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Home → March, 2019

Monthly Archives: March 2019 − News & Stories


Sys­sel­man­nen gives Store Nor­ske per­mis­si­on to break ice in Van Mijen­fjord

Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni (SNSK), owner of the for­mer coal mining sett­le­ment of Sveagru­va, has got per­mis­si­on from the Sys­sel­man­nen to break the fjord ice in Van Mijen­fjord to the har­bour of Svea.

Van Mijen­fjord is shel­te­red from the open sea by the island of Akseløya, which is almost blo­cking the ent­ran­ce. Hence, the fjord is is sett­ling ear­lier and get­ting more exten­si­ve the­re than in any other fjord on the west coast of Spits­ber­gen. The fjord ice in Van Mijen­fjord is an important habi­tat which is not avail­ab­le any­mo­re else­whe­re as wide­ly as ear­lier, due to the war­ming cli­ma­te. Rin­ged seals need fjord ice in spring to rest and to give birth and polar bears fre­quent the ice to hunt.

Ice chart Van Mijenfjord, Sveagruva

Ice chart: Van Mijen­fjord is the only fjord in the regi­on with a lar­ge area of solid ice. The fjord ice will be bro­ken all the way to Sveagru­va (red dot).
Chart © Nor­we­gi­an meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal Insti­tu­te (dot added).

Usual­ly, the aut­ho­ri­ties con­si­der the fjord ice envi­ron­ment­al­ly very important and will not give per­mis­si­on for ice brea­king. Even non-dest­ruc­ti­ve traf­fic with snow mobi­les is now restric­ted: snow mobi­les are not allo­wed any­mo­re on lar­ge parts of the fjord ice in Tem­pel­fjord, to avoid dis­tur­ban­ce of wild­life which only occur in cases of reck­less beha­viour. Such traf­fic bans were also con­si­de­red for Rin­ders­buk­ta which is part of Van Mijen­fjord, but not (yet) imple­men­ted.

Other rules seem to app­ly for brea­king the ice, or at least the same rules are given a dif­fe­rent inter­pre­ta­ti­on. The Sys­sel­man­nen empha­si­zes in a press release that traf­fic in Spits­ber­gen is sup­po­sed to hap­pen in a way that does not harm the envi­ron­ment or dis­turbs ani­mals or peop­le unne­cessa­ri­ly. But in this case, the eco­no­mi­c­al inte­rests of Store Nor­ske were given more weight than the pro­tec­tion of the wild­life that needs the ice in times when it has beco­me rare in Spits­ber­gen.

The back­ground: Sveagru­va is run­ning out of die­sel. Stocks were sup­po­sed to last until sum­mer 2019, but con­sump­ti­on during the win­ter was hig­her than expec­ted. Die­sel is not just used for vehi­cles, but also to run the power plant in Svea, which is sup­ply­ing the sett­le­ment with electri­ci­ty and warm­th. The cur­rent stock would now last “pro­bab­ly until May, appro­xi­mate­ly”, accord­ing to the Sysselmannen’s press release. And not until the sum­mer, when the fjord ice would be gone any­way.

Without die­sel for the power sta­ti­on, Svea would have to be evacua­ted. The con­se­quence would not only be a tem­pora­ry stop of the clean-up that has recent­ly begun, but pos­si­b­ly also dama­ge to the infra­st­ruc­tu­re. This would invol­ve serious eco­no­mi­c­al con­se­quen­ces for Store Nor­ske. This is the rea­son why the com­pa­ny has got per­mis­si­on to break the ice and take a ship to Kapp Ams­ter­dam, the har­bour of Sveagru­va. Tech­ni­cal­ly, an over­land trans­port from Lon­gye­ar­by­en would be pos­si­ble, but this would invol­ve appro­xi­mate­ly 60 tours. The total strain on the envi­ron­ment and the risk of pol­lu­ti­on is con­si­de­red hig­her and hence trans­port by ship was given prio­ri­ty.

In ear­lier times, when Sveagru­va was still an acti­ve mining sett­le­ment, it was not unusu­al to break the ice in spring to ship coal. But times are dif­fe­rent now. No coal is mined any­mo­re in Sveagru­va, and the­re is much less ice in the other fjords in Spits­ber­gen and this ice may not even be used for snow mobi­le traf­fic in cer­tain fjords, oppo­sed to the wis­hes and eco­no­mi­c­al inte­rests of many. It is not sur­pri­sing that the per­mis­si­on to break more than 30 kilo­me­tres of solid fjord is is met with public cri­ti­cism.

The wea­ther in the days after brea­king the ice will be important: if it remains cold and calm for a while, the fjord will quick­ly free­ze again. But a storm might break up lar­ge are­as of wea­ke­ned ice.

Nort­hern light …

The days are get­ting lon­ger, and time is just fly­ing! Now we have alrea­dy had this year’s spring equinox. The equa­to­ri­al pla­ne of the Earth pas­sed through the cent­re of the sun on Wed­nes­day (20 March) at 21.58 hours (UT = uni­ver­sal time = GMT). From now on, the days are lon­ger again than the nights on the nort­hern hemi­s­phe­re, and the fur­ther north you are, the more light and the less darkness.

This means that the cur­rent nort­hern light sea­son in Spits­ber­gen is now slow­ly com­ing to an end. On Satur­day (16 March) we had ano­t­her ama­zing celesti­al per­for­mance. A stun­ning auro­ra borea­lis, inten­se, vibrant, fast.

Northern light near Longyearbyen

Auroa bora­lis abo­ve Ope­raf­jel­let.
The nort­hern light sea­son in Spits­ber­gen is now com­ing to an end.

This nort­hern light was defi­ni­te­ly abo­ve average! To cap­tu­re the very fast move­ment, I used shut­ter times of up (or, rather, down) to 0.3 seconds, and even that was pro­bab­ly too slow to cap­tu­re the fili­gra­ne, but very lively struc­tures (click here to read more about nort­hern lights and how to pho­to­graph them).

Aureole (or dome) of northern light above Adventdalen

Aureo­le (or dome) of nort­hern light abo­ve Advent­da­len.

The last days were full, the­re was just no time to wri­te new blog ent­ries … the­re will be more soon.

Sol­fest: Sola er til­ba­ke – the sun is back!

Sola e’ til­ba­ke! That was the mot­to of the day last Fri­day (several day ago alrea­dy, time is run­ning!), which was THE big day: sol­fest – sun fest – in Lon­gye­ar­by­en!

As men­tio­ned, the sun has actual­ly retur­ned to the lower part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, near Advent­fjord, several days befo­re …

Sun, Longyearbyen

Sun in lower Lon­gye­ar­by­en, Fri­day (8.3.) morning.

… but as tho­se parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en did not exist back then, the sol­fest is tra­di­tio­nal­ly and duly cele­bra­ted on 08 March, short­ly after 12.30 hours, as the sun returns to the stairs of the old hos­pi­tal. This old hos­pi­tal buil­ding is long gone, but the stairs from the back door are still the­re. Actual­ly, the stairs are said to be a recon­struc­tion so peop­le know whe­re to cele­bra­te, but any­way … they are next to the kin­der­gar­ten clo­se to the Sval­bard church. So that is whe­re ever­y­bo­dy meets on sol­fest-day at 12.30 hours. Hund­reds of peop­le gather to wel­co­me and cele­bra­te the sun! Espe­cial­ly the child­ren, dres­sed as litt­le suns, real­ly sweet. Ever­y­bo­dy is sin­ging and chee­ring the sun up, who is doing her best to climb abo­ve the moun­tain: Sol! Sol! Komm igjen! Sola er min bes­te venn! – Sun! Sun! Come on! The sun is my best friend! The rhy­me does not real­ly work in Eng­lish, well.

Sunrise during the solfest, Longyearbyen

Sun­ri­se abo­ve Lars Hier­taf­jel­let during the sol­fest in Lon­gye­ar­by­en,
Fri­day noon (8.3.).

And final­ly, here she is! The sun, bright as ever, clim­bs over the rim of Lars Hier­ta­fel­let, behind Lars­breen, and the­re is gre­at chee­ring and jubi­la­ti­on. It is real­ly an emo­tio­nal moment! The­re has not been any direct sun­light in Lon­gye­ar­by­en during 5 mon­ths, due to the moun­tains around the sett­le­ment.

Sun, Gipshuken

Sun­ny view towards Gips­hu­ken and Bill­efjord.

Yes, the sun is back. It is gre­at to be out­side, to enjoy the light-floo­ded land­s­cape and to feel the sun on the skin.

Sun, Nordenskiöld Land

Sun over Nor­dens­kiöld Land.

But, it is and remains icy cold, the ther­mo­me­ter is rather con­stant­ly some­whe­re near minus 20 degrees cen­tig­ra­de. The­re is fresh ice near the shore of Advent­fjord, but a solid ice cover just does not want to form in spi­te of the cold. The warm water sup­ply com­ing with the West Spits­ber­gen Cur­rent (“Gulf Stream”) is inex­haus­ti­ble, I guess. Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly. A fro­zen Advent­fjord, that would be gre­at. We have not had that for qui­te a few years.

Ice, Adventfjord

Fresh ice forming near the shore of Advent­fjord, in Hior­th­hamn.

Sas­senda­len and Tem­pel­fjord

The win­ter keeps showing off with cold, sta­ble wea­ther and the sun is clim­bing a tiny litt­le bit hig­her every day. We make use of such grand con­di­ti­ons as often as pos­si­ble to enjoy the out­doors in this ama­zing coun­try, to which the light is now retur­ning with might.

Sassendalen

Sas­senda­len.

Here, we are in Sas­senda­len. It is big and wide, one of Spitsbergen’s lar­gest val­leys. At this time of year, it is one of the most fre­quent­ly used snow mobi­le rou­tes, to the east coast or to Tem­pel­fjord. But it is so big that it is easy to find a silent cor­ner without traf­fic.

Sassendalen

Hiking in Sas­senda­len.

We park our snow mobi­les in such a silent cor­ner and start hiking up a gent­le, but end­less slo­pe. You could hike a who­le, long day here without real­ly get­ting some­whe­re, but get­ting some­whe­re is not the point here. Just being here is the point. It seems a bit other­world­ly. The light, the land­s­cape … the wind has blown the snow away from many sur­faces. The coun­try appears very bar­ren. Nevertheless, many rein­de­er roam here, try­ing to find some food.

Reindeer

Rein­de­er in polar-desert-like land­s­cape, loo­king for food.

Later, we dri­ve north, towards Tem­pel­fjord. We have been here some weeks ago alrea­dy. Today, the land­s­cape shi­nes in com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent light, the inten­si­ty of which is impos­si­ble to grasp with a few words unless you are Shea­ke­speare.

Fjordnibba, Tempelfjord

View from the moun­tain Fjord­nib­ba into Tem­pel­fjord.

Even under “nor­mal” light con­di­ti­ons, the view from the litt­le moun­tain Fjord­nib­ba over Sas­sen­fjord and Tem­pel­fjord is stun­nin­gly beau­ti­ful. Whoever crea­ted this land­s­cape must have been in excel­lent mood that day. Ama­zing.

And then in this light …

Tunabreen, Tempelfjord

Gla­cier front of Tuna­b­reen in Tem­pel­fjord in sun­set light.

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You just can’t spend enough time in such pla­ces! I just have to return as often as I can.

And the timing is just per­fect right now. It is just befo­re 4 p.m., the sun is about to disap­pe­ar behind the moun­tains, cas­ting the last direct light of day in fire-red colour over moun­tains, fjords and gla­ciers.

Sunset, Tempelfjord

Sun­set over Sas­sen­fjord and Nor­dens­kiöld Land.

Inner Tem­pel­fjord is lar­ge­ly fro­zen solid – only at Fred­heim, the ice has bro­ken up recent­ly – and now the­re is a fresh ice cover forming also fur­ther out in Sas­sen­fjord. Let’s see how far far the deve­lo­p­ment goes this sea­son. Here, we have the view towards Dia­ba­sod­den in outer Sas­sen­fjord.

View from Fjordnibba to Sassenfjord and Diabasodden

View from Fjord­nib­ba to Sas­sen­fjord and Dia­ba­sod­den.

A final litt­le excur­si­on takes us from the moun­tain down to sea level at Fred­heim. It is icy cold today, air tem­pe­ra­tures are around -25 degrees cen­tig­ra­de. The cold beco­mes visi­ble in the colours, which ran­ge from pink through pur­p­le to blue. Colours of frost and ice.

Eis am Ufer, Tempelfjord

Ice on the shore in Tem­pel­fjord at Fred­heim.

Final­ly, a last view into Tem­pel­fjord. As I said, colours of the cold! A pic­tu­re can give you an idea of the colours – just an idea, but at least – but it does not deli­ver the sounds. The silence is one thing, the sound of the ice yet ano­t­her. The ice is con­stant­ly working on the shore, being moved by the tides and pos­si­b­ly by some waves fur­ther out, in open water. The ice is groa­ning and moa­ning, squea­king and sque­aling. Not load, but con­stant­ly.

Eis am Ufer, Tempelfjord

Ice on the shore of Tem­pel­fjord at Fred­heim.

Final­ly, my cur­rent ceter­um cen­seo: I have made a new pho­to book, focus­sing on aeri­al pho­to­gra­phy and thus showing the Arc­tic from a very unsu­al per­spec­ti­ve. In theo­ry, the book is in Ger­man, but in prac­ti­ce, it does hard­ly have text. 134 out of 137 pages do just have stun­ning pho­tos, pla­ce­n­a­mes and a litt­le map.

Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (2) – Aeri­al Arc­tic shows Jan May­en and Sval­bard from the air.

Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) - Aerial Arctic

Rolf’s new pho­to book Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (2) – Aeri­al Arc­tic shows Jan May­en and Spits­ber­gen from a new and stun­ning per­spec­ti­ve.

Sun fes­ti­val in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Spits­ber­gen was under full con­trol of the polar night just a few weeks ago, but now the light is retur­ning with full for­ce. The sun is get­ting hig­her up on the sky every day, and around mid-day, the migh­ty Hiorthfjel­let is alrea­dy ful­ly expo­sed to the sun.

The return of the sun is cele­bra­ted for one week in Lon­gye­ar­by­en with the tra­di­tio­nal “Sol­fest­u­ke” (sun fes­ti­val week) with a ran­ge of events. The first one was a fire­work on the night sky 🙂

Northern light Adventdalen

Nort­hern light in Advent­da­len.

The sun, herself obvious­ly not visi­ble, had clear­ly in pret­ty good mood, let­ting off steam towards us out here in space. The who­le specta­cle las­ted for a while, so we could chan­ge poso­ti­on and per­spec­ti­ve.

Northern light above Sarkofagen, Longyearbyen

Nort­hern light abo­ve Sar­ko­fa­gen south of Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

The “Spits­ber­gen­re­vye” is the tra­di­tio­nal ope­ner of the Sol­fest­u­ke. The revye brings events and peop­le on the sce­ne of old Huset in Lon­gye­ar­by­en which have moved peop­le here in one or ano­t­her way in the year that has pas­sed. Sati­re, humour and music are defi­ni­te­ly part of the event. Good fun, espe­cial­ly if you under­stand Nor­we­gi­an with a nort­hern colou­ra­ti­on and you have done your home­work and fol­lo­wed Sval­bard­pos­ten (or this blog!).

Spitsbergenrevye in Huset, Sun festival week, Longyearbyen

Spits­ber­gen­re­vye in Huset. Sun fes­ti­val week, Lon­gye­ar­by­en.
Polar bears and coal mining are always part of the show.

Ano­t­her tra­di­tio­nal part of the Sun fes­ti­val week is a church ser­vice – out­doors at Tele­lin­ken on the slo­pe of Hiorthfjel­let, whe­re you see the sun ear­lier than in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Wea­ther per­mit­ting, that is. And it was clear and sun­ny! But cold … below -20 degrees cen­tig­ra­de, and win­dy. Cold.

Sun festival week Longyearbyen: Church service at Telelinken

Open air church ser­vice at Tele­lin­ken (I). Sun fes­ti­val week, Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Sun festival week Longyearbyen: Church service at Telelinken

Open air church ser­vice at Tele­lin­ken (I). Sun fes­ti­val week, Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the sun will shi­ne “offi­cial­ly” again on 08 March. Prac­ti­cal­ly, it is actual­ly a bit ear­lier as you can see on the next pho­to.

Svalbard Snøskuterutleie in the sun

Sval­bard Snøs­ku­te­rut­leie in the sun – on 05 March.

The sun was shi­ning on Sval­bard Snøs­ku­te­rut­leie, lower­most in Lon­gye­ar­by­en near Advent­fjord and Advent­da­len, on Tues­day, 05 March!

Nevertheless, 08 March is the cor­rect date for historical/traditional rea­sons (unless it is a leap year). The lower­most part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, whe­re the sun is shi­ning a few days ear­lier, did not exist back then. As soon as the sun is seen from in Skjæ­rin­ga, the oldest part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en whe­re amongst others Sval­bard Kir­ke (the church) is loca­ted, it is time to cele­bra­te – that will be on Fri­day!

Febru­a­ry-impres­si­ons from Spits­ber­gen

Febru­a­ry can be a beau­ti­ful mon­th in Spits­ber­gen. Espe­cial­ly if it is nice and cold and not as bat­te­red by cli­ma­te chan­ge as last year, when warm air incur­si­ons brought several peri­ods of thawing and rain. This year, we have had good frost for most of the time in Febru­a­ry. Cold, clear wea­ther and not too much wind. The sun is still lar­ge­ly behind the hori­zon and hid­den by moun­tains, but the moun­tain tops star­ted glowing a good week ago and we have had the first rays of sunshi­ne on our fro­zen noses! You still have to do a litt­le trip to enjoy that plea­su­re, the sun won’t reach Lon­gye­ar­by­en befo­re 08 March.

Longyearbyen Camping

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Cam­ping is still a quiet place.

The average tem­pe­ra­tu­re in Febru­a­ry was -11.1°C, “only” 5.1 degrees abo­ve the long-term average which is defi­ned as the average from 1961-1990. Five degrees abo­ve a “nor­mal” tem­pe­ra­tu­re that is impos­si­ble to reach now! That is still a lot. Nevertheless, a mon­th­ly average of -11.1°C invol­ves a lot of fine frost. Even the fjord, Advent­fjord, seems to con­si­der free­zing over again, just for a chan­ge. This has not hap­pen­ed in many years. It is unli­kely to hap­pen this year eit­her, but the­re is at least some initi­al ice for­ma­ti­on in pro­tec­ted in-shore cor­ners.

Ice in Adventfjord and sun on the mountains

Ice in Advent­fjord and sun on Hiorthfjel­let and Advent­top­pen.

You still have to make sure you get out around mid-day to catch some direct sun­rays. An after­noon trip does not bring anything but twi­light. Which can of cour­se also be beau­ti­ful, but if you want the see the sun, then this is not the real thing.

With ski and dogs in Adventdalen

Out with ski and dogs: “rope ski­ing” (snø­rek­jø­ring) in Advent­da­len.

Hiorthfjel­let, the cha­rac­te­ris­tic moun­tain oppo­si­te of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, is a very popu­lar place the­se days. Half-way up the slo­pe, the­re is a hut with some lar­ge anten­nas, which is local­ly known as Tele­lin­ken. Per­fect­ly pla­ced on a slo­pe facing south with a fan­tastic view over Advent­fjord and a good place to catch some first sun­rays!

First sun over Adventfjord

First sun over Advent­fjord.

The air tem­pe­ra­tu­re is minus 20 degrees cen­tig­ra­de, but we enjoy the first direct sun­rays on tho­se few squa­re cen­ti­me­tres of expo­sed skin that we have had for some time …

Arctic sun worshipper

Arc­tic sun wor­s­hip­per.

… and the ama­zing light that the low sun brings back to this cold island.

Mountains, Nordenskiöld Land

Sun­ny views of some moun­tain tops in Nor­dens­kiöld Land.

The­re is not yet much wild­life bey­ond tho­se spe­ci­es that spend the win­ter here, arc­tic fox and rein­de­er. Recent­ly, still in dark time, the­re was a com­mon eider near the shore in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. That one has pro­bab­ly spent the win­ter in Advent­fjord, some­thing that is not com­mon but not unhe­ard of eit­her. A kit­ty­wa­ke has been seen some days ago.

Tracks of an arctic fox on Hiorthfjellet

Tracks of an arc­tic fox on Hiorthfjel­let.

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