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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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