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Monthly Archives: October 2017 − News & Stories


Gibostad-Finnsnes-Harstad – 31st October 2017

Gibostad welcomed us with a bit of a surprise: this nice, snow-covered, historical pier where we had gone alongside was close for traffic. Too old, not safe. So there was no evening walk.

But of course we wanted to have a look at the place, so we just use the zodiac to go ashore in a small boat harbour around the corner. A pittoresque little ville on the beautiful island of Senja, with an „old city“ at the small boat harbour. The „nostalgic bakery“ was closed, unfortunately 🙂 but that was not the point. The point was the beautiful landscape, the stunning light, the snow, all the lovely little details to discover. It was all there.

Also in Finnsnes, we took the opportunity to have a look around. A calm, small north Norwegian town. Not the centre of the world, but if that is what you are looking for, then north Norway is not your place anyway. But again, lovely evening colours (at 3 p.m.!) on the mountains, and a little, already frozen lake in a small forest in the middle of town.

Gallery – Gibostad-Finnsnes-Harstad – 31st October 2017

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

The stunning evening light stayed with us until it gave way to twilight and then darkness. The sky remained clear, so we were of course curious what the evening might bring. The aurora forecast was not exactly optimistic, but so what, after all it was just a forecast! Reality is still a different thing. And indeed, later in the evening, there was a northern light! Faint, but clearly visible at times!

By the way, this website has got its own info site about northern lights, including some northern light photo tips from Rolf.

Helicopter crash: wreck soon to be lifted

The wreck of the Russian helicopter that crashed into Isfjord last week was identified on photos taken by a dive roboter from the research vessel Ossian Sars. The MI-8 helicopter is lying on the sea floor at a depth of 209 metres in Isfjord, about 2 km from the Russian helicopter base at Heerodden close to Barentsburg.

One body was found in a distance of 130 metres to the wreck. It is already in Longyearbyen. There is no hope that any of the 8 people in the helicopter, 5 crew and 3 scientists, survived.

The Norwegian authority for traffic disasters (Statens havarikommisjon for transport, SHT) is now in charge of further investigations. A salvage vessel is expected to arrive in Longyearbyen on Thursday. The uplifting operations will start as soon as the vessel is in position at the accident site. Russian specialists are in Longyearbyen to support the Norwegian forces under Norwegian leadership. When the wreck is lifted, it will be taken to the Norwegian mainland for further investigations. SHT is currently conducting interviews with witnesses and collecting various data including weather, the condition of the helicopter, qualification of the crew and more.

Photo by a dive roboter of the research vessel Ossian Sars used to identify the wreck (image © G.O. Sars).

helicopter wreck.

Source: SHT

Kvaløya-Senja – 30th October 2017

We left from Tromsø in good spirits in the early morning and set course to the north, through Kvalsund and to the outer side of Kvaløya, the large island west of Tromsø. The first orca of the season had been seen there a couple of days ago, so there was reason to be optimistic.

We were there at the right time but not quite at the right place, they were certainly somewhere, but not where we were, so we did not see any whales. We saw stunning landscape, rugged islands, sometimes hidden under snow showers, to re-appear then under quickly changing but always amazing light. We crossed 70 degrees north, close to Sandøya, an island with some lovely sand beaches and some lonely houses. Sandøya is supposed to have exactly one permanent inhabitant.

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

Then we set a southerly course and sails, and the bridge crew took us safely through the skerries and rocks on the outer side of Kvaløya. We abandoned the plan to follow the outer side of Senja to Gryllefjord, it was just a bit too rough for that, and some had already sacrificed to King Neptune, so we went into the channels again and found good shelter between Senja and the mainland and soon we went alongside in Gibostad for a calm night.

Tromsø – 29th October 2017

How do you see that the summer is over? When Antigua is back in Tromsø after several months in Spitsbergen. When the sun is going down under the horizon at 3 p.m. When you have to clean the snow away on deck 5 times a day. When you see a lot of old friends from Spitsbergen alongside in the harbour in Tromsø: the Cape Race, the Polargirl, the Aurora Explora, they are all here. Good old Norderlicht is alongside Antigua.

The light comes and goes with the snowshowers, grey clouds alternate with soft sunlight. Sometimes there is no visibility at all, sometimes the colourful wooden houses are reflected on the mirror-like water surface. People are coming to the ship through the snow one by one, handing bags and suitcases over before they come on board. Then we are complete, passengers and crew. We gather in the salong, welcome on board! We talk about life on the ship and the plans for the upcoming days and enjoy the first dinner of the trip. Sascha has prepared salmon. Good stuff!

Gallery – Tromsø – 29th October 2017

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

After dinner, we talk about northern light photography and have a look at the cameras. It is completely cloudy now, but we have got a whole week, so there are very realistic chances for a clear evening and then … fingers crossed!

Helicopter crash: wreck found

The wreck of the Russian helicopter that went missing on Thursday afternoon is now most likely found. A ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) of the Norwegian Navy has localized an object at a depth of 209 metres on the sea floor that appears to be the wreck of the MI-8 helicopter. The ROV named “Hugin” and another ROV of the research vessel Ossian Sars will continue to gather data to identify the object and to find the missing persons. There were 8 people in the helicopter when it crashed on Thursday. No traces of survivors could be found.

The position is 2.2 kilometres northeast of the Russian helicopter base at Heerodden close to Barentsburg.

A Russian aeroplane has brought divers and other specialists from Russia to Longyearbyen to take part in the operation under Norwegian leadership.

Diving roboter Hugin of the Norwegian navy searching after the crashed helicopter near Heerodden.

Diving roboter Hugin close to Heerodden.

Sources: NRK, Svalbardposten

Helicoptercrash: little hope to find survivors

There is no certainty yet if the object that was located by echolot in a depth of 200-250 metres on the sea floor in Isfjord, not far from the Russian helicopter base at Heerodden close to Barentsburg, actually is the wreck of the helicopter. But there is no doubt that the MI-8 helicopter did crash into Isfjord yesterday. As more than 20 hours have gone by since the crash and there is no trace yet of any survivors, hopes to find any of the 8 people on board are getting smaller and smaller and the worst has to be feared.

Names of the 8 persons on board were already yesterday released by Russian media. Now, also the responsible Norwegian authority, the Rescue Centre North Norway, has released the names officially.

The persons on board the helicopter were

Passengers (Scientists of the Instituts for Arctic and Antarctic Research in St. Petersburg):
Oleg Golovanov
Nikolaj Fadejev
Maksim Kaulio

Crew:

Jevgenij Baranov – Chief pilot
Vladimir Frolov – Second pilot
Aleksej Pouljauskas – Mechanic
Marat Mikhtarov – Technician
Aleksej Koroljov – Engineer

There is hope until the opposite is proven, and every effort is taken to continue the search and find survivors. Norwegian SAR forces are on location with helicopters, a special aeroplane from the Norwegian airforce, ships and boats. But the more time is going by, the more likely it seems that it is a tragedy without survivors.

The Sysselmannen has established a contact phone number for relatives and expresses deep sympathy with those who are affected. This is shared by the author of these lines, whose thoughts and sympathy are also with those who were in the helicopter and their family, friends and colleagues and all others who are involved.

According to international law, Norwegian authorities are responsible for the investigation of the accident. A havary commission is already in Longyearbyen and will soon start to gather all information that is available. But currently, the effort to find survivors and the helicopter are still the focus of all efforts.

Russian MI-8 helicopter at the airport Longyearbyen (archive image).

Russian airport Spitsbergen.

Source: Sysselmannen, Svalbardposten

Crashed helicopter probably found

The Russian helicopter that crashed on Thursday afternoon is probably found. Search-and-rescue forces sensed a strong smell of fuel and saw air bubbles coming to the water surface at a certain position in the area in question, in Isfjord, about 2-3 km from the helicopter base at Heerodden. A ship has found an object on the sea floor with the echolot that could be the wreck of the helicopter or a part of it. This needs to be confirmed, though. The depth is between 200 and 250 metres, far beyond the reach of divers.

Already during the night, a diving robot (ROV = Remotely Operated Vehicle) was brought from mainland Norway to Longyearbyen with a SAS plane. The ROV will be operated at the alleged accident site as soon as possible. This has probably already happened at the time of writing (08.30 local time on Friday morning) or it may be going on right now.

There were 8 persons on board the helicopter, and the search after survivors is going on. SAR forces are searching the nearby coast, east of Heerodden. Helicopters and ships are scanning the water. According to all that is known, the worst has to be feared, but all efforts are taken to find survivors. The Russian helicopter was of the type MI-8, which is equipped with a life raft and with lifting bodies that keep the helicopter afloat at least for a while in case of a controlled emergency landing on the water surface. The fact that no emergency signal was released by the crew makes it however doubtful that it was a controlled emergency landing. A sudden, uncontrolled crash seems likely. Witnesses say they have heard a loud noise like a bang at the time in question.

Next to the 2 Norwegian SAR helicopters, there is a number of ships and boats in the area: Polarsyssel (Sysselmannen), coast guard and boats from the tourism industry in Longyearbyen. Initially, the visibility was reduced by snow fall, but the weather is by now quite good, with little wind and clear visibility. The polar night has begun a couple of days ago, so even around noon, the sun remains below the horizon, making light very scarce.

Light conditions in Isfjord during the polar night around noon. The bright light is the moon. (Archive image.)

Polar night, Isfjord.

Source: Svalbardposten

Russian helicopter crashed near Barentsburg

There will be updates (see bottom end of this article) as further information becomes available.

A Russian MI-8 helicopter crashed near Barentsburg and fell into the sea in Isfjord. The helicopter was on the way from Pyramiden to Barentsburg with 8 persons on board.

The emergency call from the airport tower Longyearbyen was received at 15.35 local time by the emergency response centre North Norway. Norwegian search and rescue (SAR) forces are on location with helicopter and ships. The crash site is in the Isfjord, 2-3 kilometres away from Heerodden, the Russian helicopter base at Barentsburg.

No information is currently available regarding the condition of the 8 persons on board. There is a breeze (7-8 m/s) and the visibility is affected by snowfall.

According to Norwegian law, the Russian helicopters in Spitsbergen are only allowed to fly for company purposes. Charter flights, for example for film teams or scientists, are not permitted. This makes it likely that the 8 people on board were employees of the owner of the helicopter, Trust Arktikugol.

Update: next to the pilot (Baranov Evgeny), co-pilot (Frolov Vladimir), flight engineer (Alexei Poulyauskas), a technician (Mihtar Marat), and an engineer (Korolev Aleksey), there were 3 scientists of the Institute for Arctic and Antarctic Research in St. Petersburg on board: Golovanov Oleg, Fadeev Nicholas, Kaulio Maksim. The names were released in the Russian press.

Update: Dmitrij Zjeljazkov, director of Konvers Avia, the company that owns and operates the helicopter, has told the Russian news agency Tass that the 3 passengers were miners of the Trust Arktikugol.

Russian MI-8 helicopter at the airport Longyearbyen (archive image).

Russian airport Spitsbergen.

Source: NRK

Spitsbergen-calendar 2018: frozen waterfall in January

In the high arctic, January is icy cold – usually at least. Sometimes, spells of mild air masses from the Atlantic can bring temperatures fluctuating around zero degrees and rain. That was not totally unknown in the first half of the 20th century eithe, but it is certainly more frequent in the times of climate change. But normally, it is really cold! The temperatures will make every river and every waterfall freeze solid.

The January page of the Spitsbergen calendar 2018 shows the waterfall Hyperittfossen in De Geerdalen, about 20 km northeast of Longyearbyen as the ivory gull flies. The watermasses that fall down over basaltic rock cliffs are quite impressive in the summer. Now in the winter, the water is frozen to create structures like organ pipes. I used a rather extreme 11 mm wide angle lense to capture the perspective. It is not every year that the shapes of the frozen waterfall are so impressive: when I took this panorama of Hyperittfossen some years ago, most of the icy structures were hidden under snow.

Spitsbergen-Calendar 2018: January. Frozen waterfall

Spitsbergen-Calendar 2018: January. Frozen waterfall.

The Spitsbergen-calender 2018: northern lights over Longyearbyen in December

The northern light is for the polar night what the polar bears are for the summer: everybody wants to see them. The northern light, or Aurora borealis, is indeed a majestic phenomenon! If you have ever seen a real one, you will for sure not forget it. There is an info page about northern lights and northern light photography on this website, by the way. The season is about to begin.

Actually, Longyearbyen is not even the best place to see northern lights. If you are on an Aurora mission, then northern Scandinavia may be just as good, if not better. But of course you can see fantastic northern lights in Spitsbergen! With some luck, you can even see then mid-day. This dayside aurora is comparatively rare, but they do happen. Hard to believe, but true! This requires real darkness 24 hours a day, and that is what you get in Longyearbyen from late November to early January.

The December-photo of our Spitsbergen-calendar 2018 was taken early evening. We went around in Longyearbyen with a TV team and they wanted norhtern lights – of course. Risky business if you don’t have more time than just a very few days! Maybe you are lucky, maybe not … both the weather and the aurora activity have to be on your side. We had already been around for a long evening without seeing more than dark clouds. A day later, things were more promising. And suddenly, the sky exploded over Longyearbyen! It was indeed one of my better Aurora moments in Spitsbergen. The photo does not even show the strongest northern light of that evening, but Lady Aurora was dancing above this part of the iconic coal cableway and Platåberget, a very characteristic and well-known mountain right next to Longyearbyen.

Spitsbergen-Calender 2018: December. Northern light above Longyearbyen

Spitsbergen-Calender 2018: December. Northern light above Longyearbyen.

Born in Sauna: Alexander Lembke’s Sauna exhibition opened in Tampere

Alexander Lembke is well known to many who have travelled with us in recent years in Spitsbergen. Many have heard about his project of science, photography and practical use of the Finnish sauna.

Now, the project has reached a (preliminary) climax: the exhibition “Sauna Syntyneet (Born in Sauna)” was opened on Friday, October 13, in Tampere in Finland. The exhibition was supported by organizations including the Goethe-Institut, the town of Tampere and the Finnish Sauna Society. Their representatives were present at the opening and held speaches.

Alexander’s work is about the important role of sauna in Finnish culture, history and society. The current exhibition is about people who were actually born in a sauna. A sauna is regularly heated and cleaned and it is a place of spirituality, which altogether makes it a place well suited of events such as giving birth. People were born in sauna in Finland also in recent years, also it is much less common than in the more distant past. The exhibition shows large portraits of people who were born in sauna. In poetic films, they tell their stories about their individual relationship to the sauna and their sauna rituals. The youngest person portraited in the exhibition is 5 years old now, the oldest one is 102! Some of these people, who were born in sauna, were present during the opening.

If you happen to come to Tampere until November 24, 2017, then you have got the opportunity to visit the exhibition “Saunassa Syntyneet (Born in Sauna)”.

Alexander Lembke during the opeing of the exhibition “Saunassa Syntyneet (Born in Sauna)” on Friday in Tampere.

Exhibition Saunassa Syntyneet (Born in Sauna), Alexander Lembke, Tampere.

Tampere – 13th October 2017

You may have noticed that this is about Tampere, which is not in Spitsbergen. It is actually in Finland! Far down south!

Yes, true. But those who have been with Rolf Stange and Alexander Lembke in Spitsbergen in recent years, on the sailing ship Antigua or in Pyramiden, will know that there is a connection. If you have shared some chocolate with Alex on the tundra or a beer in the evening, then you will have heard Alex talking about the Finnish sauna. He has been working intensely with it for years. Of course also enjoying the very pleasant practical aspects, but mainly researching its cultural and historical sides. One preliminary result of this never-ending project is an exhibition that was not about to be opened in Tampere. (For some impressions of the actual opening, click here – Born in Sauna).

Gallery – Tampere – 13th October 2017

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

I could, of course, not miss the opportunity to take the trip to Finland. Before the actual opening, I still had a little bit of time for an excursion into the famous Finnish landscape of forests and lakes. It was a bit exotic for me: lots of trees! But you get used to it. So before we get to the actual exhibition, we have got some impressions from the Finnish forests. There was no time for longer trips, it is all from a walk close to Tampere.

Sauna Syntyneet – Born in Sauna – 13th October 2017

We are still in Tampere in Finnland and we are getting to the centerpiece of the trip to the country of forests, lakes and – sauna. This is what it was all about. After a long time of intense work and preparations, Alexander Lembke could proudly open his exhibition on Friday the 13th (that should bring some luck!).

Of couse you don’t have to show the people in Finland what a sauna looks like. There are about 5.5 million Finns, and they have got several million saunas. If you live in Finland, then you know what a sauna looks like. If you live on the Orkney Islands, then you know what the sea looks like.

Hence, Alex could fokus on his main subject: Sauna Syntyneet – Born in Sauna. Large portraits cover almost a century of Finish life and history with people who were born in a sauna. Not just by chance, as one might be misled to believe (unless you really know Finland), but because the sauna was and sometimes still is considered an appropriate place for that kind of thing, for practical and cultural reasons. Today, most Finns are born in modern hospitals, but it is still not unheard of that someone sees the light of the world in a sauna. Of course not one of these modern wellness things that most non-Finnish people consider a sauna, but a private one that has been family property over generations.

Institutions including the Goethe-Institute, the town of Tampere and th Finnish Sauna Association have supported the exhibition and were represented at the opening, giving it an appropriately worthy frame with a couple of speaches. Some of those whose portraits are forming the core of the exhibition were also present.

Gallery – Sauna Syntyneet – Born in Sauna – 13th October 2017

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

During the later course of the evening, there was an excursion to the object of science and passion: a sauna. A real Finnish one, actually the oldest public sauna that is still in use in Finland! I did not take any photos there, that is something that you just don’t do (unless you are Alex and you have spent a lot of time to know those who are involved). So I can only recommend to you to take a trip to Finland and get some real sauna experience! It is more than worth it!

Coal mining in Sveagruva is history

The Norwegian government in Oslo has decided that the coal mine in Lunckefjellet near Sveagruva will not come into productive operation. The mine was opened in 2014 but since then, it has only been driven in standby mode.

The mining company Store Norske has suffered badly from low prices on the world markets for coal for years (see for example Store Norske bailout, May 2015). Near 300 employees had to leave, only about 100 are left.

These remaining ones will not be able to enjoy their jobs for many years either, since Norwegian Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Monica Mæland anounced on October 12, 2017, that the government will not support renewed productive mining in Sveagruva, namely Lunckefjellet. Further production without financial support from Oslo is not possible. The government is also the owner of the mining company Store Norske. Neither the government nor Store Norske are interested in keeping the current standby operation upright.

As a result, the next couple of years will see the phaseout of mining activities in Sveagruva and a big general cleanup of the place. This will, at least, keep most of today’s employees in Store Norske busy.

It is also said that the government does not plan major alternative activities in Sveagruva, such as tourism or science. It is, however, not excluded that some buildings may be used for these purposes.

The decision does not affect coal mining in mine 7 near Longyearbyen, which is taking place on a comparatively small scale to supply the local power plant and minor volumes for export.

Soon history: Norwegian coal mining in Svalbard.

Coal mining, Svalbard.

Source: NRK

Spitsbergen-calendar 2018: November introduced

The next image from the Spitsbergen calendar 2018 is the month November. It shows a small group of Spitsbergen reindeer. These shed their antlers once every year. The exact time is different for males and females. It also varies individually, to some degree.

This small herd of reindeer shows all variations in their antlers: one does not have antlers at all, one dones only have one half and the third one has got the full set of antlers!

The photo shows reindeer in a winter environment at Diabasodden in Sassenfjord. In the early winter, reindeer have got their fat reserves, next to the meagre vegetation that is mostly hidden under snow. Later, when the fat reserves are used up and the tundra is still under snow and ice, the risk from starvation will increase strongly.

Spitsbergen-Calendar 2018: November. Reindeer

Spitsbergen-Calendar 2018: November. A group of Spitsbergen-reindeer with different variations of their antlers.

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