci­ence and the envi­ron­ment, accor­ding to the DN. Accor­ding to sci­en­tists acti­ve in the area, cur­rent traf­fic pat­terns – which are alre­a­dy strict­ly regu­la­ted – do not pose any pro­blems for sci­en­ti­fic work. And as far as the envi­ron­ment is con­cer­ned, DN admit them­sel­ves that traf­fic as it is at pre­sent and as it will be in the future does not pose any envi­ron­men­tal pro­blems that would requi­re prin­ci­pal adjus­t­ments of the cur­rent access sche­me.

The cur­rent pro­po­sal of a future manage­ment plan is based on the ver­si­on work­ed out by a working group of the Sys­sel­man­nen in late 2011, but the DN wants some of its regu­la­ti­ons shar­per. An enlar­ge­ment of a future “Lågøya bird reser­ve” which would be clo­sed for traf­fic during the bree­ding sea­son to the who­le island of Lågøya is dif­fi­cult to under­stand and exas­pe­ra­ting. But more inte­res­t­ing is the fact that the DN wants to move important admi­nis­tra­ti­ve powers from the Sys­sel­man­nen to the DN in Oslo. If the DN get as they want to, then this will include the power to “regu­la­te” traf­fic in the eas­tern natu­re reser­ves (almost all of eas­tern Sval­bard), which means the DN could in fact clo­se are­as by decre­te, wit­hout any fur­ther legal pro­cess. Addi­tio­nal­ly, the DN wants the power to deci­de on appli­ca­ti­ons for access to the “sci­en­ti­fic refe­rence are­as”. In con­trast to ear­lier pro­po­sals, the­se are­as are no lon­ger sup­po­sed to be gene­ral­ly clo­sed to all traf­fic, but open for all who have been gran­ted per­mis­si­on which ever­y­bo­dy can app­ly for – so far the theo­ry. As all rele­vant are­as can only be visi­ted with per­mis­si­on issued by the Sys­sel­man­nen any­way, the ques­ti­on for the moti­va­ti­on of the DN for this step is inte­res­t­ing. It will be safe to assu­me that the DN intends to rest­rict the per­mit­ting prac­ti­ce dra­sti­cal­ly, if the appli­ca­ti­on pro­cess goes through Oslo rather than the Sys­sel­man­nen in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, as it has been so far and would be natu­ral to con­ti­nue. Obser­vers impu­te a cer­tain degree of prac­ti­cal know­ledge of the local rea­li­ty to the Sys­sel­man­nen, some­thing that is more dif­fi­cult to belie­ve in the case of the DN in Oslo, jud­ging from their pro­po­sals.

East Svalbard management plan - East Svalbard

The cur­rent pro­po­sal distin­gu­is­hes seve­ral zones for eas­tern Sval­bard:
 
Zone A: »sci­en­ti­fic refe­rence area«, which should theo­re­ti­cal­ly be open to visit after appli­ca­ti­on, but will in prac­ti­ce most likely be a no go area for mere mor­tals.
Zone B: No traf­fic during the bree­ding sea­son.
Zone C: Site-spe­ci­fic gui­de­lines will app­ly.
Zone D: Local bans on traf­fic at cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge sites, in force sin­ce 2010.
Zone E: Kong Karls Land, Kong Karls Land (alre­a­dy off limits).
Click here for a lar­ger ver­si­on of this map.

Map: Sys­sel­man­nen

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