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Yearly Archives: 2012 − News & Stories


Russian nuclear waste in polar seas

The Sovjet Union has „deposited“ vast amounts of radioactive substances on the sea bottom in the Russian sector of the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea (east of Novaya Zemlya), including nuclear waste, reactors from submarines and ships and vessels with nuclear components or cargo that sank or were sunk. This is generally no news. Now, Russian authorities have made an inventory list of nuclear substances on sea bottoms adjacent to Norwegian waters available to Norwegian authorities. The quantities have surprised even insiders. On the list are not, as believed so far, 11,000 containers with nuclear waste, but at least 17,000 (yes, seventhousand), additionally 19 ships with nuclear cargo, 5 reactor sections, 3 nuclear submarines, nuclear fuel from the icebreaker Lenin and „735 other radioactive units“, whatever this means. And of course nobody knows if this list is comprehensive.

Now, Russian and Norwegian authorities make joint efforts to map the exact positions and conditions of the nuclear graveyards.

So far, investigations have proven the waters and biota of the Barents Sea to have very low levels of radioactivity. This may change, when reactors or containers are damaged in the future. In single cases, even the development of chain reactions up to nuclear explosions is believed to be possible by environmentalists. Officials have not confirmed this.

Large efforts have already been made, also with financial and practical support from the EU and Norway, to retreave radioactive wrecks, reactors and waste from the coasts of the Kola Peninsula. The efforts are obviously to be increased and continued to avoid major disasters for environment and people. The long-term disposal of radioactive is a question with very serious implications for environment and societies and so far an unanswered question.

The Russian nuclear icebreaker Yamal, 2004 in Franz Josef Land. Foto © Christine Reinke-Kunze.

Russian nuclear waste in polar seas

Source: Aftenposten, 28 August 2012

Accident in front oft Esmarkbreen

On thirsday the 21th of august one person was killed in front of Esmarkbree (Esmark Glacier) during a Zodiac cruise. A piece of ice broke down from the nearly 25 m high egde oft the glacial front. The exact circumstances oft the accident will be investigated during the next weeks.

Esmarkbreen ist situated inside of Ymerbukta (Ymer Bay)on the northern side of Isfjord (Ice Fjord).

Ymerbukta with Esmarkbreen

Accident in front oft Esmarkbreen

Source: Svalbardposten 33/2012

Russian commercial helicopter traffic and the Spitsbergen treaty

The subject of Russian helicopter traffic is again surfacing as a matter of controversy between Russians and Norwegian authorities. Within their intentions of increasing tourist activities in Barentsburg and Pyramiden, where the hotel is soon to be opened again, the Russians want to offer helicopter transport from Longyearbyen to their settlements on a commercial basis (flightseeing is generally not allowed in Spitsbergen).

They refer to the non-discrimination principle of the Spitsbergen-Treaty (often called Svalbard Treaty, but the original text does not know the term Svalbard), which gives all signatory countries and their citizens equal rights. Norwegian authorities point out that Norwegian aviation laws to only allow Norwegian companies to offer commercial aviation services within Norway. In the end, it boils down to the question if Norwegian national law is to be rated higher than the international treaty which was signed in 1920 and came into power in 1925, which gives Norway »the full and absolute sovereignty of Norway over the Archipelago of Spitsbergen…«, no less, no more. Later in the same year a national Norwegian law declared that »Svalbard is part of the Kingdom of Norway«.

Controversial: Russian helicopter traffic

Russian commercial helicopter traffic and the Spitsbergen treaty ...

Walrus population on the growth

Norwegian Polar Institute scientists have installed automatic cameras at 5 walrus colonies (Lågøya, Storøya, Kapp Lee, Andréetangen, Havmerra/Tusenøyane). Preliminary results indicate an overall population growth in recent years. A count from 2006 had resulted in roughly 3,000 walrusses in Spitsbergen’s waters.

Another interesting preliminary result is the remarkably low sensitivity to disturbance by polar bears or tourists. Inspite of numerous visits, no evidence has been found for walrusses being disturbed by tourists.

Walrusses on Edgeøya

Walrus population on the growth

Camping site now under Dutch control

The camping site near Longyearbyen is now, after several ownership changes through recent years, finally under Dutch control. Exclusive owner is now Michelle van Dijk, who owned the site together with Andreas Umbreit from Germany in the past. She has already started work to make the camping site nicer and more user-friendly.

The camping site near Longyearbyen

Camping site now under Dutch control

Anja Fleig (1974-2012)

Many are around in the business of polar expedition cruising, some stay for a while but a very few keep it going for more than just a few years. Anja Fleig was amongst the most highly respected expedition leaders we have known in recent years.

On July 14, 2012, Anja passed away far too early in her young life after a disease she had fought for a long time.

Together with many friends and colleagues, the author of these lines, who has known her since the came to Longyearbyen in the late 1990s, will miss her as the good person, the good friend, the good guide and expedition leader she was.

Few, if any, had better knowledge, more experience and higher standards as expedition leader than Anja. Having lived her adventurous, exciting life for more than just a few seasons, she had had ample opportunities to make experiences that are once-in-a-lifetime or simply out of reach for most others. A little comfort may be found in the idea that Anja saw much more of the natural beauty of this world than others who have the chance to stay around twice as long.

Anja got married to her husband Tim in 2009 in Spitsbergen on their floating second home, the Polar Star. Together, they have a child born in 2010.

Anja in the happier days 2007 on Bear Island

Anja Fleig 1974-2012

The boot mystery

This summer’s Spitsbergen mystery is the disappearing of 40 boots from a changing room in the mining settlement Sveagruva. No less than 40 boots have vanished. The point is, however, that only the right boots are gone and the left ones are still standing there. Now everybody is guessing what might have happened: an invasion of one-footed aliens? Trolls? Right-wing extremists who hate everything on the left side? …?

Locally, it is taken with a sense of humour, but everybody is curious about the story behind it. And there is a bunch of 40 guys who would quite like to have their boots back.

40 lonesome boots in Sveagruva. Foto © Jan Ove Steinsmo, Store Norske.

The boot mystery - Lonesome boots in Sveagruva

Source: Aftenposten

Grounding of MS Expedition

The small cruise ship MS Expedition (100 passengers, 57 crew) touched ground near Isispynten, east of Nordaustland, on 23rd July. The hull suffered minor damage and took a small volume of water. According to the ship owner and Norwegian officials, neither people nor the environment were at any time endangered. The ship could later get free and return to Longyearbyen with its own engine power.

This was already the third event of this kind in Spitsbergen this summer. On 23rd June, the „National Geographic Explorer“ ran aground in Engelskbukta, south of Kongsfjord. On 10 July, the day trip boat „Polar Girl“ managed to hit the bottom near Grumantbyen.

All groundings took place while the ships were on sightseeing cruise near the shore at low speed and finally went over without any serious drama. Nevertheless, these events are mostly unacceptable in areas without comprehensive SAR and oil spill facilities. (There are exceptions: small, strong boats can usually tolerate “controlled” groundings without any difficulty, this is occasionally even done deliberately. It is more or less a daily routine for example for flatbottom sailing ships in certain areas of the Dutch coast. But certainly not by any ship remotely similar to the MS Expedition in arctic waters).

A major problem for the safety of navigation in Spitsbergen is the lack of good charts. The Norwegian mapping authorities have this year given priority to other areas in mainland Norway rather than Spitsbergen. Given current working pace, it will take several generations to map the waters around the whole archipelago properly. Inspite of the official political priority that the northern areas are supposed to enjoy („nordområdesatsing“), Norwegian authorities seem not to take nautical safety in Svalbard waters important enough to allocate resources for proper mapping.

MS Expedition in Ny Ålesund, July 2011.

Grounding of MS Expedition - MS Expedition, Ny Alesund

Source: Svalbardposten 29/2012

Introduction of compulsory pilotage in Spitsbergen

The stepwise introduction of compulsory pilotage in Spitsbergen has started July 01. So far, pilotage is mandatory only for the sailing route to and from Sveagruva in Van Mijenfjord. The first ship that decided to make use of pilotage en route to Longyearbyen was the German cruise ship Aida Cara (passenger capacity 1186), as the Captain had never been to Spitsbergen before. The pilot came from Norway by plane for the job.

The Aida Cara used a pilote to go alongside at Bykaia in Longyearbyen on July, 02.

Introduction of compulsory pilotage in Spitsbergen - Aida Cara

Source: Svalbardposten (2612)

East Svalbard management plan

In mid July, the Sysselmannen has published his new proposal for a new management plan for the large nature reserves in eastern Svalbard. The radical earlier proposals which include closing most areas for public traffic seem to have vanished after strong critizism they have met almost everywhere. According to the Sysselmannen, the most significant changes from the present status quo are the closing of parts of Lågøya and Tusenøyane from May 15 to August 15.

Any comments on the current proposal can be forwarded to the Sysselmannen (where they will probably go straight to the bin unless you are part of the relevant higher beaurocracy in Oslo or you work for the Norwegian Polar Institute) until October 10.

Further details will be posted here as the process is going on.

Tusenøyane (Delitschøya, already completely off limits today, in the picture) are proposed to be closed from May 15 to August 15.

East Svalbard management plan - Tusenøyane

Source: Sysselmannen

Interesting wildlife encounters

Several interesting or even spectacular wildlife sightings have already been made during the still young expedition cruising in Spitsbergen. The most interesting ones may be 3 sightings of very rare Bowhead whales off the north coast, including one encounter with 2 individuals!

Bowhead whale near the north coast of Spitsbergen (2006)

Interesting wildlife encounters

Source: Personal communation with Morten Jørgensen (fellow tour guide)

No charting of waters around Spitsbergen in 2012

Officially, nautical safety is important enough to the Norwegian state that compulsory pilotage is about to be introduced. It is obviously however not important enough to continue charting of the coastal waters. Large areas, especially in the remote parts of the archipelago, are still mostly badly or even uncharted. Charting these waters would be far more useful to nautical safety than (compulsory) pilotage – without good charts, the pilot won’t know the dangers either. Nevertheless, it has recently been decided to give Norwegian coastal waters priority this summer.

Considering the current activity level, it will take another 40 to 80 years from now until all coastal waters around the Spitsbergen archipelago will be completely charted with modern methods.

Spitsbergen’s uncharted waters can have dangerous shallows.

No charting of waters around Spitsbergen in 2012 - Diskobugt 13.-22 Juni 2012

Source: Svalbardposten

Compulsory pilotage

Compulsory pilotage will from now on be introduced in Spitsbergen’s coastal waters. First legal steps have been made on July 01. Coal freighters will from now on have to have pilots on board for the passage in to the Norwegian coal mining settlement Sveagruva. Further legal steps will follow until the law is fully in force in 2014. All ships longer than 150 metres will then have to have a pilot on board.

Captains and nautical officers with local experience on smaller passenger ships can get a so-called fairway certificate which will enable them to sail without pilot. It was feared that regulations for these certificates would make it practically impossible for even the most experienced captains to obtain such certificates, but it has been announced that improvements will be made to adjust important details to local conditions.

Ein Kreuzfahrtschiff dieser Größe ist mit einem Lotsen auf der Brücke in Spitzbergen sicher nicht schlecht beraten. Im Bild die »Grand Princess« (3100 Passagiere Kapazität) am 29. Juni 2012 vor Longyearbyen.

Geology-guide for the Longyearbyen area

A little geological guidebook about the Longyearbyen area has now been published and will be officially presented on 30 June in the Svalbardmuseum in Longyearbyen. Earth history from the days of the dinosaurs through the coal age and more recent landscape-forming processes including glaciers and permafrost are briefly explained on 36 pages.

Authors are Karsten Piepjohn (Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe), Malte Jochmann (Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani) and Rolf Stange (amongst others owner of this website). Christiane Hübner (Longyearbyen Feltbiologiske Forening) is the editor of the booklet, which is available in English, Norwegian and German.

All authors will be present during the official presentation, which will include a little excursion. Everybody who happens to be in Longyearbyen on June 30 is welcome. No problem if you are not there: the booklet will soon be available on this website.

The new Longyearbyen-geology-guide is available in English, Norwegian and German.

Geology-guide for the Longyearbyen area

Source: Morten Jørgensen (fellow expedition leader colleague)

Reindeer population has doubled since 1994

Local reindeer populations in several important valleys near Longyearbyen such as Semmeldalen, Colesdalen and Adventdalen have doubled since 1994, and this trend is believed to apply also to other parts of the Spitsbergen archipelago. The reason is thought to be a 2 degrees increase of summer temperatures which have led to stronger growth of vegetation. On the other hand, instable weather patterns have led to a higher frequency of bad years with starvation and a loss of parts of the population. The average weight of the individual animals has decreased slightly (about 1 kg). 2012 is likely to become the fourth bad year for reindeer since the beginning of the observations, which include population surveys and the examination of reindeer jaws which are delivered by hunters.

Spitsbergen-reindeer: larger population, thinner individuals since 1994.

Spitzbergen-Rentiere.

Source: Norwegian Polar Institute

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