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Home → March, 2014

Monthly Archives: March 2014 − News & Stories


Mari­ne bio­lo­gy in the polar night: the dark side of life in the polar seas

As so many other acti­vi­ties in the Arc­tic, most rese­arch acti­vi­ties are very sea­so­nal and lar­ge­ly con­cen­tra­ted in the sum­mer, when working con­di­ti­ons are – well, not easy, but easier than in the polar win­ter, which brings cold, bad wea­ther and darkness 24 hours a day.

So far it was lar­ge­ly belie­ved that it would somehow be simi­lar with ani­mal life, lar­ge­ly. Of cour­se, polar bears don’t hiber­na­te and rein­de­er have to look for food 12 mon­ths a year, and most ani­mals who can move long distance make sure they spend the win­ter some­whe­re more plea­sant. But whoever stays, redu­ces his acti­vi­ty, from move­ment to meta­bo­lism, to a mini­mum. At least accord­ing to com­mon assump­ti­ons, lar­ge­ly based on a lack of bet­ter know­ledge.

Some „light“ has now been shed into this darkness during a rese­arch expe­di­ti­on of the Nor­we­gi­an ves­sel Hel­mer Hans­sen (form­er­ly known as the Jan May­en), just a few weeks ago in Kongsfjord. The idea was to make obser­va­tions and collect data to veri­fy or cor­rect tho­se old assump­ti­ons.

In times of a nor­mal day-night-cycle, plank­ton will move towards the sur­face to feed during darkness and back into lower, dar­ker water lay­ers at day­ti­me to keep away from pre­d­a­tors. This regu­lar move­ment bet­ween food-rich sur­face waters and the darkness of the deep is the big­gest natu­ral move­ment of bio­mass on Earth. One of the rese­arch ques­ti­ons is if a simi­lar move­ment is still taking place in times of 24 hour darkness. Even if it will take time for data to be ana­ly­sed and results to be publis­hed, it is alrea­dy now clear that the­re is much more acti­vi­ty in the water, inclu­ding move­ment, than belie­ved so far.

Pre­d­a­to­ry fish spe­ci­es are appear­ent­ly able to find food to a hig­her degree than assu­med. This is one result of ana­ly­sis of sto­mach con­tent of fish caught during the expe­di­ti­on with Hel­mer Hans­sen. Fish had prey in their sto­mach which requi­res at least a mini­mum of visu­al per­cep­ti­on to be caught. This indi­ca­tes that the­se fish have some kind of night visi­on, at least to some degree. Eyes of such fish will now be ana­ly­sed to find out how this might work.

Qui­te hea­vy equip­ment was used for ocea­no­gra­phic work inclu­ding the move­ment of orga­nisms in the water column. As a first result, the assump­ti­on that arc­tic fjords are a slee­py place in the polar night can safe­ly be put asi­de. It is alrea­dy clear that mari­ne bio­lo­gists who don’t mind cold and darkness will have a lot of work to do in the years to come.

Simi­lar inves­ti­ga­ti­ons in the Ant­arc­tic have alrea­dy shown that the­re is much more acti­vi­ty during the polar night in the south polar sea, too.

Ano­t­her important rese­arch field is the ques­ti­on of the reac­tion of mari­ne orga­nisms to envi­ron­men­tal chan­ges, ran­ging from low con­cen­tra­ti­ons of oil in the water to cli­ma­te chan­ge which will redu­ce the ice cover in space, thic­kness and time and bring hig­her water tem­pe­ra­tures. The­se ques­ti­ons will invol­ve a lot of labo­ra­to­ry work on fish and plank­ton caught ali­ve during mon­ths and years to come.

The work on Hel­mer Hans­sen in Kongsfjord was coor­di­na­ted by Nor­we­gi­an sci­en­tists, but invol­ved inter­na­tio­nal rese­ar­chers. Mari­ne bio­lo­gists and spe­cia­lists from all over the world are loo­king for­ward to the results.

Qui­te mys­te­rious alrea­dy at day­light: arc­tic plank­ton..

arctic plankton

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Rus­si­an nuclear sub­ma­ri­ne Krasno­dar near Mur­mansk on fire

The rus­si­an nuclear sub­ma­ri­ne Krasno­dar is on fire sin­ce Mon­day morning near Mur­mansk. Krasno­dar is a Oscar II class boat, simi­lar to the Kursk, and one of the last Rus­si­an sub­ma­ri­nes from the days of the Cold War to be taken out of ser­vice in 2012 for scrap­ping.

Accord­ing to the web­site Bar­ents­ob­ser­ver, scrap­ping a nuclear sub­ma­ri­ne starts with remo­val of spent nuclear fuel. Next is remo­ving the rub­ber cover of the outer hull. This seems to be a dan­ge­rous pro­cess, as fires of the outer rub­ber lay­er during remo­val have occur­red befo­re more than once. It seems as if the pre­sent fire is a simi­lar case.

The remo­val of the nuclear reac­tors is the last step of scrap­ping a nuclear sub­ma­ri­ne. In other words, the 2 reac­tors are still on board, with con­si­derable amounts of radio­ac­ti­ve mate­ri­als.

Krasno­dar is in the Rus­si­an navy ship­y­ard Ner­pa north of Mur­mansk, only about 100 km from the Nor­we­gi­an bor­der. Des­pi­te an infor­ma­ti­on exchan­ge agree­ment, Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties were infor­med by media about the fire befo­re they got any infor­ma­ti­on from offi­cial Rus­si­an sources. The Nor­we­gi­an district gover­nor descri­bes a fire on a nuclear sub­ma­ri­ne as a serious issue.

Accord­ing to Rus­si­an infor­ma­ti­on, no radio­ac­ti­vi­ty has escaped so far.

The bur­ning nuclear sub­ma­ri­ne Krasno­dar in the navy ship­y­ard Ner­pa near Mur­mansk. Foto: b-port.com.

burning nuclear submarine Krasnodar near Murmansk

Source: Bar­ents­ob­ser­ver

Snow mobi­le sea­son in Spits­ber­gen: accidents/important to know

The snow mobi­le sea­son has star­ted a few weeks ago in Spits­ber­gen. Some locals start alrea­dy during the polar night, while most others and most tou­rists start their snow mobi­le excur­si­ons when the light comes back around mid Febru­a­ry. The sea­son lasts as long as snow and ice make it pos­si­ble to be out, usual­ly into the first days of May or until mid-May if it works well.

Snow mobi­le excur­si­ons make it pos­si­ble to see ama­zing pla­ces which are other­wi­se hard to reach, if not impos­si­ble for most, but they bear their spe­ci­fic risks. If you don’t know the local ter­rain and you do not have expe­ri­ence with snow mobi­les, then it is defi­ni­te­ly a good idea to join a gui­ded group. This is also the offi­cial recom­men­da­ti­on by the Sys­sel­man­nen (gover­nor).

Some inci­dents of the last cou­p­le of weeks:

  • In ear­ly March, tou­rists had to be evacua­ted with heli­co­p­ters in two cases after having suf­fe­red frac­tures while fal­ling with their snow mobi­les or, rather, tur­ning them over in uneven ter­rain. Both inci­dents hap­pen­ed near Sas­senda­len, one in the morai­ne of Rabot­breen and one in Bratt­li­da­len. Both per­sons were mem­bers of gui­ded groups.
  • On Tues­day (March 18), a man had to be air­lifted with chest inju­ries after he had dri­ven his snow mobi­le over a steep slo­pe, fal­ling down 6 metres. Other mem­bers of his group cal­led the res­cue for­ces with mobi­le pho­nes, but could not pro­vi­de a posi­ti­on as they did not exact­ly know whe­re they were. The group was not gui­ded and did not have GPS or local know­ledge. The inci­dent hap­pen­ed on the coast bet­ween Cole­s­buk­ta and Bar­ents­burg, a fre­quent­ly used rou­te, but with several steep slo­pes which are hard to see and serious­ly dan­ge­rous at ina­de­qua­te speed.

In ano­t­her case, a per­son went uncon­scious and fell from his snow mobi­le at low speed in Grønfjord, south of Grøn­da­len. First aid was given, but his life could not be saved. The infor­ma­ti­on avail­ab­le seems to indi­ca­te a heart attack or simi­lar medi­cal emer­gen­cy.

The first two cases indi­ca­te that acci­dents can natu­ral­ly also hap­pen while on tour with gui­ded groups. But at least local­ly know­led­ge­ab­le gui­des will make sure ade­qua­te speed is being used, which is espe­cial­ly important in case of ter­rain obsta­cles such as steep slo­pes which can be very dif­fi­cult to see. Ade­qua­te speed is of vital impor­t­ance. Gui­ded groups also have emer­gen­cy equip­ment inclu­ding satel­li­te pho­nes. The mobi­le pho­ne cover in Spits­ber­gen is unre­li­able or, rather, inexis­tent over wide are­as.

For safe tours with snow mobi­le and ski, the fol­lowing are recom­men­ded or should be con­si­de­red:

  • Avalan­che equip­ment (snow sho­vel, avalan­che pro­be), unless you stay in clear­ly avalan­che-safe ter­rain.
  • Local know­ledge or good advice from peop­le with local expe­ri­ence. GPS with digi­tal map, spa­re bat­te­ries (!), and prin­ted map and com­pass as a back­up.
  • Emer­gen­cy equip­ment. Pre­pa­re for a pro­lon­ged stay in the field in case of sud­den bad wea­ther or snow mobi­le break­down. Com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on equip­ment inde­pen­dent of mobi­le pho­ne grid such as satel­li­te pho­ne and PLB. Tent, slee­ping bag, iso­la­ti­on mat­tress, cam­ping sto­ve and fuel, extra warm clothes. Be rea­dy to stay out for at least 24 hours in bad wea­ther.
  • Rif­le and other polar bear safe­ty equip­ment.
  • Stay with an expe­ri­en­ced per­son or join a gui­ded group if you don’t have expe­ri­ence with snow mobi­les.
  • Make sure you know how to deal with minor, com­mon repairs such as exch­an­ging the v-belt.
  • Snow mobi­les like to break down, espe­cial­ly when it is most unwel­co­me. Con­si­der this for any trip fur­ther away than you can walk back.
  • If you don’t real­ly know the ter­rain: expect ter­rain obsta­cles that are dif­fi­cult to see.
  • Obser­ve regu­la­ti­ons: you need hel­met and dri­ving licen­se, zero alco­hol and, for lar­ge parts of Spits­ber­gen, insuran­ce cover and noti­fi­ca­ti­on to the admi­nis­tra­ti­on in advan­ce. The­re are scoo­ter-free are­as. If you don’t know the regu­la­ti­ons and bounda­ries, you have to join someo­ne who does, such as a gui­ded group.

This list is not com­ple­te, but it inclu­des some important points.

Ren­tal snow mobi­les in Lon­gye­ar­by­en rea­dy to go.

Snow mobiles in Longyearbyen

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen, Sval­bard­pos­ten, my own expe­ri­ence.

Will Lon­gye­ar­by­en get the nort­hern­most bre­we­ry in the world?

On Sval­bard, sale and pro­duc­tion of alco­ho­lic drinks are cur­r­ent­ly regu­la­ted more strict­ly than in main­land Nor­way. Apart from bars and restau­rants, alco­ho­lic drinks are only sold by the govern­men­tal mono­po­list “Nord­po­let” in Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and the­re the allo­wan­ce is limi­ted for ever­yo­ne. Locals have a card and tou­rists use their flight ticket to docu­ment purcha­ses. Pro­duc­tion of alco­ho­lic drinks is com­ple­te­ly pro­hi­bi­ted, both for com­mer­cial pur­po­ses and for pri­va­te con­sump­ti­on.

The­se regu­la­ti­ons are now under recon­si­de­ra­ti­on and it seems they might soon be histo­ry. It is four years ago that Robert Johan­sen con­ta­c­ted the Nor­we­gi­an Health Depart­ment to app­ly for the con­ces­si­on for a bre­we­ry in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This was not pos­si­ble under given legis­la­ti­on, but for once, aut­ho­ri­ties were wel­ling (after all, it was about beer!) so this tur­ned out to start the pro­cess for a legis­la­ti­ve amend­ment.

Cur­r­ent­ly the Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties deci­de on the sus­pen­si­on of the regu­la­ti­ons, which date part­ly back as far as 1929. The Depart­ments of Health and Agri­cul­tu­re did alrea­dy signal that a chan­ge of regu­la­ti­ons is wel­co­me and that no rea­sons are seen against it. If the legis­la­ti­ve amend­ment comes, the pro­duc­tion of alco­ho­lic drinks will be made pos­si­ble as a start. Later the quan­ti­ta­ti­ve limi­ta­ti­on for the sale of alco­hol may be abolis­hed.

If ever­ything pro­ceeds as expec­ted, Robert Johan­sen wants to offer beer “made in Lon­gye­ar­by­en” as soon as sum­mer 2014. His bre­we­ry will be cal­led Sval­bard Bryg­ge­ri AS and will start with a pro­duc­tion of ca. 100.000 liters per year. Sale of rela­ted sou­ve­nirs is also plan­ned. The­re are reac­tions on the expec­ted amend­ment in Bar­ents­burg as well. The­re the Rus­si­an mining com­pa­ny Trust Ark­ti­ku­gol alrea­dy app­lied for the con­ces­si­on for a bre­we­ry – which alrea­dy exists sin­ce 2013 as part of the mining com­pa­ny.

When the brewing in Lon­gye­ar­by­en real­ly starts, Sval­bard Bryg­ge­ri will be the nort­hern­most bre­we­ry in the world. Cur­r­ent­ly Mack Bre­we­ry in Trom­sø claims this tit­le and it might keep it offi­cial­ly as with an annu­al pro­duc­tion of 100.000 liters Sval­bard Bryg­ge­ri would be a microbre­we­ry accord­ing to Nor­we­gi­an law. This term descri­bes small bre­we­ries with an annu­al pro­duc­tion lower than 600.000 liters. Several mcrobre­we­ries are cur­r­ent­ly plan­ned in Nor­way, north of Trom­sø, for examp­le in Ham­mer­fest and in the muni­ci­pa­li­ty of Gam­vik.

The Mack Bre­we­ry faces the ari­sing com­pe­ti­ti­on posi­tively but as a big bre­we­ry it clas­si­fies its­elf in ano­t­her cate­go­ry. Some years ago for finan­cial rea­sons the Mack Bre­we­ry moved its beer pro­duc­tion to Nordk­jos­botn wich is loca­ted south of Trom­sø. Mack nevertheless claims the tit­le “the world´s nort­hern­most bre­we­ry” becau­se the company´s head­quar­ter is still in Trom­sø.

Beer made in Bar­ents­burg.

Beer made in Barentsburg

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Arc­tic drift ice: Febru­a­ry cover at fourth lowest extent sin­ce 1979

The arc­tic drift ice cover usual­ly reaches its maxi­mum dis­tri­bu­ti­on in mid March. In 2014, howe­ver, the Febru­a­ry extent was far behind the nor­mal values. The average was 14.4 mil­li­on squa­re kilo­me­tres or 910,000 mil­li­on squa­re kilo­me­tres less than the long-term average. This puts Febru­a­ry 2014 on the fourth place in the nega­ti­ven­sta­tis­tics sin­ce 1979, the begin­ning of sys­te­ma­tic obser­va­tions.

Febru­a­ry 2005 holds so far the abso­lu­te nega­ti­ve rekord.

In Febru­a­ry 2014, the ice cover grew with about 14,900 squa­re kilo­me­tres per day. The cor­re­spon­ding long-term value is, howe­ver, 20,300 squa­re kilo­me­tres. Short-term fluc­tua­tions against the gro­wing trend in Febru­a­ry are due to ice move­ment rather than mel­ting.

In Febru­a­ry 2014, the tem­pe­ra­tures in lar­ge parts of the Arc­tic were 4 to 8 degrees abo­ve the long-term average.

Arc­tic drift ice: the extent in Febru­a­ry was extre­me­ly low.

arctic drift ice

Source: Snow and Ice Data Cent­re

Oil spills in cold cli­ma­te are­as: are and remain uncon­troll­ab­le

It is almost 25 years ago that the oil tan­ker Exxon Val­dez hit a reef on the south coast of Alas­ka. The Exxon Val­dez achie­ved sad fame when an alco­ho­lic cap­tain and an over­char­ged third mate stee­red the ship on rocks on March 24, 1989. 37,000 tons of cru­de oil were spil­led and pol­lu­t­ed 2,000 km of coast­li­ne. The result was and is an eco­lo­gi­cal and eco­no­mi­c­al dis­as­ter for a who­le regi­on.

Sci­en­tists have now had 25 years to stu­dy the con­se­quen­ces of an oil spill in cold (but not high arc­tic) coas­tal waters. The results are sobe­r­ing:

  • A cleanup of a major spill of cru­de or hea­vy oil is impos­si­ble. Des­pi­te using resour­ces of about 2 bil­li­on US-$, Exxon has mana­ged to clean up a mere 7 % of the pol­lu­t­ed coast­li­ne. After the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon cata­stro­phe in the Gulf of Mexi­co, BP has used an astro­no­mic 20 bil­li­on US-$ but “clea­ned” no more than 3 % of coast­li­ne and sur­face waters, lar­ge­ly by using other toxic che­mi­cals. Con­clu­si­on: it is impos­si­ble to clean up a spill of hea­vy or cru­de oil once it has hap­pen­ed.
  • Once dama­ge is a fact, it will last a long time, if not fore­ver. In Alas­ka, 32 habi­tats and popu­la­ti­on have been moni­to­red after the Exxon Val­dez dis­as­ter. Out of the­se, only 13 are con­si­de­red ful­ly “reco­ve­r­ed” or “very likely reco­ve­r­ed.” Thousands of tons of oil are still in the sedi­ment, pol­lu­ting their sur­roun­dings for a very long time.
  • Eco­lo­gi­cal dama­ge can­not be repai­red by man, only by natu­re its­elf. To make this pos­si­ble, eco­sys­tems have to be inta­ct.
  • The risks of oil spills, both the likeli­hood of such an event and the fol­lowing impact, is usual­ly unde­re­sti­ma­ted or down­play­ed by aut­ho­ri­ties and indus­tries.
  • Pre­ven­ti­on is the only stra­te­gy that real­ly makes sen­se. Cur­r­ent­ly, the indus­try tends to a redu­ce spill risk to “As Low As Rea­son­ab­ly Prac­ti­ca­ble” (ALARP); ins­tead of “As Low As Pos­si­ble” (ALAP), regard­less of cost” alt­hough “pre­ven­ti­on is clear­ly cost-effec­ti­ve”.
  • In cold are­as, the eco­lo­gi­cal impact and tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties incre­a­se stron­gly. Any attempt of clean-up in ice waters are high­ly unrea­listic to be suc­cess­ful.

The­se are some of the key results pre­sen­ted by Pro­fes­sor Stei­ner in an arti­cle in the Huf­fing­ton Post. On the long term, only absti­nence of oil will pre­vent oil spills. This was one of the deman­ds of the 1989 dis­as­ter in Alas­ka, but the glo­bal need for oil has obvious­ly incre­a­sed dra­ma­ti­cal­ly sin­ce. Sus­taina­bi­li­ty is not yet a signi­fi­cant fac­tor in decisi­on making in poli­tics and eco­no­my.

Small oil spill next to a lea­king die­sel tank at a sta­ti­on in Ant­arc­ti­ca.

Oil spill, Antarctica

Source: Huf­fing­ton Post

Rein­de­er kil­led in traf­fic acci­dent in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Traf­fic in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is usual­ly qui­te safe, but Mon­day evening saw a tra­gic acci­dent when a car hit a rein­de­er on way 500. The animal’s back was bro­ken, and the poli­ce did accord­in­gly not have a choice but to kill the rein­de­er on the spot.

The­re are almost always some rein­de­er some­whe­re in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, and they are usual­ly not afraid of peop­le or moving vehi­cles and they don’t watch out for cars befo­re cros­sing roads. Dri­vers the­re­fo­re have to take gre­at care, espe­cial­ly at times of darkness.

Way 500 is the “main street” bet­ween the cent­re and the river. Most streets in Lon­gye­ar­by­en do not have names but num­bers.

Rein­de­er next to the road in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Reindeer, Longyearbyen

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Polar voya­ges 2014, 2015: Spits­ber­gen, Jan May­en, East Green­land

Most of my polar voya­ges in 2014 have alrea­dy been ful­ly boo­ked for qui­te some time. If you still want to join in 2014, then you have got the pos­si­bi­li­ty to do so in Sep­tem­ber, focus­sing on natu­ral histo­ry, pho­to­gra­phy and hiking with SV Anti­gua. Click here for more info (Ger­man site, as the trip is Ger­man spea­king).

Now I have also got most of the dates for 2015 fixed. Detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on is yet to come, but as most voya­ges will, accord­ing to expe­ri­ence, be ful­ly boo­ked at an ear­ly sta­ge, I do recom­mend to get in touch in case you are inte­res­ted.

The fol­lowing trips in Spits­ber­gen are plan­ned for 2015 (they will be Ger­man spea­king, so you should speak a bit if you want to join, but of cour­se it does not have to be your first lan­guage):

  • Around Spits­ber­gen with SV Anti­gua, June 30- July 17, 2015.
  • Advan­ced Spits­ber­gen: Expe­di­ti­on with SY Arc­ti­ca II, July 19- August 06, 2015.
  • West and North Spits­ber­gen with Anti­gua, focus­sing on gla­ciers: Sep­tem­ber 15-25, 2015. Have a look at the pho­tos of a simi­lar voya­ge in 2012.!

Jan May­en: our expe­di­ti­ons to Jan May­en are ful­ly boo­ked more quick­ly than we can adver­ti­se them pro­per­ly, which is qui­te ama­zing! This is the case both for 2014 and 2015, so if you are inte­res­ted to spend a week on Jan May­en, then we are now loo­king at 2016 and you should get in touch soo­ner rather than later.

We are also plan­ning ano­t­her trip into Scores­by­sund (east Green­land) with SV Ópal, simi­lar to 2013, so have a look at the pho­tos (trip 1 and trip 2) to get an impres­si­on. The plan­ning for ano­t­her trip to East Green­land in 2015 is cur­r­ent­ly still in an ear­lier pha­se.

Sai­ling expe­di­ti­ons in the arc­tic: Spits­ber­gen, Jan May­en, East Green­land 2015.

Antigua, Spitsbergen

Febru­a­ry tem­pe­ra­tures in Lon­gye­ar­by­en 15 degrees abo­ve average

In Febru­a­ry, the average tem­pe­ra­tu­re was no less than 15 degrees abo­ve the long-term average. For weeks, the tem­pe­ra­tures have oscil­la­ted around free­zing. Only the first 10 days, the air was at -10°C or below. Sin­ce then, tem­pe­ra­te Atlan­tic air­mas­ses have moved north to push col­der, arc­tic air­mas­ses fur­ther away.

Meteo­ro­lo­gists have cal­cu­la­ted the average tem­pe­ra­tu­re of Febru­a­ry in Lon­gye­ar­by­en to be -1.2°C. The long-term average for Febru­a­ry is -16.2°C.

It can be assu­med that it is not only the air that is cur­r­ent­ly war­mer than it used to be, but also the waters around Spits­ber­gen. The ice situa­ti­on seems to con­firm this, as lar­ge parts of the waters east and north of Spits­ber­gen are far more open than they usual­ly are at this time of the year. Even inner bran­ches of the fjords such as Tem­pel­fjord and Bill­efjord have not yet real­ly fro­zen over so far.

The cur­rent wea­ther fore­cast for the next 10 days does at least not show any tem­pe­ra­tures abo­ve free­zing. While it was not far below zero in Lon­gye­ar­by­en over the wee­kend, tem­pe­ra­tures at the east coast were said to be near -30°C.

Also in Nor­way, the win­ter has, so far, been far mil­der than it usual­ly is.

Even the small Advent­fjord has not real­ly been fro­zen in several years by now.

Adventfjord, Spitsbergen

Source: NRK

New coal mine at Lunck­ef­jel­let offi­cial­ly ope­ned

The mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske (SNSK) has ope­ned the new coal mine at Lunck­ef­jel­let, bet­ween Sveagru­va and Reinda­len, offi­cial­ly on Tues­day (Febru­a­ry 25). Next to miners and com­pa­ny offi­cials, the local admin­stra­ti­on from Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Nor­we­gi­an media were pre­sent at Lunck­ef­jel­let. Miner Ter­je Nyland has cut the sym­bo­lic cord to mark the ope­ning. He was deter­mi­ned to do so by lot, rather than an offi­cial taking the job, a nice ges­tu­re by the mining com­pa­ny.

It is 14 years ago a new coal mine was ope­ned on Sval­bard for the last time.

The first ton of coal left Lunck­ef­jel­let alrea­dy on Octo­ber 25 as part of the pre­pa­ra­ti­ons for mining, which are now almost finis­hed. Soon, ever­ything is sup­po­sed to be rea­dy for a dai­ly pro­duc­tion of 10,000 tons coal.

SNSK is cur­r­ent­ly expe­ri­en­cing eco­no­mi­c­al­ly chal­len­ging years. Pri­ces on the world mar­ket are under pres­su­re, and the risk con­nec­ted to exchan­ge rate fluc­tua­tions is high. A 1 % loss of the dol­lar rate may cost the com­pa­ny up to more than 1,2 mil­li­on Euro. The last time Store Nor­ske has finis­hed a year with a posi­ti­ve result is several years ago. A nega­ti­ve result is expec­ted also for 2014, alt­hough the pres­su­re is expec­ted to les­sen due to first bene­fits of the new mine. On the other side, cos­ts for the ope­ning of the Lunck­ef­jel­let mine as well as incre­a­sed cos­ts at Svea Nord, whe­re pro­duc­tion is get­ting into mar­gi­nal sta­ges, are incre­a­sing the pres­su­re.

Store Nor­ske has publis­hed the fol­lowing figu­res for 2013:

• Pro­duc­tion: 1,855,000 tons of coal (2012: 1,229,000)
• Inco­me: 1,32 bil­li­on Nor­we­gi­an Kro­ner (2012: ca. 160 mil­li­on)
• Sales: 2,135.000 tons of coal (2012: 701,000 tons)

The eco­no­mi­c­al situa­ti­on of the new mine at Lunck­ef­jel­let, plan­ned to be pro­duc­ti­ve for 6-7 years only, is descri­bed as mar­gi­nal by com­pa­ny lea­ders alrea­dy given cur­rent mar­ket con­di­ti­ons. Store Nor­ske invests in rese­arch which is sup­po­sed to incre­a­se sales pri­ces or gene­ra­te addi­tio­nal inco­me from, for examp­le, tech­ni­cal upgrading of coal. On the long term, the com­pa­ny has hopes for fur­ther new mines near Sveagru­va (at the moun­tain Ispal­len) and Lon­gye­ar­by­en (Ope­raf­jel­let).

New future mines are poli­ti­cal­ly uncer­tain. Peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are, howe­ver, awa­re that coal mining is still by far the most important sin­gle eco­no­mi­c­al fac­tor to sup­port local jobs and accord­in­gly the popu­la­ti­on of Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Coal-bea­ring lay­ers at Lunck­ef­jel­let. Foto: Mal­te Joch­mann, SNSK.

Lunckefjellet, Spitsbergen

Sources: SNSK Bedrifts­nytt, Sval­bard­pos­ten (09/2014)

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