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Home → June, 2014

Monthly Archives: June 2014 − News & Stories


Ber­lin Reykja­vik Ísaf­jörður

Exci­te­ments are rising and rising. A mix­tu­re of being exci­ted and loo­king for­ward to Jan May­en, but I am also almost fee­ling a bit ner­vous about it, some­thing I haven’t known befo­re ven­tu­ring on arc­tic trips for years. But this time, it’s dif­fe­rent. It will be deman­ding, a tough trip, an expe­di­ti­on if you want. No easy walks, but long, tough hikes. No upper limit to the shit wea­ther sca­le. And 2 days riding the waves befo­re we even get the­re. But that’s all part of the fun. The fasci­na­ti­on that is drag­ging us to Jan May­en does not come for free.

I plan­ned an inten­se trip to Jan May­en alrea­dy in 2012, but one of the two ships invol­ved in the logistics then had pro­blems some mon­ths befo­re, and that kil­led the who­le plan. May­be the plan was just too com­pli­ca­ted, invol­ving two ships, get­ting the­re with one, lea­ving with the next one, rather than having one small sai­ling yacht that is real­ly dedi­ca­ted to our voya­ge during that time and not­hing else. So it wasn’t to hap­pen in 2012. But it is may­be just per­fect as it is, becau­se Jan May­en was dis­co­ve­r­ed exact­ly 400 years ago. Pro­bab­ly. Nobo­dy knows exact­ly. But we know that the first docu­men­ted visit was on 28th June 1614 by the Eng­lish wha­ling Cap­tain John Clar­ke. The 28th June 1614. To the day exact­ly 400 years befo­re I packed my stuff to tra­vel in Clarke’s wake! How ama­zing is that! Is that coin­ci­dence? I guess it was meant to hap­pen like that. Some­ti­mes things hap­pen for rea­sons that we don’t qui­te under­stand. Let’s assu­me it is all a good sign!

Of cour­se, the last days were hec­tic. How else could it have been. Spent too much time run­ning around, spen­ding money on things that I thought I would need or things I know I will need but can’t find or wha­te­ver.

While the wea­ther on Jan May­en is almost sus­pi­cious­ly well – 11 degrees, almost no wind, even lar­ge­ly sun­ny – it is all almost sus­pi­cious­ly easy here. Neit­her a traf­fic jam causing cata­stro­phic delays, nor does the car break down. I am sus­pi­cious. And the cheap Ice­lan­dic air­line does not even com­p­lain about my over­weight. Tal­king about my lug­ga­ge, of cour­se! I have done my bit to make sure my own weight is in rea­son­ab­ly good shape, rea­dy for Bee­ren­berg, hope­ful­ly. Run­ning, hiking with hea­vy ruck­sack, bicy­cling, some extra trai­ning. In the end, get­ting to the top of Bee­ren­berg or not is not life important to me, it will be exci­ting whe­re­ver we get on Jan May­en. But if we have a chan­ce, if the wea­ther Gods are friend­ly and ever­ything works well, then it would be too annoy­ing if my legs don’t want to car­ry me up.

And while I am han­ging out ano­t­her 2 hours at the domestic air­port, I have the unex­pec­ted oppor­tu­ni­ty to watch foot­ball. Mexi­co against the Nether­lands. I have alrea­dy met Gudo, a fel­low tra­vel­ler from the Nether­lands. Of cour­se he is watching clo­se­ly. And the Dut­ch team has just got the ball into the net … hope that isn’t going over his mood … but it isn’t. Nobo­dy real­ly keen on foot­ball would tra­vel some­whe­re as remo­te as Jan May­en the­se days any­way.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

And, by the way: the fact that we return to Ice­land one day befo­re the final is coin­ci­dence. Real­ly. I rea­li­zed it just a few days ago.

Did anyo­ne real­ly read this far, or was it alrea­dy too much? Apart from sit­ting in a pla­ne for some hours, not­hing has real­ly hap­pen­ed so far. Time to finish for the moment. I’d bet­ter read a bit in the Jan May­en book, polish my histo­ry know­ledge a bit. Yes, I am star­ting to read my own books. May­be weird, but … not bad … J and my last visit to Jan May­en was alrea­dy several years ago. Admit­ted­ly.

Infos for tra­vel tho­se inte­res­ted: Some thoughts about the Jan May­en tour that you should read if you con­si­der to par­ti­ci­pa­te in the future.

Arc­tic blog: Jan May­en, Spits­ber­gen

Join voya­ges to Jan May­en and Spits­ber­gen from the sofa! Rolf Stan­ge will publish impres­si­ons and adven­tures from his polar tra­vels more or less regu­lar­ly through the arc­tic sum­mer. Litt­le sto­ries and expe­ri­en­ces, first-hand from the far north. More here in the blog.

Approach to Isafjor­dur: Begin­ning of the Jan May­en adven­ture.

Arktis Blog: Anflug Ísafjörður

MS Lan­gøy­sund belie­ved to pay ille­gal­ly low wages

MS Lan­gøy­sund is a day trip boat ope­ra­ting every sum­mer from Lon­gye­ar­by­en in the Isfjord area. Every day from June to Sep­tem­ber, it is sai­ling to Bar­ents­burg or Pyra­mi­den, pas­sing high­lights of natu­re inclu­ding gla­ciers and bird cliffs.

The ongo­ing sea­son is, so far, not going too well for Lan­gøy­sund and the owner com­pa­ny. A few weeks ago, the ship ran aground in Borebuk­ta. The hull was dama­ged and the pas­sen­gers had to con­ti­nue their jour­ney back to Lon­gye­ar­by­en on ano­t­her ship. At least it did not take too long befo­re Lan­gøy­sund was repa­red and clea­red for sai­ling again.

Now, the owner com­pa­ny, Hen­ningsen Trans­port og Gui­ding (HTG) in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, is facing accu­sa­ti­ons of paying ille­gal low wages to the crew. Alrea­dy in April, the respon­si­ble uni­on (Nor­sk Sjø­manns­for­bund) had to take action to make sure the crew, which is lar­ge­ly of Phil­ip­pi­ne natio­na­li­ty, is get­ting Nor­we­gi­an con­tract, as requi­red by Nor­we­gi­an law for any ship sai­ling under Nor­we­gi­an flag.

During a con­trol in Lon­gye­ar­by­en it tur­ned out that the crew has got Nor­we­gi­an con­tracts, but is not get­ting the wages accord­ing to it. Accord­ing to con­tract and Nor­we­gi­an law, the mini­mum wage for crew on ships under Nor­we­gi­an flag is 5,000 US-$ plus over­ti­me pay, which can be expec­ted to be signi­fi­cant. But accord­ing to Nor­sk Sjø­manns­for­bund, the crew see hard­ly 1,500 US-$. Coope­ra­ti­on with the Phil­ip­pi­nes is dif­fi­cult for the uni­on, as they fear to be black-lis­ted by their con­trac­ting agen­cy even if their wages are, in theo­ry, gua­ran­te­ed by law.

Accord­ing to the owner, HTG, the con­tract part­ner of the crew mem­bers is an agen­cy in Mani­la, which is recei­ving pay­ment from HTG to dis­tri­bu­te it to the indi­vi­du­al crew mem­bers. HTG sta­tes that con­tract and pay­ment are cor­rect and does not con­si­der to pro­vi­de docu­men­ta­ti­on of pay­ment to Nor­sk Sjø­manns­for­bund as requi­red. The uni­on has set a dead­line which ran out today (Thurs­day) at 9 a.m. As Nor­sk Sjø­manns­for­bund has not recei­ved any pay­ment docu­men­ta­ti­on, they have now announ­ced to arrest the ship.

HTG is facing simi­lar accu­sa­ti­ons on MS Bill­efjord, ano­t­her day trip boat, new in the busi­ness in Spits­ber­gen. In this case, HTG is not the owner, but lar­ge­ly respon­si­ble for the manage­ment.

MS Lan­gøy­sund in Ymer­buk­ta. Is the crew get­ting ille­gal low wages?

MS Langøysund, Ymerbukta

Source: Nor­sk Sjø­manns­for­bund

Sur­ge of ice cap Aus­t­fon­na: time lap­se video

Parts of Aus­t­fon­na, the lar­ge ice cap on Nord­aus­t­land, have recent­ly advan­ced rapidly or “sur­ged”, as sci­en­tists call this beha­viour, which is cau­sed by gla­cier dyna­mics rather than cli­ma­te chan­ge. See Aus­t­fon­na: an ice cap on the move, Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com news ear­lier in June.

The Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te has publis­hed a time lap­se video com­po­sed of about 1000 sin­gle satel­li­te images that visua­li­zes the sur­ge of Aus­t­fon­na impres­si­ve­ly. Parts of the gla­cier front advan­ced more than 4 kilo­me­tres. The sur­ge cul­mi­na­ted in 2012.

More about sur­ging gla­ciers in gene­ral and Aus­t­fon­na in Rocks and Ice.

The sur­ge of an ice cap of the size of Aus­t­fon­na has con­se­quen­ces. It is cur­r­ent­ly by the lar­gest con­tri­bu­tor to glo­bal sea level rise in the who­le Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go, with a con­tri­bu­ti­on out­weig­hing all other gla­ciers in Sval­bard tog­e­ther. Local­ly, it may cau­se hazards to navi­ga­ti­on: the den­si­ty of ice­bergs is incre­a­sed, and the pushing gla­cier front may have chan­ged sea bot­tom topo­gra­phy.

Time-lap­se video com­po­sed of about 1000 satel­li­te images, showing the sur­ge of Aus­t­fon­na (© Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, Screen­shot). Click here to see the video on You­tube.

Surge Austfonna

Source: Nor­we­gi­sches Polar­in­sti­tut

Fred­heim: vir­tu­al tour through Spitsbergen’s most famous trap­per hut

Fred­heim, Spitsbergen’s most famous trap­per hut, is now acces­si­ble online in shape of a vir­tu­al tour. The woo­den hut, with a luxu­rious two floo­rs, was built and used by the legen­da­ry Nor­we­gi­an hun­ter Hil­mar Nøis. It is beau­ti­ful­ly situa­ted in Tem­pel­fjord, but dif­fi­cult to reach out­side the snow mobi­le sea­son, and if you mana­ge to get the­re, then you will face clo­sed doors.

Now it is pos­si­ble to visit every room in Vil­la Fred­heim (inclu­ding the two adja­cent huts) any time from any­whe­re without any effort: In late March, I have had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pan­ora­ma-pho­to­graph Fred­heim in detail, and I have put the results tog­e­ther to crea­te a vir­tu­al tour, which is now online, making it pos­si­ble to visit Fred­heim insi­de, every room. The tour runs auto­ma­ti­cal­ly like a film; alter­na­tively, it is pos­si­ble to select indi­vi­du­al rooms (pan­ora­mas). Short explana­to­ry texts give some back­ground infor­ma­ti­on and sto­ries from the wild years of the trap­pers in Spits­ber­gen.

The local news­pa­per Sval­bard­pos­ten has alrea­dy tur­ned their rea­ders’ atten­ti­on to this pos­si­bi­li­ty to visit Fred­heim online. More than 1000 vir­tu­al visi­tors have been the­re wit­hin a few days, more than visi­ted Fred­heim phy­si­cal­ly at the “open day” that is held the­re twice during the win­ter sea­son: the only pos­si­bi­li­ty for the public so far to get some insi­de impres­si­ons from Fred­heim.

Enjoy – this is the way to Fred­heim 🙂

Fred­heim, Hil­mar Nøis’ in Tem­pel­fjord, is not easy to get to and locked. But it is now pos­si­ble to visit the famous hut vir­tual­ly.

Fredheim virtual tour

The Oce­an Cleanup: solu­ti­on for the glo­bal plastic pol­lu­ti­on pro­blem

Plastic pol­lu­ti­on in the oce­ans is one of the tru­ly threa­tening pro­blems for the envi­ron­ment on a glo­bal sca­le, inclu­ding the Arc­tic. You can see ama­zing amounts of plastics on many of Spitsbergen’s beaches, a lot from fishe­ries, but also ever­y­day use plastic items inclu­ding tooth­brushes, ligh­ters, bot­t­les and so on and so forth. The list is end­less. For an impres­si­on, have a look at the famous pho­tos taken by pho­to­gra­pher Chris Jor­dan on the remo­te Mid­way Islands in the Paci­fic: Alba­tross chicks who died with a sto­mach fil­led of plastic gar­ba­ge, becau­se it loo­ked like food to their par­ents.

On almost every trip in Spits­ber­gen, we collect several cubic metres of plastic gar­ba­ge from remo­te beaches, which has led to visi­ble impro­ve­ments in many pla­ces over the years (and by the way, nobo­dy has the capa­ci­ty to collect com­pa­ra­ble amounts of plastics in such remo­te are­as as tou­rist ships!). This is good, but obvious­ly not the solu­ti­on to a glo­bal pro­blem.

Some impres­si­ons of plastic pol­lu­ti­on on Spitsbergen’s beaches, from Bear Island in the south to Nord­aus­t­land in the far nor­the­ast, and of our efforts to clean some of the­se beaches.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Every day, plastic pol­lu­ti­on is kil­ling lar­ge num­bers of fish, sea­b­irds, mam­mals (from seals to dol­phins and wha­les) and turt­les in the world’s oce­ans. And pro­bab­ly even worse, once waves and UV radia­ti­on have grind the plastics down into micro­scopic par­ti­cles, plank­ton is eating it, thus incor­po­ra­ting plastic in the food chain, whe­re it is enri­ched on every tro­phic level upwards.

To real­ly do some­thing about plastic pol­lu­ti­on, it would be necessa­ry to:

  • use much less plastic items in our ever­y­day life. This is for ever­y­bo­dy. How often do you throw a plastic bag away after having used it only once?
  • replace plastics with bio-degre­da­ble mate­ri­als. Next to con­su­mers, indus­try, sci­ence and poli­tics all need to do their home­work to achie­ve this.
  • redu­ce the incredi­ble amounts of plastics alrea­dy pre­sent in the world’s oce­ans today. And this is whe­re it is cur­r­ent­ly get­ting inte­res­ting: after several years of work, The Oce­an Cleanup has publis­hed a fea­si­bi­li­ty report, intro­du­cing a rea­listic con­cept to remo­ve plastic pol­lu­ti­on from the oce­an on a glo­bal­ly rele­vant sca­le. The main idea is to let the cur­r­ents do the main work: install shal­low bar­ri­ers that catch plastics and con­cen­tra­te them so they are rela­tively easy to remo­ve from the water. The water and ani­mals keep drif­ting under the bar­ri­er to redu­ce by-catch. Cos­ts are esti­ma­ted at 4.50 Euro per kg plastic or 33 times less than other methods avail­ab­le, accord­ing to The Oce­an Cleanup. The pro­ject claims that it should be pos­si­ble to redu­ce the amount of plastics floa­ting in the infa­mous Paci­fic Gar­ba­ge Patch by 50 % over 10 years at cos­ts small com­pa­red to the dama­ge done by the plastics both to mari­ne eco­sys­tems and eco­no­mies.

The impres­si­on remains that The Oce­an Pro­ject is likely able to make a signi­fi­cant con­tri­bu­ti­on to the solu­ti­on of an urgent glo­bal pro­blem, at a pri­ce more than rea­son­ab­le. To lift the pro­ject up to the next level, 2 mil­li­on dol­lars are to be collec­ted via crowd­fun­ding. At the time of wri­ting (18 June), more than half a mil­li­on have alrea­dy been dona­ted. The pre­sent aut­hor and owner of this web­site has alrea­dy made his con­tri­bu­ti­on and asks the rea­der kind­ly to con­si­der a dona­ti­on. If you have seen the amounts of plastics on remo­te beaches in Spits­ber­gen or else­whe­re or if you have seen Chris Jordan’s abo­ve-men­tio­ned pho­tos, they you are pro­bab­ly hap­py to sup­port The Oce­an Cleanup. Click here to get to The Oce­an Cleanup crowd­fun­ding web­site.

And remem­ber a cot­ton bag for your next shop­ping trip … 🙂

Crew and pas­sen­gers of SV Anti­gua collec­ting plastic gar­ba­ge in Woodfjord, north Spits­ber­gen. This is done on almost every trip, also by other ships.

Collecting plastic garbage, Mushamna (Spitsbergen)

Source: The Oce­an Cleanup

Com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on break­down in Spits­ber­gen

It was a drastic expe­ri­ence which made pret­ty clear how remo­te and poten­ti­al­ly vul­nerable the com­mu­nities in Spits­ber­gen still are: on Mon­day, almost 2 weeks ago (02 June), the com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on bet­ween Spits­ber­gen and the out­side world bro­ke com­ple­te­ly down for a cou­p­le of hours.

Some years ago, fib­re cables bet­ween Spits­ber­gen and Nor­way have repla­ced ear­lier com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on sys­tems. The need to trans­fer lar­ge data volu­mes that come from satel­li­te anten­nas near Lon­gye­ar­by­en (Sval­Sat, the white balls on Pla­tå­ber­get abo­ve the air­port) to cus­to­mers inclu­ding ESA and NASA has made the cables necessa­ry.

The high tech­no­lo­gy super­fast con­nec­tion fai­led com­ple­te­ly on said Mon­day: the who­le traf­fic bet­ween Spits­ber­gen and the rest of the world went down for several hours becau­se of a pro­blem in a relay sta­ti­on in Ande­nes (Ves­terå­len, north Nor­way), whe­re the fib­re cable reaches the main­land. The who­le tech­ni­cal infra­st­ruc­tu­re is dou­ble to com­pen­sa­te for tech­ni­cal pro­blems with parts of the sys­tem, but this time, the who­le thing was dead for a while.

This did not just cut Lon­gye­ar­by­ens inha­bi­tants off from tele­pho­ne and inter­net, but it made it impos­si­ble to reach poli­ce, res­cue ser­vices and other vital ser­vices and infra­st­ruc­tu­re and it lar­ge­ly shut down inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on wit­hin the­se bodies. The hos­pi­tal in Lon­gye­ar­by­en reli­es on com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on with the uni­ver­si­ty hos­pi­tal in Trom­sø and the con­stant avai­la­bi­li­ty of air trans­port of pati­ents to main­land Nor­way in dif­fi­cult cases. Satel­li­te pho­nes were quick­ly put into use, but they requi­re a view to the sky without any obst­ruc­tions, which does not exact­ly app­ly to a medi­cal doctor’s work place. Plus, the­re are many of them in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, and also this line of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on tur­ned out unab­le to ser­ve the amount of traf­fic: it was at times sim­ply impos­si­ble to get through. Even in nor­mal times, satel­li­te pho­nes are not exact­ly reli­able.

The pro­blem was sol­ved after a few hours, but it made the poten­ti­al for dis­as­ter qui­te clear. Espe­cial­ly repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of vital infra­st­ruc­tu­re and public ser­vices such as poli­ce, res­cue ser­vice and hos­pi­tal made it clear that the avai­la­bi­li­ty of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on is of high impor­t­ance for public safe­ty and health.

Tele­nor, the Nor­we­gi­an pro­vi­der of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on ser­vices and infra­st­ruc­tu­re, is now working with aut­ho­ri­ties to make sure this does not hap­pen again. But the­re is now tal­king about lea­ving some of the good old land­li­ne pho­nes in place. Lon­gye­ar­by­en, becau­se of its size, tech­ni­cal infra­st­ruc­tu­re and poli­ti­cal cir­cum­s­tan­ces a very modern place, is inten­ded to be one of the first pla­ces in Nor­way without a land­li­ne pho­ne sys­tem, whe­re all com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on is based on a mobi­le grid. The recent inci­dent will be part of this deba­te, that’s for sure.

Works always: fire- and explo­si­on-pro­of pho­ne in Bar­ents­burg. The pro­blem is, you won’t get far with it …

Telephone, Barentsburg

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Aus­t­fon­na: an ice cap on the move

The ice cap Aus­t­fon­na is covering lar­ge parts of Nord­aus­t­land, the second-lar­gest island in the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go. The total sur­face area of Aus­t­fon­na, actual­ly a com­po­si­te of several smal­ler ice caps, is more than 8400 squa­re kilo­me­tres.

For deca­des, Aus­t­fon­na was con­si­de­red to be rela­tively sta­ble: it did not suf­fer mas­si­ve loss of volu­me as many other gla­ciers in Spits­ber­gen and else­whe­re in the Arc­tic. More recent­ly, mar­gi­nal parts were thin­ning while cen­tral parts were gai­ning thic­kness, a beha­viour known to pre­pa­re a sur­ge if it lasts for some time. A sur­ge is a sud­den advan­ce whe­re a gla­cier can move for­ward over many kilo­me­tres wit­hin a year or two, it is a result of gla­cier mecha­nics and not of cli­ma­te varia­ti­ons (see Rocks and Ice for more about gla­ciers and sur­ges). Also parts of Aus­t­fon­na are known to have sur­ged in the past, for examp­le Brås­vell­breen, the sou­thern part of the ice cap, in the 1930s.

Infor­ma­ti­on from satel­li­te images has now yiel­ded evi­dence for incre­a­sed velo­ci­ty over lar­ge parts of Aus­t­fon­na. The ice cap is pushing into the Bar­ents Sea, pro­du­cing vast amounts of ice­bergs and thus con­tri­bu­ting signi­fi­cant­ly to glo­bal sea level rise, cur­r­ent­ly more than all other gla­ciers in Spits­ber­gen tog­e­ther. Nevertheless, sci­en­tists invol­ved in obser­ving Aus­t­fon­na assu­me it will incre­a­se its volu­me in the years to come.

AECO, the arc­tic expe­di­ti­on crui­se orga­niz­a­ti­on, has issued a warning to navi­ga­te care­ful­ly in the­se waters, as lar­ger num­bers of ice­bergs than usu­al and chan­ges of the gla­cia­ted coast­li­ne have to be expec­ted.

Such an event, whe­re an ice cap of thousands of squa­re kilo­me­tres starts to move more rapidly, is uni­que during the peri­od of detail­ed sci­en­ti­fic obser­va­ti­on and regu­lar tou­ris­tic access. The recent obser­va­ti­on is based on data from the Euro­pean satel­li­te Sen­ti­nel-1a. One rea­son the­se data have drawn more than just a litt­le bit of atten­ti­on is the fact that the satel­li­te had, at the time in ques­ti­on, not even ful­ly reached its orbit, but was nevertheless able to pro­du­ce high qua­li­ty data.

The ice cap Aus­t­fon­na on Nord­aus­t­land has star­ted to move more rapidly on lar­ge parts of its huge area.

Austfonna

Source: BBC News.

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