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Monthly Archives: April 2016 − News & Stories


Polar bear near Longyearbyen anaesthetized and flown out

The Sysselmannen has decided to anaesthetize the polar bear and to fly it out and far away from Longyearbyen. This was promptly done in cooperation with the Norwegian Polar Institute, which is routinely doing similar operations in connection with field work. The polar bear is now flown out towards the east, to be released somewhere safe and far away from the settlements.

According to Sysselmannen and Norwegian Polar Institute, this operation was more gentle for the polar bear than scaring it away with helicopters.

Two photos from the operation

The polar bear in Adventdalen near Longyearbyen shortly after anaesthetization. Biologists are doing some investigations before it is loaded into the helicopter.

polar bear Longyearbyen

The helicopter with the polar bear on its way to the east.

polar bear Longyearbyen

Polar bear near Longyearbyen

A polar bear in the close vicinity of Longyearbyen is not an everyday event, it is the first time since October 2014. The police is out with helicopter and snow mobile to make sure the situation is kept under control, while many onlookers are gathering on the rim of Longyearbyen near Adventdalen.

The bear is on the shoreline in Adventdalen, maybe (rough estimate) 2 km away from town. And he (or she?) is the only one who does not care about all the excitement: he is lying, sleeping and doing nothing so far.

Polar bear in Adventdalen, maybe 2 km away from Longyearbyen. The photo was taken from Longyearbyen.

Polar bear near Longyearbyen

Polar bear shot at Verlegenhuken

A polar bear was shot on Saturday at Verlegenhuken, on the north coast of Spitsbergen.

A group of four ski tourists from Finnland, on Spitsbergen for a 3 week trip, was on Verlegenhuken when the men were approached by the polar bear. Initially, they could scare it away with a signal pistol, but then the bear approached again and a rifle shot was fired from a distance of 35 metres. The polar bear was wounded and went away. The group alarmed the Sysselmannen. Officials arriving by helicopter managed to find the bear in a snow cave in a cliff and shot it.

The body of the polar bear was taken to Longyearbyen for a post mortem. Until now, it is only known that it was a male bear weighing 116 kg. The weight suggests that it was a young animal, possibly malnutritioned in addition. But this is not confirmed information.

The case will routinely be a matter of police investigation to establish wether or not it was a case of self defense. In case of carelessness, the law opens for fines or even imprisonment.

The last time a polar bear was shot was in March 2015 in Tempelfjord.

Photo – Polar bear shot at Verlegenhuken

The polar bear at Verlegenhuken, which was shot on Saturday (photo © Irene Sætermoen / Sysselmannen på Svalbard).

polar bear Verlegenhuken

Source: Sysselmannen

Barentsburg – 16th April, 2016

April is showing off with the best of clear, stable, cold winter weather. A trip to Barentsburg often starts with a view over Longyearbyen. Driving along the coast is a regular part of frequent tourist tours to Barentsburg, but you may not like the short, but steep ascents, especially when the surface is frozen over, if you are not used to driving a snow mobile.

Who would have expected to see a walrus on a winter trip to Barentsburg? We also saw Reindeer and even White whales (Belugas), but too far away to take photos.

Gallery – Barentsburg – 16th April, 2016

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

Barentsburg itself looks partly like a big arctic version of Legoland after several years of refurbishment. The choice of colours of some of the buildings might be a matter of debate, but others are really beautiful. Lenin is meditating as always, the view directed into the distance. Impossible to say what he would say about the colours.

Surging glaciers in Spitsbergen

Several of Spitsbergen’s glaciers are on the move. A rather sudden type of advance called glacial surge is linked to the internal mechanics of ice movement. These glaciers are building up ice volume in the catchment area over decades to discharge this within relatively short time (typically 1-2 years), something that involves rapid movement of up to an impressive 10 meters per day or even more. As a result, surging glaciers are usually strongly crevassed.

This behaviour has recently been observed at Penckbreen (Van Keulenfjord) and Aavaatsmarkbreen. It is also currently known from other Svalbard glaciers. Around 2014, the advance of parts of the ice cap Austfonna has attracted attention.

The surge behaviour is linked to ice dynamics and not to a climatically induced positive mass balance. Altogether, Spitsbergen’s glaciers are suffering from a significant loss of ice volume, with a tendency to increasing speed of loss in recent years due to climate change.

Surging glaciers in Spitsbergen – Penckbreen Surge

The surging glacier Penckbreen (foto April 2016 © Stig Onarheim, with friendly permission).

Penckbreen surge

Source: Feltlogg, Svalbardglaciers.org.

Operafjellet – 13th April, 2016

Hiking on Operafjellet east of Longyearbyen. A lot of light, a lot of very fresh air, a lot of great landscape.
 
 
 

Gallery Operafjellet – 13th April, 2016

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

Longyearbyen mining history – 11th April 2016

Longyearbyen has been a coal mining settlement since it was founded by the American John Munro Longyear in 1906. In 1916, Longyear sold the place to the Norwegian Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani which soon called their mining village Longyearbyen. The meaning is the same as the original name, just the language has changed.

Exactly 100 years later, Store Norske is just a shadow of itself. After some good years, it was a narrow escape from bankruptcy. Mining has a lot of history in Longyearbyen, but not much of a future.

We had a good look of some of this history. Taubanesentrale (cablecar main station) is occupying the highest part of Longyearbyen, towering above the village like the town’s landmark. Some years ago, Store Norske planned to move their headquarters in there. Nothing came out of this. Concerts are held there every now and then, maybe it will be a museum in the future.

Mine 3 is already a museum. Has not been one for long, it was closed to visitors in 2009. Last year it was opened for guided excursions again, currently the only chance for tourists to see a mine from the inside. Not below ground, the mine proper still needs to be secured properly. But they want to get this done soon.

Gallery – Longyearbyen mining history – 11th April 2016

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

The large crane, locally known as Titan crane after the manufacturer, was used for shipping coal. Now it is just a reminder of old and quite different times.

Trappers Trail – 09th April 2016

The Trappers Trail dog sled race is a good reason to be in Longyearbyen on a certain Saturday in mid April. It has been an annual tradition since 2009. On this weekend, 09th and 10th of April, 26 teams are joining the race in one out of three categories: ski and pulk with one, two or three dogs, while the musher is standing on skies. Dog sled with 3-5 DP (dog powers) and dog sled with 6-8 DP.

The teams are starting at 1200, following upon one another every two minutes, from the area next to Forskingsparken (Svalbardmuseum, UNIS) under cheerful shouting of the onlookers. One or the other team does, of course, make a stop on the left or right side to say hello to a particular friend, something that usually involves the dogs more than the mushers and is part of the fun, which is what it is all about. Then, they disappear in the great white nothing in Adventdalen (it is snowing today).

The race is taking the teams to Kapp Laila in Colesbukta and tomorrow back along another route, a distance of altogether 75 km, including some demanding ascents. A tough trip under a competition, but distance and terrain are well within what trained dog teams regularly do.

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

Over the years, the Trappers Trail dog sled race has built up a good reputation beyond Longyearbyen and it is an established part of the annual series of events that attract both locals and visitors.

Good and safe trip to all participants!

Diabasodden – 06th-07th April 2016

06th-07th April 2016 – One waterfall, four perspectives. New technology shows old beauty from new angles. We are looking at Hyperittfossen, a waterfall in De Geerdalen. There is, of course, not a single drop of water running there now, but this is not a bad thing, not at all. The ice is hanging on to steep, rugged walls of basalt. Hence the name. Hyperite is a kind of basalt.

Beautiful views, a beautiful sunset, little hikes in the neighbourhood, silence. Lots of it. A fire in the oven is warming from outside and a chocolate Easter bunny is warming from inside. What else could one ask for?

Gallery – Diabasodden – 06th-07th April 2016

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

Diabasodden is a place of old memories. There I was told that aukets and gulls are two different things. And that there are aukets with colourful beaks that are called puffins. The first polar bear experience, which was an interesting one. It was standing just outside the tent, not much more than arm’s length away. A warning shot scared it away, quickly and for good. The night was over. The rest stayed forever. That is 20 years ago now.

Easter brainteaser: the answer

This year’s Easter brainteaser brought a surprising and interesting result – none of the answers was right. Maybe I have underestimated the difficulty of the question? It looks like it. Even several seasoned colleagues who should have been there 10 times or more have not recognized the place.

This is even more surprising as the photo does not show an unknown bay, but one of Spitsbergen’s most famous places: Virgohamna on Danskøya. It was Virgohamna where the Swede Salomon August Andrée started his tragic North Pole voyage in 1897, followed by the American Walter Wellman, who started at the same place in 1906, 1907 and 1909, not getting anywhere near the pole either, but with an outcome less tragic.

Because of the history and the Harbour seals that can sometimes be seen there, Virgohamna is a popular place to visit still today. Already the above-mentioned expeditions attracted curious tourists, who came on ships that were anchoring in Virgohamna, just staying and waiting for the expeditions to take off. The old photo must have been taken on one of these occasions.

Still … no right answer. The answers sent in are suggesting Spitsbergen’s real coal harbours: Barentsburg, Colesbukta, Adventfjord, Pyramiden. This is certainly due to the misleading caption. Virgohamna does not have anything with a coal harbour to do, there is no coal anywhere in that area. The newspaper redaction which used the photo did probably not have a more appropriate one, so they used Virgohamna, guessing nobody would know the difference. They were obviously right! This is, of course, mean 🙁 but the landscape features are characteristic, and those who have been there should have had a fair chance 😉 or not? The view shown in the lower, recent image is seen every year by hundreds.

As there is no right answer, but an Easter brainteaser without a winner would be a rather sad affair, a winner was drawn by lot. The price goes to Tommy H. in the Netherlands – congratulations! Tommy will be contacted.

Where is that? The answer: Virgohamna!

Easter brainteaser: where is that? The answer: Virgohamna

A similar view of Virgohamna on a grey summer day in 2015 (looking east from the western end of the bay).

Virgohamna 2015

No direct flights from Helsinki to Longyearbyen

Finnair had announced last year to offer direct flights from Helsinki to Longyearbyen for 3 months in summer 2016. The tickets had been for sale for a while already, but as it turned out now, the Norwegian aviation authority is unable to grant permission for these flights due to a convention between Norway and Finnland from 1978 that regulates air traffic between these two countries. It has later been replaced by an agreement that regulates air traffic in the whole European Economic Area (EEA), but as Svalbard is not part of the EEA, the older convention is still in force here. One is left with the impression that the whole thing is a bureaucratic slip or a fools day joke if this post had been out a day earlier, but it is a fact for the time being.

Finnair has announced not make use of the opportunity to file an official complaint, which might still have led to a short-term change of the legal situation. The company has rather decided to cancel the flights and to re-imburse customers who have already bought a ticket.

The tourism industry in Longyearbyen had already been looking forward to about more 3000 guests during a locally otherwise rather calm season.

Welcome to Longyearbyen airport: currently not for Finnair.

Longyearbyen airport: Finnair currently not welcome

Source: Highnorthnews

Sabine Land – 01 April 2016

Looking out into the gently falling snow, you might think that yesterday’s weather was a pleasant April fools joke. An immaculately blue sky without the slightest hint of a cloud. Hardly a breeze, and temperatures between -10 (Longyearbyen) and -20 (east coast). Spitsbergen does not get more beautiful than this in April, and Spitsbergen does not get more beautiful than in April (but different, on a potentially equal level of beauty).

So, it was clearly a day for a good trip. The canyons that are cut into palaeozoic limestones in Sassendalen proved a great playground for my new toy, as the first pictures may show, but as it turned out it it did not really like the temperatures.

Little excursions in the mighty moraine of Rabotbreen followed. Nature has created a magnificent bit of landscape here. Grand.

And much, much bigger still were the ice deserts further east, Nordmannsfonna and its neighbours. Impressions of infinity. All shades of blue and white you can think of any many more. Barents- and Edgeøya on the far horizon. See you in summer.

Storfjord on the east coast seems to be frozen solid, but a closer look reveals open water in the distance. This winter is another one in the long row of negative records in terms of sea- and fjord ice, and Spitsbergen does not make a difference, unfortunately. Looking around near the coast, the world still seems to be alright. But it isn’t.

Gallery Sabine Land

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

Could one just get the polar bears to lighten up for a second, it might be a little fireworks! They are somewhere, that is for sure. The tracks are not too old.

In the end of the day, the polar bear’s tracks are leading east, out onto the ice, and ours west, to Longyearbyen. Everybody is going home after another great day in the arctic.

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