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Home → October, 2013

Monthly Archives: October 2013 − News & Stories


Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen cur­r­ent­ly not pro­fi­ta­ble

The Nor­we­gi­an mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske is cur­r­ent­ly not doing well. The com­pa­ny, which is by more than 99 % sta­te-owned, will again pre­sent a loss as this year’s result.

Mining in (or near) Lon­gye­ar­by­en is only on an almost sym­bo­lic level in mine 7 in Advent­da­len. Sveagru­va, or Svea Nord to be pre­cise, has given the com­pa­ny good years in the past, but it alrea­dy feels like a distant past loo­king at today’s figu­res. Svea Nord has its best days defi­ni­te­ly alrea­dy behind it. Pre­pa­red for mining is a new mine at Lunck­ef­jel­let, north of Sveagru­va, but the seams the­re are esti­ma­ted to last only for 4-5 years of mining and pro­fits are doubt­ful given cur­rent world mar­ket pri­ces. Fur­ther coal occur­ren­ces are explo­red, for examp­le at Bas­sen moun­tain nor­the­ast of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, but it is uncer­tain if a new mine is poli­ti­cal­ly via­ble.

In 2012, Store Nor­ske finis­hed with a minus of 234 Nor­we­gi­an Kro­ner (near 29 mil­li­on Euro), and 2013 will not be much bet­ter. It employs still about 300 peop­le. Ear­lier in 2013, 70 lost their jobs, not inclu­ding tho­se in sub­con­trac­ting com­pa­nies who depend on Store Nor­ske. This shows how important the com­pa­ny still is for Lon­gye­ar­by­en, whe­re a good 2000 peop­le are living.

Store Nor­ske is using both credits and capi­tal built up during bet­ter years to finan­ce invest­ments such as the Lunck­ef­jel­let mine. The par­lia­ment has made it clear that the com­pa­ny can not expect fur­ther public fun­ding. A while ago, Store Nor­ske has bought the majo­ri­ty of shares of the logistics sup­plier Pole Posi­ti­on. Pos­si­b­ly a hint towards a future bey­ond coal mining?

The mining in Svea Nord is on the decre­a­se. Lunck­ef­jel­let is rea­dy for mining a few miles fur­ther north.

Svea Nord

Source: NRK

Green­land: ban on ura­ni­um mining lifted

Green­land had ban­ned ura­ni­um mining poli­ti­cal­ly in 1988. The fear of envi­ron­men­tal dama­ge and awa­reness that an inta­ct envi­ron­ment were the base of the Green­land com­mu­ni­ty were too lar­ge.

Poten­ti­al ura­ni­um mining play­ed a major role in the elec­tions for the par­lia­ment in Nuuk of March 12, 2013. The new prime minis­ter Ale­qa Ham­mond sup­ports mining. Calls for a wide public deba­te or a refe­ren­dum were not heard. After a 5-hour-deba­te, the par­lia­ment of Green­land lifted the ban on Octo­ber 24. From this day onwards, ura­ni­um mining in Green­land is not only a theo­re­ti­cal opti­on, but a future pro­spect. For examp­le, the Aus­tra­li­an-based com­pa­ny Green­land Mine­rals and Ener­gy Ltd. will have ope­ned some bot­t­le of cham­pa­gne after the par­lia­ment decisi­on. They are sit­ting on the Kva­n­ef­jeld-claim in sou­thwest Green­land, which is belie­ved to be amongst the top 10 sites for rare earths in the world. It also inclu­des ura­ni­um, which had accord­in­gly been a poli­ti­cal obsta­cle also for mining rare earths.

Prime minis­ter Ham­mond was quo­ted say­ing “We can’t stand by as unem­ploy­ment rises and the cost of living goes up, while our eco­no­my remains sta­gnant. We need to over­turn the ban now”. Cri­tics claim that the­re is a real risk of the bene­fits going to for­eign mining com­pa­nies who might also import cheap labour from Asi­an coun­tries rather than crea­ting jobs for Green­lan­ders while lea­ving Green­lan­ders main­ly with big-sca­le envi­ron­men­tal dama­ge to deal with on the long term.

The­re has alrea­dy been mining at a num­ber of sites in Green­land, such as the marble/lead/zinc mine of Maar­moo­ri­lik near Uum­anaaq, west Green­land. The future will also see ura­ni­um mining in Green­land.

Maarmoorilik

Source: Nun­atsia­qOn­line

Spits­ber­gen with SV Anti­gua, Sep­tem­ber 2014: focus on pho­to­gra­phy

We have added ano­t­her focus to our Spits­ber­gen voya­ge with SV Anti­gua in Sep­tem­ber 2014: as we will be tra­vel­ling during one of the most pro­mi­sing pho­to-sea­sons of the year, we will focus on pho­to­gra­phy with a seri­es of pho­to­gra­phy work­shops. Alex­an­der Lembke will join us again and offer his exper­ti­se to enthu­si­astic ama­teur (or pro­fes­sio­nal) pho­to­graph­ers.

Alex is now uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor for pho­to­gra­phy at the “Hoch­schu­le für Gestal­tung” (BTK) in Ham­burg. Congra­tu­la­ti­ons!

We will ope­ra­te the Sep­tem­ber voya­ge 2014 with no less than 4 gui­des to cover the the­ma­tic ran­ge: hiking, geo­lo­gy, pho­to­gra­phy. This voya­ge will be Ger­man spea­king – refresh your school know­ledge of this lan­guage and join us! ☺

Fan­tastic evening light in Bellsund, Sep­tem­ber 2012.

Abendlicht, Bellsund

Mari­ne zoo­plank­ton more resistant against aci­di­fi­ca­ti­on of oce­an water than belie­ved?

The decre­a­sing pH-value of oce­an water or in other words the incre­a­sing aci­di­fi­ca­ti­on of the glo­bal seas is amongst tho­se con­se­quen­ces of glo­bal chan­ce that have, so far, recei­ved rela­tively litt­le public atten­ti­on, but are a major worry for sci­en­tists. The world’s oce­ans are important CO2 sinks, which means they absorb mas­si­ve amounts of CO2 from the atmo­s­phe­re. The more CO2 in the atmo­s­phe­re, the more will be stored in oce­an water, which is accord­in­gly beco­m­ing more and more aci­dic.

It is fea­red as a con­se­quence that mari­ne crea­tures, espe­cial­ly tho­se plank­ton spe­ci­es that use car­bo­na­te to build up a shell, will suf­fer severely. This inclu­des many spe­ci­es from sin­gle-cel­led plank­ton to mari­ne snails. The one thing that many of them have in com­mon is that they are very important for the mari­ne food web. Should the pH-value of the water fall below thres­holds that indi­vi­du­al spe­ci­es can tole­ra­te, then links of the food chain may break. The extre­me con­se­quence would be a col­laps of regio­nal food chains and eco­sys­tems. Also sea­b­ird colo­nies and ani­mals inclu­ding wha­les, polar bears and seals depend com­ple­te­ly on the mari­ne food chain for their sur­vi­val. The­re are signi­fi­cant indi­ca­ti­ons that such fears have to be taken serious­ly.

But the­re is now also a sci­en­ti­fic obser­va­ti­on that the mari­ne eco­sys­tem in Spits­ber­gen may be more resistant against aci­di­fi­ca­ti­on than assu­med so far. In Kongsfjord, sci­en­tists have car­ri­ed out a “mecocosm expe­rie­ment”: nine instal­la­ti­ons in the fjord whe­re CO2-enri­ched sea­wa­ter was added to the natu­ral envi­ron­ment to stu­dy the con­se­quen­ces. The result is sur­pri­sing: the sci­en­tists “found almost no direct effects of OA on micro­zoo­plank­ton com­po­si­ti­on and diver­si­ty …” This gives rea­son to hope that arc­tic eco­sys­tems may be more resistant against fal­ling pH-levels of oce­an water than belie­ved so far.

The­re is, howe­ver, no cer­tain­ty yet. The stu­dy covers only one fjord over a limi­ted peri­od of time. Obser­va­tions sup­por­ting dif­fe­rent results are still the­re and valid. As always, one of the con­clu­si­ons is: fur­ther rese­arch is nee­ded …

Mari­ne snails in Krossfjord: how resistant are they against incre­a­sing aci­di­fi­ca­ti­on of their envi­ron­ment? This is one of the 10000000 dol­lar ques­ti­ons regar­ding the future of glo­bal eco­sys­tems.

Marine snails, Krossfjord

Source: CO2 Sci­ence

Fat­Bike Spits­ber­gen: Bicy­cling in Sval­bard

Bicy­cling has until now not been much of an issue in Spits­ber­gen, as the ter­rain is sim­ply not very sui­ta­ble for it. This may chan­ge to some degree now: “Fat­Bikes” have wheels thick enough to be used on snow unless it is too soft. The law is clear: vehi­cles may be used only on roads and on fro­zen, snow-cove­r­ed ground. New tracks and ero­si­on of vul­nerable tun­dra are accord­in­gly not a pro­blem as long as the­se regu­la­ti­ons are fol­lo­wed.

Sin­ce August, the­re is an ope­ra­tor in Lon­ge­ar­by­en cal­led Fat­Bike Spits­ber­gen. The small com­pa­ny offers Fat­Bike excur­si­ons in the vicini­ty of Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This is an inte­res­ting addi­ti­on to the exis­ting ran­ge of orga­ni­zed tours, as it covers a part of the year whe­re offers are other­wi­se qui­te thin. The ear­ly polar night, which is star­ting now, is actual­ly an attrac­ti­ve time to visit Sval­bard: Lon­gye­ar­by­en is calm and far less cro­wed with visi­tors than during the sea­son. Accom­mo­da­ti­on is accord­in­gly easy to get and com­pa­ra­tively (!) afford­a­ble. It is just the ran­ge of acti­vi­ties that is less com­pre­hen­si­ve than in spring or sum­mer. Now, the­re is ano­t­her offer avail­ab­le for tho­se who want to get out.

During the snow-free sea­son, also nor­mal bicy­cles are actual­ly qui­te use­ful on the roads. If you walk, then they are actual­ly qui­te long. With a bicy­cle, attrac­ti­ve are­as such as Bjørn­da­len and Advent­da­len are sud­den­ly much more acces­si­ble.

Fat­Bikes Spits­ber­gen offers excur­si­ons gui­ded in Eng­lish, Nor­we­gi­an and Ger­man.

Tes­ting a Fat­Bike on the road in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. © Foto: Fat­Bike Spits­ber­gen.

FatBike Spitsbergen

More: Fat­Bike Spits­ber­gen

Oil found in the Wis­ting Cen­tral area in the Bar­ents Sea

The explo­ra­ti­on well 7324/8-1 in the area Wis­ting Cen­tral has yiel­ded the results Sta­toil and 3 other invol­ved com­pa­nies were aiming at. The oil plat­form Leiv Eiriks­son dril­led in depths of 373 meters and final­ly reached upper Tri­as­sic stra­ta 542 meters below the sea bot­tom. Lower and midd­le Juras­sic lay­ers tur­ned out to con­tain a 50-60 meters thick sequence con­tai­ning an esti­ma­ted 10-26 stan­dard cubic meters oil that are belie­ved to be explo­ita­ble.

The well will be clo­sed per­ma­nent­ly as soon as work has finis­hed. The plat­form Leiv Eiriks­son will then move on to fur­ther explo­ra­ti­on work fur­ther north. The indus­try has gre­at expec­ta­ti­ons espe­cial­ly for the Hoop area, that is reaching bey­ond 74°N and thus into the Spits­ber­gen trea­ty area. Explo­ita­ti­on in this area would not only be eco­lo­gi­cal­ly ris­ky, but might also be tri­cky on a poli­ti­cal level.

The dis­co­very was the first in the area. Well 7324/8-1 is ca. 310 km north of Ham­mer­fest, less than 200 km sou­the­ast of Bear Island (Bjørnøya). The sur­roun­ding Bar­ents Sea is bio­lo­gi­cal­ly very pro­duc­ti­ve and an important area for fish, wha­les, dol­phins and hund­reds of thousands of sea­b­irds that breed on Bear Island and the coast of north Nor­way.

The appro­xi­ma­te posi­ti­on of the Wis­ting Cen­tral field is mar­ked red. © Map: Goog­le Maps.

Oil Barents Sea - position of the Wisting Central field

Source: Petro.no

Digi­tal Sval­bard map free­ly avail­ab­le from 2015

It would almost be too good to be true: The Nor­we­gi­an Kart­ver­ket (the map­ping aut­ho­ri­ty) has announ­ced that digi­tal maps will step­wi­se be made avail­ab­le to the public for free use. Maps from main­land Nor­way will make a start in Octo­ber 2013. Sval­bard is to fol­low in 2015.

Until now, the poli­cy regar­ding digi­tal Sval­bard maps was very restric­ti­ve and has recei­ved strong cri­ti­zism. The­re is a digi-map for sale (“Sval­bard Topo-Explo­rer”) for more than 1000 NOK, but it is very inac­cu­ra­te for lar­ge parts of Sval­bard, and the purcha­se does not inclu­de any rights for use on the inter­net or in prin­ted publi­ca­ti­ons. So far, the copy­right for use in print is astro­no­mi­c­al­ly expen­si­ve; for this rea­son, we have so far unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly not been able to use this map mate­ri­al in the gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard. The­re is an online ver­si­on of the digi­tal Sval­bard map on the web­site of the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, which is very accu­ra­te, but it can­not be used off­line, for examp­le in GPS recei­vers in the field or for publi­ca­ti­ons. Now the­re is hope for a real impro­ve­ment from 2015.

Accord­ing to the Kart­ver­ket, this step is meant to incre­a­se crea­ti­vi­ty and busi­ness use. Rea­son to smi­le for publis­hers and gui­de­book aut­hors! 🙂

Digi­tal map of Sval­bard (screen­shot from the web­site of the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te): free use is announ­ced to be pos­si­ble from 2015, some­thing that would be high­ly wel­co­me for users in the field, publis­hers and digi­tal eco­no­mies.

Digitale topographische Karte von Spitzbergen

Source: Com­pu­ter­world

Heli­co­p­ter base on Bear Island (Bjørnøya)?

The­re is a gro­wing deba­te wit­hin the Nor­we­gi­an oil and gas indus­try and poli­tics about a heli­co­p­ter base on Bear Island (Bjørnøya), a rele­vant issue in view of gro­wing acti­vi­ties of the indus­try in the nort­hern Bar­ents Shelf area, which can­not direct­ly be reached by heli­co­p­ters from north Nor­way. To reach the­se remo­te are­as, all heli­co­p­ters inclu­ding search-and-res­cue helos need to refu­el on Bjørnøya, an ope­ra­ti­on that takes time and resour­ces which might be cru­cial in cases of emer­gen­cy.

Bjørnøya was decla­red a natu­re reser­ve in 2002, which is the stric­test pro­tec­tion sta­tus an area can get. Exclu­ded is a small area around the wea­ther sta­ti­on in order to keep the acti­vi­ty the­re away from trou­ble. But alrea­dy befo­re the Bjørnøya Natu­re Reser­ve was decla­red, the Nor­we­gi­an government made clear in a govern­men­tal decla­ra­ti­on (Storting­s­mel­ding Nr. 9, 1999-2000) that pro­tec­ti­ve legis­la­ti­on might be remo­ved for some are­as to estab­lish infra­st­ruc­tu­re con­nec­ted to acti­vi­ties of the oil and gas indus­try. A sui­ta­ble area was alrea­dy iden­ti­fied on the north coast of the island, east of the sta­ti­on.

The ques­ti­on of SAR and oil spill faci­li­ties beco­mes more and more important in the light of incre­a­sing indus­tri­al acti­vi­ty in the area.

Coas­tal land­s­cape on nor­the­as­tern Bear Island (Bjørnøya). Strict­ly pro­tec­ted as natu­re reser­ve, but nevertheless pos­si­b­ly the neigh­bour­hood of a heli­co­p­ter base in the future.

Bear Island (Bjørnøya)

Source: Radio Nord­kapp

Polar bear dead after ana­es­the­ti­sa­ti­on by sci­en­tists (II)

In Sep­tem­ber, a polar bear was found dead on Edgeøya after having been ana­es­the­ti­sa­ted two days ear­lier by sci­en­tists from the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te. The bear had suf­fo­ca­ted, most likely after having chan­ged its posi­ti­on while still under influ­ence of the anesthe­tics from a safe side­ways posi­ti­on (see spitsbergen-svalbard.com news from Sep­tem­ber). Ana­es­the­ti­sa­ted polar bears are not fur­ther moni­to­red after sci­en­ti­fic inves­ti­ga­ti­ons are finis­hed, so the­re is always a latent risk of suf­fo­ca­ti­on or pre­da­ti­on by other bears.

The case of the dead polar bear from Edgeøya in Sep­tem­ber is now clo­sed by the Sys­sel­man­nen as a legal­ly not rele­vant inci­dent.

The sci­en­ti­fic work on polar bears which invol­ves fol­lowing them with heli­co­p­ters and ana­es­the­ti­sa­ti­on is car­ri­ed out in Spits­ber­gen on a lar­ge sca­le, as it enjoys poli­ti­cal sup­port from the Nor­we­gi­an government. Most bears obser­ved in Spits­ber­gen by tou­rists by now car­ry visi­ble signs of such sci­en­ti­fic work, inclu­ding col­lars with sat­teli­te tra­ckers, ear marks, num­bers or chan­ged beha­viour (such bears may at least tem­pora­ri­ly react visi­b­ly more ner­vous and afraid on human pre­sence, see spitsbergen-svalbard.com news from Octo­ber 2012). Both extent and methods of this rese­arch are regu­lar­ly met with cri­ti­zism.

Has not sur­vi­ved its mee­ting with sci­en­tists: polar bear at Meod­den, Edgeøya (© foto: Sys­sel­man­nen på Sval­bard).

Eisbär, Meodden, Edgeøya

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

World War II ammu­ni­ti­on at Advent­top­pen

The mad­ness of the Second World War has left its traces even in remo­te are­as as Spits­ber­gen. The dis­co­very of gre­na­de laun­cher ammu­ni­ti­on on Advent­top­pen, on the north side of Advent­fjord oppo­si­te Lon­gye­ar­by­en, has drawn atten­ti­on in July 2013 (see spitsbergen-svalbard.com news from July).

Now we know the sto­ry behind it. The infor­ma­ti­on is from inter­views by Prof. E. Dege in the 1980s and 1990s with Wer­ner Koehl. Koehl was lea­der of the recon­nais­sance patrol “Schnee­huhn” (“Ptar­mi­gan”) that was on a recon­nais­sance ope­ra­ti­on in Spits­ber­gen in August 1944 with the sub­ma­ri­ne U-307.

Prof. Dege kind­ly added the fol­lowing to the sto­ry about the dis­co­very of the ammu­ni­ti­on in July (own trans­la­ti­on):

“The recon­nais­sance patrol went up from cen­tral Hanas­kog­dal on 07 August 1944 to the ridge bet­ween Advent­to­pen and Hiorthfjel­let and dis­co­ve­r­ed on the ridge a ful­ly deve­lo­ped (but not occu­p­ied) posi­ti­on of the (Nor­we­gi­an) gar­ri­son in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. They found slee­ping bags, pro­vi­si­ons, (phar­maceu­ti­cal) drugs, and the said gre­na­de laun­cher ammu­ni­ti­on. The ammu­ni­ti­on was too hea­vy for the patrol to car­ry, so they con­cea­led them under some rocks near­by. After this, the patrol wat­ched the acti­vi­ties in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Mos­kus­hamn for a while from a barack of the aban­do­ned mine Hiorthfjell­gru­va, situa­ted in an alti­tu­de of 600 m on the south slo­pe of Hiorthfjel­let, befo­re they went back again to Dia­ba­sod­den, whe­re they were picked up on 11 August 1944 by U-307.”

Visi­ble traces of the Second World War in Spits­ber­gen, harm­less in this case: air­pla­ne wreck in Hior­th­hamn, oppo­si­te Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Airplane wreck from Second World War, Hiorthhamn (Adventfjord)

Source: com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on with Prof. E. Dege

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