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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

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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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