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Home → March, 2018

Monthly Archives: March 2018 − News & Stories


140 flats in Lon­gye­ar­by­en must give way to ava­lan­che pro­tec­tion

Exten­si­ve ava­lan­che pro­tec­tion mea­su­res are likely to chan­ge Longyearbyen’s city­scape over the next few years. This was the result of a stu­dy published by the NVE (Nor­we­gi­an Water Resour­ces and Ener­gy Direc­to­ra­te) in mid-March. The­re­af­ter, the buil­dings in the eas­tern part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en are clas­si­fied as much more end­an­ge­red than pre­vious­ly assu­med.

Avalanche danger zones

Ava­lan­che dan­ger zones mark the pos­si­bi­li­ties of an ava­lan­che once in 100 years (red zone), once in 1000 years (oran­ge zone) and once in 5000 years (yel­low zone).
Pic­tu­re: NVE

Accor­ding to the NVE report, the dan­ger zone rea­ches almost to the cen­ter, so that a num­ber of hou­ses with a total of around 140 flats may need to be demo­lished. As a pro­tec­ti­ve mea­su­re, it is recom­men­ded to build a 10 to 15 meter high bar­ri­er. Whe­re exact­ly the bar­rie­re should stand and which hou­ses are affec­ted in detail by the demo­li­ti­on, is still unclear. The bar­rie­re will pro­ba­b­ly extend across way 230 and 228 to Hil­mar Reks­tens Vei.

In addi­ti­on, at the foot of Mount Suker­top­pen, seve­ral “bra­ke cones” are to be instal­led, which can redu­ce the ener­gy of an ava­lan­che. The “bra­ke cones” should each be ten meters wide and eight meters high. Tog­e­ther with the con­s­truc­tion of new hou­ses as well as a plan­ned pro­tec­tion against muds­li­des from Vann­led­nings­da­len, the con­s­truc­tion work will pro­ba­b­ly cost at least 100 mil­li­on Nor­we­gi­an kro­ner (about 10 mil­li­on Euros). The­se mea­su­res should be imple­men­ted within the next three years.

In recent years, seve­ral hou­ses in Lon­gye­ar­by­en have been hit by ava­lan­ches. In Decem­ber 2015, a cata­stro­phic ava­lan­che from Mount Suk­ker­top­pen hit 11 buil­dings. A 42-year-old father and a two-year-old girl died. The dis­as­ter had a huge impact on the inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en and forced aut­ho­ri­ties and poli­tics to act, but reac­tions on the various poli­ti­cal levels from Lon­gye­ar­by­en to Oslo are slow. This is frus­t­ra­ting peo­p­le local­ly, who have to live with month-long evacua­tions.

Avalanche 19.12.2015

In the ava­lan­che dis­as­ter on 19.12.2015 hou­ses were moved up to 80 meters.

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten, NVE

New Spits­ber­gen post­cards out now (limi­t­ed edi­ti­on)!

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Spitzbergen-Postkarten

New limi­t­ed edi­ti­on of Spits­ber­gen-post­cards

Remains of cos­me­tics found in fish

Rese­ar­chers from Trom­sø have found sil­o­xa­nes in the liver of fish caught off Spits­ber­gen. Sil­o­xa­nes are com­pon­ents in sili­co­ne pro­ducts and are used to make cos­me­tics smooth and sup­p­le. Sil­o­xa­nes are found in almost all cos­me­tics and skin­ca­re pro­ducts. When washing or showe­ring sil­o­xa­nes get into the water cir­cle and even­tual­ly end up in the sea.
Even for humans, the­se sub­s­tances can be dan­ge­rous. Stu­dies indi­ca­te that the D4 vari­ant of sil­o­xa­ne may affect fer­ti­li­ty.

Sources: NRK, Umwelt­bun­des­amt

Sun fes­ti­val in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, new pla­nes for Sveagru­va and the tra­vel­b­log soon to con­ti­nue in Pata­go­nia

The return of the sun to Lon­gye­ar­by­en (sol­fest = sun fes­ti­val) was cele­bra­ted on Thurs­day (08 March) in good tra­di­ti­on. On this day, the sun returns to Lognye­ar­by­en after seve­ral months of polar night. Just for a few moments and only if the wea­ther is good, but that is enough reason to cele­bra­te with seve­ral days of cul­tu­ral events. This time, the­re was not a cloud on the sky, so ever­y­bo­dy could enjoy the rays of the sun on the skin!

Sun festival Longyearbyen

Sun fes­ti­val in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Mean­while, some “old boys” around Robert Her­man­sen, for­mer boss of the mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske, try to come up with a plan to put the alre­a­dy aban­do­ned coal mine sett­le­ment of Sveagru­va back to life and work. Poli­ti­ci­ans have alre­a­dy said that they don’t app­re­cia­te such plans. For sure, the­re will be a lot of tal­king still about Sveagru­va in the future.

Else­whe­re, suit­ca­ses (or rather ruck­sacks) are being packed: on Sun­day (11 March), we will start sai­ling in Pata­go­nia with SY Anne-Mar­ga­re­tha. This means of cour­se that the tra­vel blog will start again soon! Plea­se visit antarctic.eu for the sou­thern chap­ters of my tra­vel blog.

Patagonia under sail with SY Anne-Margaretha

“Pata­go­nia under sail with SY Anne-Mar­ga­re­tha: start­ing on Sun­day. The tra­vel blog will then also start soon on antarctic.eu.

Housing mar­ket in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: shorta­ge, spe­cu­la­ti­on and Airbnb

Lon­gye­ar­by­en is by many means a spe­cial place. The litt­le town with just over 2,500 inha­bi­tants attracts many on a sea­so­nal or short-term basis. The­se peo­p­le are working in tou­rism, but also in the buil­ding indus­try or in small trade or for any com­pa­ny that needs labour force for shorter peri­ods. Many com­pa­nies are curr­ent­ly facing pro­blems to find housing for their employees, such as the tou­rism indus­try which has a very busy time now as the important win­ter sea­son is in full swing. Lar­ger com­pa­nies as well as insti­tu­ti­ons such as the uni­ver­si­ty (UNIS)/Polar Insti­tu­te, Sys­sel­man­nen and local admi­nis­tra­ti­on have got con­sidera­ble num­bers of flats for their employees to be able to com­pe­te with employ­ers on the main­land.

Recent years have seen signi­fi­cant pri­ce increa­ses for buy­ing and ren­ting, which has to a lar­ge degree to do with evacua­tions becau­se of the ava­lan­che dan­ger. The­se evacua­tions have beco­me a regu­lar and long-las­ting phe­no­me­non now that is affec­ting who­le streets.

As in many other places in the world, the­re are tho­se owners who have dol­lar signs blin­king in their eyes. A num­ber of flats are ren­ted out through Airbnb, most­ly to tou­rists on a short-term basis. This is cer­tain­ly an attrac­ti­ve offer for the users and it includes flats which are used by com­pa­nies for their employees when the­re is demand, and not­hing is wrong about offe­ring the­se flats on the mar­ket while they are not used. But the­re are also tho­se flats which are now exclu­si­ve­ly used for Airbnb and thus not available for the local housing mar­ket any­mo­re, a situa­ti­on that is met with gro­wing cri­ti­cism both local­ly and else­whe­re.

One of the lar­ger owners in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the main­land com­pa­ny Lon­gye­ar­by­en Boli­gei­en­dom, bought seven hou­ses with a lar­ger num­ber of flats in 2012 for a pri­ce of 37 mil­li­on NOK (about 4.8 mil­li­on Euro back then). Ren­tals were soon increased by 45 %. Now, Lon­gye­ar­by­en Boli­gei­en­dom has announ­ced to sell five of their seven hou­ses with a total of 84 flats, aiming at a pri­ce of 77 mil­li­on NOK. The com­pa­ny has said to have spent many mil­li­ons on reno­va­ti­on, but this might well be (over)balanced by the inco­me from ren­tals. Lon­gye­ar­by­en Boli­gei­en­dom might well lea­ve the local mar­ket with a pro­fit not far form 100 % of the ori­gi­nal invest­ment after six years. The two hou­ses that are not (yet) for sale are in an area offi­ci­al­ly expo­sed to an ava­lan­che risk, and a poten­ti­al sale will not be con­side­red befo­re the slo­pes have not been secu­red tech­ni­cal­ly. Curr­ent­ly, the­se hou­ses would be hard to sell, if not impos­si­ble.

Longyearbyen housing market

No place to stay in Lon­gye­ar­by­en the­se days? Tough luck, inde­ed!

On top of all this came the news that the local admi­nis­tra­ti­on keeps a num­ber of flats vacant. This is obvious­ly con­tro­ver­si­al at times of a stres­sed housing mar­ket. It is about 24 flats in way 222 which have been vacant for months now. Lar­ge invest­ments were made actual­ly just last year to brush the­se flats up. Repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the local admin­stra­ti­on said that it was deci­ded against ren­ting the­se flats out even on shorter con­tracts as long as final decis­i­ons have not been made regar­ding the ava­lan­che situa­ti­on and secu­ring the dan­ge­rous slo­pes of Suk­ker­top­pen, a pro­cess that has alre­a­dy been going on for years. In addi­ti­on comes that fur­ther invest­ments need to be made to renew the foun­da­ti­ons of the buil­dings. Nevert­hel­ess, it is said that the flats could be ren­ted out and used and it seems to be a poli­ti­cal decis­i­on to do so or not. Lea­ving 24 flats vacant for months, pos­si­bly years, in times of a housing mar­ket under pres­su­re is not neces­s­a­ri­ly a decis­i­on that is met with gre­at sym­pa­thy, while some a des­pa­ra­te­ly loo­king for housing for them­sel­ves or their employees.

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