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Yearly Archives: 2012 − News & Stories


Aasiaat (Disko Bay, Westgreenland), 13th June, 2012

While the rest of the world was watching 22 Dutch and Germans running after a black-and-white ball, I was on my own following a black-and-white bird (a male snow bunting) in Aasiaat. Here some impressions of this first day in west Greenland, soon there will be more.

aasiaat (gallery)

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

Beginning of arctic shipping season 2012

The midnight sun is shining over Spitsbergen’s fjords since late April and most of the birds have started their breeding business by now. Most tourist ships that sail Spitsbergen’s coastal waters, from large cruise ships to small sailing boats, are now on their way up north, some are already there.

The owner of this website is also soon on his way north and will be there (Spitsbergen and west Greenland) until late September. The news section will accordingly be updated less frequently than during recent months, but there will be updates and news of importance will, if necessary, be posted with a little delay – but they will appear here.

The travel blog site (triplogs, photo galleries) of trips of the 2012 season will soon be updated regularly until late September/early October. So – please visit again!

Spitsbergen under the midnight sun: the sailing season in the high norht has started.

Beginning of arctic shipping season 2012 - Midnight sun

Svolvær – or Svalbard…?

An American lady was more than just a bit surprised when she found out where she actually was in the airport of Longyearbyen. She had intended to travel up to Svolvær, the main settlement in Lofoten, a group of islands off the coast of north Norway.

The reason for the not so little detour was the similarity between the words “Svolvær” and “Svalbard”, as the Norwegians commonly call Spitsbergen. The lady had asked the travel agency for a ticket to Svolvær but got one to Svalbard, without anyone taking notice of the difference. She was a bit surprised about the passport control in Tromsø, but did not pay any further attention to it.

She said she enjoyed her 2 days in the high arctic after the first surprise, until a seat on a flight back was available.

Svalbard (yellow circle) and Svolvær (red): a little difference.

Svolvær or Svalbard - Svalbard map

Source: Svalbardposten (2112)

Eider duck news

Eider duck news: Biologists have revealed some interesting facts about common eider ducks in Spitsbergen. They were negatively affected by egg and down feather collecting until they were protected in 1963. Since 1973, important breeding colonies, mostly on small islands, may not be visited anymore without special permission, which is only issued to scientists and occasionally professional local down collectors. Nevertheless, numbers of breeding common eiders at colonies in Kongsfjorden have remained stable, but did not increase.

Another colony in Bellsund shows however pronounced growth: this is the colony on the small island Eholmen, where a local Norwegian trapper has collected down over years. Careful collecting does not have any negative impact on the breeding success. Protection from predators such as polar bears and foxes which is provided by the trapper seems to have a positive impact, making the site attractive for breedings ducks. The numbers of breeders have consequently increased significantly.

Common eider ducks may possibly also benefit from a warming climate, for example from an early break-up of fjord ice which makes breeding colonies on islands inaccessible for the polar fox, which is generally an important predator.

Breeding common eiders in Adventdalen near Longyearbyen.

Eider duck news - Breeding common eider ducks

Source: NINA.

Passage of Venus on June 6th

Astronomers are looking forward to a very rare event in the early morning hours of June 06th: a passage of Venus. Observation opportunities will be excellent in northern Scandinavia and in Spitsbergen. Every 130 years there are 2 transits of Venus with a few years between them. The last one was in 2004. The current one will be the last chance to observe such an event until December 2117.

You wouldn’t see if if you didn’t kow about it, but it is a very important and spectacular moment for astronomers. Historically, transits of Venus were very important for science, as the simultaneous observation of a transit from different places on Earth allowed, for example, the distance to the sun to be calculated.

If you want to see something, you will need – next to good weather – at least binocular and sufficient eye protection. If you try to observe it withour proper eye protection, you risk to lose your eyesight immediately and permanently!

Transit of Venus, Iceland 2004. Venus is visible as a dark dot (arrow). The foto was taken with binoculars and welding glasses.

Passage of Venus on June 6th - Transit of Venus, Iceland 2004

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

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