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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.


Source: Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te


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