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Yearly Archives: 2014 − News & Stories


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.

The long migra­ti­on of polar bear Kara

Polar bears in Spits­ber­gen are tag­ged with satel­li­te trans­mit­ters every year by the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te. It is pos­si­ble to fol­low some of them on a WWF web­site on their migra­ti­ons.

In many cases, the fema­le bears stay wit­hin a more or less limi­ted area for qui­te some time. But polar bear Kara has recent­ly bea­ten all records: tag­ged in Janu­a­ry 2013 on a gla­cier bet­ween Horn­sund and Ham­berg­buk­ta on Spitsbergen’s east coast, she made a migra­ti­on of an incredi­ble 3703 km wit­hin less than a year. She star­ted towards Nova­ya Zem­lya and then went north towards Franz Josef Land, but so far without going on land any­whe­re. She then went even fur­ther east to Sever­na­ya Zeml­ja, whe­re she final­ly spent some time ashore after having cros­sed the Kara Sea com­ple­te­ly. Kara final­ly went west again to Franz Josef Land, whe­re the sen­der stop­ped trans­mit­ting data. She might have gone into a snow cave to give birth to polar bear babies – may­be she is hap­py mother of two litt­le polar bears by now …?

The fema­le polar bear Kara was, at the time of tag­ging, 13 years old, 2.2 m long and weighs a mode­ra­te 217 kg.

Gene­ral­ly, data from the most recent tag­ging sea­son in spring 2014 may sug­gest that fema­le polar bears have cur­r­ent­ly got less off­spring than in other years: only 3 out of 29 fema­les had cubs in their second year, the nor­mal rate should be some­whe­re near one third. But the total num­ber is too low to ful­ly exclu­de coin­ci­dence.

Mar­king and tag­ging polar bears is con­tro­ver­si­al, as tran­qui­li­zing the bears while fol­lowing them with a heli­co­p­ter is qui­te stress­ful for the ani­mals and the­re are cases when the bear did not sur­vi­ve. This hap­pen­ed in Octo­ber 2013 on Edgeøya (eas­tern Spits­ber­gen) and pos­si­b­ly again in April 2014. In the lat­ter case, howe­ver, the exact cau­se of death is not yet cer­tain. In spring 2014, a total of 73 polar bears have been tran­qui­li­zed and exami­ned in Spits­ber­gen.

The migra­ti­on of polar bear Kara from Spits­ber­gen to the Rus­si­an Arc­tic. Image source: WWF

Migration of polar bear Kara

Source: WWF, Sval­bard­pos­ten

Arc­tic 2014: Lofo­ten, Bear Island, Jan May­en, Spits­ber­gen

The arc­tic sum­mer sea­son 2014 is just about to begin: tomor­row we will start with SV Anti­gua in Bodø, sai­ling to Lofo­ten and then nor­thwards to Bear Island and Spits­ber­gen.

In July, I will be in Jan May­en and then return to Spits­ber­gen for several trips las­ting into Sep­tem­ber. So it will be worth che­cking the pho­tos and triplogs regu­lar­ly!

Lofo­ten: the begin­ning of a long arc­tic sum­mer. Anti­gua in Troll­fjord, 2013.

Antigua, Lofoten

Evo­lu­ti­on of Polar bears

The evo­lu­ti­on of Polar bears is still a mat­ter of sci­en­ti­fic deba­tes. Fos­sils and accord­in­gly data are scar­ce. Tra­di­tio­nal­ly it has been belie­ved that the spe­ci­es is very young, only bet­ween 100,000 and 200,000 years old. Ages put­ting the ori­gin of the spe­ci­es back into mid or ear­ly Plei­sto­ce­ne times have also been sug­gested (see also Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com news from April 2012: Spe­ci­es “polar bear” older than belie­ved so far).

A recent publi­ca­ti­on based on gene­ti­cal stu­dies now sug­gests that Polar bears are sepa­ra­ted from Brown bears sin­ce 479,000–343,000 years ago, which is, wit­hin error limits, in accordance with other pre­vious, but also qui­te recent, stu­dies (see link abo­ve). Evi­dence is thus incre­a­sing that the evo­lu­ti­on of Polar bears goes back to the mid-Plei­sto­ce­ne, the midd­le of the last (and still ongo­ing) ice age, which star­ted about 2.6 mil­li­on years ago.

The ques­ti­on is not only of sci­en­ti­fic inte­rest: If the spe­ci­es was as young as 100,000 years, then the cur­rent warm peri­od would be the first chal­len­ge of this kind in the histo­ry of the spe­ci­es. But if the spe­ci­es is near­ly half a mil­li­on years old, as sug­gested in this most recent stu­dy, then Polar bears have, during their evo­lu­ti­on, alrea­dy sur­vi­ved more than one warm peri­od in the past, which indi­ca­tes an abi­li­ty of the spe­ci­es to sur­vi­ve war­mer con­di­ti­ons. Which is obvious­ly not a gua­ran­tee for the sur­vi­val of Polar bears through rapid chan­ges into even war­mer cli­ma­tes, but sheds some light on the ongo­ing deba­te of Polar bears in a chan­ging cli­ma­te.

Polar bears: their evo­lu­ti­on pro­bab­ly goes several hund­red thousand years back. And the pho­to was taken in Spits­ber­gen, not in the zoo.

Polar bear, Spitsbergen

Source: Cell

Crui­se tou­rism sta­tis­tics in Spits­ber­gen: decli­ning num­bers

In April, the latest sta­tis­tics on crui­se tou­rism in Spits­ber­gen were publis­hed by the Sys­sel­man­nen. They give detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on about the deve­lo­p­ment of this tou­rism sec­tor until 2013. Against com­mon belief, the­re is no indi­ca­ti­on for an incre­a­se of crui­se tou­rism.

The num­ber of big crui­se ships visi­t­ing Spits­ber­gen as one of several parts their rou­te remai­ned almost unch­an­ged (27 in 2013, 28 in 2012). As some of the ships make several trips per sea­son, the num­ber of trips is a litt­le hig­her (33 trips in 2013, 36 in 2012). In con­trast, a signi­fi­cant decli­ne is indi­ca­ted by the num­ber of pas­sen­gers: After an extra­or­di­na­ry incre­a­se in the record year 2012 (42,363 pas­sen­gers) this figu­re went down to 36 257 in 2013. In the years befo­re, the­re was a decre­a­sing trend in the num­ber of trips (from 50 in 2005 to 28 in 2011) as well as in the num­ber of pas­sen­gers (from 32,781 in 2007 to 24,187 in 2011).

The figu­res are pre­sen­ted in the Sysselmannen´s annu­al report on tou­rism. The sta­tis­tics make a dis­tinc­tion bet­ween the big crui­se ships, visi­t­ing Spits­ber­gen as one of several desti­na­ti­ons on their rou­te, and smal­ler expe­di­ti­on ships. In con­trast to crui­se ships, expe­di­ti­on ships tra­vel pri­ma­ri­ly or exclu­si­ve­ly in the waters around Spits­ber­gen. They usual­ly start and end their trips in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. In the last year the sizes of the­se ships varied bet­ween 5 and 300 pas­sen­gers. The cate­go­ry of expe­di­ti­on ships inclu­des small yachts, most­ly in local owners­hip, sai­ling ships like Noor­der­licht and Anti­gua as well as lar­ger ships like Plan­ci­us and Orte­li­us ope­ra­ted by Ocean­wi­de Expe­di­ti­ons or Quest and Oce­an Nova ope­ra­ted by Polar Quest. The num­ber of expe­di­ti­on ships went down signi­fi­cant­ly in 2013 com­pa­red to 2012 from 35 to 24. Here too, the year 2012 was an all-time high. On the other hand the num­ber of pas­sen­gers was lower in 2012 than in 2013. With 9,277 it ran­ged wit­hin the trend of the pre­vious years. 2013 howe­ver with 10,530 the num­ber of pas­sen­gers on expe­di­ti­on ships was for the first time hig­her than in the for­mer record year 2008 with 10,040 pas­sen­gers.

The figu­res do not indi­ca­te a clear­ly defi­ned pic­tu­re. Loo­king at both cate­go­ries ‘big crui­se ships’ and ‘smal­ler expe­di­ti­on ships’ tog­e­ther, the total num­ber of pas­sen­gers went signi­fi­cant­ly down from 51,640 to 46,787, com­pa­red to the record year 2012. The rela­tively strong decli­ne on crui­se ships is accom­pa­nied by a mode­ra­te incre­a­se on expe­di­ti­on ships. A clear over­all trend can­not be iden­ti­fied. The often heard argu­ment, that ship-based tou­rism in polar are­as is gro­wing rapidly and in an uncon­trol­led way, is howe­ver dis­pro­ved by the figu­res, con­cer­ning Spits­ber­gen (this holds true also for Ant­arc­ti­ca in a simi­lar way, see antarctic.eu-news May 2014). Con­si­de­ring the decli­ne in crui­se tou­rism in Green­land sin­ce 2010 such argu­ments must be seen as a myth. Though, in the past they were used to rea­son for restric­ti­ve legis­la­ti­ve amend­ments con­cer­ning tou­rism (see spitsbergen-svalbard.com-news April 2014).

Inclu­ding the land based tou­rism, the total num­ber of tou­rists visi­t­ing Spits­ber­gen has incre­a­sed in 2013, as the Sysselmannen´s report also shows. The num­ber of guest-nights in Lon­gye­ar­by­en clim­bed mar­ked­ly from 84,643 (2012) to 107,086 (2013) and the num­ber of flight pas­sen­gers from 40,153 (2012) to 47,645 (2013). Land based tou­rism is basi­cal­ly con­cen­tra­ted in and around Lon­gye­ar­by­en, with a focus on on snow­mo­bi­le trips fol­lo­wed by dog sledge excur­si­ons and other acti­vi­ties.

Crui­se tou­rism in Spits­ber­gen invol­ves a ran­ge of ships from yachts and sai­ling boats to lar­ge oce­an liners.

Ships Spitsbergen

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Spits­ber­gen pan­ora­ma site: now bet­ter and big­ger

The Spits­ber­gen pan­ora­ma site has not only grown qui­te a lot recent­ly, but it is also struc­tu­red a much bet­ter way now. The growth over the last mon­ths was big­ger than expec­ted and made it necessa­ry to impro­ve the struc­tu­re to make it easier to find a pan­ora­ma for a site or to know whe­re a cer­tain pan­ora­ma was taken. Small maps are now being added to indi­vi­du­al are­as to make navi­ga­ti­on easier.

Also the num­ber of pan­ora­mas has incre­a­sed great­ly over the last cou­p­le of mon­ths, and the­re is defi­ni­te­ly more to come!

Enjoy the Spits­ber­gen pan­ora­ma site.

One of many Spits­ber­gen pan­ora­mas: Many smal­ler ice­bergs with fan­tastic shapes and colours are fro­zen in the fast ice of Mohn­buk­ta. The­se images were taken insi­de an ice­berg that had several old meltwa­ter caves.

Record-brea­king num­ber of par­ti­ci­pants at Spits­ber­gen Ski­ma­ra­thon

At this year’s Spits­ber­gen Ski­ma­ra­thon, which took place today (03 May), the num­ber of par­ti­ci­pants was abo­ve 800, so far an all-time record. Amongst the par­ti­ci­pants was Jens Stol­ten­berg, for­mer head of the Nor­we­gi­an government and next gene­ral secreta­ry of Nato.

The ski­ers could enjoy a per­fect ear­ly May day with blue ski­es, sunshi­ne, calm air and tem­pe­ra­tures slight­ly below zero. The Nor­we­gi­an Eldar Røn­ning was, as expec­ted, fas­test man. Amongst the women, Celi­ne Bru­ne-Lie was the first one to com­ple­te the mara­thon distance.

On June 07, mara­thon run­ners from many coun­tries will start for the nort­hern­most regu­lar mara­thon that is held annu­al­ly.

Spits­ber­gen Ski­ma­ra­thon (archi­ve image, 2013).

Spitsbergen Skimarathon

Narwhale´s tusk ser­ves as a sen­so­ry organ

The remar­kab­le and uni­que tusk of the nar­wha­le ser­ves as a sen­si­ble sen­so­ry organ which enab­les the ani­mals to sen­se chan­ges in their envi­ron­ment. Sci­en­tists were now able to con­firm this assump­ti­on.

Nar­wha­les are, tog­e­ther with white wha­les (belugas), part of the Monodon­ti­dae fami­ly. They live in the Arc­tic Oce­an, espe­cial­ly west and east of Green­land, around Spits­ber­gen and north of the Sibe­ri­an coast.

The main cha­rac­te­ris­tic of the nar­wha­le is it´s up to 2,60m long tusk. It usual­ly grows from the males left cani­ne tooth, brea­king through the upper lip in a spi­ral rota­ti­on. In sin­gle cases a second tusk can grow from the right cani­ne tooth. It is also pos­si­ble that fema­le indi­vi­du­als have one or two tusks but this is rather uncom­mon.

In histo­ry the­re were many dif­fe­ring theo­ries try­ing to exp­lain the func­tion of the narwhale´s tusk. Today the­re are two com­mon explana­ti­ons: They ser­ve as a dis­tin­guis­hing attri­bu­te for males, to main­tain hier­ar­chies and as a sen­so­ry organ.

Dr. Mar­tin Nweeia from the Har­vard School of Den­tal Medi­ci­ne (HSDM) is part of an inter­na­tio­nal group of sci­en­tists who stu­dy the func­tion of the narwhale´s tusk. They were now able to con­firm their assump­ti­on that the tusk ser­ves as a sen­si­ble sen­so­ry organ. In pre­vious stu­dies the­re was poin­ted out that the narwhale´s tusk, dif­fe­ring from other mam­mal teeth, is not cove­r­ed by an ena­mel which pro­tects the tooth against exter­nal influ­en­ces. Now the sci­en­tists could reve­al that the outer lay­er of the tusk, the cemen­tum, is porous and that the inner lay­ers con­tain micro­scopic tubes lea­ding to the cen­ter of the tooth. So the mate­ri­al of the tooth is rigid but per­me­ab­le. In the inner core of the tusk, in the pulp, the sci­en­tists could find ner­ve endings con­nec­ted to the whale´s brain. With this struc­tu­re the tusk is sen­si­ble for chan­ges in the exter­nal envi­ron­ment such as chan­ges in tem­pe­ra­tu­re, salt level in the water or other che­mi­cal para­me­ters. Expe­ri­ments could show that the whale´s heart rate chan­ged when the tusk was expo­sed to dif­fe­rent salt levels in the water.

It is sug­gested that the abi­li­ty of the tusk ser­ves the male indi­vi­du­als to find food or to find fema­les and to eva­lua­te their wil­ling­ness to mate.

The sci­en­tists are now inte­res­ted in the ques­ti­on if the nar­wha­les uni­que abi­li­ty to use a tooth as a sen­so­ry organ is an evo­lu­tio­na­ry advan­ce­ment or an abi­li­ty which is left from a for­mer sta­ge of deve­lo­p­ment.

Tusk and skull of a nar­wha­le, stran­ded in Bellsund, Spitz­ber­gen.

Narwal Stoßzahn

Source: BBC Natu­re News

Polar bear found dead in Petu­nia­buk­ta had been ana­es­the­ti­sed for sci­en­ti­fic pur­po­ses

Initi­al­ly, it see­med to be a very nor­mal, natu­ral cour­se of things when locals from Lon­gye­ar­by­en found a dead polar bear in Petu­nia­buk­ta, near Pyra­mi­den, on 07 April. Soon, howe­ver, it tur­ned out that the ani­mal had been ana­es­the­ti­sed for sci­en­ti­fic pur­po­ses just a few days befo­re, on 04 April. The body was con­se­quent­ly brought to Lon­gye­ar­by­en for a post­mor­tem.

In con­tra­ry to ear­ly local rumours, it has been sta­ted that outer inju­ries, as might have been cau­sed by ano­t­her bear, are not pre­sent. Other polar bears pose a real thre­at to ana­es­the­ti­sed bears. The cau­se of death is at pre­sent unclear. Tis­sue sam­ples have been taken for fur­ther inves­ti­ga­ti­ons, but it may take weeks until results are avail­ab­le.

Ana­es­the­ti­sa­ti­on of polar bears can have secon­da­ry effects which may be let­hal in extre­me cases. Once sci­en­ti­fic works are finis­hed, the ani­mals are not being sur­vey­ed any fur­ther. Other bears may do harm to defen­celess polar bears. Also a chan­ge of posi­ti­on can inflict suf­fo­ca­ti­on. This is what hap­pen­ed to a polar bear found dead on Edgeøya in Sep­tem­ber 2013, which had been ana­es­the­ti­sed short­ly befo­re (see Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com news: Polar bear dead after ana­es­the­ti­sa­ti­on by sci­en­tists)

Ana­es­the­ti­sa­ti­on of polar bears, which inclu­des fol­lowing them with a heli­co­p­ter, is a trau­ma­tic expe­ri­ence for the ani­mals with secon­da­ry effects that are obvious­ly poten­ti­al­ly very dan­ge­rous. Popu­la­ti­on data are, in Spits­ber­gen, not nee­ded for admi­nis­tra­ti­ve pur­po­ses: here as well as in the neigh­bou­ring Rus­si­an Arc­tic, polar bears are com­ple­te­ly pro­tec­ted. The­re is no acti­ve manage­ment such as the fixing of an annu­al quo­ta for hun­ting. Thre­ats are more glo­bal, main­ly cli­ma­te chan­ge and long-lived envi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­ti­on, and can­not be mana­ged regio­nal­ly.

In late sum­mer 2012, a polar bear fami­ly with two first year cubs were ana­es­the­ti­sed in Bill­efjord. The fami­ly show­ed signi­fi­cant beha­viour chan­ges at least for a while, poin­ting to the stress such an expe­ri­ence invol­ves for the ani­mals (see Cha­sing polar bears with heli­co­p­ter in the name of sci­ence, Octo­ber 2012). It is pos­si­ble that the bear found dead now is one of the two litt­le cubs of the fami­ly in Bill­efjord seen by many in Bill­efjord in 2012: it was a 1.5 year old fema­le.

Not always the natu­ral way of life: dead polar bear (archi­ve pho­to, Nord­aus­t­land).

dead polar bear, Nordaustland

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (16/2014)

First pho­to gal­le­ries from the Arc­tic 2014

Pho­to gal­le­ries from the cur­rent arc­tic spring are now get­ting online on this web­site. A small collec­tion of pho­tos from late March makes the begin­ning – back then, it was still get­ting dark at night­time! Unbe­liev­a­ble …

Over the next weeks and mon­ths, much more will fol­low, from the ongo­ing spring sea­son with snow mobi­le and ski trips in the arc­tic win­ter to the sum­mer sai­ling sea­son in Spits­ber­gen and Jan May­en. So it will be worth to come back and check the pho­to gal­le­ries and tra­vel reports/triplogs regu­lar­ly!

Bey­ond this, new polar pan­ora­ma pho­to­gra­phy is cur­r­ent­ly in pre­pa­ra­ti­on for publi­ca­ti­on on this web­site.

In late March, it was still get­ting dark at night time. That made the fire in a wood bur­ning sto­ve in a cosy cabin even nicer!

Bjørndalen

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