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Yearly Archives: 2016 − News

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.

Living house in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in dan­ger of col­lap­se: evacua­ti­on

Lon­gye­ar­by­en is cur­r­ent­ly having tough times, espe­cial­ly if you hap­pen to live in the wrong house: after the cata­stro­phic dest­ruc­tion of 11 houses and the loss of two lives during an avalan­che befo­re Christ­mas, the old hos­pi­tal had to be evacua­ted very quick­ly last week. The old hos­pi­tal (gam­le syke­hu­set) is near the Spits­ber­gen-Hotel (form­er­ly Hotel Fun­ken) upval­ley from the cent­re. It was built in 1954 and con­ver­ted to a living house with 16 flats in 1997.

More recent­ly, the buil­ding had shown signs of move­ment such as minor cracks in walls and shif­ting angles – not­hing that cau­sed any grea­ter con­cern, but it caught enough atten­ti­on to ask for the report of a civil engi­neer. The result came Thurs­day last week and it hit the inha­bi­tants like a ham­mer: at 4 p.m. peop­le were told that they had to lea­ve their homes until 10 p.m. the same day. Anything they were unab­le to remo­ve from their homes would be out of reach for some time, as it was not allo­wed to enter the buil­ding at all from then on, initi­al­ly.

Cur­r­ent­ly, the inha­bi­tants get per­mis­si­on to enter their homes under restric­tions to retrie­ve their belon­gings as much as pos­si­ble. Some have alrea­dy offe­red their belon­gings for sale or even for free to anyo­ne who is able to pick it up.

The buil­ding is in dan­ger of col­laps, but when this may or may not hap­pen is not known. It may col­lap­se today or stand for ano­t­her year or more. But it is not expec­ted that peop­le will be able to move back.

For the inha­bi­tants, who are most­ly the owners of their homes, this came as a total shock and, in some cases, it is likely to be a com­ple­te eco­no­mi­c­al dis­as­ter.

The local admi­nis­tra­ti­on (lokals­ty­re) has offe­red tem­pora­ry accom­mo­da­ti­on to tho­se con­cer­ned, but only for a cou­p­le of weeks. Not a lot of time for every for ever­y­bo­dy to find new homes.

The old hos­pi­tal (gam­le syke­hu­set) lies wit­hin a cal­mer dwel­ling area a bit away from down­town Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Cur­r­ent­ly, it is not qui­te as calm the­re: the inha­bi­tants were evacua­ted on very short noti­ce last week.

The old hospital (gamle sykehuset) in Longyearbyen

North Korea signs Sval­bard Trea­ty

While North Korea is pro­vo­king the world by tes­ting nuclear wea­pons and long-ran­ge mis­si­les, the regime has signed the Sval­bard Trea­ty on Janu­a­ry 25 without much public atten­ti­on. This trea­ty, which was signed in 1920 in Ver­sailles and came into for­ce in 1925, gave Nor­way sov­er­eig­n­ty over the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go (the ori­gi­nal trea­ty docu­ment does not have the name Sval­bard) while main­tai­ning rights of signa­to­ry governments and their citi­zens to be eco­no­mi­c­al­ly and sci­en­ti­fi­cal­ly acti­ve without the need for a gene­ral per­mis­si­on. One of the con­se­quen­ces is that Spits­ber­gen is, in con­trast to main­land Nor­way, not part of the Schen­gen Trea­ty area.

Sval­bard is not unknown in the far east: espe­cial­ly in Thai­land, peop­le are qui­te awa­re of this uni­que job oppor­tu­ni­ty that does not requi­re resi­dence or work per­mits. The third-lar­gest popu­la­ti­on group in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are Thai peop­le, which have been forming an important part of the social and eco­no­mic struc­tu­re of the town for many years by now.

It is not known if the North Kore­an regime plans their admis­si­on to the trea­ty to be fol­lo­wed by any prac­ti­cal steps or any kind of pre­sence. North Korea is also mem­ber sta­te of the Ant­arc­tic Trea­ty (without voting rights). As far as known, the only North Kore­an acti­vi­ty in Ant­arc­ti­ca was the par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on of some sci­en­tists in a Soviet expe­di­ti­on in 1989/90.

What is Kim Jong Un doing in Sval­bard? Cree­py duo in Pyra­mi­den (pho­to com­po­si­ti­on).

Kim in Svalbard

Source: The Inde­pen­dent Bar­ents Obser­ver

Loo­king back at 2015 – Decem­ber

While I am tal­king about good old Anti­gua: right now, she is in the ship­y­ard. Cut into two parts. No ice­berg and now under­wa­ter rock are the rea­son for this, but the owner’s plan to make her a bit lon­ger. Half of the cabins will be a bit lar­ger from 2016. But the­re won’t be more cabins and no more beds than so far, so not more peop­le than we are used to, and that is important. And they say that a lon­ger hull is making for bet­ter sai­ling abi­li­ties. I am loo­king for­ward to a rene­wed Anti­gua in 2016!

Anti­gua rel­oa­ded, Decem­ber 2015. Pho­to © Sven­ja Hol­lank.

Antigua in the shipyard

Mean­while, the polar night has come over Sval­bard. What should have been a peace­ful and silent arc­tic win­ter brought dis­as­ter to Lon­gye­ar­by­en just befo­re Christ­mas, when a snow avalan­che went into a housing area, stron­gly dama­ging 11 buil­dings and kil­ling two peop­le. So the year 2015, which has brought war and ter­ror to many coun­tries, comes to a sad end also in Spits­ber­gen. Let’s hope that 2016 will bring as many gre­at adven­tures as 2015, but less sad ones.

During the sea­son of the short days, I am sor­ting the trips of the past, get­ting triplogs, vide­os and pho­to gal­le­ries rea­dy, which I recom­mend to ever­y­bo­dy who wants to lea­ve their home or office mental­ly for a moment to take a vir­tu­al trip up north. New trips are being plan­ned, with Anti­gua, with Arc­ti­ca II, with Ópal (in 2017), with Auro­ra. To Spits­ber­gen, Green­land and Jan May­en. A new focus on hiking, in ear­ly Sep­tem­ber. This all takes time for a lot of thin­king and plan­ning. 2015 has seen 166 news and blog ent­ries on this web­site. Also new book pro­jects are get­ting on. Several ones are in the making, some in a stag qui­te advan­ced. So I can pro­mi­se new books, but I am not going to say anything about timing. I am not plan­ning an air­port, I am just wri­ting books. Nobo­dy is paying me for that. So I don’t have to pro­mi­se anything and I don’t have to excu­se anything in case it takes more time. That keeps life easy (kind of).

I wish all rea­ders a good and hap­py new year! Gre­at trips in high or low lati­tu­des, health and hap­pi­ness! May­be our paths will cross, near the poles or some­whe­re in bet­ween. Under the mid­ni­ght sun or the polar light.

Cru­el­ty to polar bear in Rus­sia

I guess I have to warn you here: this is not for the faint-hear­ted. The sto­ry and a rela­ted video on you­tube are dis­tur­bing.

The­re has been an extre­me case of cru­el­ty to a polar bear on Wran­gel Island in the far eas­tern Rus­si­an arc­tic. A fema­le polar bear accom­pa­nied by cubs had visi­ted a con­struc­tion site regu­lar­ly. Appear­ent­ly, she had beco­me used to peop­le, who fed her regu­lar­ly. In Novem­ber, a fire­cra­cker was mixed into the food and explo­ded in her mouth, hea­vi­ly inju­ring the ani­mal. A you­tube video shows the bear moving around in gre­at pain and losing blood. The fire­cra­cker is said to have been a mili­ta­ry-type ban­ger nor­mal­ly used for mili­ta­ry edu­ca­ti­on and trai­ning, con­tai­ning 80 gram gun­pow­der.

The offen­der was the cook, who said later that it was an act of self defence, an attempt to divert the polar bear’s atten­ti­on away from ano­t­her near­by per­son. This is, howe­ver, unli­kely to be true, accord­ing to local media, who report that the bear had been used to peop­le and never showing aggres­si­ve beha­viour. It is said that workers qui­te com­mon­ly pho­to­gra­phed them­sel­ves tog­e­ther with this par­ti­cu­lar polar bear.

A video is cir­cu­la­ting on you­tube, showing how the polar bear is suf­fe­ring from strong pain and blee­ding severely. Infor­ma­ti­on about the con­di­ti­on of the bear sin­ce is con­tra­dic­to­ry: the­re are state­ments that she is ali­ve, but others say she has not been seen sin­ce.

Initi­al­ly the offen­der see­med to get away with a sym­bo­lic fine, but sin­ce the case drew inter­na­tio­nal atten­ti­on on the web, poli­ti­ci­ans inclu­ding Rus­si­an Envi­ron­ment Minis­ter Ser­gej Dons­koj and the gover­nor of Chu­kot­ka have deman­ded inves­ti­ga­ti­ons and a lawsu­it. The Attor­ney Gene­ral has taken up inves­ti­ga­ti­ons, which may lead to impr­i­son­ment up to 3 or 7 years, depen­ding on source.

A peti­ti­on on thepetitionsite.com is sup­po­sed to incre­a­se pres­su­re on Rus­si­an aut­ho­ri­ties to take strong steps.

The online peti­ti­on does not con­tain dis­tur­bing images, but the abo­ve men­tio­ned you­tube video is tough stuff: cru­el and dis­tur­bing. If you want to see it, then this is the link.

The offen­der was (is?) working for the com­pa­ny Русальянс (Russ­al­li­ans), which is con­trac­ted by the Rus­si­an Minis­try of Defence. Offi­cial­ly, the com­pa­ny is sup­por­ting a foun­da­ti­on that is working for the arc­tic envi­ron­ment, inclu­ding a “har­mo­nic rela­ti­ons­hip bet­ween humans and ani­mals”.

Screen­shot of the you­tube-video.

cruelty to polar bear on Wrangel Island

Source: Stutt­gar­ter Nach­rich­ten

Loo­king back at 2015 – Novem­ber

Novem­ber is not the time for long out­door trips in the arc­tic. A slight­ly con­fu­sed Eng­lish tou­rist did not see any rea­son why he should not walk on his own from Lon­gye­ar­by­en to Pyra­mi­den – in the polar night. Local could final­ly con­vin­ce him that this was not a gre­at thing to do.

Our last miles with guests on SV Anti­gua went in north Nor­way, get­ting out of the way of a big storm east of Trom­sø. Later, we found the nort­hern lights that we had all come for, and the glo­rious Lofo­ten sce­ne­ry that makes this area unf­or­gett­able. Admit­ted­ly, some­thing else that is qui­te unf­or­gett­able is the migh­ty Adolf gun near Har­stad. So I just had to men­ti­on it here. Done that now, enough of it.

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

Thank you, Anti­gua, for gre­at trips again in 2015! This inclu­des, of cour­se, all good peop­le who have been part of it. The crew, the col­leagues, the guests. Good peop­le, good times, good stuff.

Loo­king back at 2015 – Octo­ber

Octo­ber began with this year’s last days in Spits­ber­gen spent on SV Anti­gua. This is of cour­se not­hing dra­ma­tic, qui­te the oppo­si­te, it feels good when a good time is com­ing to an end and you can rea­li­ze that is has actual­ly real­ly been a good time, without any acci­dents or other major unplea­sant events. Ins­tead, we got our final polar bear sightin­gs and the beau­ti­ful light of the arc­tic fall in a land­s­cape that is more and more get­ting into win­ter mode.

Jan May­en memo­ries came back as I show­ed the pic­tures during a pre­sen­ta­ti­on at Sval­bard­mu­se­um in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, while nort­hern lights were dan­cing on the night sky.

It was not just in natu­re that were lights were tur­ned off, but also in the Nor­we­gi­an mines in Spits­ber­gen. Not com­ple­te­ly and final­ly, but it does look dark and the working for­ce has been redu­ced drasti­cal­ly in 2015. Lon­gye­ar­by­en is shrin­king, some­thing the place is not used to at all. And Sveagru­va is shrin­king even more. The­re, they are get­ting rea­dy for years of being a slee­ping beau­ty. But nobo­dy knows if this sleep will ever real­ly end to give way to rene­wed acti­vi­ty.

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

My Spits­ber­gen calen­dar 2016 saw the light of day at this time, the fourth of its kind in a row.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en avalan­che: more houses dama­ged

Soon after the evacua­ti­on was lifted on Tues­day evening it tur­ned out that more houses are dama­ged so stron­gly that they have to be aban­do­ned. The inha­bi­tants had to lea­ve them again soon. The houses are loca­ted in Vei 228 (yel­low cir­cle in pic­tu­re below) and owned by the sta­te-owned Stats­by­gg, who was at least able to quick­ly pro­vi­de repla­ce­ment accom­mo­da­ti­on. It is at least pos­si­ble to return to the buil­dings to get per­so­nal belon­gings.

This is more luck than tho­se have who lived in the now stron­gly dama­ged houses (red cir­cle) hit by the avalan­che with full for­ce. This area remains clo­sed to all non-aut­ho­ri­zed traf­fic accord­ing to Lokals­ty­re (the local admi­nis­tra­ti­on), who will make a plan how the for­mer inha­bi­tants can get their per­so­nal belon­gings.

Queen Son­ja of Nor­way and minis­ter of jus­ti­ce Anund­sen visi­ted the avalan­che site on Thurs­day after­noon.

A fami­ly who have lost their home in Vei 236 and almost their lives have now publis­hed their dra­ma­tic expe­ri­ence of the avalan­che in Sval­bard­pos­ten. They were in their kit­chen, having bre­ak­fast with their two litt­le child­ren and a friend when the avalan­che hit. They were com­ple­te­ly buried in snow befo­re anyo­ne could react and they just mana­ged with a lot of luck and the power that comes from despe­ra­ti­on to get them­sel­ves at least part­ly out of the snow until help came. Altog­e­ther it took about three quar­ters of an hour to get ever­y­bo­dy out. They were buried under up to two meters of hard snow, mixed with sharp frag­ments of wood and other debris. They were taken to hos­pi­tal and part­ly trea­ted for hypo­ther­mia in advan­ced sta­ges. Due to an ama­zing amount of luck and a lot of help during and after the dra­ma­tic event, they are all well now.

The resi­den­ti­al area hit by the avalan­che. The houses mar­ked by the red cir­cle are lar­ge­ly des­troy­ed. As it tur­ned out now, some buil­dings in Vei 228 (yel­low cir­cle) also have to be aban­do­ned.

Longyearbyen avalanche

Loo­king back at 2015 – Sep­tem­ber

A memo­ry card lost in the arc­tic wil­der­ness in 2009 was retur­ned to the owner after six years, to her (the owner’s) gre­at plea­su­re.

Mean­while, I had the gre­at plea­su­re to spend a very memo­r­able week with the Ice­lan­dic schoo­ner Ópal in Scores­by­sund in east Green­land. What can I say. A stun­ning dis­play of arc­tic colours, a land­s­cape on a sca­le of its own kind. A hea­vy storm raging out on the open sea and in Ice­land, cal­ming down just in time to let us fly out without pro­blems – yes, some luck on your side is always hel­pful. And so is a buf­fer day in Ice­land if you come back from Green­land, just in case. I just men­ti­on it …

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

In Spits­ber­gen, Sep­tem­ber brings the often unde­re­sti­ma­ted magic of chan­ge bet­ween day and night back. Sun­sets and … of cour­se, nort­hern lights. Which we got. And, after several years, final­ly again a lan­ding on Mof­fen, a for­bid­den island in the sum­mer. The wal­rus­ses the­re were obvious­ly hap­py to see some peop­le. They don’t get to see too many the­re.

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

Loo­king back at 2015 – July

The long cir­cum­na­vi­ga­ti­on of Spits­ber­gen with SV Anti­gua is always an important mile­stone in peak sea­son. This is the case even when the trip turns out not to be a cir­cum­na­vi­ga­ti­on. Ins­tead, at some point we had to con­ti­nue the oppo­si­te way. Not only does this sound bet­ter than going back, but it is qui­te true. This point was reached at the ice edge in sou­thern Hin­lo­pen, whe­re it beca­me obvious for ever­y­bo­dy who was the­re that a sai­ling ship, and actual­ly any ves­sel other than the very stron­gest ones, would not con­ti­nue any fur­ther that way. But think of all we would have mis­sed had things gone any other way! The wha­les far out on open sea, the Litt­le auks in Hyt­tevi­ka … to men­ti­on just to events that cross my mind very spon­ta­ne­ous­ly.

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

The polar bear in Raudfjord that appeared exact­ly whe­re I had picked up the last ones just minu­tes ear­lier. The colours of the tun­dra, full with count­less flowers, sur­pri­se mee­tings with sci­en­tists … not to men­ti­on the three polar bears, not rela­ted, who hap­pen­ed to be all in the same place, on the ice of the lagoon of Mus­ham­na, fol­lowing their indi­vi­du­al ways for hours, mee­ting occa­sio­nal­ly for moments, kee­ping a watch­ful eye on one ano­t­her. No human will ever know what a polar bear real­ly thinks of any other polar bear. Usual­ly, they will tre­at each other with respect and be rather care­ful. We were bles­sed with an oppor­tu­ni­ty to obser­ve that for the best parts of a memo­r­able day.

Loo­king back at 2015 – June

Just in time as May gave way to June we arri­ved with SV Antiu­ga in sou­thern Spits­ber­gen, com­ing from Bear Island. A defi­ni­te high­light amongst this year’s events is the encoun­ter with a polar bear fami­ly in Van Keu­len­fjord. Who could ever for­get that? Anti­gua was moo­red along the fast ice edge, in peace and silence, until in the very ear­ly morning hours the offi­cer on watch came down to wake ever­y­bo­dy up. The polar bear fami­ly that had been seen alrea­dy the day befo­re, kilo­me­tres away out on the ice, had come to the ship out of curio­si­ty. The mother was a bit more care­ful and stay­ed more in the back­ground, but did not mind her two cubs, both loo­king well and healt­hy, com­ing strai­ght up to the ship and inves­ti­ga­ting us from all sides. An ama­zing way to start a day!

A nui­sance for tho­se con­cer­ned, but later an event not without some enter­tai­ning value: Lon­gye­ar­by­en air­port was run­ning out of fuel. A nice litt­le remin­der that the arc­tic is still a remo­te place, and even the­se days it may hap­pen that sup­plies are not always avail­ab­le when they are nee­ded. Some flights direct­ly bound for Oslo had to make a sto­po­ver in Trom­sø for refu­el­ling.

Mean­while, many were won­de­ring if polar bears now have dis­co­ve­r­ed dol­phins as their favou­rite prey, as seen and pho­to­gra­phed the year befo­re, and now pho­tos and dis­cus­sions were com­ing up. Weird. Obvious­ly nobo­dy has spent much thought on how polar bears should get hold of dol­phins on a regu­lar basis. When natu­re hap­pens to ser­ve dol­phins on a sil­ver tablet, for examp­le by them get­ting stuck in ice in a fjord, then a polar bear wouldn’t be a polar bear if he said no to the oppor­tu­ni­ty. But that is real­ly no news.

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

Later in June, I could add ano­t­her expe­ri­ence to the alrea­dy long list of this year’s memo­r­able and plea­sant events: the view from the top of Bee­ren­berg, Jan Mayen’s famous vol­ca­no. A dream of several years, taking years of pre­pa­ra­ti­ons, beca­me a rea­li­ty in my second attempt, made pos­si­ble by a friend­ly wea­ther god and rea­li­zed with con­si­derable effort. It was worth every hard breath, and the­re were qui­te a few.


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