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Monthly Archives: March 2016 − News & Stories


Earthquake in Longyearbyen

There was an earthquake yesterday (Tuesday, 29th March) in Spitsbergen that was clearly felt in Longyearbyen. At 1231 hours, houses were shaken and a loud rumble was heard and felt. Some thought of an avalanche or a small avalanche from the roof of their house. In some cases, furniture moved up to 30 cm and plates were chattering in shelves and on tables.

Many people were initially afraid, which is understandable considering that Longyearbyen has felt the destructive powers of nature quite recently during the avalanche before Christmas. People in the administration building (Næringsbygget), opposite the post office, spontaneously decided to evacuate for some minutes. The earthquake was also clearly felt in Barentsburg. No damage occurred anywhere as far as known.

The epicentre is in Storfjord, west of Edgeøya. The hypocentre (epicentre with fixed vertical position) is assumed to be at 10 km depth. The earthquake reached 5.3 on Richter’s scale, making it strong enough to potentially cause damage, but far from the destructive force that turns cities into ashes or causes Tsunamis elsewhere in the world.

There are active faults (large cracks in the crust) in Storfjord which are frequently causing earthquakes. Recent ones were noticed in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2014, the strongest one being the one from February 2008, which reached a remarkable 6.2 on Richter’s scale. In addition comes a large number of earthquakes that is recorded by seismic instruments, but not noticed in public.

This is what the earthquake on Tuesday looked like. (Seriously: this is of course a fake image, composed of several frames taken out of one photo.)

Earthquake Longyearbyen

Source: Svalbardposten

Visit to the arctic opera – 29th March 2016

There is a mountain on the north side of Adventdalen, 7 km east of Longyearbyen. It is called Operafjellet, because it has got a natural amphi theatre. The tenor is center stage, like Pavarotti. Behind him, there is Dirigenten (the conductor), and a bit more in the background, basso and soprano, as it should be.

Tenoren

The tenor is 656 m high. The music that is being played here is arctic silence, twelve voices, sometimes in major, sometimes minor, as you please, on and off, with the rhythm of timelessness. The regular guests are reindeer and ptarmigan. Grass has taken some of the higher ranks, dressed with elegant, shiny coatings of ice. The spotlight is on as ordered from the absolutely highest level, cloud curtains are playing with the light only occasionally, casting playful shadows on the orchestra pit and painting colourful applause onto the ceiling.

Gallery – Visit to the arctic opera – 29th March 2016

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

The final crescendo up to the throne of the tenor is too much of a screaming glissando for the guests today. That is left for a da Capo.

Easter – 27 March 2016

The Easter weekend is something special in Scandinavia. It is the time for tours par excellence. Nobody is staying at home. Either you are having a cosy, social time, or you get your skis or snow mobile out and take a trip into nature, whatever everybody feels like.

We combined both in the most pleasant way. Happy Easter! 🙂

Gallery – Easter – 27 March 2016

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

spitsbergen-svalbard.com Easter brainteaser

Amendment: Maybe it is more difficult than I had thought? A hint: the key is in the photo and not in the caption.

The second Easter brainteaser on spitsbergen-svalbard.com. Yes! The photo below was taken long time ago by an unknown photographer and used in a newspaper article, that does not exist anymore, other than this photo. Name and date of the publication are also unknown. But that does not matter!

The caption indicates that this photo was published at a time when sovereignty and land tenure were still uncertain, but the coal occurrences were well known. This sets the time frame into the early 20th century, about 100 years back. This is also what the article must have been about: coal and sovereignty. The caption is as follows (translation of the German original text)

“Picture of the harbour of Spitsbergen, which the Russians want to possess as a coal mine.

The Spitsbergen archipelago, stretching from 76° to 80° northern latitude, is very rich in coal. The desire of the Russians to establish a coal mine there is strongly opposed especially by the Scandinavian countries.”

The question is: where exactly was the photo taken?

Click here for a larger version of the image.

The prices will be drawn amongst all senders of correct answers. The winner will have one free choice from the books (or calendar or postcards) here on spitsbergen-svalbard.com – see right side or click here to see the choice. Senders of right answers no. 2 and 3 will have one free choice each amongst the postcards or the calendar. Click here for contact details to send your answer.

Closing date is Sunday, 03 April 2016, 2400 hours.

Good luck and have fun – happy Easter!

Where is this?

spitsbergen-svalbard.com Easter brainteaser: where is this?

Small print: colleagues such as expedition leaders, guides and crew members are excluded from the drawing for prices. You can, of course, send your answers, but the prices will go to people who are not (semi)professionally involved with traveling Spitsbergen.

The answer has to be correct and concrete. Everything that is not wrong is correct, unless it is wrong. I (Rolf Stange) decide if it is correct and concrete (someone has to do it). It is not enough to write that it is in Spitsbergen. This would be correct, but not concrete.

Railway locomotive from Ny Ålesund under restoration

The famous railway locomotive from Ny Ålesund is one of Spitsbergen’s most frequently photographed attractions. No surprise, as the this interesting bit of local history is picturesquely placed with mountains and glaciers in the background and next to a road where thousands of cruise ship tourists are walking each summer.

Time and weather have, however, been nagging constantly, threatening to destroy this famous bit of machinery forever. To prevent this, it is now in Norway for restoration. In January, it went from Ny Ålesund to Tromsø on a ship and then from there on the road through Sweden to Sørumsand near Oslo. There, it will be taken care of by railway enthusiasts who have built up experience and reputation with other historical railway projects. It is estimated that the Ny Ålesund locomotive will need 300 work hours and 500.000 NOK (near 40.000 Euro) to get back to shape. After restoration is completed, it will be be transferred back home to Ny Ålesund. It is uncertain when this can be expected. Maybe tourists will see the famous coal train in Ny Ålesund without the locomotive this summer.

The locomotive is 107 years old and 8 tons heavy. It came to Ny Ålesund in 1917 and was used for coal transportation from the mine to the harbour into the 1950s. It was restored once on location in 1982. Planning for the current restoration project started 3 years ago.

The famous locomotive in Ny Ålesund, as it has been from the 1950s to 2015. It is currently in Norway for restoration.

Locomotive Ny Ålesund

-sizrce: NRK

Temperature in February 10 degrees above average

The winter is taking a break this year in the Arctic. It is well known by now that the global average temperature in February was well above the long-term (1950-1980) average, as much as 1.35 degrees according to NASA scientists. The temperature increase was especially pronounced in northern high latitudes: north America, Siberia, northern Scandinavia. In these regions, the mercury climbed 5-10 degrees higher than it does in average.

Recent data from Spitsbergen confirm very strong warming also from this area: in February 2016, the temperature was no less than 14.5 degrees above the long-term average, a drastic value! Still, February 2016 is not the race leader. February 2014 has got this doubtful honour, with a dramatic 14.5 degree temperature rise above average.

In Svalbard, the recent mild weather threatens to influence the ongoing winter season strongly: the fjords do not want to freeze, which is causing difficulties for arctic wildlife. For example, Ringed seals, who are giving birth on fjord ice in April and May. Without fjord ice, pregnant females are not able to deliver, meaning that this year’s reproductive season may fail for significant parts of the population. This will again influence polar bears, who are usually having a good and important time hunting on frozen fjords in spring. This is an important feeding season for many polar bears, including mother bears with youngsters born a few months before. Especially these families are strongly dependent on good hunting conditions in spring, after a fasting period of several months around birth for the mother.

Also local and other tourists are not happy about the mild weather. Last weekend, an incursion of warm air again brought temperatures above zero, making the snow thaw and melt in inland valleys that are part of popular snow mobile excursions. Locals have warned to take the popular trip to Barentsburg these days, as there was very little snow left in Colesdalen and Grøndalen. The melted snow is now turned into slippery ice, as temperatures are falling below -10°C again.

At least, the forecast promises temperatures to remain low for the near future, but it is not expected that fjords (Tempelfjord, Billefjord) still get a wide, strong fjord ice cover this season.

Open water in Tempelfjord at Fredheim. The last time this area was frozen solid was in spring 2013.

Tempelfjord at Fredheim

Source: NRK, local observations and communication.

Sun celebration – 08 March 2016

Astronomers will tell you that the sun is coming back to Longyearbyen on 16 February, and this is indeed the first day it is coming back above the horizon again. But as the settlement is surrounded by mountains, the sun will not come back to Longyearbyen before 08 March. No doubt this is good reason to celebrate, as people didn’t get any sunlight for 4 months – well, most will have been somewhere south on holiday, but locally, at least. Everybody is looking forward to the return of the sun, and this is celebrated with a week of events, the solfestuke (sun celebration week).

Part of it is the solfestrevue, a stage event traditionally held in Huset and not in the more recent, modern and centrally located Kulturhuset (culture house). Many events of the last 12 months are passing by again, although quite detailed knowledge of local events and gossip (and Norwegian language) is certainly helpful to get the message in many cases. From Store Norske, which is faced with the phaseout of large parts of its activities in the 100th year of its existence, so maybe the future will see this very traditional company coming back as Store Torske, venturing on new paths in the fishing business? To local politics and politicians, some of whom are amazingly flexible in their opinions over time as anywhere else in the world, to local Svalbardians who occasionally come up with amazing ideas, such as testing important snow mobile routes in town by car (no, it does not work).

Following a nice tradition, Svalbard Kirke invited to an open air church survice on Hiorthfjellet, confidently as always held by Sokneprest Leif Magne Helgesen. No surprise he was elected as Svalbardian of the year. Add the magnificent surroundings and glorious weather to the service (a true Leif show!), and you have got something not to be missed.

The highlight was of course the actual solfest (sun celebration) on 08 March. Not the least due to the great weather. This date has often been cloudy in recent history, and so were the last couple of weeks. A sun celebration without sun is a bit like a wedding without a bride.

Gallery Sun celebration – 08 March 2016

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

Today, it was to be different. Not the slightest cloud on the sky! Several hundred people, including many children decorated with yellow scarves with the shape of sun rays, had gathered around the stairs of the former hospital (pre WWII, nothing but the stairs are left) near the church, as this is the first part of town to which the sun returns. The children are cheering to the sun: sol, sol, kom igjen! Sola er min beste venn! (Sun, sun, come back! The sun is my best friend! Admittedly, rhyme and rhythm do work much better in Norwegian). There are songs, there is some talking, there is good vibes in the air, lots of it. And then, there is the sun. A moving moment when the light is turned on above Larsbreen and the sun rays are falling on the crowd, warming faces and hearts, cheerfully welcomed by everybody. Some more songs, then people are going there way. The dark time is over for this winter.

Barentsburg – 04/05 March 2015

04/05 March 2015 – Overnight visit to Barentsburg. The freshly renovated hotel now offers a neat standard, from remarkable rooms (some of them do have a bath tub!), nice food (à la carte) to fast WLAN. At the same time, this means that it has lost some of its original charme.

Of course this is probably not what you mainly come for when you visit the arctic, but it may be good to know that it is absolutely save to plan a trip to Barentsburg as an overnight 🙂 it has not always been like that. And from Barentsburg there is a good choice of interesting places to see in reach, especially if you are travelling by snow mobile, next to the Russian settlement itself. They even offer courses in Russian handicrafts there these days! I have to admit that I have not done that.

Gallery Barentsburg – 04/05 March 2015

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

The way back went in dense snowfall. It was neither cold nor windy, but the snow was falling densely enough to make driving a bit unpleasant and certainly quite slow. We enjoyed the full programme, from snow mobiles falling on the side on slopes covered with deep, snoft fresh snow to snow mobiles digging themselves in within seconds in such places. Great fun … :-/

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