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Monthly Archives: January 2017 − News & Stories


“Princess of Darkness” dis­co­ve­r­ed in Ny Åle­sund

For some rese­ar­chers in Spits­ber­gen, the­re is not­hing more exci­ting in win­ter than lying in the dark and cold for hours on a floa­ting pon­toon and illu­mi­na­te the sup­po­sed­ly dark, lifeless sea with a torch. The sea in the polar­night is not as lifeless as one might think. Now, rese­ar­chers have even dis­co­ve­r­ed a new spe­ci­es for Spits­ber­gen: the Hel­met Jel­ly­fi­sh (Peri­phyl­la peri­phyl­la) appeared a few days ago sud­den­ly in the torch light of rese­ar­cher San­na Maja­ne­va.

San­na Maja­ne­va explo­res life in the sea in the dark sea­son in the north of Spits­ber­gen. Tog­e­ther with the two pro­fes­sors of mari­ne bio­lo­gy Jør­gen Ber­ge and Geir John­sen from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Trom­sø (UiT) and the Nor­we­gi­an Uni­ver­si­ty of Sci­ence and Tech­no­lo­gy (NTNU), she sur­pri­sin­gly caught the jel­ly­fi­sh, which is now being inves­ti­ga­ted more clo­se­ly.

The Hel­met Jel­ly­fi­sh, which can be up to 30 cen­ti­me­ters big, is actual­ly a very light-sen­si­ti­ve deep sea jel­ly­fi­sh and comes only to the water sur­face at night. A night that lasts for several mon­ths must be pret­ty con­ve­ni­ent for such a jel­ly­fi­sh. The “princess of darkness” has a red­dish body that glows from the insi­de; it can be up to 30 years old, which is not bad at all for a jel­ly­fi­sh.

Loves the darkness: Hel­met Jel­ly­fi­sh © Geir John­sen, NTNU/Unis

Helmet Jellyfish

A rea­son for the appearan­ce of the Hel­met Jel­ly­fi­sh in Spitsbergen’s coas­tal waters could be that incre­a­singly war­mer waters are pres­sed from the Atlan­tic to the north, as Pro­fes­sor Jør­gen Ber­ge is rea­so­ning. This phe­no­me­non is also respon­si­ble for the fact that both Isfjord and Kongsfjord have remai­ned lar­ge­ly ice-free in recent win­ters.

On the coast of the Nor­we­gi­an main­land, the Hel­met Jel­ly­fi­sh has been gro­wing in ever lar­ger quan­ti­ties for several years and it has been affec­ting the eco­sys­tem the­re. It feeds on krill and small fish and seems to dri­ve away many fish from the fjords.

“The appearan­ce of the Hel­met Jel­ly­fi­sh is a warning that a sys­tem is chan­ging, and we will gra­du­al­ly dis­co­ver new spe­ci­es here in the north, and form­er­ly local spe­ci­es may retre­at or disap­pe­ar”, fears Pro­fes­sor Jør­gen Ber­ge.

But perhaps a new source of food can also be dis­co­ve­r­ed: in Asia, the Hel­met Jel­ly­fi­sh is a healt­hy deli­cacy, sin­ce it con­tains iodi­ne, iron and cal­ci­um. The Hel­met Jel­ly­fi­sh should be good for the blood cir­cu­la­ti­on and a beau­ti­ful skin. Well then: Enjoy your meal!

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Polar bear fami­ly was in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The polar bear fami­ly that has kept Lon­gye­ar­by­en exci­ted and the Sys­sel­man­nen busy over several days now stays in the vicini­ty of town and has even been wit­hin Lon­gye­ar­by­en last night.

A first attempt to move them away in Advent­da­len towards the east on Satur­day night pro­ved unsuc­cess­ful. Then the Sys­sel­man­nen tried to move them to the nor­thwest, along the nort­hern side of Advent­fjor­den towards Rev­ne­set. The bears then sett­led down in Advent­da­len, not far from Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

During the night to Tues­day, the have been in the lower part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Foot­prints were seen near the UNIS/Svalbardmuseum buil­ding, an area with a lot of traf­fic and wit­hin a few hund­red metres of resi­den­ti­al are­as.

Fur­ther tracks were seen near Isdam­men (the lake at the road in Advent­da­len) and at 06.15 the three polar bears were seen in Advent­da­len near Enda­len. The poli­ce (Sys­sel­man­nen) is out with all avail­ab­le for­ces to obser­ve the polar bears to make sure they are not get­ting clo­se to inha­bi­ted are­as again. The poor wea­ther with wind, drif­ting snow and darkness makes the situa­ti­on in Enda­len qui­te chal­len­ging. Heli­co­p­ter assi­s­tance is cur­r­ent­ly not avail­ab­le due to the wea­ther.

Peop­le are urged to be alert as long as the polar bear fami­ly is in the area.

Enda­len in darkness with light snow drift. It is hard to see ani­mals unless they are real­ly clo­se. Good this was a dead rein­de­er and not a live polar bear.

Polar night in Endalen

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Polar bear fami­ly in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en (II)

As repor­ted recent­ly, a polar bear fami­ly has been seen not far from Lon­gye­ar­by­en in Advent­da­len. The Sys­sel­man­nen tried on Satur­day to move them away by sca­ring them with heli­co­p­ter and snow mobi­les. They fol­lo­wed the polar bears to upper Advent­da­len and left them the­re, as they appeared to be moving “into the right direc­tion”.

But they seem to like them­sel­ves in the vicini­ty of Lon­gye­ar­by­en and now they are back. They have recent­ly sett­led down to rest in Advent­da­len not far from Mine 7, whe­re they are now under obser­va­ti­on by the aut­ho­ri­ties who are keen on kee­ping con­trol The Sys­sel­man­nen is asking the public to stay away from the area to pre­vent unne­cessa­ry stress for the ani­mals.

The polar bear fami­ly in Advent­da­len on Mon­day. Pho­to © Sys­sel­man­nen på Sval­bard.

Polar bear family in Adventdalen near Longyearbyen

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Arc­tic mas­ter­pie­ce at Dia­ba­sod­den: no fire­wood, no fuel

It was a mas­ter­pie­ce or rather qui­te the oppo­si­te: a group of four per­sons, pro­bab­ly locals from Lon­gye­ar­by­en, had alrea­dy spent some days in a hut at Dia­ba­sod­den in Sas­sen­fjord. One of their snow mobi­les seems to have got a tech­ni­cal issue. The next thing was that the group was run­ning out of fire­wood, so two per­sons star­ted to dri­ve back to Lon­gye­ar­by­en to get help for the defect snow mobi­le or new fire­wood.

But in Advent­da­len, not too far from Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the two ran out of fuel. It is not known who it was that cal­led the Sys­sel­man­nen, but the case even­tual­ly beca­me a res­cue ope­ra­ti­on invol­ving the Sysselmammen’s heli­co­p­ter, which flew to Dia­ba­sod­den to pick up tho­se who had remai­ned in the hut without fire­wood.

Mean­while, the two per­sons in Advent­da­len had mana­ged to get back to Lon­gye­ar­by­en on their own strength.

Not all details are known in public, so it is a bit dif­fi­cult to under­stand what real­ly hap­pen­ed. But the group is cer­tain­ly now attrac­ting a lot of mocke­ry in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and pro­bab­ly a reac­tion from the Sys­sel­man­nen, who is not keen on sen­ding out the heli­co­p­ter becau­se peop­le are run­ning out of fire­wood and fuel on a trip to a hut not too far from Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

The hut at Dia­ba­sod­den, near 40 km dri­ve by snow mobi­le from Lon­gye­ar­by­en on the most com­mon rou­te.

Diabasodden-hut

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

The sea mons­ter (a plastic sto­ry)

992 kilos of gar­ba­ge… and still a lot more. That is the tit­le of a blog writ­ten by my col­league Bir­git Lutz on her web­site (click here to get to her blog).

And still a lot more! That says it all. Pret­ty much ever­y­bo­dy who has been with us on Anti­gua to Spits­ber­gen knows that we collect a lot of plastics on almost every trip. We are easi­ly tal­king about several hund­red kilos per trip, or several cubic metres, in other words.

Why “almost” every trip and not just every trip? Well, wea­ther is one thing. When the ground is fro­zen or cove­r­ed with snow, then it is such a thing with collec­ting plastics. But the main rea­son is that the dis­tri­bi­ti­on of the plastic lit­ter is qui­te irre­gu­lar. It is well known that some beaches are real­ly was­te dumps, and the­se are in many cases the remo­te ones, whe­re few peop­le ever get. That has to do with local cur­r­ents.

Other beaches are qui­te clean. How much plastic lit­ter have you seen in Kongsfjord, Krossfjord or Mag­da­le­n­efjord? Pro­bab­ly not too much (of cour­se the­re is some, it is ever­y­whe­re!). But in Smee­ren­burg, vir­tual­ly around the cor­ner from the lat­ter one, how many big­bags did we fill the­re over the years? No idea, I should have coun­ted them. It was a lot, that’s for sure.

Yes, that is exact­ly what is com­ing on top of it: tou­rists are collec­ting plastic lit­ter. Not all of them, but many ships in the fleet do join in this mea­ning­ful task, inclu­ding the Ocean­wi­de fleet and Anti­gua. We have been doing that for many years now. Not only sin­ce the admi­nis­tra­ti­on offi­cial­ly star­ted with the “Clean up Sval­bard” pro­gram­me. We don’t need to be encou­ra­ged by anyo­ne to free the beaches from the plastics. Need­less to say it is a gre­at pro­ject, it gets more peop­le to join in, but we are not blind, and it is such an obvious thing that the plastic lit­ter needs to be remo­ved from the­se beau­ti­ful arc­tic beaches!

And it is to a good effect. You should have seen Smee­ren­burg 15 years ago. A was­te dump! Now it is rea­son­ab­ly clean again, as it is a place that is regu­lar­ly visi­ted and many peop­le take their bit. On the other hand, every inco­m­ing wave brings more plastic lit­ter.

So that is one of the les­sons that we had to learn, and it was an obvious one. You can fight the plastic-pro­blem on loca­ti­on, but you can not sol­ve it the­re. Same as with cli­ma­te chan­ge and the ozone deple­ti­on, the­se are glo­bal pro­blems that need a glo­bal solu­ti­on. It is for a rea­son that I have men­tio­ned the ozone “hole” here, as it shows that the inter­na­tio­nal com­mu­ni­ty is actual­ly able to deal with a glo­bal pro­blem. If ever­y­bo­dy joins and takes his or her share of the respon­si­bi­li­ty. Which is not even too much of a bur­den then!

Why is it actual­ly a pro­blem, bey­ond the visu­al aspect? Very simp­le: the plastic lit­ter mes­ses up the who­le mari­ne food chain and it is direct­ly threa­tening count­less ani­mals. The­re is hard­ly a nort­hern ful­mar the­se days that does not have plastic in the sto­mach. Alba­tross chicks are dying from it in lar­ge num­bers in some remo­te colo­nies. And the­se are just a few well-known examp­les. Most mari­ne ani­mals have got plastic in their sys­tem. It is colour­ful, it has the size of their food (wha­te­ver size that is – plastics have any size) and after a while it even smells good to tho­se crea­tures, when it is over­grown by algae. So more and more ani­mals have a sto­mach full of plastic and star­ve to death. As simp­le as that. And this is not “only” about the suf­fe­ring and death of the indi­vi­du­al ani­mal, it is about the col­lap­se of popu­la­ti­ons, food webs and eco­sys­tems.

You can not over­esti­ma­te the sca­le of the pro­blem for mari­ne eco­sys­tems. To which we, as humans, also belong, by the way. Some more than others, but nobo­dy can lea­ve without the oce­ans. It would be our own dea­rest inte­rest to get it sor­ted, the soo­ner the bet­ter. But that is not how we, as a glo­bal com­mu­ni­ty, are, unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly. Too often, humans are more homo (human) than sapi­ens (wise).

Of cour­se the count­less ani­mals that die a pain­ful death, ent­an­gled in ropes and fishing nets, drow­ning or dying utter­ly pain­ful when they keep gro­wing insi­de a rigid net or rope, or star­ving to death at sea or on land, they are an ever­y­day rea­li­ty. The word “pro­blem” almost seems to be sug­ar­coa­ting this rea­li­ty. It is a glo­bal cata­stro­phy, not­hing less. Just unse­en by most peop­le.

What was near this sum­mer? A “citi­zen sci­ence” rese­arch pro­ject initia­ted by the Alfred Wege­ner Insti­tu­te, that Bir­git Lutz intro­du­ced on board good old Anti­gua and other ships. Many of our fel­low guests and crew have made con­tri­bu­ti­ons by obser­ving pre­cise­ly how much plastic the­re was, what kinds of lit­ter and whe­re. At sea and on land. During the cros­sing from Nor­way to Spits­ber­gen and up north in arc­tic waters, a total of 18 so-cal­led tran­sects were made, pas­sa­ges at sea whe­re each and every visi­ble pie­ce of lit­ter was noted with posi­ti­on and all infor­ma­ti­on you can think of. The rese­arch ship Polar­stern collec­ted cor­re­spon­ding data out at high sea in the north Atlan­tic.

During a num­ber of trips on three ships (Anti­gua, Noor­der­licht, Plan­ci­us), Bir­git has docu­men­ted 992.4 kg of plastic lit­ter. The majo­ri­ty (927 kg) is mate­ri­al used in the fishing indus­try: old fishing nets, ropes, floata­ti­on balls, fen­ders, fish boxes. The rest was most­ly pack­a­ging (55.69 kg) fol­lo­wed by empty bot­t­les and arc­ti­cles of ever­y­day use in the house­hold. Results inclu­de some data on amounts of plastic lit­ter on Spitsbergen’s beaches, which amount to 8-43 kg per 100 metres, a value rough­ly com­pa­ra­ble to the North Sea whe­re you have 10-345 kg per 100 m.

Check out Birgit’s blog for the­se and other details. Thank you very much, Bir­git, for all your work on this! That takes the work that we – mea­ning a lot of peop­le – have done for years up to a new, sci­en­ti­fic level. Let’s hope it makes a con­tri­bu­ti­on to know­ledge and under­stan­ding, which will then hope­ful­ly result in glo­bal action on indi­vi­du­al, socie­ty and poli­ti­cal levels.

Next to redu­cing use of plastic, collec­ting lit­ter in natu­re will keep us busy for a long time. We will con­ti­nue doing that in Spits­ber­gen and whe­re­ver we have the chan­ce. We would, by the way, love to do that on Jan May­en as well, but here Nor­we­gi­an law (alle­ged­ly made to pro­tect natu­re!) sets a strong stop­per. Well, that is ano­t­her sto­ry. But other peop­le take up the chal­len­ge of collec­ting plastic lit­ter at the high seas. A very inte­res­ting, pro­mi­sing tech­ni­que is deve­lo­ped by The Oce­an Cleanup, a pro­ject that deser­ves sup­port. Good thing!

Now I got car­ri­ed a way a bit, but is important. I almost for­got to tell the sto­ry of the sea mons­ter. This was my ori­gi­nal inten­ti­on 🙂 so the sea mons­ter, that was a big fishing net that we found in ear­ly June 2016 on the coast of Reins­dyr­flya in Woodfjord. It was so huge that it was direct­ly clear to me that we would never be able to get it off the beach and on board. It would be bet­ter to lea­ve it whe­re it was, half buried in the sand. But I had not taken Birgit’s per­sis­tence into con­si­de­ra­ti­on. After we had done our excur­si­ons and collec­ted the usu­al smal­ler bits and pie­ces of lit­ter, she star­ted to grab some vol­un­te­ers and to pull and dig on the net. Admit­ted­ly, I thought qui­te some time that it would never work, while I took gloves, sho­vel and axe to do my bit. But how gre­at can it be to be pro­ven wrong! It took qui­te a few hours until we mana­ged, with com­bi­ned for­ces from pas­sen­gers and crew of SV Anti­gua, to get the net out of the sand and towards the beach. Next to many hand, we invol­ved 80 or 100 hor­ses that were gal­lo­ping in the out­board engi­nes of our Zodiacs, pul­ling on the net from the sea. Alrea­dy now it was clear that this thing would be remem­be­red as the sea mons­ter!

It was a beau­ti­ful moment when the Zodiacs actual­ly drag­ged the net free from the beach and into deeper water. We had atta­ched fen­ders to it to make sure it wouldn’t be lost in the deep, which would other­wi­se surely have hap­pen­ed very quick­ly. But now the fun was just about to – well, not to begin, but to keep us busy for ano­t­her, sur­pri­sin­gly long time. It was more than just a litt­le chal­len­ge to get it on board. But a sai­ling ship has win­ches here and the­re. Pul­ling a sea mons­ter out of the water is dif­fe­rent from set­ting sails, though. Ask Cap­tain Maar­ten about it! Final­ly, and it was not the first attempt, the boom with the net swang over the rail and it was lowe­red on deck under a lot of cheer­ful shou­ting.

I have to admit that I was more than just a litt­le bit tired. Din­ner did somehow not hap­pen that evening, at least con­cer­ning a small group of us who had just kept working. May­be we just thought we’d finish this quick­ly (what a sil­ly thought!), I don’t remem­ber. And then I had made the mista­ke to quick­ly jump into the Zodiac without a jacket to help the net out of the water at sea level, fixing ropes and so on, while ever­y­bo­dy was busy pul­ling ropes on deck. Big mista­ke! Of cour­se not­hing hap­pens quick­ly. It was f($!$#ng cold!

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

It was such a gre­at moment to see the net on deck and to know that our lovely chef Sascha was just about to get an extra por­ti­on of that gre­at Dut­ch bread din­ner rea­dy. The best mid­ni­ght din­ner I have ever had! Of cour­se I was not the only one who was cold and tired.

plastic litter, Spitsbergen: the sea monster

So that is the sto­ry of the sea mons­ter from Woodfjord. End of sto­ry.

P.S. You are curious about how to redu­ce the use of plastics in dai­ly life? Visit less­plastic!

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