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Yearly Archives: 2015 − News & Stories


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.

Night flight across Lon­gye­ar­by­en

A vir­tu­al Spits­ber­gen expe­ri­ence of a spe­cial kind can be enjoy­ed in a video recent­ly publis­hed by Hein­rich Eggen­fell­ner:

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Night flight across Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Equip­ped with a came­ra he sends his remo­te-con­trol­led qua­dro­co­p­ter on a mid­ni­ght flight across the icy cen­ter of Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The jour­ney starts in upper Lon­gye­arda­len at the con­nec­ting road bet­ween Nyby­en and Huset and takes us across the town, to the coast of Advent­fjor­den. On the other side of the fjord the full moon is stan­ding abo­ve the moun­tains of Hiort­fjel­let. In front of the uni­ver­si­ty buil­ding of UNIS the aeri­al dro­ne stops and turns to the left, catching the view to the air­port and to Isfjor­den. Then it returns to its star­ting point on the same rou­te. On our way back we can see a group of snow­mo­bi­les com­ing down the Lon­gyear­breen gla­cier.
Very impres­si­ve images!

The ‘came­ra­man’ Hein­rich Eggen­fell­ner lives in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and some of the Spits­ber­gen tra­velers might know him as skipper/owner of the Arc­ti­ca II, a boat which Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com uses for sai­ling tours sin­ce 2014.

Spitsbergen’s fjords are free­zing over

In recent years, the fjords in Spits­ber­gen did not have as much of a reli­able ice cover as they used to have ear­lier on. But the cur­rent sea­son is deve­lo­ping well: Tem­pel­fjord is fro­zen and the sai­ling boat Noor­der­licht has taken her posi­ti­on as the “boat in the ice”, alrea­dy wel­co­m­ing visi­tors. Alrea­dy now, the fast ice in Tem­pel­fjord is wider than in pre­vious years: should it get strong enough, then it would be pos­si­ble to take a fast and direct rou­te from De Geerda­len to the boat in the ice or even into Bill­efjord or at least to Gips­da­len, making the win­ter rou­te to Pyra­mi­den much fas­ter. We will see if this actual­ly hap­pens, but any­way: it is loo­king good.

After a disap­poin­ting fjord ice situa­ti­on in 2014, which did not even allow Noor­der­licht to beco­me fro­zen in, both locals and tou­rists are now loo­king for­ward to a good win­ter tou­ring sea­son. Only a few days ago, a hea­vy storm bro­ke a lot of ice up, but both water and air are cold enough now to turn the bro­ken floes into a con­ti­nuous ice cover again qui­te quick­ly.

Also Grønfjord near Bar­ents­burg and the fjords on the nort­hern side of Isfjord are to a good degree fro­zen over now. It remains to be seen if Advent­fjord near Lon­gye­ar­by­en will free­ze over, as it used to in the past. A thin, young ice cover was dri­ven out by the storm on Sunday.

Ice chart from Wed­nes­day (25th Febru­a­ry), © Nor­we­gi­an Ice Ser­vice.

Ice chart

Why not 2 pic­tures for one ent­ry?

The Noor­der­licht as “boat in the ice” with some local visi­tors.”

Noorderlicht as boat in the ice, Tempelfjord, with polar bears

Solar eclip­se in March attracts visi­tors to Spits­ber­gen

Tho­se who stay in Spits­ber­gen on March 20th will have the rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to enjoy the event of a total solar eclip­se. At 10:11 a.m. and 51 seconds in the sky abo­ve Lon­gye­ar­by­en the moon starts to move in a posi­ti­on bet­ween sun and earth. Almost one hour later the sky will turn dark for 2 minu­tes and 27 seconds as the moon obscu­res the image of the sun com­ple­te­ly. All in all the event lasts a litt­le lon­ger than 2 hours. On March 20th the moon´s shadow will move over the North Atlan­tic in a cur­ve bet­ween Ice­land and Nor­way over the Faroe Islands to Spits­ber­gen and fur­ther towards the North Pole.

A total eclip­se of the sun is an extre­me­ly rare natu­ral phe­no­me­non. In 2008 it occur­red abo­ve the remo­te island of Kvi­tøya, north-east of Spits­ber­gen and the next one abo­ve Spits­ber­gen will be in 2061.

Mean­while Lon­gye­ar­by­en pre­pa­res for a par­ti­cu­lar­ly high num­ber of visi­tors, wis­hing to wit­ness the specta­cle in March. Spits­ber­gen Tra­vel, the big­gest hotel ope­ra­tor in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, did alrea­dy in 2006 make reser­va­tions for their who­le con­tin­gent of 528 beds with only a sin­gle tour ope­ra­tor. Altog­e­ther 820 beds at hotels and guest­houses are avail­ab­le. In addi­ti­on the­re are apart­ments and cabins which are ren­ted pri­va­te­ly – and then the­re will still be the cam­ping ground…

Due to the high demand the­re are by now pri­va­te apart­ments offe­red for extra­or­di­na­ry high pri­ces up to 100.000 kro­ner (ca. 11.560 Euro) for 5 days. Ano­t­her bot­t­len­eck is the num­ber of flights. On the days befo­re the solar eclip­se 6 addi­tio­nal flights to Lon­gye­ar­by­en were estab­lis­hed.

Solar eclip­se in Spitz­ber­gen in 2008.

Solar eclipse Spitsbergen

Young man died in snow avalan­che

About 7 km south of Lonye­ar­by­en, in Farda­len, a 21-year-old Nor­we­gi­an was found dead under a snow avalan­che on Satur­day 24th of Janu­a­ry.

As the Sys­sel­man­nen reports, the poli­ce in Lon­gye­ar­by­en was infor­med on Satur­day noon about a lar­ge avalan­che in Farda­len which cove­r­ed parts of the snow­mo­bi­le track lea­ding through the val­ley. Res­cue teams of the Red Cross and the Sys­sel­man­nen were sent to the sce­ne of the acci­dent immedia­te­ly and about one hour after being infor­med they found the young man´s body. Des­pi­te of the quick reac­tion it was unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly too late for res­cuing him. The man´s body was lying clo­se to his snow­mo­bi­le which was also cove­r­ed by snow. No other per­sons could be detec­ted and as it tur­ned out later, no one else was mis­sing.

Farda­len is a popu­lar snow­mo­bi­le rou­te for trips to for examp­le Bar­ents­burg or to the deser­ted mining sett­le­ment in Cole­s­buk­ta. The dan­ger of avalan­ches in Farda­len is not given by par­ti­cu­lar­ly high and steep moun­ta­in­si­des, it occurs by the rou­te through the val­ley lea­ding through very nar­row and win­ding pas­sa­ges.

View into Farda­len

c5a_Fardalen_15April13_01

Sources: Sys­sel­man­nen, Sval­bard­pos­ten

Polar bear gathe­ring on Hopen

The days bet­ween Christ­mas and New Year´s Day the crew of the Nor­we­gi­an wea­ther sta­ti­on on the remo­te island Hopen was visi­ted by an excep­tio­nal­ly high num­ber of polar bears. On sin­gle days up to six polar bears were con­ve­ned around the small group of houses, as the station´s cook, Bjørn Ove Finseth, reports on the station´s offi­cial web­site. Among them the­re was also a mother tog­e­ther with its two 2-years old cubs. They found a com­for­ta­ble place to rest on the sta­ti­ons heli­co­p­ter lan­ding place. As mem­bers of the crew have to lea­ve their shel­te­ring quar­ters con­stant­ly for meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal mea­su­res they were for­ced to cha­se the bears away again and again. As Finseth sug­gests, this was the rea­son for some busy days bet­ween the years. For­tu­n­a­te­ly the­re was never a cri­ti­cal situa­ti­on neit­her for humans nor ani­mals.

The small, stre­ched island Hopen belongs to Sval­bard. It is loca­ted in the far sou­the­ast of the archi­pe­la­go. Sin­ce 1945 the Nor­we­gi­ans ope­ra­te a meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal sta­ti­on the­re. Cur­r­ent­ly the sta­ti­on is run by a crew of four per­sons during win­ter­ti­me. Hopen is one of the bree­ding pla­ces for polar bears in Sval­bard.

Nor­we­gi­an meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal sta­ti­on on Hopen in sum­mer. Polar bear pic­tures on the web­site of the meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal sta­ti­on

n_Spitzbergen_Landeskunde_Fotos_Regionen_Hopen_4

Source: web­site of the meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal sta­ti­on on Hopen

Ant­arc­tic semi-cir­cum­na­vi­ga­ti­on: Ross Sea expe­di­ti­on

It is more than 13 mon­ths ago that I have been to Ant­arc­ti­ca. Time to get back, no doubt. Today (Fri­day, Janu­a­ry 09) we are star­ting in Ushua­ia with MV Orte­li­us. Tonight, we will get the two heli­co­p­ters on board, and then we’ll cross the beloved Dra­ke Pas­sa­ge, hea­ding for the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la. But we want to get much, much fur­ther than that: Peter I Island, the Ross Sea and Camp­bell Island are on the wish­list for the next cou­p­le of weeks … advan­ced Ant­arc­ti­ca, as one might be temp­ted to say.

Fol­low us on my regu­lar blog on antarctic.eu – almost dai­ly news from the very deep south. And keep your fin­gers cros­sed for good wea­ther and ice con­di­ti­ons!

Tre­a­su­red memo­ries from the Ross Sea trip in ear­ly 2013: curious Emperor pen­gu­ins in McMur­do Sound. See what the next weeks will bring 🙂

Emperor penguins, Ross Sea

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