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Monthly Archives: October 2017 − News & Stories


Longyearbyen cemetery may be moved because of avalanche risk

The cemetery of Longyearbyen has been in a calm part of the valley Longyeardalen for about a century, between the church and Huset, the old town meeting place. It is still an active cemetery, the last burials were in 2013 and there may be more in the future. Only urn burials are allowed, however.

The location of the cemetery is calm, but maybe not calm enough in the long term. The steep mountain slopes nearby have produced avalanches in recent years, mostly landslips after periods of rain, which have reached the terrain around the cemetery. In the last summer, even the road between the church and Huset was closed for prolonged periods. It is probably only a question of time until the cemetery itself is hit and badly damaged.

This is a scenario which Longyearbyen church with priest Leif Magne Helgesen are not willing to accept. Helgesen has taken initiative and started a debate which may lead to a relocation of the cemetery. It is a place of peace and dignity, for which many people have strong feelings, according to Helgesen. He reasons that it would accordingly be irresponsible to leave the cemetery in a place where it may suffer bad damage.

First meetings with authorities like the Sysselmannen, who is responsible for monument conservation, and the local adminstration have taken place. Authorities in Longyearbyen have experience with moving and securing graves from historical graves that are threatened by coastal erosion. Moving a whole cemetery would, however, be a project of an entirely different scale. Also relatives will have to be involved.

A new location would naturally be near the church, which is a quiet part of Longyearbyen and has areas that are not at risk from avalanches and landslides.

The cemetery in Longyearbyen may be moved due to the risk of landslides and avalanches.

Cemetery Longyearbyen.

Source: Svalbardposten

Spitsbergen-calendar 2018: the stories behind 2 months

The September-page of our Spitsbergen-calendar 2018

Spitzbergen-Kalender 2018: September. Walrusses and polar fox

Spitsbergen-Calender 2018: September. Walrusses and polar fox.

… shows a group of walrusses on the beach at Smeerenburg on Amsterdamøya doing what walrusses do best: sleeping and digesting mussels. While we keep a respectful distance of a good 30 m in order not to disturb the walrusses during their nap, a cheeky polar fox which does not care about regulations and distances runs directly next to the walrusses! Who could not care less about the polar fox.

The polar fox left as quickly and unexpectedly as it came, and only this snapshot remains from the memorable encounter.

And the October-page …

Spitsbergen-Calender 2018: October. Bråsvellbreen, Nordaustland from a bird's eye view.

Spitsbergen-Calender 2018: October. Bråsvellbreen, Nordaustland from a bird’s eye view.

… shows Bråsvellbreen. This mighty glacier belongs to the ice cap of Austfonna on Nordaustland. The size is overwhelming, the ice cap has a total area of about 8500 square kilometres! The glacier Bråsvellbreen is only a small part of that. It is well-known for the waterfalls that are cascading down the ice cliff during the melting season. Here, we see it from a bird’s eye perspective!

Click here for more information about the Spitsbergen calendar 2018.

White humpback whale again seen in Svalbard

White humpback whales are a very rare phenomenon. Globally, scientists know of three individuals. Two of them live in Australian waters and a third one in the north Atlantic. The latter one has recently been seen again for the first time in years. First sightings date back to 2004 and 2006, then near the north Norway coast. In August 2012, a white humpback whale was sighted several times east of Spitsbergen. It was most likely the same animal as in 2004 and 2006. No photos are known from those early sightings, but in 2012, a number of amazing shots were taken. Especially noteworthy are those taken by Dan Fisher, mate on the sailing ship Antigua, from the mast of the ship. Due to the high perspective, almost the whole animal can be seen on the photos.

Humpback whales live in all of the world’s oceans. They are usually mostly dark grey to black. The bottom side and parts of the fluke and flippers are partly white. The exact pattern can be used to identify individuals, just like the fingerprint of humans.

Completely white humpback whales are very rare. The unusual colour is usually due to leucism, a partial loss of pigmentation which leads to pale or white colour. Only one of the two white humpback whales in Australia is actually an albino.

Now, there has been a sighting of a white humpback whale in the north Atlantic, the first one since 2012. The whale was seen in late September by scientists on board the research vessel Johan Hjort in eastern Svalbard. This area is often frequented by humpback whales at this time of the year.

White humpback whale in Hinlopen Strait, photographed on August 11 2012 by Dan Fisher.

White humpback whale

Source: Havforskningsinstituttet

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