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Home → November, 2014

Monthly Archives: November 2014 − News & Stories


Decli­ne in polar bear popu­la­ti­on in the sou­thern Beau­fort Sea

In Novem­ber U.S and Cana­di­an sci­en­tists publis­hed the results of a 10-year stu­dy peri­od focu­sing on the polar bear popu­la­ti­on dyna­mics in the sou­thern Beau­fort Sea. The results are alar­ming: During the peri­od of inves­ti­ga­ti­on from 2001 to 2010 the num­ber of polar bears in this regi­on drop­ped by about 40%.

The Beau­fort Sea is part of the Arc­tic Oce­an and is loca­ted north of Alas­ka and the Cana­di­an ter­ri­to­ries Yukon and Nor­thwest Ter­ri­to­ries. The stu­dy was moti­va­ted by the fact that a spa­ti­al and tem­po­ral decli­ne of sum­mer sea ice in the sou­thern Beau­fort Sea was noti­ced over the years. Ear­lier pro­jec­tions of a decli­ne in polar bear popu­la­ti­on due to the­se unfa­voura­ble ice con­di­ti­ons had alrea­dy con­tri­bu­t­ed to the U.S. government’s decisi­on in 2008 to regard the polar bear as a threa­tened spe­ci­es. Now the results of the pre­sent stu­dy have con­fir­med the­se ear­lier pro­jec­tions.

Espe­cial­ly in the years 2004 to 2006 a low sur­vi­val rate led to a 25-50% decli­ne in polar bear popu­la­ti­on in this regi­on. For very young indi­vi­du­als it was almost impos­si­ble to sur­vi­ve during this peri­od, as out of 80 cubs obser­ved in Alas­ka from 2004 to 2007 only 2 sur­vi­vors could be con­fir­med. The rea­son for the low sur­vi­val rate is seen in a limi­ted access to seals, the polar bears favo­ri­te prey, cau­sed by the retrea­ting sea ice. In addi­ti­on the seal abundance its­elf decre­a­sed in the same peri­od. In 2007 the sur­vi­val rate of adults and cubs began to impro­ve again so that the popu­la­ti­on could at least be sta­bi­li­zed with ca. 900 bears towards the end of the sur­vey. Howe­ver, among sub­adults, tho­se who were recent­ly sepa­ra­ted from their mothers, sur­vi­val decli­ned throughout the ent­i­re peri­od.

So, as in 2004 still a suf­fi­ci­ent num­ber of 1600 indi­vi­du­als could be obser­ved, the popu­la­ti­on final­ly drop­ped to only 900 bears in 2010.

Polar bear on land, without any ice near­by, and obvious­ly not in good shape.

polar bear, Duvefjord

Source: Eco­lo­gi­cal App­li­ca­ti­ons

Coal mining in Spits­ber­gen under pres­su­re

The Nor­we­gi­an mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kull­kom­pa­ni is set under pres­su­re by the per­ma­nent­ly low world mar­ket pri­ce for coal. Sin­ce 2012 the Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen is a loss-making busi­ness. Fal­ling pri­ces encoun­te­red infe­ri­or qua­li­ties and rising cos­ts in the main mine Svea Nord near Sveagru­va. Here mining is com­ing towards an end and is now run in the mar­gi­nal parts of the coal seam (see also Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com news Store Nor­ske: black gold yiel­ds red num­bers from May 2013).

The new mine at Lunck­ef­jel­let, ope­ned offi­cial­ly in Febru­a­ry 2014, was sup­po­sed to pro­du­ce reli­ef. But at a cur­rent average coal pri­ce of 75$ per ton Lunck­ef­jel­let is not pro­fi­ta­ble eit­her. The pri­ce is at least 10$ per ton less than Store Nor­ske needs to avoid ope­ra­ting at a loss. When the new mine was plan­ned, the com­pa­ny even cal­cu­la­ted with a pri­ce 40% abo­ve the cur­rent level. As the total amount of coal expec­ted at Lunck­ef­jel­let is rela­tively low, com­pa­red to Svea Nord, the new mine will only be dri­ven until 2018 and it is not expec­ted that the coal pri­ce will rise in the next few years.

Recent­ly Store Norske´s manage­ment descri­bed the situa­ti­on as serious for the first time. In the long run the com­pa­ny will react with cost reduc­tions which also means a reduc­tion of staff. In the short run it was necessa­ry to hire 30 addi­tio­nal miners to extract coal from mar­gi­nal parts of the old mine Svea Nord, mea­ning an inte­rim incre­a­se of ope­ra­ting cos­ts. Facing the cur­rent con­di­ti­ons it is get­ting ques­tion­ab­le if coal mining in Spits­ber­gen will have a future at all. New pro­jects like Ispal­len and Ope­raf­jel­let are chal­len­ged.

Both Store Nor­ske, which is 99.9% owned by the Nor­we­gi­an sta­te, and the local government in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are awa­re of the eco­no­mic and social rele­van­ce of the com­pa­ny for the small com­mu­ni­ty of only 2000 inha­bi­tants. If coal mining in Spits­ber­gen will be redu­ced or even sus­pen­ded it will affect not only tho­se who work for the mining com­pa­ny. A lar­ge num­ber of other jobs in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are direct­ly or part­ly con­nec­ted to the mining busi­ness.

Cur­r­ent­ly, Store Nor­ske is in a dia­lo­gue with their employees, the Nor­we­gi­an sta­te and the ban­kers to ensu­re fur­ther ope­ra­ti­on in 2015.

Sveagru­va in Van Mijen­fjord: the cur­rent cent­re of coal mining in Spits­ber­gen.

Spitsbergen mining - Sveagruva

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Punch­fest in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Hard to belie­ve, but it has hap­pen­ed: in the late evening on Mon­day, a lar­ge num­ber of young men got enga­ged in a robust fight in a bar in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The ser­vice per­son­nel of the Sval­Bar did not have any choice but to ring the poli­ce. In the past, the Sval­Bar used to adver­ti­se with a slo­gan that only tho­se who real­ly deser­ve it would be kicked out. The­re are obvious­ly some more peop­le who have joi­ned this doubt­ful club now.

For rea­sons not yet known, two groups of young men star­ted to fight so vigo­rous­ly that the staff had to call the poli­ce to stop the punch­fest. One man had to go to hos­pi­tal. The exact num­ber of per­sons invol­ved is so far unknown. The poli­ce is inves­ti­ga­ting.

As recent­ly as last week, a man got a fine of 8000 Nor­we­gi­an Kro­ner becau­se of aggres­si­ve beha­viour in one of Longyearbyen’s pubs.

Not always as peace­ful as it should be: the polar night in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Longyearbyen

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Web­page of the week: Pan­ora­mas nor­thwest Spits­ber­gen

More or less wee­kly, we have a new web­page desi­gna­ted as “web­page of the week” to show hid­den tre­a­su­res wit­hin spitsbergen-svalbard.com, which are likely to escape from your atten­ti­on other­wi­se. The­se are new or revi­sed sites, abso­lute­ly worth see­ing. This week’s page gui­des you to a num­ber of 360 degree pan­ora­mas from nor­thwes­tern Spits­ber­gen, inclu­ding well-known pla­ces such as Smee­ren­burg on Ams­ter­damøya, Virgo­ham­na on Dans­køya or Grav­ne­set in Mag­da­le­n­efjord, but also less well known sites, for examp­le Kob­befjord or Bjørn­ham­na. And, of cour­se, all the­se pan­ora­mas come com­ple­te with a short nar­ra­ti­on of the sto­ry that is to tell – almost as good as being the­re! The pan­ora­mas were taken in all kinds of wea­ther and light, from sun to rain, that is just how the area is with its quick­ly shif­ting wea­ther. Remem­ber, the open north Atlan­tic is just around the cor­ner.

Some more pan­ora­mas from Raudfjord will com­ple­te the page over the next cou­p­le of days, but that is of cour­se not the end of the sto­ry. More pan­ora­ma images will be shot over the years to come, that is for sure. And now … enjoy tur­ning the images!

Pan­ora­ma from Kob­befjord: only one of many pan­ora­mas from nor­thwes­tern Spits­ber­gen.

panorama, Kobbefjord

Polar Code: IMO regu­la­ti­ons for ship­ping in polar waters

After several years of nego­tia­ti­ons the IMO (Inter­na­tio­nal Mari­ti­me Orga­niz­a­ti­on), the United Nati­ons ship­ping orga­niz­a­ti­on, com­ple­ted a man­da­to­ry inter­na­tio­nal code that regu­la­tes ship­ping in Arc­tic and Ant­arc­tic waters. The so-cal­led Polar Code is sup­po­sed to impro­ve the safe­ty of ship­ping and the pro­tec­tion of the envi­ron­ment in the polar regi­ons.

The Polar Code is a set of regu­la­ti­ons con­cer­ning ship design, con­struc­tion and equip­ment, ope­ra­tio­nal and trai­ning mat­ters, search and res­cue and the envi­ron­ment in the polar regi­ons. Envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion regu­la­ti­ons inclu­de for examp­le the pre­ven­ti­on of pol­lu­ti­on by pro­hi­bi­t­ing any dischar­ge into the sea of oil, noxious liquid sub­s­tan­ces, sewa­ge and gar­ba­ge. A gene­ral pro­hi­bi­ti­on of hea­vy fuel oil as car­go or fuel, as deman­ded by envi­ron­men­tal orga­niz­a­ti­ons, could not be imple­men­ted. A hea­vy fuel oil ban alrea­dy exists in the Ant­arc­tic sin­ce August 2011 and was imple­men­ted in several steps in lar­ge parts of Spits­ber­gen.

The geo­gra­phi­cal bounda­ries in which the Polar Code will be valid, inclu­de the ent­i­re Ant­arc­tic waters south of 60º S and the Arc­tic waters north of 60º N with some modi­fi­ca­ti­ons in the North Atlan­tic: Inclu­ded is an area south of Green­land. Exclu­ded are, in the influ­ence zone of the North Atlan­tic Cur­rent, the waters around Ice­land, Nor­way and the Rus­si­an Kola Pen­in­su­la inclu­ding the rou­te to Ark­han­gelsk.

The Polar Code is built on two older exis­ting agree­ments of the IMO: The Inter­na­tio­nal Con­ven­ti­on for the Safe­ty of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regu­la­tes safe­ty mat­ters and the Inter­na­tio­nal Con­ven­ti­on for the Pre­ven­ti­on of Pol­lu­ti­on from Ships (MAR­POL) regu­la­tes envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion mat­ters in mari­ti­me ship­ping. In addi­ti­on to the­se gene­ral agree­ments the IMO deve­lo­ped spe­cial gui­de­li­nes in 2002 and 2009 for the polar regi­ons which, howe­ver, were not bin­ding. The new Polar Code will now for the first time estab­lish a man­da­to­ry, inter­na­tio­nal set of regu­la­ti­ons for ships ope­ra­ting in Arc­tic and Ant­arc­tic waters.

The imple­men­ta­ti­on of a bin­ding agree­ment was initia­ted by the Arc­tic sta­tes USA, Nor­way and Den­mark (Green­land). The nego­tia­ti­on pro­cess took many years and was final­ly delay­ed, as the dif­fe­ring inte­rests of the United Nati­ons ship­ping sta­tes had to be equa­li­zed. Envi­ron­men­tal orga­niz­a­ti­ons cri­ti­ci­ze the delay and are cur­r­ent­ly poin­ting at defi­ci­ts con­cer­ning envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion mat­ters. On the other side the­re are still objec­tions of some sta­tes being invol­ved into the pro­cess. Espe­cial­ly Rus­sia sees the Polar Code as a thre­at to its inte­rests in the Arc­tic. Cur­r­ent­ly Rus­sia for examp­le gains pro­fit from the incre­a­sing traf­fic on the Nort­hern Sea Rou­te.

Accord­ing to the IMO´s time­ta­ble the Polar Code can be adop­ted at a mee­ting in May 2015 and then, after being rati­fied by the mem­ber sta­tes, final­ly enter into for­ce in 2017.

See also Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com news IMO: polar code not befo­re 2015 from March 2012.

Crui­se ship, expe­di­ti­on ship and govern­men­tal ice­brea­ker in Ant­arc­ti­ca: the IMO Polar Code will cover all of them.

Ships in Antarctica

Source: IMO, Sjøf­arts­di­rek­to­ra­tet

Spits­ber­gen, Ant­arc­ti­ca

The polar night has brought the usu­al mix­tu­re of cold, wind, snow, darkness and the Dark Sea­son Blues Fes­ti­val to Spits­ber­gen. The Blues Fes­ti­val was last weekend’s pro­gram­me, both locals and tou­rists were enthu­si­astic – as usu­al. The Dark Sea­son Blues Fes­ti­val has built up a good repu­ta­ti­on far bey­ond Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Nor­way, attrac­ting inter­na­tio­nal stars, guests and atten­ti­on.

Today (Tues­day, 04 Novem­ber), the lar­gest exer­cise of emer­gen­cy ser­vices is going on that Spits­ber­gen has ever seen. Several hund­red reli­ef units and per­sons acting as inju­red peop­le are see­min­gly tur­ning Lon­gye­ar­by­en into a place struck by a major dis­as­ter. This is exact­ly what they want to be pre­pa­red for, just in case. You never know. It seems to be a pret­ty safe place, but things can always hap­pen.

Com­pa­ra­tively calm times here in the web­site-publi­shing- and book­wri­ting- work­shop at spitsbergen-svalbard.com. The polar night has clo­sed the curtain for major acti­vi­ties in the far north, resul­ting in an unusu­al amount of time to push on with pro­jects that have been wai­t­ing for far too long alrea­dy. The­re has been so much tra­ve­ling in the last years and other things that have kept me busy, but now is the time to get going with pro­jects like the island info pages and the pan­ora­ma sides on spitsbergen-svalbard.com, which are under­go­ing impro­ve­ments and amend­ments. And I had almost for­got­ten that the arc­tic wild­life spe­ci­es did not yet have their indi­vi­du­al pages in Eng­lish – embarr­as­sing, real­ly! But now they are the­re, several dozen new indi­vi­du­al pages.

As an aut­hor, I am enjoy­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get going with several pro­jects. The­re will be new books, that is for sure. It will still take some time, but I am get­ting on with it. More about it when I am get­ting the­re.

Dozens of new Eng­lish pages about arc­tic wild­life spe­ci­es are amongst the recent results of work at spitsbergen-svalbard.com

arctic wildlife pages

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