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Daily Archives: 6. January 2016 − News & Stories


Loo­king back at 2015 – August

I was on the sai­ling yacht Arc­ti­ca II when July left and August came. This sum­mer was unu­sual­ly ice-rich in Sval­bard, so we expec­ted to be unable to cir­cum­na­vi­ga­te Spits­ber­gen, some­thing that had not been the case for seve­ral years. But who would com­plain about too much ice in the arc­tic? Usual­ly, we are moa­ning about the oppo­si­te the­se days.

Crossing Prins Karls For­land from west to east is not quite like crossing Green­land. It can easi­ly be done as a day hike. But how often do you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty? The sea calm enough to go ashore on the expo­sed outer side? The wea­ther good enough to make it real­ly enjoya­ble? Ever­y­thing work­ed out well and we all tho­rough­ly enjoy­ed the stun­ning views over Prins Karls For­land and the adja­cent seas and moun­ta­ins.

Some­thing that cros­ses my mind when I think back of this trip is the days that we spent in the ice in the sou­the­ast. The com­bi­na­ti­on of ice and cur­rent in Heley­sund was inde­ed spec­ta­cu­lar and some­thing one would not neces­s­a­ri­ly want to do every day. Having done that, we con­side­red the cir­cum­na­vi­ga­ti­on a fact and I was hap­py to get to Barent­søya and Edgeøya. A sum­mer wit­hout get­ting to the­se islands in sou­the­as­tern Sval­bard would not be quite com­ple­te.

Not quite com­ple­te as of yet was our cir­cum­na­vi­ga­ti­on, as it tur­ned out. The ice in sou­thern Storfjord actual­ly almost made us doubt it would hap­pen at all, but after spen­ding some time loo­king for a pas­sa­ge, the strong Hur­tig­ru­ten ship Fram sud­den­ly came, pushed into the ice, thus crea­ting a chan­nel that we could use com­for­ta­b­ly.

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

While were were cir­cum­na­vi­ga­ting Spits­ber­gen not wit­hout some effort, some bra­ve adven­tu­r­ers went around Nord­aus­t­land – in sea kay­aks! Actual­ly, two teams did this almost simul­ta­neous­ly. For one of them, it was just a part of a pret­ty extre­me trip from and to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This was one of the last big „firsts“ to be had in Sval­bard. Con­gra­tu­la­ti­ons!

Ava­lan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: evacua­ti­on lifted

The wea­ther in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is final­ly sett­ling with tem­pe­ra­tures below zero and litt­le wind, so aut­ho­ri­ties could now lift the evacua­tions and gene­ral ban on any traf­fic in are­as on the eas­tern side of the sett­le­ment. Peo­p­le are free to return to their homes sin­ce Tues­day evening, 2000.

The cata­stro­phic ava­lan­che befo­re Christ­mas, which des­troy­ed 11 hou­ses and kil­led two peo­p­le, was fol­lo­wed by an evacua­ti­on of a total of 114 flats. Con­se­quent­ly, about 200 peo­p­le had to lea­ve their homes, near 10 % of the total popu­la­ti­on. The exact num­ber is unknown, as not ever­y­bo­dy con­cer­ned repor­ted to the aut­ho­ri­ties. Some are also, as is quite com­mon, on Christ­mas holi­days, fol­lo­wing the events from warm bea­ches far away.

At the same time, the ava­lan­che hazard for parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en is high­ligh­ted by aut­ho­ri­ties. This risk had been known for a long time, but now it has bru­t­ally come to everybody’s minds, final­ly. A preli­mi­na­ry sys­tem with actu­al ava­lan­che risk eva­lua­ti­on has been instal­led on varsom.no, as has been com­mon­ly used in main­land Nor­way for some time alre­a­dy. Ways to deal with the risk local­ly will be dis­cus­sed now. Are­as at risk will be map­ped and then mea­su­res from tech­ni­cal safe­ty means to – poten­ti­al­ly – per­ma­nent evacua­ti­on of some are­as will con­side­red. The local com­mu­ni­ty admi­nis­tra­ti­on (Lokals­ty­re) is respon­si­ble, in coope­ra­ti­on with rele­vant tech­ni­cal aut­ho­ri­ties.

The lack of safe­ty mea­su­res, a war­ning sys­tem and public awa­re­ness, also within the aut­ho­ri­ties, has recei­ved cri­ti­cism, as the risk had been known for many years. Lon­gye­ar­by­en will see a deba­te about respon­si­bi­li­ty.

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

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

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