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Yearly Archives: 2012 − News & Stories


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)

Most recent ice chart

The recent ice deve­lo­p­ment is more than inte­res­ting and it is well worth to have a look at the latest ice­chart. It is a long time ago sin­ce the­re has been simi­lar­ly litt­le ice in the nor­the­ast Atlan­tic, and one can only hope that the near future will see more ice again near the coasts of Spits­ber­gen and Franz Josef Land after the usu­al sea­so­nal mini­mum in late Sep­tem­ber.

Most recent ice chart - 20-09-2012

The ice chart as of Sep­tem­ber 20 (© Nor­we­gi­an meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal insti­tu­te, met.no).

Source: http://www.met.no/Hav_og_is/

Oil explo­ra­ti­on in the Bar­ents Sea

While Norway’s public atten­ti­on was focus­sed on the pro­cess against assas­sin Brei­vik, the Nor­we­gi­an oil giant Sta­toil has announ­ced more explo­ra­ti­ve acti­vi­ty for 2013. 2 or 3 explo­ra­ti­ve wells are plan­ned for the Hoop field, 250 km north of Sørøya which is near Norway’s North Cape, are plan­ned for the 2013 sea­son. The well are just a good 100 nau­ti­cal miles sou­the­ast of Bear Island.

The swift pro­gress is met with cri­ti­zism by envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­sa­ti­ons: the Hoop field is not far from the sea­so­nal ice edge and the eco­lo­gi­cal­ly very important polar front, but far from capa­ci­ties in case of acci­dents and oil spills.

Oil riggs in the North Sea.

Oil exploration in the Barents Sea

Source: NRK

Over­nights in Lon­gye­ar­by­en sta­ble

Spitsbergen’s hotels and guest­houses have had 11,200 over­nights in July 2012, near 2/3 of the­se con­nec­ted to tou­rism. 56 % of the guests were Nor­we­gi­an, 8 % less than in July 2011, which means that inter­na­tio­nal tou­rism has seen a rela­ti­ve incre­a­se of impor­t­ance.

The tur­no­ver growth of 3% is accord­in­gly due to incre­a­sed pri­ces.

Hotel in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Overnights in Longyearbyen stable - Longyearbyen

Source: Sta­tis­ti­sches Zen­tral­bü­ro Nor­we­gen

Crui­se tou­rism in nort­hern Nor­way on the growth

38,500 pas­sen­gers have visi­ted Spits­ber­gen during the 2012 sea­son, a growth of 75 % com­pa­red to 2011. The growth is wit­hin the sec­tor of big­ger over­sea crui­se ships, which are signi­fi­cant­ly incre­a­sing in size. The num­ber of ship visits has remai­ned rela­tively con­stant, and so did the num­ber of pas­sen­gers and ships wit­hin the sec­tor of small expe­di­ti­on crui­se ships.

An average growth of 41 % is repor­ted from other ports in nort­hern Nor­way.

MS Aida Cara (pas­sen­ger capa­ci­ty 1339) in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, July 02.

Cruise tourism in northern Norway on the growth

Source: NRK

Sai­ling­boat crui­sing the north coast of Spits­ber­gen was lost

Last week a small sai­ling­boat crui­sing the north coast of Spits­ber­gen sank after it got into shal­low water. The two 70 year old eng­lish sai­lers could be res­cued by heli­co­p­ter after they had spent two hours in their rub­ber life boat. Due to a tech­ni­cal defect, they could not use their life raft. Final­ly they mana­ged to infla­te a rub­ber boat which was also on board. Des­pi­te real bad fly­ing con­di­ti­ons and snow­fall the heli­co­p­ter could trans­fer the sai­lers to Lon­gye­ar­by­en hos­pi­tal.

The shal­lows near the mouth of Raudfjord are clear­ly mar­ked on nau­ti­cal charts.

The north coast of Spits­ber­gen. View from Mof­fen Island.

Sailingboat cruising the north coast of Spitsbergen was lost

Ear­th­qua­ke near Spits­ber­gen

On Sunday (Sep­tem­ber 02), the­re was a weak sub­ma­ri­ne ear­th­qua­ke, for­ce 5.2 on the Rich­ter sca­le. It was too weak to make its­elf felt in the sett­le­ments of Spits­ber­gen. If at all, then an alert obser­ver in Ny Åle­sund, the sett­le­ment nea­rest the epi­cent­re, might have obser­ved the ground moti­on.

Two days ear­lier, the­re was a stron­ger ear­th­qua­ke near Jan May­en, which was clear­ly felt at the sta­ti­on on Jan May­en and cau­sed some minor dama­ge. The midd­le ocea­nic ridge bet­ween Spits­ber­gen and Green­land is a con­stant source for fre­quent ear­th­qua­kes, but only rare­ly stron­ger ones. Spits­ber­gen its­elf is not an ear­th­qua­ke zone, except a minor ear­th­qua­ke zone in Storfjord, and ear­th­qua­kes strong enough to be obser­ved by peop­le are rare events.

The­se geo­lo­gi­cal faults in Bill­efjord were respon­si­ble for strong ear­th­qua­kes in the geo­lo­gi­cal past. Today, they are silent.

Earthquake near Spitsbergen: Spitzbergen, SV Noorderlicht. 12.-27. August 2012

Source: Lofo­ten-Tid­ende

Polar bear alarm sys­tem: user reports

Polar bear alarm sys­tems for camps are a nui­sance: essen­ti­al for safe­ty unless you have a reli­able polar dog or enough man­power to hand­le a night­watch, but cur­r­ent­ly hard to obtain local­ly in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. In Octo­ber 2011, this page repor­ted about a Bri­tish sys­tem made and dis­tri­bu­t­ed by Arc­tic Limi­ted. First user reports are now avail­ab­le.

Next to the fact that the sys­tem from Arc­tic Ltd. is, in con­trast to other ones, easi­ly avail­ab­le, it has several advan­ta­ges in com­pa­ri­son to other sys­tems which have com­mon­ly been used in Spits­ber­gen until recent­ly. With older sys­tems, the one-way com­pon­ents (the ban­gers) were the hea­vy and expen­si­ve parts. With the sys­tem from Arc­tic Ltd., the hea­vy and (rela­tively) expen­si­ve parts are the trig­ger mecha­nisms, which last fore­ver. The ban­gers are blank car­tridges: shot car­tridges depri­ved of the shot, so they are cheap and light­weight and can be car­ri­ed in num­bers. This is use­ful, as it is hard to avoid occa­sio­nal unin­ten­ded trig­ge­ring (wind, inob­ser­van­ce, rein­de­er, …).

User reports agree that the bang should be lou­der. Accord­ing to Arc­tic Ltd., spe­cial ban­gers are avail­ab­le that meet this demand. Ano­t­her ques­ti­on is that of the ide­al string, which should be as thin as pos­si­ble to be invi­si­ble for polar bears and to avoid unin­ten­ded trig­ge­ring. It has, howe­ver, to be very strong and it should not be elastic (then a bear might feel it befo­re the sys­tem trig­gers).

Strong posts are essen­ti­al for reli­able func­tio­n­ing. For the aut­hor, alu­mi­ni­um pipes have ser­ved the pur­po­se well. Reli­able ancho­ring to the out­side of the camp with thin cords and tent pegs or hea­vy stones is also cri­ti­cal, other­wi­se pul­ling the string may bend the posts rather than trig­ger the ban­gers.

Two sets of trig­gers and strings, one hig­her and one lower on the same set of posts around the camp, will also incre­a­se safe­ty noti­ce­ab­ly.

The impor­t­ance of pro­per­ly set­ting up a good sys­tem must not be under­sti­ma­ted, as is shown by the dead­ly attach of a polar bear on a Bri­tish camp in Spits­ber­gen in August 2011 (see reports on the­se pages).

Polar bear alarm sys­tem from Arc­tic Ltd., atta­ched to an alu­mi­ni­um pipe with cable con­nec­tors and strong tape.

Mini­mum record of drift ice in the arc­tic

The Nor­we­gi­an Meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal insti­tu­te is fol­lowing the drift ice deve­lo­p­ment in the arc­tic sin­ce 30 years now, and simi­lar insti­tu­ti­ons in other arc­tic nati­ons do the same with simi­lar results: the­re has never been less ice than the­re is now. Even in Sep­tem­ber 2007, the mini­mum year so far, the­re was more ice than now. The­re are about 3 mil­li­on squa­re kilo­me­tres ice less than in 1979, an area 8 times lar­ger than Nor­way (without Spits­ber­gen).

It is not only the area that is lost, but also the chan­ge in qua­li­ty that makes experts worry. In the past, arc­tic sea ice used to be lar­ge­ly of lar­ge, strong, thick floes mul­ti-year ice. The­se have lar­ge­ly disap­peared. Now, most of the ice con­sists of much thin­ner one-year ice, which does not com­pa­re to the stron­ger, older ice in thic­kness, sta­bi­li­ty and as a habi­tat for the arc­tic eco­sys­tem.

The drift ice is cur­r­ent­ly far north from any coast in the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go, but the ice loss is far more dra­ma­tic on the other side of the arc­tic, north of wes­tern arc­tic Cana­da, Alas­ka and Sibe­ria.

Ice in Hin­lo­pen Strait, mid July 2005.
This year, the area is com­ple­te­ly ice free.

Minimum record of drift ice in the arctic

Source: Nor­we­gi­sches Meteo­ro­lo­gi­sches Insti­tut

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