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Home → December, 2017

Monthly Archives: December 2017 − News & Stories


2017: my year in review – Febru­a­ry and March: the Ant­arc­tic Odys­sey

After finis­hing the big pro­ject with my new Nor­we­gi­an gui­de­book Sval­bard – Nor­ge nær­mest Nord­po­len, it was time to get some fresh air. And I got lots of it during a trip around the world in Febru­a­ry in March. The heart of this huge voya­ge was a semi-cir­cum­na­vi­ga­ti­on of Ant­arc­ti­ca, which I refer to as the “Ant­arc­tic Odys­sey”. Star­ting in New Zea­land, we went to Camp­bell Island, into the Ross Sea and then via Peter I Island to the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la befo­re we finis­hed in Ushua­ia. Tru­ly an Odys­sey!

The high­light of this gre­at jour­ney? Hard to say. The­re was not only one high­light. Just the dimen­si­ons of this trip are epic, many thousand nau­ti­cal miles in more than 30 days. Being Expe­di­ti­on Lea­der on such a trip on the Orte­li­us was cer­tain­ly a con­tri­bu­ti­on towards making it inte­res­ting for me. Nor­mal­ly, “my” ships are much smal­ler the­se days, and they do not car­ry 3 heli­co­p­ters!

Thin­king about which impres­si­on still means a lot to me and will stay for a long time, then Camp­bell Island is quick­ly com­ing to my mind. This island, which belongs to the New Zea­land sub­ant­arc­tic islands, was very high on my per­so­nal wish­list – sim­ply as I had not been the­re befo­re. Well, I had been very clo­se 2 years ear­lier, but then, the­re was no chan­ce of making a lan­ding becau­se of very strong winds. This time, we had just the por­ti­on of luck that you need in a place like that.

Albatrosses, Campbell Island

Alba­tros­ses on Camp­bell Island.

Of cour­se, fly­ing into Tay­lor Val­ley, one of the famous McMur­do Dry Val­leys, and to McMur­do Base, whe­re we almost stay­ed qui­te a bit lon­ger than we actual­ly wan­ted to, are expe­ri­en­ces never to be for­got­ten. And that is gene­ral­ly true for all impres­si­ons of Ant­arc­ti­ca from a bird’s per­spec­ti­ve.

Waterboat Point, Antarctica

Water­boat Point (Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la) from the air.

But in the end, it is the direct encoun­ters with the wild­life and the sce­ne­ry that is always get­ting very clo­se to my heart and soul. That is what stays! The Alba­tros­ses on Camp­bell Island, the Emperor pen­gu­ins in the Ross Sea, the Hump­back wha­les and pen­gu­ins in the Ant­arc­tic pen­in­su­la, to men­ti­on a few of the­se encoun­ters. Memo­ries that will stay fore­ver!

Emperor and Adelie penguin at Cape Hallet, Ross Sea, Antarctica

Emperor and Ade­lie pen­gu­in at Cape Hal­let in the Ross Sea.

2017: my year in review

It is almost frigh­tening how time is fly­ing. Again, a year almost gone! It was an inten­se, rich year. What did the last 12 mon­ths bring, for Spits­ber­gen, for spitsbergen-svalbard.com and for me? I’ll review the year with a cou­p­le of blogs over the next days.

Janu­a­ry is polar night in the far north. A good time for wri­ting table adven­tures. Wri­ting arc­tic books is not boring, but the actu­al pro­cess is often not ter­ri­b­ly exci­ting. In prac­ti­ce, it means to spend an awful lot of time on the com­pu­ter. Rese­ar­ching, wri­ting, edi­t­ing, loo­king for images, pro­ces­sing images, making illus­tra­ti­ons and so on and so forth.

In Janu­a­ry 2017, my big­gest pro­ject in many years was about to be finis­hed. I can tell you that it was not boring! For a long time alrea­dy, I had had dreams of a Nor­we­gi­an trans­la­ti­on of my Spits­ber­gen gui­de­book. And in 2015, I was bra­ve or cra­zy enough to go ahead with it. Inten­se work on every oppor­tu­ni­ty for a good year, invol­ving a num­ber of nati­ve spea­kers who hel­ped me in trans­la­ting and “språk­vask” (proofrea­ding lan­guage). I am still almost fee­ling dizzy when I bring the­se weeks and mon­ths, which were very inten­se, back to my inner eye. I don’t want to bother you with the details of the pro­cess, but it was without exa­g­ge­ra­ti­on cer­tain­ly my big­gest pro­ject sin­ce the very first ver­si­on of the Spits­ber­gen gui­de­book came out in 2007 (that was the first Ger­man edi­ti­on, that very hea­vy book, if anyo­ne remem­bers). And at the same time, I had a litt­le seri­es of pre­sen­ta­ti­ons, while public atten­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en was tur­ned on a polar bear fami­ly who had sett­led down for a while in the neigh­bour­hood of town. A polar bear fami­ly, mother with 2 cubs, even wal­ked through way 238 (the neigh­bour­hood clo­se to Advent­da­len, lower­most road – that’s whe­re we also have our litt­le home).

And I did mana­ge to fina­li­ze the files with the Nor­we­gi­an book for prin­ting befo­re I went down to Ant­arc­tic in Febru­a­ry. Hal­le­lu­ja!

Svalbard guidebok

My arc­tic adven­ture in ear­ly 2017: Sval­bard – Nor­ge nær­mest Nord­po­len.

More evacua­tions on the anni­ver­s­a­ry of the 2015 avalan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Update (21 Decem­ber): The wea­ther has cal­med down again and after che­cking rele­vant avalan­che-pro­ne slo­pes, the aut­ho­ri­ties have deci­ded to lift the traf­fic ban that was imple­men­ted on Mon­day.
The evacua­tions from last week, con­cer­ning the upper row of houses in Lia, remains in for­ce until fur­ther noti­ce (end of update).

It seems almost stran­ge: exact­ly 2 years after the fatal avalan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the wea­ther fore­cast for today (19 Decem­ber) seems almost exact­ly the same as it was just befo­re snow mas­ses kil­led two peop­le in their homes on 19 Decem­ber, 2015. Winds up to 20 m/s from sou­the­as­ter­ly direc­tions and strong pre­ci­pi­ta­ti­on are expec­ted during the evening.

For tonight, a com­me­mo­ra­ti­on cere­mo­ny was sche­du­led for the vic­tims of the fatal 2015 avalan­che. But it seems as if many people’s atten­ti­on will rather be deman­ded by today’s situa­ti­on and events. Some days ago, the Sys­sel­man­nen had alrea­dy issued an order to evacua­te parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This was to be in for­ce on 22 Decem­ber and based on the gene­ral avalan­che risk, rather than the actu­al wea­ther and avalan­che situa­ti­on. After new wea­ther fore­casts were released, this mea­su­re came into for­ce alrea­dy yes­ter­day (18 Decem­ber) at 22 p.m.

At the same time, the evacua­ti­on zone was exten­ded to inclu­de more houses in Lia, the part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en that was hit in 2015 (“Spiss­hu­se­ne”, the colou­red woo­den houses bet­ween the cent­re and the moun­tain Suk­ker­top­pen) and parts of Nyby­en (all houses on the east side of the road).

The evacua­tions are in for­ce until fur­ther noti­ce. Some addres­ses may not be acces­si­ble for mon­ths.

Evacuations Longyearbyen 2017 avalanche risk

Lar­ge parts of Nyby­en and Lia in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are now evacua­ted becau­se of the cur­rent and gene­ral avalan­che risk.

Houses in Lon­gye­ar­by­en evacua­ted: resi­du­al risk of avalan­ches too high des­pi­te local warning sys­tem

Soon it will be two years ago that the avalan­che came down from the moun­tain Suk­ker­top­pen that des­troy­ed ele­ven houses and took two lives. The­re will be a memo­ri­al cere­mo­ny in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on the day, 19 Decem­ber.

The avalan­che area in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in Decem­ber 2015. Two peop­le were kil­led and ele­ven houses des­troy­ed. One was moved as much as 80 metres. Pho­to © Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Longyearbyen avalanche

The­re has been – and still is – a lot of tal­king about the avalan­che risk in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on all levels. It seems obvious that the­re have been neglects on various public levels, but it was said offi­cial­ly that the­re is no insti­tu­ti­on or indi­vi­du­al that may legal­ly be held respon­si­ble.

And the­re is, of cour­se, the ques­ti­on of how to deal with the avalan­che risk in future. An offi­cial report about the avalan­che situa­ti­on has deter­mi­ned that a lar­ge num­ber of houses in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is expo­sed to various levels of avalan­che risk. A local warning sys­tem has been estab­lis­hed, which has pro­du­ced mixed results so far; on one occa­si­on, the sys­tem pro­du­ced a fal­se secu­ri­ty state­ment that was spec­ta­cu­lar­ly wrong. Two houses were des­troy­ed on that occa­si­on, and it was a mat­ter of luck that the­re was no loss of human life. Instru­ments to mea­su­re the thic­kness of the snow lay­er have been instal­led on various slo­pes clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­se instru­ments are sup­po­sed to pro­vi­de real-time data about snow accu­mu­la­ti­on in loca­ti­ons whe­re peop­le had to mea­su­re manu­al­ly in the past, some­thing that is often dif­fi­cult or even impos­si­ble in situa­tions of seve­re wea­ther when an incre­a­sed risk has to be assu­med. But that is obvious­ly exact­ly when you need that kind of data, so the­se new deci­ves are expect to make a signi­fi­cant impro­ve­ment to the avalan­che warning sys­tem.

Avalan­che bar­ri­ers are ano­t­her mea­su­re expec­ted in the future, but they are not the­re yet, almost two years after the big, tra­gic 2015 event. Evacua­ting parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, on a situa­ti­ve or per­ma­nent basis, is also one of the opti­ons which are dis­cus­sed. The finan­cial aspects of all that is yet ano­t­her issue.

It does, howe­ver, not cost the public much to evacua­te cer­tain addres­ses on a pre­ven­ti­ve basis. Evacua­ting parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en has beco­me a stan­dard pro­ce­du­re during win­ters sin­ce late 2015. Yes­ter­day (14 Decem­ber), the Sys­sel­man­nen has issued an order that cer­tain addres­ses have to be left until 22 Decem­ber until fur­ther noti­ce. This mea­su­re is expec­ted to be in for­ce until the snow is gone, which means, the houses will not be avail­ab­le for mon­ths.

Sperrung Longyearbyen 2017 Lawinengefahr

The­se parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en (mar­ked red) will be evacua­ted from 22 Decem­ber until fur­ther noti­ce. The com­ple­te map is avail­ab­le from the Sys­sel­man­nen.

So far, evacua­tions were made in or befo­re an actu­al risk situa­ti­on, based on snow con­di­ti­ons, wea­ther fore­casts etc. This time, howe­ver, the­re is no such base for the evacua­ti­on, some­thing that beco­mes clear from the time span of 8 days bet­ween the issue of the evacua­ti­on order and the date (22 Dec) when it actual­ly enters for­ce. Sys­sel­man­nen Kjers­tin Askholt says “The ban on traf­fic is based on the risk eva­lua­ti­on for indi­vi­du­als and public safe­ty, becau­se this area is espe­cial­ly expo­sed to avalan­ches. The cur­rent prac­ti­ce with a local avalan­che warning sys­tem and pos­si­ble evacua­tions, based on tech­ni­cal advice from avalan­che experts, does not exclu­de a high resi­du­al risk and remai­ning uncer­tain­ties, so the houses in ques­ti­on can not be used while the­re are no mea­su­res for avalan­che safe­ty in place” (Sys­sel­man­nen, auhtor’s trans­la­ti­on).

Are­as con­cer­ned are addres­ses in way 222 and 226, which are loca­ted direct­ly next to the moun­tain Suk­ker­top­pen, but may be exten­ded to other are­as at any time as deemed necessa­ry by aut­ho­ri­ties.

Evacua­ting a num­ber of houses for a lon­ger peri­od of time based on gene­ral pre­cau­tio­na­ry rea­sons rather than an actu­al risk situa­ti­on appears to be a drastic step, com­pa­red to the impact that this has on the lives of tho­se who have to lea­ve their homes for mon­ths. The­re are tho­se who have, next to their home in the area con­cer­ned, ren­ted a place else­whe­re in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on a per­ma­nent basis, some­thing that obvious­ly invol­ves high cos­ts and this is not a con­tri­bu­ti­on to the alrea­dy dif­fi­cult housing mar­ket in Lon­gye­ar­by­en eit­her. Tho­se who own a place in the area that is affec­ted, are also faced with a sub­stan­ti­al­ly dif­fi­cult situa­ti­on.

Not a glo­rious chap­ter for poli­tics, con­si­de­ring the cur­rent deve­lo­p­ment star­ted with the avalan­ce in Decem­ber 2015 – two years ago.

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

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