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Yearly Archives: 2012 − News & Stories

IMO: polar code not befo­re 2015

The IMO (Inter­na­tio­nal Mari­ti­me Orga­niza­ti­on) is an agen­cy of the UN to pro­du­ce a legal frame­work that con­trols mari­ti­me acti­vi­ty glo­bal­ly. Work on a polar code has star­ted years ago to ensu­re safe­ty of ship­ping in polar waters. Aspects of the polar code touch various fields such as the con­s­truc­tion of ships, safe­ty equip­ment and qua­li­fi­ca­ti­ons of Cap­ta­ins and nau­ti­cal offi­cers, to men­ti­on a few. The envi­ron­ment is an important major focus.

The mat­ter is com­plex and part­ly con­tro­ver­si­al. A decis­i­on will not be made in 2012 as ori­gi­nal­ly sche­du­led, but is now expec­ted for late 2014. The slow pro­cess is cri­ti­zi­sed by envi­ron­men­tal orga­nis­za­ti­ons. The pro­no­un­ced increase of ship traf­fic espe­ci­al­ly of car­go ships and oil tan­kers in cer­tain are­as such as the nor­thwest and nor­the­ast pas­sa­ge (Canada/Alaska, Rus­sia) gives inde­ed reason for envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns. On the other hand, natio­nal govern­ments can alre­a­dy imple­ment important legis­la­ti­on in many are­as. The Nor­we­gi­an has intro­du­ced an envi­ron­men­tal­ly important ban on hea­vy oil in Spits­ber­gen in recent years. A simi­lar ban is in force in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca sin­ce August 2011.

Part of the dis­cus­sion is a gene­ral ban on all ships that are older than a cer­tain year such as 1996. If such a dra­stic step, which would have dra­stic con­se­quen­ces for many ships, would be equal­ly bene­fi­ci­al for safe­ty and envi­ron­ment, is in many cases con­tro­ver­si­al. In the past, smal­ler ice-going ves­sels were often built very stron­gly. It would most­ly be dif­fi­cult or impos­si­ble to replace such ves­sels ade­qua­te­ly.

The com­ple­xi­ty of the who­le mat­ter is increased by the fact that it con­cerns huge are­as with a wide diver­si­ty of all kinds of con­di­ti­ons. The west coast of Spits­ber­gen, for exam­p­le, is ice-free for most of the year and usual­ly easi­ly acces­si­ble for all kinds of ships. The use of ice­brea­k­ers in this area, which is small but has a lot of local traf­fic, would be a gre­at and envi­ron­men­tal­ly con­tra­pro­duc­ti­ve was­te of fuel and resour­ces. The near-by nor­the­as­tern cor­ner of Green­land is in con­trast one of the are­as with the most seve­re ice con­di­ti­ons on the pla­net even in sum­mer and can only be rea­ched with hea­vy ice­brea­k­ers. Simi­lar regio­nal dif­fe­ren­ces exist in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, as is made clear by the com­pa­ri­son bet­ween the ice-free nor­thwes­tern area of the Ant­ar­c­tic Pen­in­su­la with the ice-cover­ed cen­tral Wed­dell and Ross Seas.

The Swe­dish ice­brea­k­er Oden at the west coast of Spits­ber­gen (June 2008, with the 3 heirs to the Scan­di­na­vi­an thro­nes on board).

IMO polar code not before 2015 - data-lazy-src=

The small Swe­dish ship Stock­holm, here at the north coast of Spits­ber­gen, was built in 1953 and is thus one of the oldest ships that is regu­lar­ly sai­ling in the­se waters, but also one of the most robust ones.

MS Stockholm

Sources: IMO, taz

Shrimp traw­ling in Hin­lo­pen­ren­na

The Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ty for Fishery (Fis­ke­ri­di­rek­to­ra­tet) has ope­ned an area for shrimp traw­ling that has been off limits for fishing ships until now. Hin­lo­pen­ren­na includes Hin­lo­pen strait as well as deep water are­as north and south of it.

The press release of the Fis­ke­ri­di­rek­to­ra­tet does not include any fur­ther details.

Hin­lo­pen Strait.

Shrimp trawling in Hinlopenrenna - data-lazy-src=

Com­pul­so­ry pilo­ta­ge in Spits­ber­gen

The Nor­we­gi­an Kyst­ver­ket (coas­tal and navi­ga­ti­on aut­ho­ri­ty) plans to intro­du­ce com­pul­so­ry pilo­ta­ge for most of the waters around Spits­ber­gen. Coal freigh­ters to Sveagru­a­va may have to car­ry pilots alre­a­dy in the upco­ming sum­mer of 2012. From 2014, this will app­ly to all ships lon­ger than 70 met­res and pas­sen­ger ships lon­ger than 24 met­res. Only parts of Isfjord and Bell­sund will be excluded.

Cap­ta­ins with suf­fi­ci­ent expe­ri­ence and local know­ledge can, after a test, be cer­ti­fied to be except­ed from com­pul­so­ry pilo­ta­ge. If this is prac­ti­ca­ble remains to be seen: cos­ts and fees will be high, and it should curr­ent­ly not be taken for gran­ted that tests will be available in other lan­guages than Nor­we­gi­an. Ano­ther requi­re­ment will pro­ba­b­ly be that a cer­ti­fied Cap­tain or navi­ga­ti­on offi­cer is in char­ge on the bridge at any time when the ship is moving. This will hard­ly be prac­ti­ca­ble for smal­ler ships and it does not con­tri­bu­te any­thing to nau­ti­cal safe­ty: lar­ge parts of most com­mon sai­ling rou­tes in Spits­ber­gen (Sval­bard) are nau­ti­cal­ly very easy and straight­for­ward and can easi­ly be hand­led by all navi­ga­ti­on offi­cers.

Smal­ler ships bet­ween 24 and 100 met­res, so-cal­led expe­di­ti­on crui­se ships, will be threa­ten­ed with an imme­dia­te ter­mi­na­ti­on of their acti­vi­ties: the cos­ts for pilo­ta­ge during a 10 day crui­se will be bey­ond 100,000 Euro, an amount that makes sai­ling eco­no­mic­al­ly com­ple­te­ly impos­si­ble.

Lar­ge parts of the waters around Spits­ber­gen are deep and well enough char­ted by now to allow com­pa­ra­tively easy navi­ga­ti­on. Whe­re pilots can be found who can make a noti­ceable dif­fe­rence in more dif­fi­cult waters, com­pared to what pre­sent-day Cap­ta­ins can do, remains an open ques­ti­on at the time of wri­ting. The law is sup­po­sed to enter force on 01 July 2012.

Spits­ber­gen is annu­al­ly visi­ted by ships of dif­fe­rent sizes. The har­bor of Ny Åle­sund.

Compulsory pilotage in Spitsbergen - Cruise ship and sailing ship, Ny Alesund

Source: Kyst­ver­ket

Tem­pe­ra­tu­re records in Spits­ber­gen

While cen­tral and eas­tern Euro­pe are suf­fe­ring from seve­re cold, tem­pe­ra­tures in Spits­ber­gen are hig­her than ever mea­su­red in Febru­ary. Mea­su­ring was star­ted in 1975. Lon­gye­ar­by­en air­port had 7 degrees cen­ti­gra­de abo­ve free­zing, exact­ly 1 degree hig­her than the pre­vious record for Febru­ary (mea­su­red 17.2.2005).

Also Sveagru­va has the doubtful honour to pre­sent a new record, amoun­ting to 6.5 degrees, or 1.3 degrees hig­her than pre­vious­ly (5.2 degrees on 22.2.2006). Also the other sta­ti­ons in Ny Åle­sund and on Hopen and Bear Island have tem­pe­ra­tures abo­ve free­zing.

Towards the weekend the mer­cu­ry is expec­ted to drop well below zero again.

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Hard­ly any drift ice around Spits­ber­gen

Not only the wea­ther, but also the ice situa­ti­on around Spits­ber­gen is curr­ent­ly very unu­su­al. Espe­ci­al­ly the rela­tively high water tem­pe­ra­tures have a strong effect on the for­ma­ti­on and dis­tri­bu­ti­on of drift ice. Sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, the annu­al maxi­mum is rea­ched in April. As litt­le ice as now in ear­ly Febru­ary is very unu­su­al.

Fur­ther east, in Franz Josef Land, the­re is a den­se and exten­si­ve drift ice cover.

Hardly any drift ice around Spitsbergen

Ice chart published on Febru­ary 03, 2012.

Source (ice chart): Nor­we­gi­an meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal insti­tu­te met.no

Wea­ther capers in Spits­ber­gen

The last days have seen some rather unu­su­al wea­ther phe­no­me­na in Spits­ber­gen. On Mon­day (Janu­ary 30), Lon­gye­ar­by­en was the war­mest place in Nor­way with 4 degrees cen­ti­gra­de abo­ve free­zing. 26,5 mm of rain did not make it more enjoya­ble, and as a con­se­quence, seve­ral roads had to be clo­sed due to a stron­gly increased ava­lan­che risk and a landing at the air­port had to be can­cel­led due to slick­ness.

The rain was not­hing com­pared to Ny Åle­sund, whe­re a con­sidera­ble 98 mm were mea­su­red within 24 hours, which is cle­ar­ly a local record. The war­mest day mea­su­red in Spits­ber­gen so far in Janu­ary was howe­ver Janu­ary 01, 2006, when the mer­cu­ry went up to 7,7 degrees. In com­pa­ri­son, one year ago (Janu­ary 30, 2011) it was as cold as 31,5 degrees below zero.

Chan­ging wea­ther with cold and warm spells is typi­cal for the cold sea­son, but the recent warm pha­se is unu­sual­ly long and inten­se.

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Dead­ly polar bear attack in Tem­pel­fjor­den

In August 2011, one per­son died and four other ones were serious­ly inju­red under a polar bear attack on a camp in Tem­pel­fjord (see August 2011 news on this site for fur­ther details). The Nor­we­gi­an poli­ce has now published a report on the tech­ni­cal con­di­ti­on of the safe­ty equip­ment. Both the alarm fence and the rif­le had fai­led, which con­tri­bu­ted to the tra­gic out­co­me of the inci­dent. Four attempts to shoot the bear fai­led, the bear was shot with a fifth car­tridge, which had been in the rif­le befo­re, but had been ejec­ted wit­hout firing and was then found on the ground.

Accor­ding to the Nor­we­gi­an poli­ce, both the rif­le and the alarm fence work­ed when hand­led pro­per­ly. As had been assu­med befo­re, it seems now safe to say that misu­sa­ge of the alarm fence and the rif­le con­tri­bu­ted to the tra­gic deve­lo­p­ment. Based on the infor­ma­ti­on available, it is howe­ver impos­si­ble to say if it might have been pos­si­ble to shoot the bear befo­re the vic­tim was kil­led. The bear was extre­me­ly aggres­si­ve and the attack went very rapidly.

Mau­ser-style rif­les are com­mon­ly used for pro­tec­tion against polar bears in Spits­ber­gen.

Deadly polar bear attack in Tempelfjorden - Rifles

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

East Sval­bard manage­ment plan: open let­ter from Thor Lar­sen

Thor Lar­sen is a well-known polar bear bio­lo­gist. He was rese­arch direc­tor at the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te and is now pro­fes­sor eme­ri­tus. With a lar­ge num­ber of expe­di­ti­ons over more than half a cen­tu­ry, he is one of the veterans of Nor­we­gi­an polar rese­arch.

Recent­ly, Thor Lar­sen has expres­sed sub­stan­ti­al cri­ti­cism about the latest pro­po­sal of a manage­ment plan for east Sval­bard, which includes lar­ge so-cal­led sci­en­ti­fic refe­rence are­as. It can be expec­ted that public access to the­se are­as will be signi­fi­cant­ly more dif­fi­cult, if not impos­si­ble. Lar­sen cri­ti­zi­ses that the plan is kept upright alt­hough seve­ral working groups of the Sys­sel­man­nen have con­cluded that con­flicts bet­ween tou­rism and sci­ence can not be iden­ti­fied at the time being and are not expec­ted in the future eit­her. The actu­al envi­ron­men­tal impact of orga­ni­zed tou­rism is descri­bed as mini­mal by the­se working groups. For exam­p­le, it was feared that tou­rist visits to wal­rus hau­lout sites might lead to dis­tur­ban­ce. Moni­to­ring with auto­ma­tic came­ras over seve­ral years has, howe­ver, not yiel­ded any evi­dence to sup­port this. Accor­ding to Lar­sen, remai­ning pro­blems such as local ero­si­on can be sol­ved with the imple­men­ta­ti­on of site-spe­ci­fic gui­de­lines whe­re­ver nee­ded. A need for clo­sing lar­ge are­as is not seen, neither from a sci­en­ti­fic nor from an envi­ron­men­tal per­spec­ti­ve, wri­tes Lar­sen, also poin­ting out that the are­as in ques­ti­on are all insi­de the natu­re reser­ves, which are alre­a­dy enjoy­ing strict pro­tec­tion. The cur­rent regu­la­ti­ons are well capa­ble of pro­tec­ting sci­en­ti­fic and envi­ron­men­tal needs, accor­ding to Lar­sen.

Lar­sen cri­ti­zi­ses that hig­her admi­nis­tra­ti­ve levels keep the pro­po­sal to reser­ve lar­ge are­as as “sci­en­ti­fic refe­rence are­as” upright despi­te of this obvious lack of data which might sup­port such a dra­stic step. He also points out that the sci­en­ti­fic qua­li­ty of the papers that sug­gest the pro­po­sal is not mee­ting any stan­dards. Lar­sen sup­po­ses that rele­vant insti­tu­ti­ons now insist on their pro­po­sal becau­se of a feared “loss of face” and reminds of a com­mon-sen­se rule for moun­tai­nee­ring that is well-known in Nor­way: it is never too late to turn around.

Thor Larsen’s com­ple­te let­ter was published last Fri­day in Sval­bard­pos­ten (02/2012) in Nor­we­gi­an. An Eng­lish trans­la­ti­on can be down­loa­ded here.

Nor­the­as­tern Nord­aus­t­land is most­ly very rocky. Nobo­dy real­ly knows why this area should beco­me an exclu­si­ve play­ground for “sci­ence rele­vant to admi­nis­tra­ti­on”.

East Svalbard management plan - Kapp Bruun

Die­sel leaka­ge at Kapp Lin­né

The old radio sta­ti­on Isfjord Radio at Kapp Lin­né at the mouth of Isfjord was aban­do­ned about 10 years ago. Today, the pro­tec­ted buil­dings are used only during the spring and sum­mer sea­son for tou­ristic pur­po­ses. For the rest of the year, the hou­ses are stan­ding emp­ty, most­ly wit­hout super­vi­si­on.

Employees of the owner SNSG (Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Gru­bekom­pa­ni) have dis­co­ver­ed a die­sel leaka­ge. It is uncer­tain for how long die­sel could escape from the tank, but the Sys­sel­man­nen assu­mes that up to 100,000 or 150,000 lit­res may have ente­red the local envi­ron­ment. The leaka­ge hap­pen­ed in a gene­ra­tor room.

The polar win­ter makes it impos­si­ble to take coun­ter­ac­ti­ve mea­su­res.

The hou­ses of the for­mer radio sta­ti­on Isfjord Radio at Kapp Lin­né.

Diesel leakage at Kapp Linné - data-lazy-src=

Manage­ment plan for East Sval­bard: let­ter to the edi­tor of Sval­bard­pos­ten

The ongo­ing con­tro­ver­sy about the East Sval­bard manage­ment plan has been cover­ed repea­ted­ly on the­se pages, most recent­ly in ear­ly Decem­ber, 2011. Now 17 expe­di­ti­on lea­ders have given their comm­ents and made alter­na­ti­ve sug­ges­ti­ons in a let­ter-to-the-edi­tor of Sval­bard­pos­ten, which was published in Nor­we­gi­an on last Fri­day (Sval­bard­pos­ten 01/2012). An Eng­lish trans­la­ti­on can be down­loa­ded here (eng­lisch).

Many of the under­si­gned, inclu­ding the owner of this web­site, have uni­ver­si­ty-level edu­ca­ti­on in natu­ral sci­en­ces and are dedi­ca­ted envi­ron­men­ta­lists with expe­ri­ence from are­as, whe­re tou­rism is suc­cessful­ly con­trol­led, such as Ant­ar­c­ti­ca.

Accor­ding to the latest offi­ci­al pro­po­sal, Duvefjord is to be part of the con­tro­ver­si­al “Zone A”, the “sci­en­ti­fic refe­rence area”.

Management plan for East Svalbard - data-lazy-src=

Explo­ra­ti­on dril­ling in the Barents Sea

OMV Nor­ge, the Nor­we­gi­an daugh­ter of the inter­na­tio­nal oil- and gas com­pa­ny OMV, plans explo­ra­ti­on dril­lings in the field PL 537, about 196 kilo­me­t­res sou­the­ast of Bear Island, sear­ching for hydro­car­bons. The depth of the Barents Sea in this area is near 400 met­res.

The Barents Sea is bio­lo­gi­cal­ly very pro­duc­ti­ve and eco­lo­gi­cal­ly sen­si­ti­ve. It is high­ly important for lar­ge sea­bird popu­la­ti­ons, mari­ne mammals and the fishing indus­try.

The appro­xi­ma­te loca­ti­on of PL 537 in the Barents Sea.

Exploration drilling in the Barents Sea

Source: Oilinfo.no

AECO: site-spe­ci­fic gui­de­lines

AECO (Arc­tic expe­di­ti­on crui­se ope­ra­tors) has published site-spe­ci­fic gui­de­lines. The­se are inten­ded to sup­port visi­tors at a num­ber of most­ly fre­quent­ly visi­ted site to tre­at the natu­ral and his­to­ri­cal envi­ron­ment careful­ly. AECO mem­ber com­pa­nies, which run most tou­rist ships that tra­vel Spits­ber­gen on a regu­lar basis, have com­mi­t­ed them­sel­ves to the AECO gui­de­lines. All other ships, inclu­ding pri­va­te boats, are invi­ted to fol­low them.

The gui­de­lines can be down­loa­ded from AECO.

As expec­ted, expe­ri­en­ced expe­di­ti­on lea­ders won’t find a lot of new infor­ma­ti­on in the gui­de­lines. Tour­lea­ders with les­ser expe­ri­ence and pri­va­te visi­tors will find them inte­res­t­ing and hel­pful in order to avo­id or mini­mi­ze any impact.

From the gui­de­lines: Ytre Nor­skøya. © AECO.

AECO site-specific guidelines: Ytre Norskoya

Source: AECO

Spits­ber­gen on the UNESCO world heri­ta­ge list?

In Decem­ber it emer­ged that the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment has plans to nomi­na­te the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go (at least part­ly) for the UNESCO world heri­ta­ge list. Poli­ti­cal par­ties and repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the local popu­la­ti­ons are spec­ti­cal. Local poli­ti­ci­ans in Lon­gye­ar­by­en said they would pre­fer such initia­ti­ves to come from the local popu­la­ti­on, rather than the govern­ment in Oslo, which is often too far away from real life in the arc­tic.

It is also belie­ved that a nomi­na­ti­on for the UNESCO world heri­ta­ge list is seen as a poli­ti­cal exch­an­ge for a new mine, which has recent­ly been announ­ced to be per­mit­ted. Poli­ti­ci­ans in Lon­gye­ar­by­en fear that the minis­try of the envi­ron­ment is loo­king for a poli­ti­cal balan­ce for the new mine at the pos­si­ble expen­se of locals and tou­rists, who may face new rest­ric­tions which are often bene­fi­ci­al for Oslo poli­ti­ci­ans rather than the envi­ron­ment.

Con­tro­ver­si­al: a nomi­na­ti­on for the UENS­CO world heri­ta­ge list. The image shows a sce­ne from Kross­fjord.

Spitsbergen on the UNESCO world heritage list? - Signehamna

Source: NRK (Nor­we­gi­an TV borad­cas­ter)


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