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Yearly Archives: 2012 − News & Stories


East Sval­bard manage­ment plan

The exaspe­ra­ting dis­cus­sion about new regu­la­ti­ons for the eas­tern parts of the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go (Sval­bard) is con­ti­nuing. Dri­ving for­ce behind the pro­cess is the Nor­we­gi­an direc­to­ra­te for natu­re admi­nis­tra­ti­on (DN), which belongs to the Depart­ment of the Envi­ron­ment in Oslo. Pre­vious pro­po­sals of a new manage­ment plan ela­bo­ra­ted by the DN have even been rejec­ted by the Sys­sel­man­nen, the hig­hest repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of the Nor­we­gi­an government in Spits­ber­gen, as too weak­ly based on argu­ments and too far going in its legal con­se­quen­ces. The revi­sed ver­si­on is soon to be sent to a public hea­ring pro­cess, but the DN has alrea­dy pro­ven that it is not inte­res­ted in the opi­ni­on of third par­ties. Obser­vers say that DN is for­cing an ideo­lo­gi­cal­ly moti­va­ted legal pro­cess without a strong foun­da­ti­on that should be defi­ned as based on know­ledge. Far-reaching restric­tions to public access to major are­as are argued to bene­fit sci­ence and the envi­ron­ment, accord­ing to the DN. Accord­ing to sci­en­tists acti­ve in the area, cur­rent traf­fic pat­terns – which are alrea­dy strict­ly regu­la­ted – do not pose any pro­blems for sci­en­ti­fic work. And as far as the envi­ron­ment is con­cer­ned, DN admit them­sel­ves that traf­fic as it is at pre­sent and as it will be in the future does not pose any envi­ron­men­tal pro­blems that would requi­re princi­pal adjus­t­ments of the cur­rent access sche­me.

The cur­rent pro­po­sal of a future manage­ment plan is based on the ver­si­on worked out by a working group of the Sys­sel­man­nen in late 2011, but the DN wants some of its regu­la­ti­ons shar­per. An enlar­ge­ment of a future “Lågøya bird reser­ve” which would be clo­sed for traf­fic during the bree­ding sea­son to the who­le island of Lågøya is dif­fi­cult to under­stand and exaspe­ra­ting. But more inte­res­ting is the fact that the DN wants to move important admi­nis­tra­ti­ve powers from the Sys­sel­man­nen to the DN in Oslo. If the DN get as they want to, then this will inclu­de the power to “regu­la­te” traf­fic in the eas­tern natu­re reser­ves (almost all of eas­tern Sval­bard), which means the DN could in fact clo­se are­as by decre­te, without any fur­ther legal pro­cess. Addi­tio­nal­ly, the DN wants the power to deci­de on app­li­ca­ti­ons for access to the “sci­en­ti­fic refe­rence are­as”. In con­trast to ear­lier pro­po­sals, the­se are­as are no lon­ger sup­po­sed to be gene­ral­ly clo­sed to all traf­fic, but open for all who have been gran­ted per­mis­si­on which ever­y­bo­dy can app­ly for – so far the theo­ry. As all rele­vant are­as can only be visi­ted with per­mis­si­on issued by the Sys­sel­man­nen any­way, the ques­ti­on for the moti­va­ti­on of the DN for this step is inte­res­ting. It will be safe to assu­me that the DN intends to restrict the per­mit­ting prac­ti­ce drasti­cal­ly, if the app­li­ca­ti­on pro­cess goes through Oslo rather than the Sys­sel­man­nen in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, as it has been so far and would be natu­ral to con­ti­nue. Obser­vers impu­te a cer­tain degree of prac­ti­cal know­ledge of the local rea­li­ty to the Sys­sel­man­nen, some­thing that is more dif­fi­cult to belie­ve in the case of the DN in Oslo, jud­ging from their pro­po­sals.

East Svalbard management plan - East Svalbard

The cur­rent pro­po­sal dis­tin­guis­hes several zones for eas­tern Sval­bard:
 
Zone A: »sci­en­ti­fic refe­rence area«, which should theo­re­ti­cal­ly be open to visit after app­li­ca­ti­on, but will in prac­ti­ce most likely be a no go area for mere mor­tals.
Zone B: No traf­fic during the bree­ding sea­son.
Zone C: Site-spe­ci­fic gui­de­li­nes will app­ly.
Zone D: Local bans on traf­fic at cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge sites, in for­ce sin­ce 2010.
Zone E: Kong Karls Land, Kong Karls Land (alrea­dy off limits).
Click here for a lar­ger ver­si­on of this map.

Map: Sys­sel­man­nen

Spe­ci­es “polar bear” older than belie­ved so far

So far it has been assu­med that the spe­ci­es polar bear (Ursus mari­ti­mus) has a rather recent ori­gin in the upper Plei­sto­ce­ne, may­be 100.000 or maxi­mum 200.000 years ago. This would indi­ca­te a very clo­se rela­ti­ons­hip to brown bears and a quick adap­ti­on to the high arc­tic envi­ron­ment.

A stu­dy recent­ly publis­hed in Sci­ence has now indi­ca­ted a much older ori­gin for the spe­ci­es. The aut­hors sug­gest an evo­lu­tio­na­ry age of appro­xi­mate­ly 600.000 years (con­fi­dence inter­vall 338.000 to 934.000 years, mid- to lower Plei­sto­ce­ne). Older stu­dies are sup­po­sed to be mis­led by gene­ti­cal con­ta­mi­na­ti­on from cross-bree­ding, an error source belie­ved to be avoided in the new stu­dy.

Polar bears as a spe­ci­es have accord­in­gly had signi­fi­cant­ly more time to adapt from the sub-arc­tic habi­tat of brown bears to the high arc­tic. If this has any impli­ca­ti­ons for the adap­t­ati­on time of polar bears to recent chan­ges in envi­ron­ment and cli­ma­te remains an unans­we­red ques­ti­on at the time being.

Small polar bear fami­ly in Spits­ber­gen. Their ances­tors were alrea­dy roa­ming through the ice in mid-Plei­sto­ce­ne times.

Species polar bear older than believed so far - Polar bear family, Spitsbergen

Source: Sci­ence

East Green­land 2013

Star­ting in 2013, Rolf Stan­ge and the “Geo­gra­phi­sche Rei­se­ge­sell­schaft” will be offe­ring trips not only in Spits­ber­gen, but also in East Green­land. We will spend some days in Ammas­sa­lik and then board the Ice­lan­dic schoo­ner Hil­dur to explo­re Scores­by­sund, the world’s lar­gest fjord sys­tem, for a week.

The trip will be Ger­man spea­king. Click here for more info: East Green­land 2013.

Hil­dur in Scores­by­sund, East Green­land.

East Greenland 2013 - Hildur in Scoresbysund

Big oil is watching Spits­ber­gen

The oil and gas indus­try will focus rese­arch acti­vi­ties on on-shore are­as of Spits­ber­gen. Even though oil and gas pro­duc­tion is unli­kely on the islands not only for fra­gi­le legal rea­sons, but also due to more solid geo­lo­gi­cal cir­cum­s­tan­ces: here it is easy to stu­dy what is hid­den under the sea floor fur­ther south in the Bar­ents Sea. The so-cal­led Bar­ents Shelf is belie­ved to have signi­fi­cant poten­ti­al for hydro­car­bon pro­duc­tion.

Main­ly of inte­rest are Tri­as­sic and Juras­sic sedi­ments that are rich in orga­nic mate­ri­al and wide­ly spread in cen­tral and sou­the­as­tern parts of Sval­bard. Equi­va­lents of the­se rocks near the Nor­we­gi­an coast have alrea­dy tur­ned out to be pro­duc­ti­ve. Several oil com­pa­nies have alrea­dy announ­ced their inte­rest to con­duct geo­lo­gi­cal excur­si­ons to the­se parts of Sval­bard.

Tri­as­sic rocks in Sas­senda­len. The­se rocks are inte­res­ting for the oil and gas indus­try.

Big oil is watching Spitsbergen - Triassic sediments, Sassendalen

Source: Net­ta­vi­sen for Geo­mil­jøet

Eas­ter keeps the winter’s pro­mi­se

After a disap­poin­ting ear­ly sea­son, the Eas­ter wee­kend brought dream con­di­ti­ons in Spits­ber­gen: good ter­rain con­di­ti­ons for tours and bright sunshi­ne. All tho­se who went out on tours by snow mobi­le, ski or dog sledge could enjoy won­der­ful days in a friend­ly win­ter arc­tic. Tra­di­tio­nal­ly, both locals and tou­rists are out in the­se days in con­si­derable num­bers. Nevertheless, it was a calm wee­kend for the emer­gen­cy ser­vices: a polar bear that was seen near Lon­gye­ar­by­en tur­ned out to be a rein­de­er, and an avalan­che trig­ge­red by a a per­son on ski did not do any dama­ge.

Even the ice seems to come to the coasts slow­ly, both the drift in the north and east and the fast ice in the fjords, but not to the degree that is nor­mal in April. The sai­ling boat Noor­der­licht, that is usual­ly fro­zen in the ice in Tem­pel­fjord, even visi­ted Lon­gye­ar­by­en befo­re Eas­ter, but retur­ned to stay in an ice chan­nel that had been crea­ted in 7 hours work with axes and chain saws. The first visi­tors could alrea­dy be wel­co­med on the “ship in the ice”.

The only bad news seems to be rumours about repeated dis­tur­ban­ce of a young polar bear fami­ly on the east coast of Spits­ber­gen by incon­si­de­ra­te or even reck­less snow mobi­le dri­vers. It is said that the­se are indi­vi­du­al locals from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Com­p­lains have been filed both by other locals and by orga­nis­ed tou­rist groups.

Ski hiking in Spits­ber­gen.

Easter keeps the winter's promise - Gipsdalen

The “boat in the ice”

Nor­mal­ly in April, the sai­ling boat Noor­der­licht is fro­zen in solid ice in Tem­pel­fjord to ser­ve as a desti­na­ti­on for snows­coo­ter or dog sledge tours. This year, the “boat in the ice” is a “boat without ice”: until now, the fjords have sim­ply not fro­zen due to the lar­ge­ly unusual­ly mild wea­ther and the high water tem­pe­ra­tures. Befo­re Eas­tern, Noor­der­licht even left Tem­pel­fjord to visit Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

The ice chart shows an unusu­al lack of fast ice for the sea­son. Nor­mal­ly, most smal­ler fjords on the west coast and lar­ge are­as in the east are fro­zen over with solid fast ice in April. But what is “nor­mal” the­se days?

The “boat in the ice”: Noor­der­licht in Tem­pel­fjor­den, April 2010.

The boat in the ice: Noorderlicht in Tempelfjorden, April 2010

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

PCB-con­cen­tra­ti­ons in polar bears on the decre­a­se

Hard to belie­ve, but the­re are good news for polar bears: bio­lo­gists from the uni­ver­si­ty of Trond­heim (Nor­way) have done rese­arch on tis­sue sam­ples collec­ted from fema­le polar bears. Their results show that poly­chlora­ted biphe­nyls (PCB) have drop­ped signi­fi­cant­ly bet­ween 1998 and 2008. The values for young bears are 59 % lower and tho­se of adult fema­les have decre­a­sed by 55 %. The actu­al con­cen­tra­ti­ons are still well capa­ble of doing harm to a bear’s repro­duc­ti­ve and immu­ne sys­tem, but the trend is without doubt good news.

PCBs have been used world­wi­de for mul­ti­ple tech­ni­cal pro­ces­ses, inclu­ding coo­ling agents and electric parts. Sin­ce 2004, the­re is a ban on PCB pro­duc­tion wit­hin the Stock­holm con­ven­ti­on sys­tem that has been signed by most major coun­tries, with a few excep­ti­ons, noti­ce­ab­ly the USA.

Small polar bear fami­ly in sum­mer drift ice north of Spits­ber­gen.

PCB-concentrations in polar bears on the decrease - Polar bears

Source: Uni­ver­si­tät Trond­heim

Glau­cous gulls threa­tened by envi­ron­men­tal toxins

Long-lived envi­ron­men­tal toxins from indus­tri­al pro­ces­ses and con­ven­tio­nal agri­cul­tu­re end­an­ger spe­ci­es that are high up in the food chain, inclu­ding polar bears, ivory gulls and glau­cous gulls. This is well known and a num­ber of stu­dies have been made on the phyio­lo­gi­cal effects of the harm­ful sub­s­tan­ces, which in the arc­tic are espe­cial­ly long-lived becau­se of the cold tem­pe­ra­tures, on the indi­vi­du­al ani­mal.

Sci­en­tists from the Nor­we­gi­an insti­tu­te for rese­arch on natu­re (NINA) have now tried to quan­ti­fy the effects on a popu­la­ti­on level. The stu­dy has been made on glau­cous gulls on Bear Island. One of the results is that glau­cous gulls with high levels of toxins have alar­ming annu­al sur­vi­val rates of only 40-50 %.

Every year, dead glau­cous gulls are found on Bear Island that have high values of rele­vant sub­s­tan­ces in their tis­su­es. Due to its posi­ti­on and local cli­ma­te, Bear Island has some of the hig­hest con­cen­tra­ti­ons of envi­ron­men­tal toxins in the who­le Arc­tic.

Sam­pling a skua on Bear Island.

Glaucous gulls threatened by environmental toxins - Sampling a skua on Bear Island

Source: NINA

Bad win­ter sea­son

The warm and wet win­ter wea­ther has so far gone bad­ly over the sea­son. Both tou­rists and local tou­ring enthu­si­asts are suf­fe­ring from bad ter­rain con­di­ti­ons. Several spells of tem­pe­ra­tures well abo­ve free­zing and hea­vy rain have tur­ned snow into ice. The fjords have lar­ge­ly remai­ned open, rather than free­zing over. Popu­lar desti­na­ti­ons such as Kapp Lin­né and Noor­der­licht, the “boat in the ice” which is nor­mal­ly fro­zen in fast ice in Tem­pel­fjord in mid March, can hard­ly be reached. The situa­ti­on deman­ds a lot of fle­xi­bi­li­ty from tou­rists and tour ope­ra­tors.

Blue ice ins­tead of snow: then it is bet­ter to stay at home.

Bad winter season - Sassendalen

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (1112)

Drug abu­se in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

In autumn last year the poli­ce caught 11 young peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en with drugs. 10 of them have by now been sen­ten­ced to fines or pri­son up to 60 days (part­ly sus­pen­ded). Next to owning and sel­ling amounts of up to 100 g of can­na­bis, one per­son was also char­ged for breaching laws regu­la­ting fire­arms becau­se of impro­per sto­rage. Two per­sons were expel­led from Spits­ber­gen for up to 4 years. The local news­pa­per Sval­bard­pos­ten found out last year (after the drug raz­zia) in an inter­net poll that 911 out of 1060 rea­ders are in favor of expel­ling drug users and dea­lers from Spits­ber­gen.

The cri­mi­na­li­ty level is com­pa­ra­tively minor and main­ly direc­ted at covering own deman­ds, but has to be seen in the con­text of a small, iso­la­ted town with many young inha­bi­tants. The can­na­bis was smug­gled from Nor­way to Lon­gye­ar­by­en by mail.

In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, grass is not only gro­wing on the tun­dra.

Drug abuse in Longyearbyen: Cottongrass, Longyearbyen

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen, Sval­bard­pos­ten (1112)

Rese­arch per­mis­si­on denied

It seems as if per­mis­si­on for archaeo­lo­gi­cal rese­arch is now more often denied than given. In sum­mer 2011, vete­ran Rus­si­an archaeo­lo­gist Vadim Star­kov wan­ted to exca­va­te a Pomor site in Bet­ty­buk­ta in sou­thern Spits­ber­gen, but did not get per­mis­si­on from the Sys­sel­man­nen. Now ano­t­her app­li­ca­ti­on from Star­kov was tur­ned down. Star­kov wan­ted to docu­ment a Rus­si­an ship­w­reck, pro­bab­ly dating into the 18th or ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry, in Van Mijen­fjor­den. Parts of the wreck were pro­bab­ly used as fire­wood or buil­ding mate­ri­al. The wreck is lying on dry ground, but is most­ly cove­r­ed with soil. The inten­ti­on was to remo­ve the soil, docu­ment the wreck and cover it again. The Sys­sel­man­nen has now denied per­mis­si­on becau­se of the poten­ti­al risk of dama­ge to the wreck from wind and wea­ther during the peri­od of work. A final decisi­on will be made in Oslo (Rik­san­tik­va­ren).

Less of a sur­pri­se was the decisi­on not to fol­low a Rus­si­an app­li­ca­ti­on to build a recon­struc­ted Pomor house at Rus­se­kei­la, west of Bar­ents­burg. The recon­struc­tion should have ser­ved as a muse­um and tou­rist desti­na­ti­on. Buil­dings out­side the pre­sent-day sett­le­ments are hard­ly ever per­mit­ted. Addi­tio­nal­ly, the site in ques­ti­on is near one of the most important archaeo­lo­gi­cal sites from the Pomor peri­od and insi­de a Geo­top (pro­tec­ted area becau­se of geo­lo­gi­cal values).

The Pomors had a lar­ge hun­ting sta­ti­on in Rus­se­kei­la, bet­ween Bar­ents­burg and Kapp Lin­né. The cross is a recon­struc­tion.

Research permission denied - Russekeila

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (1012)

“Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard” gui­de­book: 3rd edi­ti­on now avail­ab­le

The third edi­ti­on of the gui­de­book “Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard” is now avail­ab­le. The book has been out of print for a while, and an updated ver­si­on had to wait until other pro­jects were finis­hed.

The third edi­ti­on fol­lows the struc­tu­re of the second one, but has been revi­sed and impro­ved through lar­ge parts of its con­tents (text, illus­tra­ti­ons) – often con­cer­ning details, but this is what makes the dif­fe­rence, isn’t it?

Click here for fur­ther details: Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard (engl.).

The cur­rent edi­ti­on is the 15th book made and publis­hed by Rolf Stan­ge (inclu­ding trans­la­ti­ons and new edi­ti­ons).

The third edi­ti­on of “Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard”.

Spitsbergen-Svalbard guidebook - 3rd edition

Tou­rism and the arc­tic envi­ron­ment: a pro­blem – real­ly?

Nor­we­gi­an poli­ti­ci­ans and often also the public seem to be con­vin­ced that tou­rists and the arc­tic envi­ron­ment are two things that don’t go tog­e­ther well. Almost as a knee-jerk, the arc­tic envi­ron­ment is descri­bed as “fra­gi­le”. Based on such assump­ti­ons that are lacking docu­men­ta­ti­on, the admi­nis­tra­ti­on is about to intro­du­ce drastic steps such as clo­sing major are­as. Such steps, that don’t even aim at an envi­ron­men­tal bene­fit but are rather to estab­lish lar­ge pri­va­te play­grounds (“refe­rence are­as”) for the admin­stra­ti­on and sci­ence that the admi­nis­tra­ti­on con­si­ders rele­vant, are lar­ge­ly based on the “føre var” prinsip­pet, the pre­cau­tio­na­ry princip­le. Gene­ral­ly a good thing, but less so if strai­ned bey­ond any limit to hide the lack of docu­men­ted know­ledge that should rather be the base for good admi­nis­tra­ti­on.

Such an overs­train of the “pre­cau­tio­na­ry princip­le” due to a lack of docu­men­ted know­ledge as a base for drastic admi­nis­tra­ti­ve steps have in recent years led to ongo­ing con­tro­ver­sal dis­cus­sions and to a decre­a­sing accep­t­ance of the admi­nis­tra­ti­on and thus to a pro­blem of legi­ti­ma­cy.

The Nor­we­gi­an Insti­tu­te for Natu­re Rese­arch (NINA) has iden­ti­fied this as a pro­blem and has now publis­hed a report based on data collec­ted during 3 field sea­sons in Spits­ber­gen (2008-2010) on 30 loca­ti­ons. NINA has obser­ved tou­rist groups, con­duc­ted inter­views with tou­rists and gui­des and asses­sed the vul­nera­bi­li­ty of sites in terms of vege­ta­ti­on, ani­mals, ter­rain and his­to­ri­cal sites. Accord­ing to the report, the gui­des have a key posi­ti­on to influ­ence the beha­viour of tou­rists and their moving pat­terns. The report does not pro­vi­de a con­clu­ding ans­wer to the ques­ti­on if tou­rism is harm­ful to the arc­tic envi­ron­ment, but makes clear that the­re is no simp­le yes or no to this ques­ti­on, and points out the lack of avail­ab­le know­ledge upon which an assess­ment can be made, also as a base for admi­nis­tra­ti­ve steps.

Tou­rists ashore on an island in Lief­defjord: how much dama­ge do they actual­ly do?

Tourism and the arctic environment - Liefdefjord

Source: NINA

Heli­co­p­ter traf­fic in Spits­ber­gen

Heli­co­p­ter lan­dings out­side the offi­cial air­fiel­ds are princi­pal­ly not allo­wed and can only be car­ri­ed out with spe­cial per­mis­si­on from the Sys­sel­man­nen. Now figu­res have been publis­hed to illus­tra­te heli­co­p­ter lan­dings in the field in 2011: the total num­ber was no less than 2403. Out of the­se, 1729 were con­nec­ted to mining and mine­ral explo­ra­ti­on, 335 were in the con­text of sci­ence. Admi­nis­tra­ti­ve heli­co­p­ter use, which can safe­ly be assu­med to be sub­stan­ti­al, is not inclu­ded.

Per­mis­si­ons for tou­ris­tic heli­co­p­ter use are princi­pal­ly not given.

Over­view of lan­dings in the field over the who­le Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go in 2011. Traf­fic hot spots were, as could be expec­ted, the poten­ti­al gold field in St. Jonsfjord and the new coal mine at Lunck­ef­jel­let. But a lar­ge num­ber of lan­dings has also taken place any­whe­re, inclu­ding the remo­test, other­wi­se strict­ly pro­tec­ted are­as. (Map © Sys­sel­man­nen på Sval­bard)

Helicopter traffic in Spitsbergen - Helicopter landings in the field

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Polar bear attack in Tem­pel­fjord

In August 2011, a 17 year old stu­dent was kil­led and 4 other ones inju­red when a very aggres­si­ve polar bear atta­cked their camp (see ear­lier arti­cles on the­se pages). The Sys­sel­man­nen has now deci­ded to clo­se the case. Accord­ing to Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties, the cau­se for the tra­gic event was “a num­ber of unfor­tu­n­a­te cir­cum­s­tan­ces that led to the tra­gic acci­dent”, but not invol­ving any cri­mi­nal offence. The case will accord­in­gly be clo­sed.

The par­ents do not agree with the Sysselmannen’s decisi­on to clo­se the case and have filed a com­p­laint to The public pro­se­cu­tors’ office of Troms and Finn­mark.

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 Tempelfjord - Polar bear, Duvefjord

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

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