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Home → October, 2012

Monthly Archives: October 2012 − News & Stories


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

White wha­les and grey wea­ther

And what else did the sum­mer bring in Spits­ber­gen? Nega­ti­ve sto­ries inclu­de the let­hal acci­dent at Esmark­breen (see August news, no fur­ther details known so far) and the loss of a pri­va­te sai­ling boat at the north coast (see Sep­tem­ber news), luck­i­ly without loss of life.

Bey­ond this, the sum­mer was lar­ge­ly cha­rac­te­ri­zed by unnor­mal­ly warm water in Spitsbergen’s fjords and around the coasts, which led to a record loss of sea ice in the area and pos­si­b­ly also to the rather grey wea­ther that pre­vai­led through most of the sea­son.

The­se sub-arc­tic water mas­ses may also have brought wha­les up, which were seen around Spits­ber­gen in unusual­ly lar­ge num­bers. Espe­cial­ly Hump­back wha­les were obser­ved regu­lar­ly, most­ly in eas­tern parts of Spits­ber­gen and often several dozens of them. The most spec­ta­cu­lar sigh­t­ing was pro­bab­ly a com­ple­te­ly white indi­vi­du­al. White Hump­back wha­les are not unknown to sci­ence, but extre­me­ly rare.

Dan Fisher, crew­mem­ber on SV Anti­gua, mana­ged to get some exci­ting pho­tos of this rare ani­mal. Click here for a lar­ger ver­si­on of the image below.

White Hump­back wha­le in sou­thern Hin­lo­pen Strait, August 11, 2012. © Dan Fisher.

White whales and grey weather: White Humpback whale.

Source: per­so­nal com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on.

End of 2012 sum­mer sea­son

The sum­mer sea­son of 2012 is now real­ly over. A few days ago, SV Anti­gua and SV Noor­der­licht have left Spits­ber­gen as the last ships that sai­led with pas­sen­gers during the sum­mer. Noor­der­licht is on her way to Lofo­ten to con­ti­nue crui­sing the­re, whe­re­as Anti­gua has set cour­se for her home­port of Fran­eker in the Nether­lands. All other ships have alrea­dy left in late August or Sep­tem­ber.

SV Noor­der­licht has actual­ly left rela­tively “ear­ly” this year: in recent sea­sons, she used to con­ti­nue in Spits­ber­gen into late Octo­ber or even the first days of Novem­ber, into the first days of the polar night.

Anti­gua and Noor­der­licht next to each other in the port of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, Sep­tem­ber 21.

End of 2012 summer season - Antigua & Noorderlicht.

Van­da­lism on his­to­ri­cal “vin­kelstas­jon” near Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Van­da­lism is a rela­tively rare phe­no­me­non in Spits­ber­gen, but not unhe­ard of. In late Sep­tem­ber, minor dama­ge was done on “vin­kelstas­jon”, which is near the road in Advent­da­len, east of Lon­gye­ar­by­en and in the ent­ran­ce to Enda­len. The Vin­kelstas­jon was part of the cable­way that was used to trans­port coal from the mines to the har­bour. It has been put of of use long ago. Today, it is pro­tec­ted as part of Spitsbergen’s cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge. Two years ago, some minor repair work was done and sub­se­quent­ly, an illu­mi­na­ti­on sys­tem was instal­led, which is con­tro­ver­si­al and does not work pro­per­ly.

In late Sep­tem­ber, some of the new win­dows were thrown in and some dir­ty graf­fi­ti was left behind. The Sys­sel­man­nen are inqui­ring.

Vin­kelstas­jon and coal cable­way in the ent­ran­ce to Enda­len.

Vandalism on historical vinkelstasjon - Vinkelstasjon, Endalen.

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Tou­rism in Spits­ber­gen: sta­ble sin­ce 5-6 years

Num­bers in tou­rism have been rather sta­ble in Spits­ber­gen for the latest 5-6 years, if not decre­a­sing. The num­ber of over­nights has varied litt­le, having been bet­ween 83,000 and 89,000 for 6 years. The year that has seen the lar­gest num­ber of pas­sen­gers on big over­seas crui­se ships was 2007 with 33,000 who came this way. Sin­ce then, num­bers have drop­ped down to 24,000 in 2011. Num­bers of pas­sen­gers who came to see Spits­ber­gen on smal­ler expe­di­ti­on crui­se ships have incre­a­sed slight­ly.

The num­bers wit­hin land-based ways of tou­rism are eit­her more or less sta­ble or decre­a­sing. From 1997 to 2011, bet­ween 400 and 750 per­sons have been tra­vel­ling indi­vi­du­al­ly out­side admi­nis­tra­ti­on area 10 (more or less near the sett­le­ments, whe­re regis­tra­ti­on is not com­pul­so­ry), but no trend can be seen. Snow scoo­ter tou­rism is sta­ble, whe­re­as non-moto­ri­zed win­ter tou­rism such as ski tours and dog sled­ging are on the decre­a­se, pos­si­b­ly as some spe­cia­li­zed local ope­ra­tors have down­si­zed or stop­ped their rele­vant acti­vi­ties.

Tou­rists at Alk­hor­net (Trygg­ham­na, Isfjord).

Tourism in Spitsbergen: stable since 5-6 years - Spitsbergen - Tourists at Alkhornet, Trygghamna.

Sources: Rei­se­livs­sta­tis­tikk 2011, Sys­sel­man­nen.

Dut­ch expe­di­ti­on to Edgeøya in 2014

The Arc­tic Cent­re of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Gro­nin­gen (The Nether­lands) is plan­ning a sci­en­ti­fic expe­di­ti­on to Edgeøya during 10 days in late July/early August 2014 with MV Orte­li­us. The expe­di­ti­on is open for sci­en­tists, artists and polar enthu­si­asts. The expe­di­ti­on is orga­ni­zed by, amongst others, Maar­ten “Mr. Bar­na­cle Goo­se” Loo­nen from the Arc­tic Cent­re in Gro­nin­gen, also lea­der of the Dut­ch sci­en­ti­fic sta­ti­on in Ny Åle­sund.

The expe­di­ti­on is fol­lowing his­to­ri­cal foots­teps: in 1968-69, Dut­ch bio­lo­gists spent a year at Kapp Lee on Edgeøya.

Get in touch with the pro­ject if you are inte­res­ted to par­ti­ci­pa­te or in spon­so­ring.

Kapp Lee on Edgeøya, whe­re Dut­ch sci­en­tists win­te­red in 1968-69.

Dutch expedition to Edgeøya in 2014 - Kapp Lee, Edgeøya

Cha­sing polar bears with heli­co­p­ter in the name of sci­ence

An obser­va­ti­on of a fema­le polar bear tog­e­ther with a cub at Nor­denskjöld­breen, oppo­si­te Pyra­mi­den north of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, did not go as expec­ted. The ani­mals had been obser­ved many times during the sum­mer, always beha­ving neu­tral­ly or curious­ly towards smal­ler ships. In late Sep­tem­ber, howe­ver, they were quick­ly sca­red and ran away.

Not much later in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the secret behind the chan­ged beha­viour could be reve­a­led. Sci­en­tists who put their inte­rest in taking sam­ples hig­her than the well-being of the ani­mals had cha­sed them over kilo­me­tres with a heli­co­p­ter to tran­qui­li­ze them. The cha­se was obser­ved by Czech sci­en­tists.

On the run: Polar bear fami­ly on Nor­denskjöld­breen. The ani­mals went up this steep, snow-cove­r­ed ice wall at con­si­derable pace. Both are well fed.

Chasing polar bears with helicopter in the name of science - Polar bears at Nordenskjöldbreen

Source: Own obser­va­ti­on, local con­ta­cts.

Nor­we­gi­an coast­guard and Sys­sel­man­nen fly­ing low over wal­rus colo­ny

On June 24, a group of tou­rists and gui­des approa­ched a wal­rus herd hau­led out on Nord­aus­t­land, when a small pla­ne appeared, fly­ing repeated­ly very low over the wal­rus­ses which star­ted to show signs of panic. The pla­ne, a Dor­nier 228, was fly­ing for the Nor­we­gi­an coast­guard, who „con­trol­led“ crui­se ships and con­ta­c­ted them to gather infor­ma­ti­on about the num­bers of pas­sen­gers and crew on board; infor­ma­ti­on which the Sys­sel­man­nen has from the man­da­to­ry app­li­ca­ti­on pro­cess pri­or to all crui­ses.

Nor­mal­ly, it is the Sys­sel­man­nen who con­trols tou­rist traf­fic and not the coast­guard. It is not known why, in this case, the coast­guard took the job. A Sys­sel­man­nen repre­sen­ta­ti­ve was also on board the air­craft.

Accord­ing to the Sval­bard envi­ron­men­tal act, all traf­fic has to be done in such a way to mini­mi­ze dis­tur­ban­ce of humans and ani­mals. All air­craft have to keep a distance of 6000 feet from known wal­rus colo­nies. The actu­al distance in this inci­dence was a small frac­tion of 6000 feet.

Accord­ing to the Sys­sel­man­nen, the requi­red distance was pos­si­b­ly „for­got­ten“. The inci­dent does not seem to have con­se­quen­ces for tho­se invol­ved bey­ond a gent­le remin­der of legal requi­re­ments.

Wal­rus colo­ny, Nord­aus­t­land.

flying low over walrus colony: Walrusses, Nordaustland

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (3812)

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