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Home → December, 2015

Monthly Archives: December 2015 − News & Stories


Loo­king back at 2015 – Janu­a­ry and Febru­a­ry

The year 2015 began in Spits­ber­gen the way it finis­hed, with a dead­ly snow avalan­che. A young man died buried under mas­ses of snow. He had not been at home when desas­ter struck, but on his snow mobi­le, riding steep slo­pes.

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

I was in the Ross Sea. Could hard­ly have been fur­ther away. A long, long sea jour­nes, rich in impres­si­ons and expe­ri­en­ces of all sorts. After having done this trips alrea­dy once in 2013, I had three secret wis­hes for this one: a Ross seal, clear views of Mount Ere­bus and Cape Ada­re. I got all of it. Strike home!

2015 seen from spitsbergen-svalbard.com’s per­spec­ti­ve

A litt­le view back on a year in high lati­tu­des. Some of my own expe­ri­en­ces from the Arc­tic and Ant­arc­tic and some events from Spits­ber­gen that caught many peo­p­les’ atten­ti­on made this year an inte­res­ting one. Not that other years have been boring. But this one was qui­te spe­cial inde­ed.

Every day, litt­le post viewing a mon­th or two will be pos­ted here, of cour­se with a rich selec­tion of pho­tos.

Avalan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: poli­ti­cal after­math

The avalan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has done more than “just” phy­si­cal dama­ge, it has also star­ted dis­cus­sions that are likely to keep peop­le busy for a while. The situa­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has beco­me more sta­ble now, but evacua­tions are being held until at least Janu­a­ry 01, as the wea­ther situa­ti­on is beco­m­ing unfa­voura­ble again, with stron­ger wind, pre­ci­pi­ta­ti­on and tem­pe­ra­tures around free­zing. It will take time until ever­y­bo­dy can return to nor­mal life, if at all pos­si­ble. And then, the­re are tho­se who will never be able to return to nor­mal life or life at all. Two lost their lives in the snow, a 2 year old girl and a 42 year old man. Two are dead, and life will never be the same for their fami­ly and friends.

Their lives have ended abrupt­ly on Satur­day befo­re Christ­mas, and nobo­dy expec­ted the avalan­che on that very day. But ques­ti­ons are now asked if the avalan­che was real­ly as unex­pec­ted as could be read and heard ever­y­whe­re after the event. Actual­ly, the local avalan­che risk has kept rese­ar­chers busy in recent years and local poli­ti­ci­ans are not unawa­re of this. In his phd, Mar­kus Eckerstor­fer has done work on the avalan­che risk in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. In a recent inter­view in the Nor­we­gi­an news­pa­per VG, Eckerstor­fer points out that the avalan­che risk was descri­bed alrea­dy in a report in 2001. Also more recent­ly, both rese­ar­chers and poli­ti­ci­ans have been working with the avalan­che hazard. The com­mu­ni­ty admi­nis­tra­ti­on (Lokals­ty­re) has poin­ted out in 2012 that parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en are expo­sed to avalan­che risks, not only limi­ted to the pos­si­b­ly wider known hazard of rock­falls espe­cial­ly on slo­pes abo­ve Nyby­en, but also snow avalan­ches. The opti­on to blow up dan­ge­rous cor­ni­ces as a pre­ven­ti­ve mea­su­re is men­tio­ned as well as evacua­ting cer­tain are­as pre­ven­tively. The­re have been snow avalan­ches in recent years that almost reached houses in Nyby­en and the near­by road.

Eckerstor­fer also points out that the wea­ther situa­ti­on that led to the avalan­che, with strong eas­ter­ly winds, had gene­ral­ly been known as a signi­fi­cant con­tri­bu­ting fac­tor to the avalan­che risk. None of the aut­ho­ri­ties which had issued wea­ther warnings befo­re the avalan­che had poin­ted out avalan­che risks.

The bot­tom line is that the ques­ti­on of respon­si­bi­li­ty and future pre­ven­ti­ve mea­su­res will defi­ni­te­ly be dis­cus­sed, being faced with the loss of two lives in their homes and the exis­ting know­ledge of the avalan­che hazard in parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en now hit.

An avalan­che warning sys­tem as has been in use in main­land Nor­way for some time alrea­dy has repeated­ly been deman­ded also for Lon­gye­ar­by­en. While a lot had been said about it and not­hing being done, things have sud­den­ly hap­pen­ed after the avalan­che: the­re is now a preli­mi­na­ry warning sys­tem on varsom.no.

The rele­vant part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en befo­re the avalan­che (image © Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te).

Longyearbyen avalanche

The rele­vant part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en after the avalan­che. Houses can be iden­ti­fied in both images by the num­bers. Buil­dings have been moved up to 80 metres (pho­to © Geir Barstein/Svalbardposten).

Longyearbyen avalanche

Avalan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: evacua­ti­on part­ly lifted

Some of the peop­le who were evacua­ted from their homes in Lon­gye­ar­by­en during the wee­kend could now return, even though nor­mal life will pro­bab­ly a long way away for most, if not all, con­si­de­ring the cir­cum­s­tan­ces.

The evacua­ti­on has been lifted in the fol­lowing addres­ses and inha­bi­tants can return to their homes:

Vei 230 nr. 29, 31, 33, 35, 37 and 39. The old hos­pi­tal. Nyby­en and the road to Nyby­en. The way from Hil­mar Reks­tens Vei up to the lower­most Spiss­hu­se­ne in Vei 230 can be used.

For all fur­ther are­as, eva­lua­ti­on is going on. But inha­bi­tants have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to return to their homes brief­ly today bet­ween 12 and 14 hours to get their most important per­so­nal belon­gings (che­ckin and check­out requi­red).

The actu­al avalan­che area and houses dama­ged by the avalan­che remain clo­sed and can­not be ent­e­red.

Many have seen the “Spiss­hu­se­ne” like this in the sum­mer and enjoy­ed the view. It will never be the same again. The moun­tain on the left side is Suk­ker­top­pen, the avalan­che star­ted on the slo­pe behind the old coal cable­way (tauba­ne).

Longyearbyen avalanche

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Avalan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: child con­fir­med dead

Tra­gic news from the avalan­che yes­ter­day in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: one of the child­ren that were brought to the uni­ver­si­ty hos­pi­tal in Trom­sø yes­ter­day died today. The two other child­ren are less severely inju­red.

The death toll of the avalan­che thus rises to two: 42 years old Atle Hus­by and a child. Atle Husby’s name was publis­hed today after appro­val by his fami­ly.

The evacua­ti­on of many houses on Longyearbyen’s eas­tern side, near the moun­tain Suk­ker­top­pen and in Nyby­en, will be kept for an uncer­tain peri­od until fur­ther noti­ce. About 180 per­sons are cur­r­ent­ly not able to return to their homes. An extra flight was ope­ra­ted today evening to give peop­le an oppor­tu­ni­ty to get to their fami­lies in main­land Nor­way and else­whe­re. Peop­le direct­ly affec­ted by the avalan­che could get a free seat.

The area in Lon­gye­ar­by­en hit by the avalan­che on Satur­day. One house was moved as much as 80 metres. Pho­to © Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Longyearbyen-Avalanche

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Avalan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: more houses evacua­ted

More houses in Lon­gye­ar­by­en have been evacua­ted last night as a pre­cau­tio­na­ry mea­su­re. Yes­ter­day, the houses clo­sest to Suk­ker­top­pen, the moun­tain from which the avalan­che came, had been evacua­ted. Later, all inha­bi­tants of houses bet­ween the moun­tain and Hil­mar Reks­tens Vei (the road behind (=east of) Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken) had to lea­ve the area. Altog­e­ther, about 180 peop­le had to lea­ve their homes until fur­ther noti­ce. The area is clo­sed, the peop­le do not have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to go to their homes to get some per­so­nal items. The super­mar­ket (Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken) and other rele­vant pla­ces have ope­ned to give tho­se con­cer­ned the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get important items. Locals who have alrea­dy left for Christ­mas holi­days have offe­red their flats, others have invi­ted peop­le into their homes with them. Rea­di­ness to help others in need is gene­ral­ly gre­at.

The snow avalan­che that had des­troy­ed 10 of the so-cal­led Spiss­hu­se­ne on the eas­tern edge of Lon­gye­ar­by­en took one human life, a local Nor­we­gi­an man in his 40s. Several per­sons are inju­red. Some of the­se, inclu­ding 2 child­ren, were flown to Trom­sø yes­ter­day.

No fur­ther per­sons are decla­red mis­sing, but the avalan­che area con­ti­nues to be sear­ched today to be on the safe side.

An over­view of the parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en which are con­cer­ned: the blue cir­cle indi­ca­tes the source area of the avalan­che, the red cir­cle the area that has main­ly suf­fe­red dama­ge. The are­as in the oran­ge cir­cles have been evacua­ted.

Longyearbyen-Avalanche

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Avalan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: one per­son con­fir­med dead

Today’s avalan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has taken one person’s life. Res­cue for­ces found the body of a resi­dent who was bet­ween 40 and 50 years old. Several per­sons are inju­red and at least 10 houses dama­ged. No fur­ther per­sons are mis­sing.

A num­ber of houses in the part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en con­cer­ned have been evacua­ted to pre­vent fur­ther risks. The houses are tho­se ones which are nea­rest to the moun­tain Suk­ker­top­pen. The addres­ses con­cer­ned are Vei 230 nr 29 – 39, Vei 228 – nr 6 -16 and 15-21, Vei 226 nr 10, 12 and 31 – 37 and Vei 222 Nr 5-17 as well as Vei 224 Nr. 6 and 7 and the old hos­pi­tal (which has been an appart­ment house for many years now) and all houses in Nyby­en, whe­re guest houses and stu­dent halls of resi­den­cy are loca­ted. The road from the cent­re to Nyby­en is clo­sed.

Near 100 res­cue per­so­nell and vol­un­te­ers are on loca­ti­on. Locals have offe­red their flats and pri­va­te guest rooms to tho­se who have lost their houses.

Some of the houses that have been dama­ged by the avalan­che today (archi­ve image).

Longyearbyen-Avalanche

Hea­viest storm in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in 30 years: houses dama­ged by avalan­che

Sin­ce days ago, the­re had been storm warnings for Sval­bard for the last night, fore­cas­ting winds up to hur­ri­ca­ne for­ce. The storm that hit last night was the stron­gest one in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in 30 years. The­re have been several dama­ges in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the most dra­ma­tic one being houses which were dama­ged by a snow avalan­che that went down from the wes­tern slo­pe of Suk­ker­top­pen, a smal­ler moun­tain on the cor­ner bet­ween Lon­gye­arda­len (whe­re most of the sett­le­ment is loca­ted) and Advent­da­len. As far as is known, 10 houses were dama­ged. All res­cue for­ces avail­ab­le and many vol­un­te­ers are on loca­ti­on to help and to look for peop­le. It is unknown if peop­le have suf­fe­red inju­ries or worse. The dama­ged houses are the “Spiss­hu­se­ne”, a row of houses near Suk­ker­top­pen in a part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en known as Lia (the row of colour­ful houses whe­re the Arc­tic cot­ton grass is flowe­ring so beau­ti­ful­ly in sum­mer). Some of the houses have been moved, it is said that the dis­lo­ca­ti­on was up to 20 m at least. Some of the houses were pro­bab­ly empty as they had been used by employees of the mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni, which had to dis­miss a lar­ge num­ber of miners recent­ly. Others may alrea­dy be in main­land Nor­way for Christ­mas. Other houses are cur­r­ent­ly occup­pied, inclu­ding fami­lies with litt­le child­ren. At least, the­re is so far no infor­ma­ti­on about peop­le being inju­red or even worse.

During the last night, local atten­ti­on was more focus­sed on the dogyard in Advent­da­len, whe­re several peop­le were on watch to look after the dogs. Ever­ything seems to be well the­re, con­si­de­ring the cir­cum­s­tan­ces. 

Several roofs have been dama­ged by wind, inclu­ding the roof of the school.

The­re is so far no infor­ma­ti­on about pos­si­ble dama­ge in Bar­ents­burg or other sett­le­ments and sta­ti­ons in Sval­bard.

An impres­si­on of the place of the avalan­che. Pho­to (c) Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Longyearbyen-Avalanche

Our thoughts are with the peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en!

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen, Sval­bard­pos­ten, Face­book

Sval­bard ice free: pregnant fema­le polar bears can’t access den­ning are­as

The cur­rent ice chart of Sval­bard is heart­brea­kin­gly white. After a good ice win­ter in 2014-15, with a lot of ice espe­cial­ly on the east side of Spits­ber­gen, the cur­rent ear­ly win­ter is a com­ple­te disap­point­ment:

Ice chart of Decem­ber 9, 2015 from the Nor­we­gi­an Meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal Insti­tu­te. The seas around Sval­bard are com­ple­te­ly ice free.

ice chart Svalbard

All over the arc­tic, the cur­rent ice situa­ti­on is wit­hin the lower ran­ge of the average of recent deca­des. Accord­ing to the Natio­nal Snow and Ice Data Cen­ter, Novem­ber 2015 is on place 6 of the nega­ti­ve list of bad ice years, but wit­hin two stan­dard devia­ti­ons of the average, which can be cal­led “lower average” to keep things easy. But in the Sval­bard regi­on, things look worse. After a very ice-rich win­ter in 2014-15, which gave the polar bears a good repro­duc­ti­ve sea­son, the cur­rent sea­son does not start good at all. The last Novem­ber with so litt­le ice was in 1991.

Even tho­se are­as in eas­tern Sval­bard which tra­di­tio­nal­ly have a lot of ice like Nord­aus­t­land, Kong Karls Land and Hopen are cur­r­ent­ly com­ple­te­ly ice free. This means trou­ble for pregnant fema­les who need to get to sui­ta­ble are­as to get estab­lis­hed in snow caves whe­re they should give birth in just a few weeks from now. Some fema­les may alrea­dy be on the­se islands, and in theo­ry, others may swim the­re. Gene­ral­ly spea­king, polar bears are excel­lent swim­mers and easi­ly able to cover ama­zing distan­ces in the water. Pregnant fema­les, howe­ver, need to be very care­ful with their ener­gy reser­ves, as they are total­ly depen­dent on their fat reser­ves for several mon­ths around birth. She can­not hunt and eat bet­ween late Novem­ber and late March and has to sur­vi­ve herself and feed her off­spring (usual­ly two cubs) ent­i­re­ly on her fat reser­ves.

Tra­di­tio­nal­ly, fema­les return to the same den­ning are­as to give birth. It is uncer­tain if at least some have cur­r­ent­ly moved fur­ther east to Franz Josef Land, whe­re ice con­di­ti­ons are cur­r­ent­ly bet­ter. But if they know that ..?

Ice con­di­ti­ons have always been vary­ing stron­gly from year to year, but the trend to bad ice years is clear, in spi­te of the strong ice win­ter 2014-15. Altog­e­ther, a clear sign of ongo­ing cli­ma­te chan­ge, making clear how important a strong result of the cur­rent cli­ma­te nego­tia­ti­ons in Paris would be.

Polar bear fami­ly in July 2015 in Horn­sund: good ice con­di­ti­ons espe­cial­ly befo­re and after birth are of vital impor­t­ance.

polar bear family Hornsund

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

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