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Home → November, 2016

Monthly Archives: November 2016 − News & Stories

Autumn in Spitsbergen breaks all records

Even though it is gradually getting colder in Spitsbergen, the news about record-breaking temperatures in the Arctic are not stopping. For six years, Svalbard has been significantly warmer than usual, and the temperatures in November were up to 10 degrees above average.

The consequences of some days of extreme weather with strong precipitation in November: At least 50 landslides and avalanches were observed, parts of Longyearbyen even had to be evacuated.

Climate change also threatens the shores, houses and huts. The sea has eroded the unfrozen, loose ground, which in November should have been hard by frost. The hut on the left in the picture had to be left for safety reasons. Image: ©Rolf Stange

climate changes threatens houses and cottages

Also in other parts of the Arctic it becomes obvious: It is quickly getting warmer than before. This applies both to the temperatures on land as well as in the sea, where up to four or even five (Isfjord, near Longyearbyen) degrees more have been measured. In some Arctic regions, the air temperature was actually 20 degrees above average (north pole).

And never before has there been so little ice on land as on the sea. Tricky: ice reflects the sun’s radiation. The less ice floats on the sea, the darker the sea surface and the more sunshine is absorbed. Researchers are worried that the summer sea ice might disappear completely from the Arctic.

In Longyearbyen, nobody is currently expecting a good ice winter with frozen fjords for the 2017 season.

On Spitsbergen it has been observed for some time that the permafrost ground is getting warmer and begins to thaw. This can lead to settlement damages on buildings, as they are currently already observed in several cases in Longyearbyen. In other Arctic regions such as Siberia, the thawing of permafrost ground in marshy areas, which have stored a lot of organic material in the cold soil, also leads to the release of large amounts of the highly aggressive greenhouse gas methane, which further stimulates climate change.

Climate change is no longer a scary newspaper message on Spitsbergen, but an everyday experience with effects on peoples’ daily life. More warm winters, avalanches and landslides and evacuations have to be expected in Spitsbergen in the coming years.

Sources: NRK, Climate Home

Longyearbreen – 20th November 2016

I may have mentioned it before: the polar night is not exactly the time for frequent long field trips. You can easily enjoy the nice light and atmosphere within Longyearbyen. And if there is a northern light there are good places directly next to town. If you want some exercise, then the sportshall or running shoes are good options. At least as long as there is not enough snow for ski or snow shoes.

And when you do venture on a hike in the darkness, then the terrain does currently not make it easy. Large parts of the surface in the valleys are iced over and very slippery. Which is hard to see in darkness. So you have to walk slowly and carefully.

All this makes it even more interesting to imagine how it was when Alfred Ritscher came on foot down from Wijdefjord to Longyearbyen, which was called Longyear City back then. In December 1912, Ritscher made an unbelievable hike under the greatest difficulties and dangers you can imagine. He did not have a detailed map, he did not know the terrain, he did not have a headlamp which he could switch on whenever needed …

Gallery – Longyearbreen – 20th November 2016

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

Well, we did not want to go that far. We were happy with a walk up to Longyearbreen. That is a short and (relatively) easy walk when you have light and normal conditions, I have done it with friends together with their little children. But in the polar night, it is interesting. And beautiful!

Extreme weather in Spitsbergen: avalanches in Nordenskiöld Land

The extreme weather with strong precipitation last week has triggered more than “just” a few landslides near Longyearbyen. Damage was limited to minor material loss at a dog yard near Longyearbyen (the first one at the road into Adventdalen). More than 200 people had been evacuated from their homes for several days in case of a major event.

Satellite images have now shown that more than 50 landslides were triggered by the rainfalls just in Nordenskiöld Land between Longyearbyen and Barentsburg. This shows the lack of stability of the terrain during periods with strong rain.

Scientists expect extreme weather events like last week’s with very strong precipitation to increase in frequency and magnitude. Rainfalls of 50 mm within 24 hours or even more are, so far, untypical for the high arctic (“polar desert”). This means that geomorphological slope dynamics including landslides, snow- and slush avalanches and rockfalls.

This will be important knowledge both for arctic outdoor enthusiasts and city planners. Last year, 2 persons died in their homes in a snow avalanche that destroyed several residential houses in Longyearbyen.

Recent satellite image of Nordenskiöld Land in Spitsbergen showing Landslides triggered by last week’s rainfalls. Image: Copernicus/ESA.

Extreme weather: recent avalanches landslides in Spitsbergen

Sources: bygg.no, UiO

Longyearbyen – 16th November, 2016

Again, the blog had to wait for a wile. Busy times, even in the polar night. You have to be ready to get out, to look for, enjoy and photograph northern lights at any time. Hard life. There is no snow, unfortunately. Hard to believe, here in Spitsbergen in mid November! But the aurora is beautiful, even without snow. And lady aurora has a lot of ardent worshippers. They meet out there when she is dancing on the sky and later on the internet, sharing and enjoying the results.

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

And of course people are setting their minds for Christmas up here as well. The second half of November is the time for the traditional julemesse, the Christmas market. Without hot spiced wine – we are in Norway, and the Norwegians would never touch alcohol, would they? Well … right … But there is an amazingly high proportion of locally made products, from self-made stollen („bestemors tyske julebrød“, meaning „grandma’s German Christmas bread“ 🙂 ) through photos and various knitted materials to Wolfi’s lovely cutting boards, made by master craftsman Wolfgang Zach in his workshop between the fjord and Sysselmannen. The arctic under your breakfast bread, represented by polar bear, whale, walrus or Spitsbergen. Maybe I have to export a box and make it available, what do you think?

Vestpynten – 11th November, 2016

The polar night – a beautiful time in the high north. The season of the blue light. Northern lights, cold, snow, silence, time for yourself, for friends, for everything you want.

That’s what you might think.

Reality is different. Temperatures around zero and hardly much below. No snow, but a lot of wind and rain, recently. The wind was turning Isfjord’s calm waters into something rather wild and furious, for a while, and the surf was smashing against the shoreline.

Not good for the unfrozen land. There is fjord now where there used to be the shore, and there is shore now where there used to be tundra. You don’t sleep in peace anymore where you could live a good life in a cosy hut just last week.

The cold coast isn’t that cold anymore, and it is an ongoing process. Those days now when an artificially upheated and stimulated nature got closer to man were the time when in the US – no, let’s not talk about it. It is just no fun at the time being, looking at the large events around the globe.

Rather than discussing politics, action was required. A hut needed to be emptied from everything that had been needed for a family’s life, bed and books, furniture and firewood had to be moved away from the coast. Next to everything else that was going on, the arctic bookwriting workshop was quite busy at the same time and so on and so forth.

Gallery – Vestpynten – 11th November, 2016

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

It would have been a nice job if it had not been a bit sad. Physical work next to the fjord. There is still a bit of light around noon, you can just about imagine the mountains on the northern side of Isfjord. And the mountains on the other side of Adventfjord are shining through the darkness with all their beauty and character.

Extreme weather in Longyearbyen (III): Evakuations cancelled

All evacuations in Longyearbyen have been cancelled. The weather is calm and the authorities have estimated the situation as safe. Slopes that may produce landslides will be monitored.

The way west of the camping site towards Bjørndalen remains closed. This makes an area inaccessible where many locals have leisure huts. It is possible to walk to the huts, which is, however, not practicable for many purposes. The huts will only be accessible again by regular means when the road is opened again or the terrain is suitable for snow mobile traffic. Neither of these options is currently in view.

Some of the huts in this area will have to be moved or abandoned. It has happened before in Spitsbergen that huts endangered by coastal erosion where moved. The most famous example is Fredheim, the famous trapper hut in Tempelfjord, which was moved away from the coast in 2015. One or the other hut between Vestpynten (near the camping site) and Bjørndalen will receive a similar treatment and be moved at least to the other side of the road.

When and how the way itself will be secured or relocated is another and currently unanswered question.

The famous trapper hut at Fredheim was moved away from the coast in spring 2015 due to coastal erosion.

Fredheim, Tempelfjord

Source: Sysselmannen, local gossip.

Extreme weather in Longyearbyen (II): evacuation held upright

Extreme weather with strong winds and a lot of precipitation has held Longyearbyen in awe during the night from Monday to Tuesday. There was a fear for landslides from steep and largely water-saturated slopes near areas with living houses and infrastructures. Several roads were closed and a number of houses were evacuated Monday afternoon.

There have been several minor landslides, but no damage except from comparatively minor damage to a dog yard near Longyearbyen. The dogs in kennels at risk had been moved to other kennels before, all animals are well and safe.

On the coast between the camping site and Bjørndalen, coastal erosion is increasing due to high water and surf on unfrozen ground. Several cabins and parts of the roads are at risk and likely to get lost on the long term.

The administration, however, has decided to keep evacuations upright until further notice. Slope processes take their time, and there is still a risk of landslides. People are asked to stay away from steep terrain.

Closed and evacuated parts of Longyearbyen due to extreme weather

The marked parts of Longyearbyen are currently (November 7) closed due to the extreme weather. Map © Sysselmannen på Svalbard.

Source: Sysselmannen

Extreme weather in Spitsbergen: Longyearbyen partly evacuated

October had already been quite extreme in Spitsbergen, with unusually warm temperatures and a lot of rain. There were mudflows from Platåberg across the road between the church and Huset, the road was temporarily closed.

Now it is getting worse: up to 50 mm precipitation or even more are expected during the night from Monday (November 7) to Tuesday. Below 500 m altitude the precipitation is expected to fall as rain. Several roads in and near Longyearbyen are closed and houses in several roads are evacuated because of the risk of avalanches.

The Sysselmannen has issued several warnings. Amongst others, people are requested to stay away from steep terrain and from old buildings such as mines and parts of the old coal cablecar, which may collapse in extreme winds.

The danger of snow avalanches in higher terrain is high (stage 4).

The weather is expected to calm down Tuesday morning. Fingers crossed all goes well until then.

P.S. Personal remark for friends of the author: our home in Longyearbyen is not in the concerned area.

Closed and evacuated parts of Longyearbyen due to extreme weather

The marked parts of Longyearbyen are currently (November 7) closed due to the extreme weather. Map © Sysselmannen på Svalbard.

Source: Sysselmannen

Tromsø, Kvaløya – 05th, 06th November, 2016

(05th, 06th November, 2016) – Where were we … yes, Lofoten. It has been a while since. A lot has happened in the meantime, more about that later. Let’s get on with the blog, with the journey, which took us back north, to Tromsø and surroundings. A natural stopover on the trip up to Spitsbergen.

And definitely worth to spend more time there than just an hour between flights at the airport. „Paris of the north“ may be a bit exaggerated, but it is a nice place, it has life, it is a good place to be. The old polar museum and the modern arctic show centre Polaria are natural places to visit for any high latitude enthusiast.

The waters near Tromsø are now regularly visited by Orcas during their season, as we saw so beautifully just recently. An orca safari from Tromsø has good chances to make for a great day, as it is currently.

And then there are the northern lights. Of course you need a bit of luck. You just won’t see anything without a clear sky and some electromagnetic activity in the magnetosphere. But chances are good, at least if you have a few days.

We had just two days in Tromsø, but the timing was good. No complains about the northern lights it is definitely a good thing to be able to get around quickly and to keep a good eye on the local weather. Where is the sky clear, where do you have good scenery together with the aurora? And not too much artificial light? That is actually not that easy at all. It is good to know the places or at least to have a thorough look at the map. And there is also the option to join a guided northern light chase by bus, which they offer regularly in Tromsø. That is not a bad option at all, they know their business and they allow for surprisingly much time for observation and photography when Lady Aurora is dancing.

Gallery – Tromsø, Kvaløya – 05th, 06th November, 2016

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

Within the few hours of daylight, we even got a little extra by surprise. On the outside of the large island of Kvaløya, to the west of Tromsø, there is the little island Sommarøy. Red light of the low sun over the whole scenery with the sea, fjords, lots of small islets and stunning coastlines. I was thinking … Sommarøy, Sommarøy, I have heard that before, and not too long ago. And yes: this is where Wanny Woldstad was born in 1895. The woman who later referred to herself as the „first woman as fangstmann in Svalbard“. Fangstmann is Norwegian for trapper. She explicitely used the male version of the word. And nobody in the very male arctic scene of the 1930s or later would ever mind. Everybody knew her about her adventures as a polar bear hunter in Spitsbergen. Recently, we had a chance to visit the hut in Hyttevika that she used during five long arctic winters. And now we saw the house where she was born on Sommarøy.

Vestfjord – 05th November 2016

The rising sun saw us leaving the harbour of Svolvær. Outside, we realized that the wind was just about enough to set sails. So we quickly forgot about the idea to visit the little village of Henningsvær, we were all keen on seeing Antigua under sails one more time. So up went the canvas, and so did the spirits – it was just great. Silence. No big waves, no swell. Warm light over sea and mountains. What a life! Just have a look at the photos.

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

We will be back in Bodø in a few hours, the last harbour of this trip. The last harbour of this year’s arctic shipping season. Tomorrow we will say goodbye, to SV Antigua, to her good people. Well, we’ll meet again next year, so no tears. And for me, it is directly up to Tromsø and Longyearbyen 🙂

Svolvær, Laukvik – 04th November 2016

Svolvær is a good place to relax a bit. It is not the centre of the world. A nice harbour, some art galleries, a bar made out of ice, scenic surroundings.

For us, it was the starting point for our visit to the northern light centre in Laukvik. Situated on the northern side of Austvågøy, there is a free view to most directions and not too much artificial light. This is where Rob and Theres from the Netherlands have established their private northern light centre. They are obviously living their passion, everything is centered around northern lights. Rob has got a room full of technology, which he built all by himself, to make „direct contact with the sun“ and the northern lights, as he uses to say.

And they do have good contacts to higher levels. As soon as the presentation was finished, we saw some nice northern lights 🙂

Kabelvåg-Svolvær – 04th November 2016

The weather is and remains beautiful. Clear sky, gentle freezing temperatures during the night, low sun, beautiful colours. The sun is currently going up after 8 a.m. and down again near 3 p.m. Of course, we have a long phase of twilight. Altogether still quite a bit of light. Certainly enough to go outside and do nice things. We made a nice walk from Kabelvåg to Svolvær today. That is not too far, in theory you could do that in one hour. Of course we took more time, enjoying the landscape. Rugged mountains, a silent lake, open woodland, little wetlands here and there. Some of us took the more sportive route over Tjeldbergtinden, 367 m high. I didn’t, it wouldn’t be a good idea with a cold, but I know the great view from up there 🙂

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

Skrova, Kabelvåg – 03rd November 2016

A beautiful long day, starting with walk across the island of Skrova. White beaches in small, hidden bays with light-blue water and Sea eagles circling above us in the air.

We continued under sails and sun to Kabelvåg. There, we got a true highlight in the evening – no, I am not talking about Sascha’s dinner, which is a certain highlight every day 🙂 no, the northern light show. This was really extraordinary!

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

P.S. of course we also talked about northern light photography and put that knowledge into good practice. I wrote elsewhere on this site about northern lights and photography, click here if you are interested in more info about that.

Skrova – 02nd November 2016

Yes, there were more northern lights 🙂

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

Trollfjord, Skrova – 02nd November 2016

Nature has set herself a monument in Trollfjord. The place is obviously famous for its impressive scenery. Which does not suffer from fine weather surrounded by rockwalls, several hundred metres high, circling with the Zodiac around Antigua, while Sea eagles are circling on the sky … good life in the far north!

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

The passage into the harbour of Skrova, between many rocks and skerries, is very pleasant. And so are the northern lights. We had some nice ones in the late afternoon. Certainly not the strongest ones ever, but nice. We could well do with some more activity, but they are having a break right now. Let’s see what happens later. Fingers crossed.


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