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Home → November, 2018

Monthly Archives: November 2018 − News & Stories


Good times for mine 7

Mine 7, the last Norwegian coal mine in Spitsbergen still active, has a history of 52 years – quite impressive for a coal mine and certainly more than most others in Svalbard. And it looks like 2018 will be the best of these 52 years. The amount of coal produced is above expectation and so are the coal prices on the world market.

Mine 7

Day plant of mine 7 in Adventdalen, 12 km southeast of Longyearbyen.

The 2018 production in mine 7 was scheduled to amount to 130,000 tons, a quantity that was already reached in October, as Svalbardposten reported.

But even more important than the good production is the development of world market prices. In spring 2018, less than 40 US-$ were paid for a ton of coal. Since then, the price has more than doubled and has now stabilised between 95 and a good 100 US-$. This development has helped mine 7 to the best year in its history, economically. Good reason for the 40 miners to be happy – and to welcome 4 more colleagues in their team soon.

The main customers for mine 7 coal are the local power plant in Longyearbyen and a German company called Clariant which is buying 60,000 tons per year. For both, the price is based on the average price of the last 3 years, giving both the producer, Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani, and the customers planning reliability.

Svea Nord, Sveagruva

The coal mines Svea Nord and Lunckefjellet at Sveagruva were finally closed in 2016. Currently, Store Norske could probably make good profit in Svea.

This good economical development gives the decision of the Norwegian government to discontinue mining in Sveagruva, where a new mine was fully prepared in Lunckefjellet but never put into productive operation, an extra bitter taste, seen from the perspective of the Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani and their employees. Many miners lost their jobs after this decision – which was based on economical reasoning. Instead, large amounts of money will now be spent on a large clean-up in Sveagruva. The recent development is likely to fuel the debate about the future of mining in Svea, a discussion that the government in Oslo officially has declared as closed.

Northern lights over Spitsbergen

The sky is mostly cloudy here these days, and when the stars are shining through, then coordination with solar activity in the magnetosphere –

northern lights, Aurora borealis – is not yet quite perfect.

Northern lights over Adventdalen

Northern lights over Adventdalen.

You can’t force “Lady Aurora”, the only thing that helps, as so often in life and especially in the Arctic, is patience and a bit of luck. Well, we do have some modern tools: weather forecasts, northern light apps, webcams. Sometimes these things even work. Sometimes not. Anyway, nice toys 🙂

Longyearbyen in the polar night

Longyearbyen in the polar night.

But anyway – it is always beautiful here, with or without northern lights. Life is going a bit more slowly here now in the dark season. You spend some more time seeing friends, you go for walks, make sure you get a bit of exercise. And of course normal life and work is going on, it is a great time to put new panoramas together or to work on a new book 🙂 well, things like that.

Northern light Adventdalen

Northern light over Lindholmhøgda and Gruvedalen.

But still, the northern lights are of such a great beauty, it is always stunning. So you keep your eyes and ears open and it is always worth going out to check what’s going on …

And then you just happen to be at the right place at the right time 🙂 there could have been fewer clouds, but still, some of them are actually quite good for decoration … so we had a lovely northern light dancing over Adventdalen, with a hint of purple at the lower edge on the otherwise green curtains of light.

northern light Adventdalen

And one more because it is so beautiful: northern light over Adventdalen.

Spitsbergen – polar night

This year’s last sunrise was on 26 October, 13 days ago, at 12:07 hours. The sun went down again at 13:14 hours and it won’t be visible again until late February.

(read more about midnight sun and polar night here)
 

Polar night, Spitsbergen: hiking with dogs in Adventdalen

Polar night in Spitsbergen: hiking with dogs in Adventdalen near Longyearbyen.

Today, 08 November, the sun does not climb higher than near 5 degrees below the horizon. That ist at least good enough for several hours of civil twilight, perfectly fine for orientation out in the field in clear weather conditions. This is the time of the „blue light“, as it is called here, blålyset in Norwegian.

Polar night, Spitsbergen: hiking with dogs in Adventdalen - black ice!

Danger of black ice!

Being out there is great fun. It is so different now from what it was like just a few monhts ago! Of course the tours are shorter now and less remote. Adventdalen and not Edgeøya. And dogs are great tour companions!

Polar night in Adventdalen: Helvetiafjellet

View of Helvetiafjellet.

Photography is also quite different. It is much slower. You don’t just grab the camera, zoom in and press the button. The flexible zoom lenses stay at home now. Instead, I carry two prime lenses, 20 mm and 50 mm, that’s all I am currently using (more info about camera equipment here). And the tripod, that is really important and frequently in use. Free-hand photos without artificial light is hardly possible anymore, maybe around noon with high ISO-values. High-end cameras with full-frame sensors really show their muscles now. And high-visibility jackets and headlamp are must-haves at this time! Oh yes, warm clothing does not hurt either.

Most polar night photos are brighter than reality, today’s cameras and lenses catch so much light. The images on this site are no exception. To illustrate the difference, have a look at these samples to compare. I would say that the darker image shows the real light conditions.

Gallery: polar night reality

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

A few kilometers across Adventdalen take us to Operafjellet. In summertime, this would have involved a rather hefty river crossing, now we just have to take care of black ice.

Monument for airplane crash Operafjellet

Monument for the airplane crash at Operafjellet in 1996.

On 29 August 1996, a Russian aircraft with 141 people on board crashed into Operafjellet. Miners, employees and family member on the way to Barentsburg. There were no survivors. It was the biggest catastrophe ever in Spitsbergen in times of peace. There is this little monument at Operafjellet for the victims.

Barentsburg-Panoramas now newly sorted and accessible through a map

The dark season in the Arctic is a good period to get desktop table projects done which have been waiting already for too long. Such as getting the collection of 360 degree panoramas from Barentsburg sorted, which until now had been cramped together on just one page, making it difficult especially for those who had not been to Barentsburg in real life to understand there whereabouts. Now, nagivation is much easier, as all places have got their own individual page and now the brewery “Red bear”, the hotel, Lenin, the old museum in the Culture House, the chapel and other sites are accessible through a map which provides easy orientation.

Barentsburg Panorama

Barentsburg Panorama: Lenin in focus.

Click here to access the map with the Barentsburg panoramas and enjoy your virtual tour!

Energy and heating in Longyearbyen: heating like hell

Energy consumption in Longyearbyen is high above the average in mainland Norway.

Heating is provided in Longyearbyen by long-distance heating from the coal power plant, and the locals are generous when using this precious resource. The reason is not only the cold climate, which in fact is not even that much colder in the maritime climate of Spitsbergen compared to continental parts of Scandinavia. Bad insulation of buildings is amongst the main reasons. Longyearbyen was a mining settlement for much of its history and the buildings were originally intended for use during shorter periods only rather than by a more or less permanent local population. This is reflected by cheap and simple construction methods where insulation was obviously not a priority. Many buildings in Longyearbyen date back to years before 1970, and Norwegian building regulations did not come into force in Spitsbergen before 2012. Building quality may be changing quite quickly now, as many older houses have to be abandoned due to avalanche risks and a lot of houses will be built in the years to come.

Additionally, the energy consumption and heating habits of many locals are not exactly characterized by ambitious energy-saving. Some are said to open the window rather than turn the heating down. Thermostats are the exception rather than the rule. Heating costs are based on living space rather than actual consumption. And many live in flats provided by their employers, who also covers the running costs.

Energy and heating in Longyearbyen

Heating in Spitsbergen: large oven, poor insulation.

Many inhabitants consider Longyearbyen and their own life and habits as environmentally friendly, but reality may be different, looking at electricity use, heating and traffic habits. If people in Longyearbyen were heating as people in mainland Norway do, energy consumption related to heating would drop by about 40 %. In winter, the potential to save energy is even higher, as reported in an article in Teknisk Ukeblad.

Also regarding electricity, matching local habits to mainland manners would reduce the consumption quickly by 15 %. Passive houses would increase the reduction to an impressive 25 %.

The next years may bring improvement due to the high current construction activities. Technical possibilities to improve insulation of existing houses are also work in progress.

So is the primary energy production in Longyearbyen. The only thing that is clear is that the current coal power plant will not be the long-term solution, but nobody knows what is to come then. Many options have been discussed over many years, including a new coal power plant, gas, possibly combined with renewable energy (wind? Solar power? ..?) and even a cable to the mainland. A decision has not yet been made.

Nusfjord: farewell to Lofoten

It was an early start again in Skrova as we had several hours of sailing time ahead of us to Nusfjord, our next and last destination in Lofoten. It turned out to be a lovely passage with a beautiful sunset and stunning views of “Lofotveggen”, as the wall-like impression is known that the very mountaineous Lofoten islands make on any visitor approaching from Vestfjord. A sea eagle was hovering above the ship, and the sea was much more moderate than we had expected … a great way to start a day!

Sunrise Vestfjord

Sunrise over Vestfjord.

Lofotveggen: view of Lofoten

Lofotveggen: the view of the Lofoten islands from Vestfjord.

Then we went alongside in the tiny port of Nusfjord. This is one of these lovely little, old fishing villages in Lofoten. The Rorbuer, small wooden houses on the shoreline, used to provide simple accommodation for visiting fishermen, now they are upmarket and not exactly cheap holiday homes for tourists. The times, they are a’changing.

Nusfjord

Nusfjord.

It is a wonderful place on a wonderful day, the sun is casting warm light on the colourful houses, mixed with the occasional rainshower for some variation and refreshment. There is a little feeling of melancholy about this visit, at least for me; it is the last stop of this journey in Lofoten and the last place we visit with Antigua this season. So, let’s enjoy the beautiful views thoroughly …

SV Antigua in Nusfjord

SV Antigua in Nusfjord.

Then it is time to set course across Vestfjord. The earlier we arrive in Bodø, the better. It will be stormy tonight. But as it is, we have a pretty smooth crossing of Vestfjord, which is a stretch of open sea rather than a fjord.

Prison sentence for disturbing polar bears in Billefjord by driving car on ice

A Norwegian court has delivered a judgement in the case of a man who disturbed polar bears in Billefjorden earlier this year by driving on the fjord ice by car.

The 58 year old Ukrainian citizen was living and working in Pyramiden. He went out on the fjord ice by car to pick up two colleagues who had been on tour. Instead of going directly back to Pyramiden, they decided to take a turn into neighbouring Petuniabukta to check the condition of a hut. According to the driver, he was not aware of the presence of two polar bears who were mating at the time in question. He saw the bears at a distance of 50 metres and stopped immediately. The polar bears abandoned their mating.

Polar bears on fjord ice

Polar bear family on fjord ice in Isfjord.

The Ukrainian driver did not have a driver’s license, this had been withdrawn by Norwegian authorities earlier this year because of other traffic offences. According to the Sysselmannen, this contributed to the current court judgement, together with the fact that it is generally not allowed to drive a car on fjord ice (or anywhere else other than on roads) in Spitsbergen. Disturbing of the polar bears alone would not have been sufficient for a prison sentence.

The man was sentenced to 30 days of prison without probation.

And now: Lofoten! Trollfjorden & Skrova

We arrive in Trollfjorden thanks to an early start in Svolvær. Trollfjorden is one of the most scenic places in Lofoten. Mother nature must have had a great time when she made this part of the planet during the ice age.

Trollfjord

Entering Trollfjord.

Having a great time – that’s also what we did there and then. It could not have been better, completely calm, dry, clear visibility up to the highest peaks. We did not hesitate to put the Zodiacs on the water and cruise Trollfjorden, enjoying the landscape while being in the middle of it.

Trollfjord

SV Antigua in Trollfjord.

It got even better when the sails went up on Antigua and the crew went all up on the job beam for a crew photo. Priceless!

Trollfjord

The crew of SV Antigua in Trollfjord. Thank you all for a great season up north!

Captain Mario used the good conditions to fulfill a dream and go wakeboarding in these northern waters, to the great pleasure of everybody around 🙂

Mario, Wakeboarding Raftsund

Captain Mario wakeboarding in Raftsund.

Later, we even made it to Skrova in good daylight and did not waste any time. The mountains, hills and beaches were calling, and we made good use of the remaining daylight time before the sun went down and the rain came. That did not bother us anymore, we had had a great day out there and continued and good spirits inside.

Skrovafjellet

Ascending Skrovafjellet.

Skrova

View over Skrova and surrounding islands.

From Ofoten to Lofoten – art on Tranøy and northern lights in Laukvik

We decide to spend some more time in Tranøy, it is too nice here to leave without having seen it in daylight. As mentioned, you can walk to the lighthouse. It is a walk of several kilometres, but perfectly easy walking and definitely worth it, it is a lovely place on the shore of Vestfjord. Quite windy here today.

The lighthouse on Tranøy

The lighthouse on Tranøy.

There are sculptures and various pieces of art all over Tranøy. A new sculpture is added every year. You can find them anywhere in the landscape, something that is carved into rocks, flowers of granite, whatever. So you can spend a lovely time walking around, always discovering something. Figures watching out across Vestfjorden, the wind eye, and so on. Beautiful stuff. Some real art, including some stuff that a simple guide like me does not understand rightaway … I was wondering what all the black plates with kind of irregular white crosses were, on the rocks near the shore. Later I found out that there had been photos on the plates, but they had removed the photos. The white crosses were remains of the glue and not art. Well.

Sculpture on Tranøy

Sculpture on Tranøy.

Later we went across Vestforden under sail. Wind and waves – the wind direction was just good enough to put some sails up.

Antigua under sail, Vestfjord

Handling sails on Antigua while crossing Vestfjorden to Lofoten.

We had great hopes for the evening, wondering if the Northern light centre of Therese and Rob in Laukvik would live up to its name and reputation. Of course we knew that we would get a lot of information about northern lights, but the real thing, the actual Aurora borealis? Yes, we were lucky! The sky was clear, and we got two waves of activity. That made a lot of people happy! There had been activity also during the last days, but what does it help without a clear sky … talk about being in the right place at the right time!

Northern light above Laukvik, Lofoten

Northern light at the Northern light centre in Laukvik, Lofoten.

Ofoten: Skarberget & Tranøy

We are at the bottom of Vestfjord today – that is the sea area between the Norwegian mainland and Lofoten – in the area that is called „Ofoten“. The “L” of “Lofoten” is missing here, we’ll get that tomorrow, a bit further to the west.

Tysfjorden is Norway’s deepest fjords, with depth down to almost 900 metres. The ice-age glaciers have almost cut Norway into two parts. There is no more than 6 kilometres of land between the coast and Sweden.

Icicles, Skarberget

Icicles next to the path on Skarberget.

Captain Mario gets the Antigua alongside at the jetty in the little harbour of Skarberget with an impressive maneouvre. We follow the road for a little bit, than a way into the forest and finally a path between small trees and over mosses, lichens and bare rocks, up a ridge. There is ice on the rocks in some places, so it is quite slippery and we have to be careful.

Tysfjord seen from Skarberget

View from Skarberget over Tysfjorden.

But the view of Tysfjorden from Skarberget is absolutely worth it. It is cold and windy and it is getting more and more grey and wet, so it is nice to get back to Antigua after a few hours.

The clouds are breaking up as we continue, and the low sun casts spectactular light over the islands and mountains around us.

Evening light, Ofoten

Evening light in Ofoten – directly after lunch.

In dwindling daylight and a stiff breeze it is again an impressive bit of seamanship as Captain Mario maneouvres good old Antigua into the little harbour of Tranøy. This is a little settlement in the northern part of Hamarøy. As many as 53 people lived here in 2012. There are some sculptures hidden in various places in Tranøy.

Sculpture, Tranøy

Sculpture in Tranøy.

It is a good walk across the peninsula to the lighthouse and it is almost dark as I finally get there. Unfortunately the cloud cover is pretty much closed again and it even starts to rain, so there is little hope for northern lights tonight.

Lighthouse Tranøy

Lighthouse of Tranøy in twilight.

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