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Home → December, 2016

Monthly Archives: December 2016 − News & Stories


Evacua­ti­on of Nyby­en lifted

Yesterday’s evacua­ti­on of Longyearbyen’s upper area Nyby­en is lifted. Also the road bet­ween the school and Nyby­en is open again.

Sys­sel­man­nen and other aut­ho­ri­ties (NVE) have inves­ti­ga­ted the snow on the slo­pes abo­ve Nyby­en and other parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en which are poten­ti­al­ly expo­sed to avalan­ches. It is cur­r­ent­ly offi­cial­ly con­si­de­red that the­re is no risk of major avalan­ches that might hit buil­dings.

The­re are no reports about major dama­ge from last night’s storm inclu­ding avalan­ches. A post box was blown away and a dog was cove­r­ed by snow in the dogyard, but it was found and dug out in good con­di­ti­on.

The Sys­sel­man­nen reminds ever­y­bo­dy that the avalan­che risk for Lon­gye­ar­by­ens sur­roun­dings is still con­si­de­red high and to be accord­in­gly care­ful with any out­side acti­vi­ties.

Longyearbyen’s upper area Nyby­en: the recent evacua­ti­on becau­se of avalan­che risk is lifted.

Longyearbyen avalanche risk: Nybyen evacuation

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Avalan­che dan­ger: Nyby­en evacua­ted

The wea­ther fore­cast for Lon­gye­ar­by­en says strong wind incre­a­sing to full storm during the night to Thurs­day, com­bi­ned with strong snow­fall. This wea­ther situa­ti­on means an incre­a­sed risk of snow avalan­ches. The cur­rent avalan­che warning is level 4 on a sca­le of 5 levels. As a con­se­quence, the Sys­sel­man­nen has deci­ded to evacua­te Nyby­en.

Smal­ler snow avalan­ches on the slo­pes sur­roun­ding Lon­gye­ar­by­en are exepc­ted, but so far no major events that may cau­se dama­ge dama­ge to buil­dings. Nyby­en, Longyearbyen’s upper part, is faced with the grea­test risk, hence the pre­cau­tio­na­ry evacua­ti­on. Nyby­en is main­ly used for stu­dent housing and guest houses, but the­re are also a few flats whe­re locals live. Most stu­dents are cur­r­ent­ly at home else­whe­re and not in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The road to Nyby­en is clo­sed from the school. It is stron­gly advi­sed to resign from any field trips.

Other parts of Lon­gyear­ben are cur­r­ent­ly not con­cer­ned by evacua­tions. This inclu­des the resi­den­ti­al area near Suk­ker­top­pen, which was hit by an avalan­che in Decem­ber 2015 with let­hal con­se­quen­ces. The deve­lo­p­ment will be con­stant­ly moni­to­red by the Sys­sel­man­nen and rele­vant insti­tu­ti­ons.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en during the polar night. The steep slo­pes sur­roun­ding the sett­le­ment can pro­du­ce avalan­ches.

Longyearbyen avalanche risk

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

No Christ­mas gifts? May­be it’s the rein­de­er…

If San­ta Claus does not bring gifts on Satur­day, that could also be due to his rein­de­er. Whe­ther they can pull the sledge hea­vi­ly packed with gifts is ques­tion­ab­le. Becau­se the rein­de­er on Spitz­ber­gen are get­ting thin­ner!

The sub­s­pe­ci­es – the Sval­bard rein­de­er – is alrea­dy some­what smal­ler than their rela­ti­ves on the main­land. 135 ani­mals were weig­hed by the rese­ar­cher Ste­ve “Mis­ter Rein­de­er” Albon from the James Hutton Insti­tu­te in Scot­land sin­ce 1994 every year in April. Rudolph Nor­mal­ren­tier lost seven kilos during this peri­od. Rea­son is that the ani­mals find less to eat in win­ter.

Hungry: Sval­bard rein­de­er

And who is to bla­me? Most likely once again cli­ma­te chan­ge. Becau­se of hig­her average tem­pe­ra­tures it rains on Sval­bard more often than it snows. The rain free­zes and forms an ice lay­er on top of the snow. This makes it more dif­fi­cult for the rein­de­er to come to the lichens, of which they main­ly live in the win­ter.

Nevertheless, this does not seem to affect the popu­la­ti­on: Sin­ce the 1990s, the num­ber of Sval­bard rein­de­er has risen from 800 to 1400 in the Advent­da­len. What actual­ly sounds like good news could lead to a fami­ne among the rein­de­er in the long term as the com­pe­ti­ti­on for food incre­a­ses.

We keep our fin­gers cros­sed for San­ta Claus and his rein­de­er, and in any case wish ever­y­bo­dy a Mer­ry Christ­mas!

Sources: TV2, Dagens Nærings­liv

Head of north­po­le expe­di­ti­on “Ark­ti­ka 2.0” must go to court

A french skip­per, who is accu­sed of having vio­la­ted several of the strict requi­re­ments for the pro­tec­tion of the envi­ron­ment on Sval­bard, is to pay a fine of 25,000 crowns (€ 2750). The two French adven­tu­rers Gil­les and Ale­xia Elkaim were actual­ly on the way to the North Pole in Sep­tem­ber and Octo­ber this year, but had to rever­se due to bad wea­ther con­di­ti­ons.

The fact that they sought pro­tec­tion from a storm in one of the most severely pro­tec­ted are­as of Sval­bard with their sailor “Ark­ti­ka” could now be their doom. The 56-year-old skip­per does not want to pay the penal­ty. The case will then be heard befo­re the District Court (Tin­g­rett) Nord-Troms on Febru­a­ry 23rd and 24th.

The adven­tu­rers are accu­sed of having ancho­red in the area around Kong Karls Land in the east of Sval­bard wit­hin the pro­tec­tion zone for three days, and having ent­e­red the island of Svens­køya with their seven hus­kies. Svens­køya is sub­ject to rigo­rous rules of pro­tec­tion: it is for­bid­den to approach the island more than 500 meters, and ent­e­ring is for­bid­den all year round. The skip­per is also sup­po­sed to have ille­gal­ly impor­ted his dogs to Sval­bard and to not have appro­ved per­mis­si­on for his expe­di­ti­on. In lar­ge parts of Sval­bard, the­re is a requi­re­ment for indi­vi­du­al tou­rists.

Polar bear in the Duve­fjor­den, whe­re the French expe­di­ti­on ancho­red. The Duve­fjord is loca­ted in the Nord­aust-Sval­bard Natu­re Reser­ve and is also pro­tec­ted as a sci­en­ti­fic refe­rence area.

Often such dis­pu­tes are a ques­ti­on of the point of view. Gil­les Elkaim descri­bes the case on 23rd Novem­ber from his per­spec­ti­ve on his Face­book page: he asked the Sys­sel­man­nen for aut­ho­riz­a­ti­on to over­win­ter on Octo­ber 8th, but did not recei­ve a respon­se for days. Elkaim claims also to have reques­ted for per­mis­si­on to import the dogs alrea­dy in July – without reac­tion. The “Ark­ti­ka” had con­si­derable pro­blems with the engi­ne and a water pump at the begin­ning of Octo­ber and could the­re­fo­re not con­ti­nue. He wan­ted to get the ship safe from an emer­gen­cy. To get the boat out of the pro­tec­ted area, the Sys­sel­manns deci­ded to tow the “Ark­ti­ka” and the crew to Lon­gye­ar­by­en on Octo­ber 13th. An action with con­se­quen­ces. The expe­di­ti­on has been ter­mi­na­ted.

In the Duve­fjor­den and on the Svens­køya ancho­red the Arc­tic befo­re being towed to Longyearbyen​.

Home­page of the expe­di­ti­on
Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten, iFinnmark.no

Hau­ke Trinks is dead

Hau­ke Trinks was not only a sci­en­tist, but also a Spits­ber­gen adven­tu­rer. He win­te­red three times in remo­te pla­ces nort­hern Sval­bard. Born on Febru­ar 19, 1943 in Ber­lin, he beca­me pre­si­dent of the Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­si­ty in Ham­burg-Har­burg. After finis­hing his sci­en­ti­fic care­er, he had more time for his pas­si­ons, sai­ling and adven­ture.

In 1999-2000, Hau­ke Trinks win­te­red on his own on his yacht Mes­uf in Mus­ham­na in Woodfjord. As a sci­en­tist, he wan­ted to find evi­dence for his theo­ry of an ori­gin of life in the ice. Two more win­te­rings fol­lo­wed, in 2003-2004 in the old sta­ti­on in Kinn­vi­ka on Nord­aus­t­land and in 2010-2011 once again on his boat in Mus­ham­na. On the­se two later win­te­rings, he was accom­pa­nied by Marie Tié­che. Hau­ke Trinks told his arc­tic adven­ture sto­ries in several books and docu­men­ta­ti­ons to a wider public. The­re has hard­ly been a visit to Woodfjord sin­ce without the ques­ti­on com­ing up: “isn’t it someh­we­re around here whe­re Hau­ke Trinks win­te­red?”

It is up to dedi­ca­ted sci­en­tists to judge his efforts and results as a reser­acher. Opi­ni­ons regar­ding this may be varied, but that does not mat­ter now and here. As a per­son, Hau­ke Trinks easi­ly felt at home in Spits­ber­gen, some­thing that was very evi­dent during several mee­tings this aut­hor had with Trinks in Mus­ham­na, Kinn­vi­ka and Lon­gye­ar­by­en. To share just one of the­se unf­or­gett­able moments: when we approa­ched Kinn­vi­ka with MV Pro­fes­sor Mul­ta­novs­kiy in the late sum­mer of 2003, when Hau­ke and Marie were just sett­ling down the­re for the­re win­te­ring, they quick­ly jum­ped into their Zodiac and took off to disap­pe­ar deep in Murchi­son­fjord as they saw us com­ing. But as we were about to lea­ve, they retur­ned quick­ly and Hau­ke, being a good nar­ra­tor, was hap­py to share sto­ries and know­ledge with us.

Hau­ke Trinks kept a strong con­nec­tion to the north and sett­led down in his new second home on Uts­i­ra in Nor­way. He died in Decem­ber 2016 at the age of 73 in Spits­ber­gen or on Uts­i­ra, the sources are not yet qui­te clear about this. We will keep fond memo­ries of him as one of few adven­tu­rers who, in recent years, ven­tu­red on mon­th-long expe­di­ti­ons on his own or with just one more per­son into the polar night and the ice, fol­lowing a sci­en­ti­fic quest, and as a uni­que, very like­ab­le cha­rac­ter.

Hau­ke Trinks and Marie Tiè­che in Kinn­vi­ka, 2003.

Hauke Trinks und Marie Tiéche, Kinnvika

Sources: Press release Tech­ni­sche Uni­ver­si­tät Ham­burg-Har­burg, Ham­bur­ger Abend­blatt

The avalan­che risk report for Lon­gye­ar­by­en has been publis­hed

The avalan­che risk report for Lon­gye­ar­by­en is now avail­ab­le. After the dead­ly avalan­che on Decem­ber 19, 2015 and the pre­cau­tio­na­ry evacua­tions in ear­ly Novem­ber 2016, the report has been awai­ted with eager­ness. It was com­pi­led by NVE (Nor­ges vass­drags- og ener­gi­di­rek­to­rat, Nor­we­gi­an direc­to­ra­te for waters and ener­gy wit­hin the minis­try for oil and ener­gy) and it is based on maps and aeri­al pho­to­gra­phy, ter­rain mode­ling, cli­ma­te ana­ly­sis, his­to­ri­cal expe­ri­ence, on-site inves­ti­ga­ti­ons and com­pu­ter mode­ling.

For the public, the results are more rele­vant than the metho­di­cal back­ground. The report inclu­des a map that shows end­an­ge­red are­as in three colours. The are­as whe­re dama­ge cau­sed by avalan­ches hap­pens with a likeli­hood of 1:5000 per year is mar­ked in yel­low. In other words: dama­ge cau­sed by an avalan­che has to be expec­ted every 5000 years – sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, that is.

Are­as mar­ked oran­ge have an annu­al risk of 1:000 or avalan­che dama­ge every 1000 years. And then the­re are the red are­as, whe­re an avalan­che has to be expec­ted once per cen­tu­ry. The risk of a devas­ta­ting event is one per cent every year.

This risk assess­ment inclu­des snow and slush avalan­ches, muds­li­des and rock­falls. Some parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en are “only” expo­sed to par­ti­cu­lar hazards wit­hin this list. This can mean that dif­fe­rent are­as may be expo­sed to dan­ger at dif­fe­rent sea­sons or in dif­fe­rent wea­ther situa­tions.

A first look at the avalan­che risk map makes the view­er take a breath. No less than 154 flats as well as two guest houses are insi­de the red zone. The­se addres­ses are faced with an annu­al risk of 1:100 of a poten­ti­al­ly cata­stro­phic event, causing gre­at dama­ge and put­ting life at risk.

The obvious ques­ti­on is how Lon­gye­ar­by­en will deal with this situa­ti­on. it is clear that the opti­on to move all the houses con­cer­ned quick­ly to safe are­as is not avail­ab­le. That will neit­her tech­ni­cal­ly nor poli­ti­cal­ly and finan­cial­ly be pos­si­ble, and the­re is the issue of space being avail­ab­le in suf­fi­ci­ent quan­ti­ties in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (remem­ber, it is a val­ley, and the­re are rivers, slo­pes and a fjord not far from whe­re­ver you are). As a result, the houses will remain whe­re­ver they are at least for qui­te a while.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en will obvious­ly be deve­lo­ped in are­as that are not end­an­ge­red, making sure as much housing as pos­si­ble will be avail­ab­le in the­se are­as in the future. Secu­ring dan­ge­rous slo­pes with tech­ni­cal will also be dis­cus­sed.

For the time being, the­re is no other opti­on but kee­ping the avalan­che warning sys­tem upright and evacua­te end­an­ge­red addres­ses in risk situa­tions.

It was empha­si­zed that the­re is a num­ber of com­mu­nities in Nor­way who are in simi­lar situa­tions. In the end, it is nor­ma­li­ty in a moun­tain and win­ter coun­try such as Nor­way, and com­mu­nities will natu­ral­ly have to deal with that. This has recent­ly been igno­red in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. A high pri­ce was paid in Decem­ber 2015.

It can be taken for gran­ted that poli­ti­ci­ans from the local admi­nis­tra­ti­on (Lokals­ty­re) in Lon­gye­ar­by­en to rele­vant depart­ments in Oslo have got some home­work to do. Mean­while, inha­bi­tants of many houses in Lon­gye­ar­by­en will have to live with tem­pora­ry evacua­tions on a short warning during avalan­che risk wea­ther.

Avalan­che risk map for Lon­gye­ar­by­en (NVE).

Avalanche risk map Longyearbyen

Direct link to the avalan­che report and direct link to the avalan­che risk map.

Sources: Sys­sel­man­nen, Sval­bard­pos­ten

Polar bear shot on Prins Karls For­land: fine for the shoo­ter

A polar bear was shot by a Rus­si­an sci­en­tist on August 09 on Prins Karls For­land (see Polar bear shot on Prins Karls For­land). The cir­cum­s­tan­ces see­med doubt­ful: it appears that no serious attempt had been made to sca­re the polar bear away with non-let­hal methods and the let­hal shot was fired at a very ear­ly sta­ge of the encoun­ter from the lar­ge distance of 130 (!) metres. Addi­tio­nal­ly, the aut­ho­ri­ties were only infor­med about the inci­dent the fol­lowing day and not immedia­te­ly, as requi­red.

It was a two year old fema­le, weig­hing 155 kg. The ani­mal had been mar­ked befo­re.

The case was han­ded over by the Sys­sel­man­nen in Lon­gye­ar­by­en to the public pro­se­cu­tor in Trom­sø. The rea­son may have been the juri­di­cal and public cha­rac­ter of the case. When con­si­de­ring the spar­se infor­ma­ti­on that is avail­ab­le, one may quick­ly be temp­ted to con­clu­de that the kil­ling may have been a cri­mi­nal offen­se.

Now the ver­dict from Trom­sø is the­re: the sci­en­tist who had fired the dead­ly shot is con­dem­ned to pay a fine of NOK 15000,- (ca. 1670 Euro). The man has accep­ted the fine, hence the ver­dict is effec­ti­ve.

Char­ges against the other three per­sons who were in the camp tog­e­ther with the shoo­ter have been dis­mis­sed.

The bay Sel­vå­gen a few days befo­re the polar bear was shot on August 09.

Spitsbergen: Selvågen

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

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