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Yearly Archives: 2018 − News


Fishing ves­sel in mari­ti­me dis­tress in Hin­lo­pen Strait

A fishing ves­sel got into serious trou­ble in Hin­lo­pen Strait in nort­hern Sval­bard, as the SAR cen­tral in north Nor­way infor­med. The Nor­we­gi­an ship “Nor­th­gui­der” had rai­sed the alarm at 1322 hours (local time) today (Fri­day), whe­reu­pon the SAR machine­ry in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and north Nor­way was put into ope­ra­ti­on. Soon, both res­cue heli­co­p­ters went up in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the first one arri­ved on sce­ne at about 1515 hours, less than 2 hours after the alarm bell had rung in the SAR cen­tral in north Nor­way. At the same time, an Ori­on air­craft took off from Andøya in Nor­way. Depen­ding on the exact type, the­se air­craft may be used in SAR mis­si­ons for examp­le to search for mis­sing ves­sels or per­sons or to sur­vey poten­ti­al oil spills.

SAR helicopter Sysselmannen

SAR heli­co­p­ter of the Sys­sel­man­nen, here seen during an exer­cise.

But the good news is that all per­sons seem to be well. The crew of 14 have dres­sed up in sur­vi­val suits and gone to the bow area to be picked up by the res­cue heli­co­p­ters. Accord­ing to the ship owner, all per­sons are sup­po­sed to be well, at least con­si­de­ring the cir­cum­s­tan­ces. Nobo­dy is inju­red or has been in cold water.

The Nor­th­gui­der appears to have hit the ground on the coast of Nord­aus­t­land south of Murchi­son­fjord. She is now sit­ting on the ground and lis­ting with 20 degrees but the posi­ti­on seems to be sta­ble so far. The wea­ther – about 18 degrees cen­tig­ra­de below free­zing, darkness and strong wind (Beau­fort 6) – makes the res­cue ope­ra­ti­ons chal­len­ging, but the­re is no rea­son to belie­ve that the Nor­we­gi­an SAR pro­fes­sio­nals are not able to get all crew mem­bers off soon.

Kalkstranda, Hinlopen Strait

Kalk­stran­da in Hin­lo­pen Strait, south of Murchi­son­fjord: the Nor­th­gui­der is sup­po­sed to have run aground some­whe­re here. Con­di­ti­ons the­re are qui­te dif­fe­rent from the pho­to now, with darkness, cold and wind.

The coast guard ship KV Bar­ents­hav has set cour­se for Hin­lo­pen Strait, but is not expec­ted to arri­ve the­re befo­re Satur­day. Polar­sys­sel, the Sysselmannen’s ser­vice ship, is not avail­ab­le in Spits­ber­gen in win­ter­ti­me.

Update: the SAR cen­tral North Nor­way informs that all 14 per­sons were taken into the heli­co­p­ters and are by now taken care of in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The Nor­th­gui­der is still sit­ting on the ground, taking in water.

With new Spits­ber­gen pan­ora­mas into the new year

In 2018, again I had ple­nty of oppor­tu­nities to shoot arc­tic pan­ora­mas, making the­se inte­res­ting and beau­ti­ful (well in some cases, it is inte­res­ting or beau­ti­ful) easi­ly acces­si­ble for ever­y­bo­dy. Phy­si­cal­ly, most of them are pret­ty much inac­ces­si­ble for most peop­le. A pan­ora­ma pho­to does not phy­si­cal­ly take you to, say, a moun­tain top on Prins Karls For­land, but it is the next best thing – it gives you the fee­ling to be in the midd­le of the land­s­cape, you can just turn around and enjoy the full view of the arc­tic land­s­cape.

Over 5 years now, the by far lar­gest digi­tal muse­um of Spits­ber­gen (Sval­bard) has thus come into exi­s­tance. And it keeps gro­wing. It takes qui­te some time and effort to turn the 18 RAW files (35, in some cases) into one pan­ora­ma and to make that part of a dedi­ca­ted litt­le web­site or even to turn many pan­ora­mas into one vir­tu­al tour, such as the school / kin­der­gar­ten in Pyra­mi­den. In many cases it has taken years for mate­ri­al to pro­gress on the list to the point whe­re it actual­ly appears on the web­site.

Neue Spitsbergen Panorama: Persiskammen, Prins Karls Forland - just one out of many new Spitsbergen panoramas

New Spits­ber­gen pan­ora­mas: the round view from Per­sis­kam­men, in the sou­thern part of Prins Karls For­land, is just one out of many
(this here is just a screen­shot without pan­ora­ma func­tion).

Here is a choice of new Spits­ber­gen pan­ora­mas that we have made during the last cou­p­le of mon­ths and weeks – a litt­le Christ­mas-/New Years’s pre­sent for the Spits­ber­gen com­mu­ni­ty:

  • Pyra­mi­den: School / Kin­der­gar­ten. In Octo­ber the who­le collec­tion of Pyra­mi­den pan­ora­mas had moved to a dedi­ca­ted litt­le map so you can find your way around as you take a litt­le walk through the old ghost town, pos­si­b­ly visi­t­ing a buil­ding here and the­re. And we added some new pan­ora­mas, inclu­ding the school / kin­der­gar­ten, which is our lar­gest sin­gle vir­tu­al tour so far – the buil­ding has 3 floo­rs! Other new ones inclu­de the old mines.
  • Bar­ents­burg: also here we did not just add new mate­ri­al, but we sor­ted the panos on a dedi­ca­ted map, so you know whe­re you are. New pan­ora­mas inclu­de the bre­we­ry, Lenin, the cha­pel, …
  • And while we were at it, of cour­se also Ny-Åle­sund had to get its own map to make the who­le thing pro­per. And also here we took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to add some new pan­ora­mas, inclu­ding Amund­sen, the Kongsfjor­dbu­tik­ken, the muse­um, the Green House, the air­s­hip­mast, …
  • Let’s get out of the sett­le­ments and into the wil­der­ness. Mur­ray­pyn­ten is a point on Prins Karls For­land with some fine views.
  • Ano­t­her one on Prins Karls For­land. Nesun­gen is on the outer side of the island, which is expo­sed and rare­ly visi­ted.
  • Last but defi­ni­te­ly not least from Prins Karls For­land. The view on Per­sis­kam­men, this lone­so­me moun­tain in the south of the island, is just stun­ning!
  • Elfen­bein­breen in Agardhda­len, not far from the east coast.
  • Buch­holz­buk­ta is not far from Heley­sund, as far east on the main island of Spits­ber­gen as you will get.
  • Pol­hem in Mos­sel­buk­ta was Nordenskiöld’s base during his 1872-73 win­te­ring.
  • Fox­fon­na is a litt­le ice cap clo­se to mine 7. Ama­zing win­ter views in cen­tral Nor­dens­kiöld Land.
  • Rijps­burg on Bohem­an­flya is not just the site whe­re the first com­mer­cial coal mining took place in Spits­ber­gen. It is also a beau­ti­ful place.
  • Final­ly back again to civi­li­sa­ti­on. The tauba­ne­sen­tra­le (coal cable­way cent­re) is one of Longyearbyen’s eye cat­chers. Nor­mal­ly it is clo­sed, but here and now … – wel­co­me in!
  • One of Spitsbergen’s most dif­fi­cult-to-get-to pla­ces is the famous Glo­bal Seed Vault). Once again: wel­co­me in!

Enjoy – and hap­py new year!

Why San­ta Claus’ rein­de­er come from Spits­ber­gen. And why this can’t be true.

Christ­mas is a time of love, fami­ly and healt­hy food. Pres­ents, trees and… mys­te­ry. Or do you know how San­ta Claus mana­ges to visit far more than a bil­li­on child­ren around the glo­be? Even if you take tho­se out who have been naugh­ty or who may­be don’t want (or are not allo­wed to) have anything to do with Christ­mas – the­re is still a lot of work to do for the old man.

Sharon Geor­ge of the Kee­le Uni­ver­si­ty in Eng­land has done some sci­ence to find ans­wers to such ques­ti­ons. She pro­po­ses that San­ta Claus pulls some quan­tum phy­sics tricks out of his bag. Just Quan­tum tun­nel­ling alo­ne may redu­ce the distance he has to tra­vel by some­thing near 50 %.

Do I hear you shout “yes, of cour­se, I should have known”?

But still, Father Christ­mas has to make his way at a bre­akneck speed of 15,625 kilo­me­tres per hour (9,708 mph), to get ever­ything done that is on his impres­si­ve to-do list. Accord­ing to Geor­ge, he makes good use of bund­ling the shock waves of the thun­der that comes from brea­king through the sonic wall. Some­thing hap­pens short­ly after some initi­al scratching of the snow with the hoo­ves by the rein­de­er, as they have to be 10 times fas­ter than sound to get things done.

It is safe to assu­me that the sledge is made of some nickel-tita­ni­um alloy to sur­vi­ve the mecha­ni­cal chal­len­ges that come with such tra­vel­ling. Fric­tion bet­ween air and the nose of the very first rein­de­er will heat the lat­ter up until it is glowing red-hot, a fact that rea­di­ly exp­lains some ana­to­mic par­ti­cu­lars of Rudolf the red-nosed rein­de­er.

Arctic Christmas

Mer­ry Christ­mas! Drawing by Nor­bert Wach­ter from the book Ark­ti­sche Weih­nach­ten.

So far, so good. But then the sci­en­tist makes a mista­ke as she says that San­ta Claus’ rein­de­er, inclu­ding the famous, abo­ve-men­tio­ned Rudolf, come from Spits­ber­gen. She argues that only the Spits­ber­gen rein­de­er is small and leight­weight enough so it can wait on the roof of any house while the boss is kree­ping down the chim­ney to get his job done. Any other – hea­vier – rein­de­er would just break through the roof, some­thing that might bring the sche­du­le of the who­le ope­ra­ti­on into some serious trou­ble.

As plau­si­ble as this may seem – it can’t be true. Why? This is some­thing that the pre­sent aut­hor has dis­cus­sed in his book “Ark­ti­sche Weih­nach­ten” (Ger­man only, sor­ry!). The rele­vant text sec­tion comes at the end of the book and it is agail­ab­le here (click to down­load).

Just in case you don’t read Ger­man: reflect for a moment about when male rein­de­er shed their ant­lers. Yes, it’s after the mating sea­son, which is in late Sep­tem­ber and into Octo­ber. This means that male rein­de­er from the nort­hern hemi­s­phe­re don’t have big ant­lers at Christ­mas. Rudolf and his col­leagues have to come from the sou­thern hemi­s­phe­re!

Whe­re would that be? Well, the wha­lers intro­du­ced Nor­we­gi­an rein­de­er to South Geor­gia. But the­re, they were kil­led off some years ago. A stock was, howe­ver, pre­ser­ved in the Falk­land Islands. So the simp­le truth is: San­ta Claus’ rein­de­er come from the Falk­land Islands! And so does pro­bab­ly the man hims­elf, as he has to take care of his rein­de­er also the rest of the year, doesn’t he?

Hap­py Christ­mas!

Bank rob­be­ry in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: first details about the offen­der

The man who tried to rob the bank in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on Fri­day is a 29 years old Rus­si­an citi­zen who does not live in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, as the Sys­sel­man­nen sta­ted in a press release. The man is now in Trom­sø for an initi­al 4 weeks for inves­ti­ga­ti­ve cus­to­dy.

Bank, Longyearbyen

First details about Friday’s bank rob­be­ry: The offen­der is a 29 year old Rus­si­an and not a local.

The pri­ze is con­fis­ca­ted, it is said to be a sum of NOK 70,000. During the hold-up, the man had threa­tened the 3 bank employees with a Mau­ser rif­le which he had legal­ly ren­ted in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Wea­pons of this type are com­mon­ly ren­ted by tou­rists from local wea­pon dea­lers for polar bear pro­tec­tion.

Next to bank rob­be­ry, the man is now also accu­sed for vio­la­ti­on of the wea­pon law and threa­tening with a fire­arm.

No fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on regar­ding the offen­der or the deed have been released as of now. Sys­sel­mann Kjers­tin Askholt reg­rets in a state­ment that types of crime are now obser­ved in Lon­gye­ar­by­en that have pre­vious­ly been unknown local­ly and that crime is deve­lo­ping tog­e­ther with the gene­ral chan­ges of the local socie­ty on Sval­bard.

Bank rob­be­ry in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

No, this is not a joke, unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly: the­re was a bank rob­be­ry in Lon­gye­ar­by­en today (Fri­day, 21 Decem­ber). The alarm went in the Sysselmannen’s office at 10.40 local time. One man ent­e­red the bank with a fire­arm and brought some cash in his con­trol.

The­re were only employees in the bank at that time. The­se took pro­per action and mana­ged to acti­va­te the alarm, as the Sys­sel­man­nen told Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Bank robbery, Longyearbyen

It is actual­ly for­bid­den to enter the buil­ding with the bank in Lon­gye­ar­by­en with a fire­arm. Today, the­re was a bank rob­be­ry. Nobo­dy was inju­red.

The bank rob­ber was soon arres­ted by the poli­ce, he still had the money with him. He is not of Nor­we­gi­an natio­na­li­ty and was taken to see the medi­cal doc­tor, but poli­ce ques­tio­ning is expec­ted to begin later today.

Update: it was not a local resi­dent. The man will be taken to Trom­sø today for inves­ti­ga­ti­ve cus­to­dy.

No fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on is avail­ab­le so far.

Wal­rus popu­la­ti­on is gro­wing in Spits­ber­gen

Good news about arc­tic wild­life popu­la­ti­ons – do they exist? The­re is, of cour­se and for good (or, rather, bad) rea­son, a lot of atten­ti­on on cli­ma­te chan­ge and how polar bears and other spe­ci­es will cope with life in a world with less and less ice.

But then the­re are also wal­rus­ses (click here for some gene­ral infor­ma­ti­on about the­se lovely ani­mals). Several colo­nies in the Spits­ber­gen area (Sval­bard) are moni­to­red with auto­ma­tic kame­ras to fol­low the num­bers of ani­mals com­ing and going. Results so far indi­ca­te a gro­wing popu­la­ti­on and the plea­sant obser­va­ti­on that wal­rus­ses are not bothe­red by tou­rists. It is rather the occa­sio­nal polar bear who is serious­ly dis­tur­bing res­ting wal­rus­ses – the­se ruth­less polar bears just don’t keep the mini­mum distan­ces.

Walrus with satellite sender, Edgeøya

Wal­rus with satel­li­te sen­der, Edgeøya.

Addi­tio­nal­ly, some wal­rus are equip­ped with satel­li­te sen­ders to fol­low migra­ti­on pat­terns. This is important to estab­lish which per­cen­ta­ge of the total popu­la­ti­on in an area is res­ting on shore while the others are in the water. Data show that about 25 % of the wal­rus­ses are res­ting on show while the majo­ri­ty of 75 % is swim­ming.

This know­ledge makes the num­ber of wal­rus seen at the colo­ny sites on shore a good indi­ca­ti­on for the total regio­nal popu­la­ti­on. Cen­su­s­es are made rough­ly every 5 years with small pla­nes equip­ped for the pur­po­se. They fol­low the coast­li­ne in an alti­tu­de of 1000 feet (a good 300 m) while taking pho­tos. Pre­vious counts were made in 2006 and 2012 and the most recent one fol­lo­wed in August 2018. All colo­nies are sur­vey­ed in a time frame as short as pos­si­ble to make sure indi­vi­du­als are not coun­ted twice ase they may make visits to friends and col­leagues at other res­ting pla­ces.

86 colo­nies were sur­vey­ed in Sval­bard in August 2018. The num­ber of wal­rus obser­ved varied from 0 in many cases to a maxi­mum of 269.

Walrus colony, Moffen

Wal­rus colo­ny on Mof­fen.

And what is the result? The num­ber of wal­rus­ses pre­sent in the who­le of Sval­bard in August 2018 was esti­ma­ted bet­ween 5031 and 6036 indi­vi­du­als. Nai­led down to one figu­re, the popu­la­ti­on size is 5503 ani­mals, as was repor­ted noy by Chris­ti­an Lyder­sen, Magnus Ander­sen, Jade Vac­quie Gar­cia, Samu­el Llo­bet and Kit Kovacs (Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te) in an arti­cle in Sval­bard­pos­ten. This is 42 % more than coun­ted the last time in 2012. A very posi­ti­ve deve­lo­p­ment! But no sur­pri­se if you con­si­der that wal­rus­ses were hun­ted almost to regio­nal extinc­tion until pro­tec­tion final­ly came in 1952. The cur­rent growth of the popu­la­ti­on is still a reac­tion to the end of hun­ting, just as with the polar bear popu­la­ti­on in the same area.

Walrus cow with calf

Wal­rus cow with calf: beau­ti­ful sym­bol for a gro­wing popu­la­ti­on.

It will, howe­ver, take many more deca­des befo­re the popu­la­ti­on will be even remo­te­ly near ori­gi­nal levels, if this ever hap­pens again.

Rock legend Robert Plant comes to Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The­re are still tho­se who think that Lon­gye­ar­by­en is a lonely, silent place whe­re a few coal miners and trap­pers live. Rea­li­ty is qui­te dif­fe­rent: the­re is a well-estab­lis­hed and vibrant cul­tu­ral sce­ne. Next to some very acti­ve local clubs and artists, the­re is a num­ber of fes­ti­vals and events that have by now estab­lis­hed inter­na­tio­nal repu­ta­ti­on. This inclu­des the Jazz Fes­ti­val and the Dark Sea­son Blues Fes­ti­val (both in the begin­ning of the polar night) and events such the Ski Mara­thon and Spits­ber­gen Mara­thon, which all attract lar­ge and still gro­wing num­bers of visi­tors from many dif­fe­rent coun­tries.

But rock legends who have fil­led the lar­gest venues of the glo­be for deca­des do usual­ly not have Lon­gye­ar­by­en on their tour plan. This will chan­ge in June 2019 when Robert Plant comes to Lon­gye­ar­by­en for two con­certs. Plant beca­me a rock legend with the band Led Zep­pe­lin in the 1970s. Fol­lowing “Zep’s” bre­ak­up in 1980, Plant has remai­ned an acti­ve musi­ci­an to this day.

On 27 and 29 June, Robert Plant and his band Sen­sa­tio­nal Space Shif­ters will be live on sta­ge in the Kul­tur­huset in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This is, accord­ing to Sval­bard­pos­ten, a result of the work of a year of Jim Johan­sen and his com­pa­ny Wal­rus AS. A key fac­tor for the suc­cess of the nego­tia­ti­ons is said to be Plant’s per­so­nal curiou­si­ty about one of the nort­hern­most con­cert loca­ti­ons in the world (pos­si­b­ly outs­ta­ged by Pyra­mi­den – may­be they get the Rol­ling Stones on sta­ge the­re in 2030 or so?).

Lon­gye­ar­by­en: The most expen­si­ve port in the world?

From 2019, lar­ge crui­se ships will have to pay twice as high har­bour fees in the port of Lon­gye­ar­by­en than they did this year. A few days ago, Longyearbyen’s har­bour mas­ter Kje­til Brå­ten announ­ced that the pri­ce incre­a­se is a tool to regu­la­te mass tou­rism and at the same time to gene­ra­te hig­her inco­me. He would even like Lon­gye­ar­by­en to beco­me “the most expen­si­ve port in the world” due to its remo­te loca­ti­on and the extra­or­di­na­ry ope­ra­ting cos­ts. Ship tou­rism to Spits­ber­gen is on the rise: in 2016, 75,000 crui­se pas­sen­gers went ashore in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, com­pa­red to 15,000 in 2010.

The har­bour fee Lon­gye­ar­by­en will in the future be based on the size of the ship. Ships with more than 100,000 gross regis­tered tons will have to pay twice as much, name­ly 1.68 NOK (about 0.17 Euro) ins­tead of 0.84 NOK per ton. In addi­ti­on, the port will char­ge a fee of NOK 25 (approx. 2.60 Euro) per pas­sen­ger ins­tead of NOK 23.

Antigua vs cruise ship

Big ships, small ships: SV Anti­gua ver­sus a crui­se ship

This will affect, for examp­le, the crui­se liner MSC Pre­zio­sa, which, accord­ing to its own home­page, delights its 3,500 pas­sen­gers with stair­ca­ses deco­ra­ted with “Swa­rov­ski dia­monds”. MSC Pre­zio­sa has announ­ced its arri­val in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in 2019 and will then have to pay a total of 940.000 NOK (around 96,000 euros) more than in 2018.

Smal­ler boats will also be affec­ted by the hig­her fees. But sin­ce the fee depends on the size of the boats the pri­ce incre­a­se is hig­hest for the lar­ge crui­se ships. In addi­ti­on, pre­fe­rence will be given to ships who­se pas­sen­gers sup­port the local eco­no­my on their shore lea­ves.

Howe­ver, har­bour mas­ter Kje­til Brå­ten belie­ves that the lar­ge luxu­ry ships will not necessa­ri­ly be deter­red by the hig­her fees. This is not the pri­ma­ry goal. Accord­ing to Brå­ten, it is rather a ques­ti­on of fin­ding a balan­ce bet­ween regu­la­ting mass tou­rism and genera­ting the inco­me nee­ded to deve­lop the port infra­st­ruc­tu­re and pro­mo­te the local eco­no­my.

Who knows, perhaps MSC Pre­zio­sa will have to scratch a few dia­monds from the rai­ling to pay the port dues in Lon­gye­ar­by­en?

Inte­res­ting side note: Accord­ing to a sur­vey amongst 739 rea­ders con­duc­ted by the local news­pa­per Sval­bard­pos­ten, 60 per­cent agree with the state­ment that Lon­gye­ar­by­en should no lon­ger accept crui­se ships at all.

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

Evacua­tions in Lon­gye­ar­by­en due to avalan­che risk

It has almost beco­me a pain­ful tra­di­ti­on: the evacua­ti­on of dwel­ling houses in Lon­gye­ar­by­en at times of avalan­che risk. The white dan­ger was brought back into public atten­ti­on very abrupt­bly in Decem­ber 2015 when a snow avalan­che from the moun­tain Suk­ker­top­pen des­troy­ed a num­ber of houses and kil­led two peop­le. Fur­ther houses were des­troy­ed during ano­t­her avalan­che in Febru­a­ry 2017; this time, it was only a mat­ter of luck that nobo­dy was hurt.

Sin­ce then, mea­su­res are taken to pre­vent fur­ther acci­dents, inclu­ding rather drastic ones. Avalan­che pro­tec­tion con­struc­tions have been estab­lis­hed on the slo­pes of Suk­ker­top­pen. The des­troy­ed houses were not repai­red. On the con­tra­ry, near­by houses are now regu­lar­ly evacua­ted at times of avalan­che risk. Depen­ding on the risk at each indi­vi­du­al address, some houses are only evacua­ted when the­re is an acu­te risk, while others are clo­sed during the who­le avalan­che sea­son.

On Thurs­day (29 Novem­ber), an avalan­che warning was issued on var­som based on wea­ther fore­casts that pre­dic­ted a lot of snow. Con­se­quent­ly, the Sys­sel­man­nen reac­ted by issuing evacua­tions for a num­ber of houses.

Longyearbyen Lawine Evakuierungskarte

Evacua­ti­on map of Decem­ber 2017. The houses clo­sed last Thurs­day were wit­hin the same area.

Some evacua­tions have alrea­dy been lifted based on a new avalan­che risk eva­lua­ti­on by NVE, the Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ty respon­si­ble for mana­ging avalan­che risks (who release warnings on varsom.no). Others will be kept up during the who­le avalan­che sea­son. Visit the Sysselmannen’s web­site for infor­ma­ti­on on which addres­ses are con­cer­ned.

Nach einer neu­en Gefah­ren­ein­schät­zung durch NVE sind die Eva­ku­ie­run­gen teil­wei­se bereits wie­der auf­ge­ho­ben wor­den. Beson­ders gefähr­de­te Häu­ser in den Wegen 222 und 226 wer­den aber von nun an über den gesam­ten Win­ter gesperrt blei­ben. Genaue Infor­ma­tio­nen zu den betrof­fe­nen Adres­sen gibt es bei Sys­sel­man­nen.

It is up to tho­se con­cer­ned to find new accom­mo­da­ti­on – not an easy task con­si­de­ring the dif­fi­cult housing mar­ket in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

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.

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.

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.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en: a gre­at place to live, but a tough place to live

The times are cur­r­ent­ly most­ly calm in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Spits­ber­gen other­wi­se. The­re, is, of cour­se, always some­thing that cat­ches public atten­ti­on. The pha­se­out of coal mining in Sveagru­va and the clea­rup of a who­le litt­le sett­le­ment is a dis­cus­sion and will remain so for qui­te some time. Some buil­dings may be pro­tec­ted as part of Spitsbergen’s cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge, others will pro­bab­ly be remo­ved. The ques­ti­on of poten­ti­al fur­ther use of the infras­trac­tu­re in Sveagru­a­ve, wit­hin sci­ence, tou­rism or wha­te­ver, is still lar­ge­ly open. The only thing that is clear is that the who­le pro­ject will cost a lot of money, just as ope­ning the mine at Lunck­ef­jel­let, which has never seen anything but years of cos­t­ly stand­by ope­ra­ti­ons bet­ween ope­ning and shut­ting down the mine.

Sveagruva

Sveagru­va: a mining sett­le­ment in pha­se­out.

A woman in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is accu­sed for having thrown a stone at a guest of Huset (a popu­lar pub/disco/night club) during a late hour visit in March. The man recei­ved minor inju­ries.

A heli­co­p­ter had to res­cue to stu­dents from Sar­ko­fa­gen, a moun­tain clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The two hikers had ven­tu­red into a steep slo­pe and were unab­le to move any fur­ther or back.

Sarkofagen

The moun­tain Sar­ko­fa­gen clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Things that hap­pen in a litt­le arc­tic vil­la­ge after the end of the busy sum­mer sea­son, at the onset of the polar night. Most make them­sel­ves com­for­ta­ble at home, taking care of nor­mal ever­y­day busi­ness and enjoy­ing calm days as it is get­ting dar­ker out­side.

But not ever­y­bo­dy can enjoy cosy evenings at home. The housing mar­ket in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has been dif­fi­cult for years. The­re are several rea­sons for this, inclu­ding avalan­ches which have ren­de­red who­le streets unsui­ta­ble for living in recent years. Airbnb is ano­t­her issue, that makes some homes unavail­ab­le to long-term resi­dents in need of housing. This has hap­pen­ed in many pla­ces in the world, but in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, you can’t just move to the next vil­la­ge some­whe­re near town and com­mu­te to work. At least, an important houseow­ner has recent­ly announ­ced that he does not want to rent flats out through Airbnb. Inves­tor Fre­drik Eken told Sval­bard­pos­ten that his 84 flats in Lon­gye­ar­by­en will not be avail­ab­le on the men­tio­ned plat­form for rea­sons eco­no­mi­c­al rather than poli­ti­cal or ethi­cal.

Many flats and houses in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are owned by major insti­tu­ti­ons and employ­ers such as the Sys­sel­man­nen, muni­ci­pal admi­nis­tra­ti­on, UNIS and others who need to offer housing to their employees, which is under­stand­a­ble but at the same time making a signi­fi­cant pro­por­ti­on of the local housing mar­ket unavail­ab­le to the public.

The local admi­nis­tra­ti­on has done hers to make the situa­ti­on more dif­fi­cult, at least for some, than might be necessa­ry. In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the­re is a num­ber of houses, most of them in “Sjøom­rå­det” clo­se to the fjord, which have flats. The­se flats are, howe­ver, not appro­ved for per­ma­nent use, but rather for leisu­re use only. Some of the­se “leisu­re time flats” (fritids­bo­lig, as they are cal­led in Nor­we­gi­an) have, howe­ver, been used more or less per­ma­nent­ly for years. In recent years, the local admi­nis­tra­ti­on inclu­ding the fire depart­ment have pushed to take more drastic mea­su­res to kick peop­le out of the­se flats. Last week, repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the local admi­nis­tra­ti­on and the fire depart­ment went on an unhe­ral­ded con­trol mis­si­on to some houses in ques­ti­on, as Sval­bard­pos­ten repor­ted. This led to 6 per­sons losing their accom­mo­da­ti­on on a short warning: they were given 24 hours to move out.

Sjøområdet, Longyearbyen

The area cal­led “Sjøom­rå­det” in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Six peop­le were recent­ly remo­ved from flats that are not appro­ved for per­ma­nent use.

Rea­sons given for such rather drastic mea­su­res are main­ly fire safe­ty, fol­lo­wed by the mis­sing appro­val for using the houses for per­ma­nent living in the use zoning plan.

It will not sur­pri­se that this approach is met by cri­ti­cism and des­pa­ra­ti­on amongst tho­se con­cer­ned. Tho­se who lived in the­se houses for years knew that their pro­lon­ged stay was not legal, but it was not a mat­ter of choice for some at least. The pri­va­te housing mar­ket does sim­ply not pro­vi­de afford­a­ble accom­mo­da­ti­on. Some of the 6 cur­r­ent­ly con­cer­ned will have to stay at friends’ pla­ces, beco­m­ing what is local­ly refer­red to as “sofa peop­le”. Pos­si­bi­li­ties to find an afford­a­ble place to live in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on a long-term basis? Do hard­ly exist.

Con­si­de­ring this, the cur­rent approach of the muni­ci­pal admi­nis­tra­ti­on to remo­ve peop­le from flats that are at least appro­ved for short-time use appears con­tro­ver­si­al. The admi­nis­tra­ti­on has announ­ced fur­ther con­trols as nee­ded.

Fire safe­ty can be taken care of by tech­ni­cal mea­su­res, and a use zoning plan is a mat­ter of poli­ti­cal decisi­on making. The admi­nis­tra­ti­on has at least announ­ced to start a pro­cess that may inclu­de pos­si­bi­li­ties to lega­li­ze the prac­ti­ce.

Sounds extre­me­ly pro­mi­sing, doesn’t it? But it won’t help tho­se who need a place to stay the­re and now. The polar night is com­ing, and Lon­gye­ar­by­en is a very dark and cold place during the win­ter.

Gui­de­book Spitz­ber­gen-Sval­bard: new Ger­man edi­ti­on out now

The gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard, avail­ab­le in Eng­lish, Nor­we­gi­an and Ger­man, is the most com­pre­hen­si­ve Spits­ber­gen book avail­ab­le. It is used by tou­rists as well as pro­fes­sio­nal gui­des and expe­di­ti­on lea­ders, who often refer to it as the “Spits­ber­gen bible”. A wor­d­ing that may seem to be qui­te far-reaching, but the aut­hor (Rolf Stan­ge) is hap­py to take it as a com­pli­ment to the book.

After the first Nor­we­gi­an edi­ti­on came out in in 2017 and the 4th updated Eng­lish edi­ti­on in spring 2018, it was time for an updated Ger­man edi­ti­on. The 5th edi­ti­on (2015) was actual­ly sold out for a while during the sum­mer. In late Sep­tem­ber, the updated 6th edi­ti­on came fresh from the prin­ter 🙂

Guidebook Spitzbergen-Svalbard (German, 6. edition)

The 6th edi­ti­on of the Ger­man gui­de­book Spitz­ber­gen-Sval­bard is now avail­ab­le The Eng­lish and Norw­gi­an ver­si­ons were also updated recent­ly and remain avail­ab­le.

As with the Nor­we­gi­an and Eng­lish ver­si­ons, the new Ger­man edi­ti­on has been com­pre­hen­si­ve­ly updated in almost all chap­ters, with impro­ved text, maps etc. For fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on, plea­se visit the page dedi­ca­ted to the Ger­man gui­de­book Spitz­ber­gen-Sval­bard on this web­site, whe­re you can also order the book. It is also avail­ab­le on Amazon.de. Orders through this web­sites and reviews on Ama­zon (also for the Eng­lish or Nor­we­gi­an ver­si­ons) will make the aut­hor hap­py.

Rolf Stange with guidebook Spitzbergen-Svalbard (German, 6. edition)

The aut­hor with the new, 6th edi­ti­on of Spitz­ber­gen-Sval­bard (Ger­man).

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