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Daily Archives: 5. January 2018 − News & Stories


Melting sea ice makes research on polar bears more difficult

It is becoming increasingly difficult for the researchers on Spitsbergen to study the migrations of polar bears on the Barents Sea between Svalbard and Russia. There are about 3000 polar bears living in the area, but only about 300 polar bears can be studied by the researchers. The reason is the withdrawal of sea ice, which causes that the migrating polar bears can no longer reach Svalbard.

Migration of polar bears can be traced by a GPS collar

Polar bear with GPS collar

“The situation has changed drastically,” says polar bear researcher Jon Aars from the Norwegian Polar Institute. Since 1987, the polar bears on Spitsbergen have been systematically examined. Until the 1990s, not only polar bears living all year round on Spitsbergen were observed, but also those who migrate over long distances on the sea ice on the Barents Sea between Russia and Spitsbergen. A large part of this stock could also be found on Spitsbergen for some time of the year, so that the migratory movements could be well studied.

Today, almost only bears are tagged, who spend the whole year on Spitsbergen. Only two or three out of 20 tagged bears migrate to Russia. The result is less data about the migratory movements of the polar bears. The data is needed to organize the conservation of polar bears.

Since the bears can no longer reach Spitsbergen, researchers try to find ways to approach the polar bears. But it is much more difficult to approach the polar bear on sea ice. The ice must be stable enough for a helicopter to land on. At the same time, the open sea should not be too close so that the polar bear does not jump into the sea and drown there after being tranquilized. Whether this data is actually needed to organize the conservation of polar bears, remains controversial.The negative effects of tagging has been reported on this website several times (“Polar bear found dead in Petuniabukta had been anaesthetised for scientific purposes” or “Male polar bear injured by scientific collar”)

Jon Aars also appeals to the russian scientists to show more effort in researching the polar bears, for example on Franz-Josef-Land.

The ice is getting thinner for the polar bears of the Barents Sea…

Polar bear

Source: NRK

2017 reviewed: June, Jan Mayen – the lava caves on Beerenberg

I have to start with a confession: I forgot the main excitement in Longyearbyen in April: the town was running out of toilet paper! People in arctic Longyearbyen seem to a surprisingly large degree be willing to accept climate change, they keep cool when the Russian military supposedly exercises attacks on their home, who cares, some loss is part of the game. But no toilet paper anymore? That’s serious business!

The excitement about the supposed flooding of the seed vault / “doomsday vault” falls into a similar category. Indeed, in October 2016, during a period with a lot of rain, there was some water coming into the entrance area of the vault. That should not have happened and those who were concerned with it were not happy and some money was to be spent to get things right, but what had actually happened was far from being any real drama. But that came more than half a year later in international media. Someone happened to pick up that marginalium, spiced it with some drama, tolerantly overlooked that it had all happened more than half a year ago and blew it out into the world, where it was picked up by surprisingly many media, including some serious ones. Nobody came on the idea to check what had really happened, there was a lot of recycling of copied information and that is usually not a good idea. Checking the seed vault’s website would have been enough, but that was obviously too much to ask for. Well, I am happy that this website did not follow the hype.

Regarding my own polar perspective, Jan Mayen was the main event in June. For the fourth time, I went to that volcanic island in the north, 3 days of sailing from Iceland, on a small boat across a big sea. Jan Mayen is an extremely fascinating place. The more time you spend there, the more you realize how much there is to see. As usual, we made a lot of kilometres during our various hikes. Next to many other impressions, the lava caves on Beerenberg were the main thing for me this time. While a group of mountaineers climbed up to the peak of Beerenberg (where I had been in 2015), I took the opportunity to explore a couple of lava caves in Schmelckdalen on the south slope of Beerenberg. Stunning! It is a bizarre feeling to be actually inside Beerenberg, in the guts of this arctic volcano. I probably don’t have to mention that it is a hard-to-get-to place. That was my highlight in June.

Bäreninsel: Perleporten

Lava cave in Schmelckdalen on Beerenberg, Jan Mayen.

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