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Home → March, 2015

Monthly Archives: March 2015 − News & Stories


Joy­ous news from the Habi­tat Res­to­ra­ti­on Pro­ject in South Geor­gia

Good news from the Habi­tat Res­to­ra­ti­on Pro­ject in South Geor­gia in the news sec­tion of the ant­arc­tic coun­ter­part of this web­site (click here).

Sea­b­irds near South Geor­gia: thanks to the Habi­tat Res­to­ra­ti­on Pro­ject, popu­la­ti­ons espe­cial­ly of smal­ler spe­ci­es can be expec­ted to incre­a­se signi­fi­cant­ly in years to come.

Seabirds near South Georgia

Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The stiff bree­ze from last night has evol­ved into a solid storm by now. The wea­ther has been rather ins­ta­ble recent­ly, fluc­tua­ting from clear, cold, calm win­ter days through snow storms to warm air inva­si­ons with tem­pe­ra­tures even abo­ve zero and back, all wit­hin a week, more than once. Godt inne­vær, as the Nor­we­gi­ans say: good insi­de wea­ther, good to be at home. Which is also nice. And I have to get some work done, some books need to be writ­ten (yes, I am still doing that). And when you get a visi­tor as lovely as this, it can’t be boring any­way 🙂

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

Bar­ents­burg, Cole­s­buk­ta

The trip to Bar­ents­burg takes about 3 hours. We make use of the fine wea­ther by doing a bit of pho­to shoo­ting.

The times, they are a chan­gin’ … clear­ly and visi­b­ly also here in Bar­ents­burg, whe­re coal is still being mined, but the past has brought dif­fi­cul­ties and acci­dents in the mines and the future may be some­whe­re more sun­ny. Many of the houses have got new fronts, ruins have been remo­ved. The­re is a new bre­we­ry with a restau­rant, and new, nice rooms in the hotel. A new hotel and a guest­house have been announ­ced. Bar­ents­burg is attrac­ting curious visi­tors in num­bers alrea­dy the­se days. Not only tou­rists who come with gui­ded tours, but also locals from Lon­gye­ar­by­en, who appre­cia­te the oppor­tu­ni­ty of a short holi­day over the wee­kend. Food, rooms and ser­vice recei­ve regu­lar prai­se. The mining com­pa­ny Trust Ark­ti­ku­gol has alrea­dy been cal­led Turist Ark­ti­ku­gol by the local Nor­we­gi­an news­pa­per Sval­bard­pos­ten …

We are also enjoy­ing lunch in Bar­ents­burg. The­re is not too much time to look around today. We have a pho­to­gra­phic mis­si­on tog­e­ther with the group we are tra­ve­ling with, so we have to stick with their time sche­du­le. Some­thing that we usual­ly don’t have.

But then we are done with that mis­si­on and we can spend a long evening in Cole­s­buk­ta. Weird buil­dings of a Rus­si­an mining sett­le­ment aban­do­ned more than half a cen­tu­ry ago. To be pre­cise, this was the har­bour whe­re the coal was ship­ped that was mined in Grum­ant­by­en, ano­t­her aban­do­ned place at the foot of a steep cliff fur­ther east, so they could not build a har­bour the­re. Inte­res­ting impres­si­ons in nice evening light. We stroll around, curious­ly inves­ti­ga­ting old buil­dings, mar­vel­ling at old, hea­vy machine­ry, geo­lo­gi­cal sam­ples and silent wit­nes­ses of dai­ly life that was vibrant here until 1962. Pure pho­to­gra­phic plea­su­re! Glau­cous gulls are our com­pa­ny as we enjoy an end­less sun­set over Isfjord.

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

Mean­while, the wind has star­ted to pick up and it is time for the last leg of today’s trip, back to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Visi­bi­li­ty is qui­te poor on the pass abo­ve the gla­cier Lon­gyear­breen, a good 700 m high, and alt­hough we are only fol­lowing well-known and fre­quent­ly tra­vel­led rou­tes, we are qui­te hap­py to be back in town soon. On the same evening, as we hear later, a young local snow mobi­le dri­ver recei­ves serious inju­ries as he dri­ves into a deep wind hole in the snow. It is so bad that, once he is found, he is immedia­te­ly evacua­ted to the uni­ver­si­ty hos­pi­tal in Trom­sø with the ambu­lan­ce place, whe­re the doc­tors have to put him into arti­fi­cial coma …

Hiorthfjel­let

The­re are still sun­sets, still are a „nor­mal“ time, name­ly in the evening. The sun­sets are now incredi­b­ly quick­ly moving towards mid­ni­ght, noti­ce­ab­ly later every day, until they join the sun­ri­se to crea­te the mid­ni­ght sun.

The­re are just 2 mon­ths bet­ween polar night and mid­ni­ght sun. The polar day will chan­ge life com­ple­te­ly here, ani­mals and peop­le will sleep less, be more acti­ve, chan­ge their rhythm.

And of cour­se the light will chan­ge. For a few weeks, April will still bring blue and red colours during the night, but the­se will give way to the sun in May, which will then be well abo­ve the hori­zon 24 hours a day.

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

And this is why we are here now, in late March, some hund­red metres abo­ve Hior­th­hamn, at one of the most beau­ti­ful view points, enjoy­ing the views over Advent­fjord and Lon­gye­ar­by­en in the light of an evening sun­set. The­re won’t be many more until Sep­tem­ber.

Sas­senda­len

Sas­senda­len is one of Spitsbergen’s big­gest val­leys: 30 km long from Rabot­breen to Tem­pel­fjord and 5 km wide, it is making a strong impres­si­on of a very wide land­s­cape when you stand in the midd­le of it, whe­re a big meltwa­ter river is run­ning in the sum­mer.

But it is espe­cial­ly some of the smal­ler tri­bu­ta­ry val­leys that have sce­nic aspects which catch the eye of the obser­ver and the atten­ti­on of the pho­to­gra­pher. The fro­zen water­fall in Eskerda­len and the can­yon-like gor­ge in Bratt­li­da­len, whe­re you can touch the steep rock­walls on both sides at the same time in some pla­ces.

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

Fred­heim, the famous hut of the legen­da­ry hun­ter Hil­mar Nøis, is rea­dy to move. The three old buil­dings, inclu­ding the uni­que main buil­ding with two floo­rs, initi­al­ly built by Hil­mar Nøis in 1924 and regu­lar­ly used by him and his fami­ly until 1963, are threa­tened by coas­tal ero­si­on and would not have sur­vi­ved the next cou­p­le of years in their pre­sent posi­ti­on. Now they are stan­ding on hea­vy struc­tu­ral steel work, sta­bi­li­zed with woo­den beams and rea­dy to be pul­led up one ter­race on to safe ter­rain (this has been done suc­cess­ful­ly mean­while).

De Geerda­len

Ano­t­her day in Nor­dens­kiöld Land, a bit fur­ther east this time, again tra­v­eled few kilo­me­tres only, again spent a lot of time try­ing to dis­co­ver some­thing new in the land­s­cape and pho­to­graph it. One of the­se pho­tos led to the spon­ta­ne­ous idea of the eas­ter brain­tea­ser, and I thought that this show­ed very nice­ly how a mate­ri­al belie­ved to be rather fami­li­ar – gla­cier ice – sud­den­ly reve­als some­thing com­ple­te­ly new as soon as you take a new, care­ful approach to look at it, even for someo­ne who has spent a good part of his life near gla­ciers.

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

Pho­to­gra­phi­cal­ly, a bit of a chal­len­ge. Mil­li­met­re work in free­zing degrees. I don’t know if the result jus­ti­fies the effort, but who cares? One thing is sure: the plea­su­re of doing it was rea­son good enough for doing it. See­ing some­thing new and try­ing to figu­re out how to pho­to­graph it. (or not … ☺)

Around Cole­s­da­len

Land­s­cape in blue and grey in cen­tral Nor­dens­kiöld Land, some­whe­re bet­ween Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Bar­ents­burg. Small and lar­ge val­leys, wide views, new tracks. Few kilo­me­tres, many impres­si­ons and pho­tos. In our focus – in the tru­est sen­se! – the win­ter light of a clou­dy late March day and the snow mobi­les in dif­fe­rent ever­y­day dri­ving situa­tions. I spent more time in front of the came­ra rather than behind it, so my own pho­to collec­tion from this day is not immense.

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

Breino­sa & Hior­th­hamn

You don’t have to go far away. Light and sce­ne­ry, gre­at views and some wild­life – it is all here, clo­se to or even wit­hin Lon­gye­ar­by­en. No polar bears or wal­rus­ses, but tho­se endu­ring win­ter dwel­lers who can’t escape: rein­de­er and ptar­mi­gan. The lat­ter are well camou­fla­ged also in win­ter, with their white plu­mage, so you almost can’t see them in the snow when they put the head down to pick some seeds from the fro­zen tun­dra, which is expo­sed whe­re the snow has been remo­ved by rein­de­er on their eter­nal search for food. So gre­at to watch this ever-las­ting fight for sur­vi­val in the arc­tic without being part of it.

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

Hior­th­hamn, just oppo­si­te Lon­gye­ar­by­en, has one of Spitsbergen’s most impres­si­ve bits of his­to­ri­cal heri­ta­ge: the old coal ship­ping cra­ne from the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry years of mining. Young ice floes are gent­ly scratching the icy shore while the set­ting sun cas­ts a blood-red light over the moun­tains on the north side of Isfjord. It is late after­noon, not even evening, but it is just over 2 weeks ago that the first sun­rays in Lon­gye­ar­by­en were recei­ved with cele­bra­ti­on after the polar night. Now the light is com­ing back quick­ly.

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

Solar eclip­se in Spits­ber­gen: total darkness – total suc­cess

The wea­ther Gods were on our side today here in Spits­ber­gen during the solar eclip­se: some thin clouds clea­red up during the morning to give an undis­tur­bed view of a bril­li­ant­ly clear sky. Thousands of visi­tors and locals went to Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en to obser­ve the specta­cle, and the ten­si­on was rising when the tota­li­ty approa­ched at 11.12 a.m. local time.

Solar eclip­ses have been descri­bed many times and are, at the same time, inde­scri­bable, so I won’t try. I thought that tho­se who said a total solar eclip­se was still some­thing com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent than a par­ti­al one were exa­g­ge­ra­ting, but it is com­ple­te­ly true, and we are very glad to have seen it. Total darkness and total cold in the fin­ger­tips, but it was abso­lute­ly worth it. The moment the coro­na was blosso­m­ing … but I didn’t want to descri­be it. So: pho­tos! Of cour­se I took some pho­tos, some­thing that wasn’t that easy … can we plea­se do it again? 😉

Visi­tors get­ting rea­dy for the solar eclip­se in Spits­ber­gen.

Solar eclipse in Spitsbergen, 20th March 2015: visitors

The solar eclip­se in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, 20th March 2015: par­ti­al pha­se.

solar eclipse in Spitsbergen, 20th March 2015: partial phase

The solar eclip­se in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, 20th March 2015: tota­li­ty.

solar eclipse in Spitsbergen, 20th March 2015: totality

The solar eclip­se in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, 20th March 2015: the end of the tota­li­ty.

solar eclipse in Spitsbergen, 20th March 2015: end of totality

The solar eclip­se

The solar eclip­se, schdu­led by astro­no­my some thousand years ago, if not more, for the late morning of today, Fri­day 20th of March, 2015, beca­me a huge event for the inte­res­ted public years ago alrea­dy. Thousands of eclip­se pil­grims from all over the world had brought the litt­le air­port near Lon­gye­ar­by­en to the limits of its capa­ci­ties with nume­rous sche­du­led and char­te­red flights, and the situa­tions in the local hotels was qui­te simi­lar. The all-important ques­ti­on was obvous­ly the wea­ther. As soon as the first long-term fore­casts had emer­ged from the crys­tal balls 10 days befo­re, they were care­ful­ly scru­ti­ni­zed, and thousands of thumbs were surely kept well cros­sed over the glo­be.

As it tur­ned out, the wea­ther Gods were on our side: some thin clouds clea­red up during the morning to give way to an undis­tur­bed view of a bril­li­ant­ly clear sky. Thousands of visi­tors and locals went to Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en to obser­ve the specta­cle, and the ten­si­on was rising when the tota­li­ty approa­ched at 11.12 a.m. local time. We went a bit fur­ther into Advent­da­len, to enjoy the event in silence.

Solar eclip­ses have been descri­bed many times but remain, howe­ver, inde­scri­bable, so I won’t try. I thought that tho­se who said a total solar eclip­se was still some­thing com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent than a par­ti­al one were exa­g­ge­ra­ting, but it is com­ple­te­ly true, and we are very glad to have seen it. Total darkness and total cold in the fin­ger­tips, but it was abso­lute­ly worth it. The moment the coro­na was blosso­m­ing … but I didn’t want to descri­be it. So: pho­tos! Of cour­se I took some pho­tos, some­thing that wasn’t that easy … can we plea­se do it again?

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

It could be felt all over Lon­gye­ar­by­en in the after­noon how the stress and ten­si­on of the last days gave way to joy and relie­ve.

Polar bear shot near Fred­heim in Tem­pel­fjord

Today (Thurs­day, 19th March) ear­ly morning around 6 a.m., a polar bear was shot near Fred­heim in Tem­pel­fjord after an attack on a camp. A Czech group was cam­ping, the tents were secu­red with a polar bear alarm fence of the usu­al sys­tem (Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry sys­tem with nylon string). The polar bear, said to be a small, pres­um­a­b­ly young ani­mal, pro­bab­ly crept under the alarm string into the camp without trig­ge­ring any alarm.

The bear then drag­ged one man out of a tent, inju­ring him in his face and arm. Ano­t­her man shot three times with a rif­le at the bear, inju­ring him, but not kil­ling him. The polar bear then drop­ped the man and ran away.

Soon, the Sys­sel­man­nen (poli­ce) was the­re, found the bear and shot him (or her).

The inju­red man was brought to hos­pi­tal. It can be assu­med that his inju­ries are only minor, as the group assu­mes he can be back with them on Sunday to con­ti­nue the trip.

The camp is only a few hund­red metres from the shore and ice edge. Polar bears are regu­lar­ly seen in Tem­pel­fjord in spring, most recent­ly just a few days ago. Clo­se to the camp that has been atta­cked, the­re are two more, lar­ger camps.

This aut­hor hap­pen­ed to be in the same area just a few hours later, initi­al­ly without knowing about the inci­dent, and tal­ked to the Czech group at their camp.

The camp which was atta­cked by a polar bear which was later shot near Fred­heim in Tem­pel­fjord.

camp attacked by polar bear in Tempelfjord

Tem­pel­fjord

In mid March, the arc­tic part of this year is begin­ning for me, and so does the arc­tic blog. A few weeks have gone sin­ce my return from the Ant­arc­tic, and some days befo­re the eclip­se it is time to move up to Lon­gye­ar­by­en again, to get rea­dy in time, get snow mobi­les and ski out again for some warm-up tours. The first ones went to Sas­senda­len and Tem­pel­fjor­den.

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

Solar eclip­se is com­ing clo­ser in Spits­ber­gen

The solar eclip­se that will cast darkness over nort­hern Euro­pe for some minu­tes on Fri­day is get­ting clo­ser and exci­te­ments are rising. Sin­ce the first fog­gy views of Fri­day the 20th emer­ged in the crys­tal balls of the the first bra­ve long term wea­ther fore­cas­ters, spe­cu­la­ti­on about the all-import­nat wea­ther is gro­wing and gro­wing. Con­clu­si­on: it may or may not work. And of cour­se the 20th of March is ana­ly­zed in hind­sight, put­ting sta­tis­tics covering more than 10 years tog­e­ther. Con­clu­si­on: it may or may not work.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en has pre­pa­red a lot: lec­tures exp­lai­ning the phe­no­me­non are sche­du­led to pre­pa­re the public for the astro­no­mic event, eclip­se eye pro­tec­tion is in stock, a brochu­re has been pro­du­ced, cul­tu­ral events orga­ni­zed to keep peop­le busy any­way and a T-Shirt with a prin­ted some­thing resem­bles a burnt fried egg and the words “Eclip­se Sval­bard 2015” is avail­ab­le in the shops. In Advent­da­len, a short walk from town, a camp is pre­pa­red in a loca­ti­on whe­re the sun will be abo­ve the moun­tains on Fri­day, so guests have a place to warm up a litt­le bit and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get some food.

From today (Wed­nes­day), Lon­gye­ar­by­en air­port will recei­ve char­ter and pri­va­te flights every day, brin­ging several thousand visi­tors here until Fri­day morning, so Lon­gye­ar­by­en will have its first real mass tou­rist event now, and very likely the last one for a long time (until it app­lies for the Olym­pic games or the foot­ball world cham­pions­hip, but that is cur­r­ent­ly not on the agen­da). All avail­ab­le hotels are said to have been ful­ly boo­ked sin­ce 2007, and many locals have ren­ted their flats out for pri­ces that cor­re­spond to the astro­no­mic natu­re of the event.

Now ever­y­bo­dy is curious about the wea­ther on Fri­day, clouds or clear ski­es, that will be the all-important fac­tor. Many are secret­ly hoping for a solar eclip­se with nort­hern lights, which is actual­ly pos­si­ble … and wha­te­ver hap­pens, the­re will be pho­tos of the event on this web­site.

Solar eclip­se with nort­hern lights. A fan­ta­sy of the aut­hor, made visi­ble with some com­pu­ter help.

solar eclipse Spitsbergen with northern light (computer drawing)

South Geor­gia: rats, birds and “The Mists of Time”

Die Nebel der Zeit, our Ger­man trans­la­ti­on of James McQuilken’s book “The Mists of Time”, has hel­ped to clear 2 hec­ta­res of South Geor­gia of rats in 2014 🙂 for more infor­ma­ti­on about the ongo­ing Habi­tat Res­to­ra­ti­on Pro­ject of the South Geor­gia Heri­ta­ge Trust, click here (antarctic.eu news).

In 2014, the book Die Nebel der Zeit hel­ped to finan­ce the South Geor­gia Habi­tat Res­to­ra­ti­on Pro­ject on 2 hec­ta­res of South Geor­gia.

Die Nebel der Zeit: support the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project

Hap­py end to long SAR ope­ra­ti­on

A lar­ge SAR (search and res­cue) ope­ra­ti­on was star­ted in the ear­ly after­noon of Wed­nes­day, March 12, when 3 men had not retur­ned back to Lon­gye­ar­by­en from their trip to the east coast of Spits­ber­gen. The pri­va­te group, all locals from Lon­gye­ar­by­en in their 30ies, left for the east coast with snow mobi­les on Mon­day and should have retur­ned Tues­day evening or later that night. As they did not return to their jobs on Wed­nes­day, their boss alar­med the aut­ho­ri­ties (Sys­sel­man­nen).

Sys­sel­man­nen and Red Cross star­ted a SAR ope­ra­ti­on with 2 heli­co­p­ters, which las­ted the who­le after­noon on Wed­nes­day, without any result for many hours. Next to several huts on the east coast which can be used by locals, an immen­se­ly lar­ge area had to be che­cked. The group had not infor­med anyo­ne in Lon­gye­ar­by­en about the exact details of their plans, nor did they have a satel­li­te beacon or satel­li­te tele­pho­ne which would, very likely, have made the SAR ope­ra­ti­on much shor­ter and easier.

In spi­te of darkness, the emer­gen­cy for­ces kept going in the evening and found the 3 men short­ly after 11 p.m. on Königs­berg­breen. They had given an emer­gen­cy signal, pro­bab­ly using a torch, and could be trans­por­ted back to Lon­gye­ar­by­en with some under­coo­ling, but gene­ral­ly in good con­di­ti­on. They were taken to the hos­pi­tal for medi­cal exami­na­ti­on.

Königs­berg­breen is a lar­ge gla­cier near the east coast of Spits­ber­gen, north of Mohn­buk­ta, and part of a fre­quent­ly tra­vel­led rou­te.

The cau­se for the delay is not yet known in public. Tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties with snow mobi­les are cer­tain­ly pos­si­ble, inclu­ding get­ting stuck in deep, soft snow after peri­ods of snow­fall.

In this area, tou­rists are obli­ged to inform aut­ho­ri­ties about their plans well in advan­ce, they have to have insuran­ce for SAR ope­ra­ti­ons and a satel­li­te emer­gen­cy beacon. Locals do not have this legal obli­ga­ti­on.

Königs­berg­breen in fine wea­ther.

Königsbergbreen

The posi­ti­on of Königs­berg­breen near Mohn­buk­ta on the east coast of Spits­ber­gen. © base map: Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, car­to­gra­phy by Rolf Stan­ge.

position Königsbergbreen

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen, Sval­bard­pos­ten.

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