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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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