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Home → February, 2014

Monthly Archives: February 2014 − News & Stories

Rus­sia inten­si­fies mili­ta­ry acti­vi­ty in the Arc­tic

In 2014, Rus­sia wants to inten­si­fy its mili­ta­ry acti­vi­ty in the Arc­tic by estab­li­shing a new com­mand struc­tu­re which has the objec­ti­ve to defend Russia´s natio­nal inte­rests in this regi­on. This includes the pro­tec­tion of mili­ta­ry faci­li­ties and civi­li­an ships as well as secu­ring access to the mine­ral resour­ces on the Arc­tic shelf.

The new mili­ta­ry struc­tu­re will be cal­led “Nor­t­hern Fleet – United Stra­te­gic Com­mand” (SF-OSK). Its sta­tus will be that of a mili­ta­ry dis­trict, even if this is not offi­ci­al­ly shown in its name. So far, the Rus­si­an mili­ta­ry is orga­ni­zed in four lar­ge dis­tricts: Wes­tern, Sou­thern, Cen­tral and Eas­tern.

The main com­bat force of the SF-OSK will be the Nor­t­hern Fleet, which is based at the Mur­mansk regi­on, clo­se to the Nor­we­gi­an bor­der. It will be with­drawn from the “Wes­tern Mili­ta­ry Dis­trict” to form the basis of the new struc­tu­re. Other units from Nor­t­hern Rus­sia will be added and new units will be based at Nova­ya Zem­lya, at Franz Josef Land and on the Novo­si­birsk Islands.

This new stra­te­gic ori­en­ta­ti­on of the Rus­si­an mili­ta­ry must be seen in rela­ti­on to the explo­ra­ti­on of resour­ces in the Arc­tic during the last years. Esti­ma­tes tell us that about 30% of the world´s undis­co­ver­ed gas depo­sits and 15% of the oil are loca­ted on the Arc­tic shelf. Here, as other count­ries in this regi­on, Rus­sia defends its eco­no­mic inte­rests, wit­hout making a secret of it. Pro­po­sals of put­ting the Arc­tic under the con­trol of the inter­na­tio­nal com­mu­ni­ty or to estab­lish pro­tec­ted are­as, simi­lar to tho­se in the Ant­ar­c­tic, were unam­bi­guous­ly refu­sed by the Rus­si­an Pre­si­dent Vla­di­mir Putin in Octo­ber 2013.

Bukhta Tik­ha­ya, a sta­ti­on on Hoo­ker Island (Ost­rov Gukera), Franz Josef Land, aban­do­ned in 1959. In 2014, Rus­sia wants to increase its pre­sence in the area again.

Bukhta Tikhaya, Franz Josef Land

Source: Barents­no­va

Retre­at of Arc­tic sea ice acce­le­ra­tes glo­bal warm­ing

The retre­at of Arc­tic sea ice acts as an acce­le­ra­tor for cli­ma­te chan­ge, sin­ce the bright ice sur­faces reflect much more sun­light than the dar­ker sur­faces of open water. Ice reflects up to 90% of solar ener­gy back to space while water absorbs a lar­ge amount of ener­gy and warms both its­elf and the over­ly­ing air lay­ers.

If warm­ing leads to retrea­ting ice, then this effect cau­ses addi­tio­nal warm­ing and the ice melts even fas­ter: a clas­si­cal posi­ti­ve feed­back reac­tion. Of cour­se this would also work the other way around: If lower tem­pe­ra­tures cau­se an expan­si­on of snow and ice cover­ed are­as, this would lead to an addi­tio­nal coo­ling.

The abili­ty of sur­faces to reflect radia­ti­on is expres­sed by the albe­do, a figu­re that quan­ti­fies the amount of reflec­ted radia­ti­on in per­cent.

Sci­en­tists of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cali­for­nia in San Die­go could now, by satel­li­te mea­su­ring, veri­fy that the albe­do north of the 60. degree of lati­tu­de is fal­ling and that this is rela­ted to the retre­at of arc­tic sea ice. The result of the mea­su­re­ments is that the albe­do decreased from 0,52 to 0,48 bet­ween 1979 and 2011. Ins­tead of 52% now only 48% of the solar radia­ti­on in the Arc­tic is reflec­ted. This cor­re­sponds to an addi­tio­nal avera­ge input of solar ener­gy of ca. 6,4 W/m² sin­ce 1979. Aver­a­ged over the glo­be this cor­re­sponds to an addi­tio­nal ener­gy input of 0,21 W/m², which is 25% of the amount attri­bu­ted to the increase of CO2 in the same peri­od.

The­se figu­res are signi­fi­cant­ly hig­her than tho­se expec­ted befo­re by models and esti­ma­tes.

Ano­ther result of the mea­su­ring is the fact that the albe­do also decreased in are­as which were cover­ed with ice all over the year. One expl­ana­ti­on for this is an incre­asing occur­rence of melt water lakes on the ice which again absorb more solar ener­gy and cau­se addi­tio­nal warm­ing.

Mel­ting fjord ice, Lief­defjord.

Fjord ice, Liefdefjord

Sources: Spie­gel Online Wis­sen­schaft, Pro­cee­dings of the Natio­nal Aca­de­my of Sci­en­ces of the United Sta­tes of Ame­ri­ca (PNAS)

Polar night, polar day

Thurs­day (Febru­ary 20) the return of the sun at the end of the polar night is cele­bra­ted in Barents­burg. Lon­gye­ar­by­en has to wait until March 08, becau­se the­re are more moun­ta­ins towards the sou­thern hori­zon.

A good oppor­tu­ni­ty for some gene­ral thoughs about polar night and polar day. The basic celes­ti­al mecha­nics are gene­ral­ly known: the tilt of the axis of the Earth, which is the reason for polar night and day. Also the so-cal­led Nova­ya Zem­lya effect: the refrac­tion of sun­light in the cold atmo­sphe­re, which makes the polar day see­mingly (!) lon­ger than it should be, astro­no­mic­al­ly: the sun is visi­ble even though it is actual­ly just under the hori­zon, becau­se the sun rays are refrac­ted in the cold atmo­sphe­re. This makes a dif­fe­rence of seve­ral days and depends on the wea­ther situa­ti­on. It is cal­led Nova­ya Zem­lya effect becau­se of an ear­ly obser­va­ti­on of this phe­no­me­non on Nova­ya Zem­lya by Wil­lem Barent­sz’ expe­di­ti­on, 1596-97, the same voya­ge during which Spits­ber­gen was dis­co­ver­ed.

So far so good. But still, the polar night should have the same dura­ti­on in Arc­tic and Ant­ar­c­tic on any given lati­tu­de, one would expect. But this is not the case. This is a quo­ta­ti­on from the South Polar Times, the famous expe­di­ti­on gazet­te published for the first time during Scott’s first expe­di­ti­on on the Dis­co­very in April 1902. The edi­tor, by the way, was a cer­tain Ernest Shack­le­ton. The fol­lo­wing quo­ta­ti­on is on page 18: “The South Polar Win­ter is near­ly eight days lon­ger than the North Polar Win­ter. This is becau­se in the for­mer case, the Earth is far­ther away from the Sun (aphe­l­ion) ,and the­r­e­fo­re moves more slow­ly in its orbit. In the Nor­t­hern Win­ter the Earth is clo­ser to the Sun (peri­he­l­ion) ,and the­r­e­fo­re moves more rapidly.” (punc­tua­ti­on as in the South Polar Times, which was typed manu­al­ly under rather endu­ring con­di­ti­ons).

The reason is the second of Kepler’s laws of pla­ne­ta­ry moti­on: “A line joi­ning a pla­net and the Sun sweeps out equal are­as during equal inter­vals of time.” In other words: The Earth is moving fas­ter when it is clo­ser to the sun. Simp­le, isn’t it?

This again means that the Earth spends less time in a posi­ti­on that crea­tes the polar night in the Arc­tic. On the con­tra­ry, the Earth is moving more slow­ly when fur­ther away from the sun, and accor­din­gly spends more time in the posi­ti­on that results in the polar night in the Ant­ar­c­tic.

How big is the dif­fe­rence now? The dura­ti­on of the polar night is

on 80 degrees north: 122 days (21 Oct – 20 Feb)
on 80 degrees south: 128 days (18 Apr – 24 Aug)

mea­ning that the dif­fe­rence amounts to six days! The cal­cu­la­ti­ons can quite easi­ly be made on a web­site pro­vi­ded by the US Naval Obser­va­to­ry.

Hut Point, whe­re the South Polar Times was writ­ten in 1902 for the first time, is at 77°47’S, 133 nau­ti­cal miles north of the 80th par­al­lel. The dif­fe­rence of eight days clai­med the­re is accor­din­gly a litt­le bit too much. The value is seven days at the poles.

This is why the polar night is lon­ger in the Ant­ar­c­tic than it is on a cor­re­spon­ding lati­tu­de in the Arc­tic. The ans­wer is Kepler’s second law of pla­ne­ta­ry moti­on.

Thanks to Andre­as Kauf­er for spe­cia­list advi­se and refe­rence to the US Naval Obser­va­to­ry.

The last light of the sun in Barents­burg at the begin­ning of the polar night, Octo­ber 22nd.

Polar night, Barentsburg

Noor­der­licht wai­ting for the ice in Tem­pel­fjord

In the win­ter sea­son, the two-mast scho­o­ner Noor­der­licht free­zes into solid ice in Tem­pel­fjord to ser­ve as a desti­na­ti­on for tou­rist acti­vi­ties like snows­coo­ter- and dog sledge tours.

This year the ice is so far miss­ing, so the ship is still wai­ting its job. Simi­lar to last year, winds from the south are pres­sing warm water into Isfjord and keep even Tem­pel­fjord still open, which is loca­ted at the eas­tern (inner­most) extre­mi­ty of Isfjord. Ano­ther reason are extra­or­di­na­ri­ly high tem­pe­ra­tures in Spits­ber­gen which have now varied around the free­zing point for weeks and make this win­ter so far one of the war­mest sin­ce the begin­ning of the recor­dings.

Now the tour ope­ra­tors hope for lower tem­pe­ra­tures so that the sea­son can start as plan­ned at the end of Febru­ary when the first tours are sche­du­led. Last year, the tem­pe­ra­tures went down in March and the “boat in the ice” could begin its sea­son just in time.

Noor­der­licht in Tem­pel­fjord, April 2013.

Noorderlicht, Tempelfjord

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Decli­ne of popu­la­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Against a long-term trend, the popu­la­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en fell by 47 to the num­ber of 2043 in 2013. This is indi­ca­ted by the annu­al report of the Sys­sel­man­nen for 2013. As Sval­bard­pos­ten reports, among­st the­se 47 the­re are 17 child­ren in pre-school age, which equ­als 36%.

Com­pared to places of simi­lar size on the Nor­we­gi­an main­land, the num­ber of inha­bi­tants in Lon­gye­ar­by­en can face stron­ger varia­ti­ons, as tho­se who are regis­tered as resi­dents usual­ly live the­re for a limi­t­ed peri­od of time, most­ly in accordance to their jobs. Working con­tracts are tem­po­ra­ry, rota­ti­ons among­st the employees are usu­al and often desi­red by employ­ers and many wish to return back home after one sea­son in the arc­tic. For the­se reasons, a high fluc­tua­ti­on is quite typi­cal for Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Howe­ver, in the last years the num­ber of inha­bi­tants increased per­ma­nent­ly. In 2010 the­re were 1966 peo­p­le regis­tered in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, in 2011 the num­ber was 2063 and in 2012 it was 2090. The­r­e­fo­re the local govern­ment is not con­cer­ned about the sin­gle decli­ne in 2013, it is not seen as a sign for a long las­ting nega­ti­ve trend.

Sval­bard­pos­ten dis­cus­ses pos­si­ble reasons for the cur­rent decli­ne of inha­bi­tants: Res­truc­tu­rings at the mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske are men­tio­ned, which led to staff reduc­tion. On the other hand the rela­tively high decli­ne among young child­ren leads to the assump­ti­on that many of the new inha­bi­tants came wit­hout fami­lies. As the refe­rence date for the eva­lua­ti­on of the num­ber of inha­bi­tants is the 31st of Decem­ber, it is pos­si­ble that the diver­gence equa­li­zes again during this year.

In his annu­al report the Sys­sel­man­nen publishes the num­ber of inhbi­tants for all sett­le­ments in Spits­ber­gen. The­se are, in addi­ti­on to Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the sett­le­ments of Ny Åle­sund (34) and Barents­burg (419), the hotel at Kapp Lin­né (Isfjord Radio) (1), the four trap­per sta­ti­ons Kapp Wijk (1), Akseløya (1), Kapp Schol­lin (1) and Farm­ham­na (1) and the polish polar sta­ti­on at Horn­sund (10). The workers of the coal­mi­nes at Sveagru­va, Svea Nord and Lun­ckef­jell, are not regis­tered the­re, their resi­den­ces are in Lon­gye­ar­by­en or on the main­land. In 2013 the avera­ge num­ber of workers in Sveagru­va was 208.

Has curr­ent­ly a few pupils less: school in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

school Longyearbyen

New pho­to gal­le­ries and pan­ora­mas from Lom­fjord

The light is slow­ly coming back the­se days in Spits­ber­gen after the polar night, but it will take ano­ther 2 weeks more or less until the sun makes it abo­ve the hori­zon again. While it is rela­tively calm in the far north, it is time to get a bit of home­work done. The­re is ple­nty of mate­ri­al for 360 degree pan­ora­mas wai­ting to be pro­ces­sed, and the pages with regio­nal descrip­ti­ons on spitsbergen-svalbard.com are to be com­ple­ted with com­pre­hen­si­ve pho­to gal­le­ries from the indi­vi­du­al parts of Sval­bard.

Both requi­res signi­fi­cant time and effort, but the­re is pro­gress. A site that is now com­ple­te with gal­le­ries and pan­ora­mas is the one about Lom­fjord in nor­the­as­tern Spits­ber­gen, neigh­bou­ring Hin­lo­pen Strait.

If you pre­fer to see the pan­ora­mas and pho­to gal­le­ries sepa­ra­te­ly, wit­hout all the tal­king about geo­lo­gy and histo­ry, then check the­se two dedi­ca­ted sites: pho­to gal­le­ries and pan­ora­mas.

The­se sites are just part of a major deve­lo­p­ment that is aiming at a com­pre­hen­si­ve illus­tra­ti­on of all parts of the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go (and Jan May­en and parts of Green­land and Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, for that sake) with pho­to gal­le­ries and navigab­le 360 degree pan­ora­ma mate­ri­al. This requi­res a lot of effort in terms of both time and money. The results are on spitsbergen-svalbard.com and can be free­ly acces­sed at no cost and wit­hout regis­tra­ti­on or wha­te­ver, but the web­site and its owner/maker are hap­py about links or like it clicks. If you want to sup­port the­se efforts finan­ci­al­ly, then plea­se have a look on the right side if the­re is any book or calen­dar that might fit well into your coll­ec­tion or as a pre­sent …


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