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Home → May, 2019

Monthly Archives: May 2019 − News & Stories


Spits­ber­gen under sail 2019 and Rolf’s arc­tic blog star­ting now

The arc­tic sum­mer sea­son “Spits­ber­gen under sail” is star­ting tomor­row (Satur­day) with sV Anti­gua: we are star­ting our first depar­tu­re in Lon­gye­ar­by­en – arc­tic spring/early sum­mer. Explo­ring stun­ning land­s­capes, ice and snow and the arc­tic wild­life under sail!

SV Antigua: Spitsbergen under sail

Spits­ber­gen under sail: with SV Anti­gua to the ice.

And this means of cour­se that my arc­tic blog on exact­ly this page will be updated again regu­lar­ly, and it is abso­lute­ly worth com­ing back and che­cking for new pho­tos and short sto­ries. Join us online when we explo­re remo­te arc­tic fjords and islands and meet the wild­life! We will explo­re Spits­ber­gen several times under sail with SV Anti­gua, but also with the smal­ler SY Arc­ti­ca II and we will also ven­ture to Green­land with the good SY Anne-Mar­ga­re­tha.

And if you want to join us in real life – the voya­ge descrip­ti­ons for 2020 are now online! (Ger­man only, sor­ry, but that is the board lan­guage on the­se trips).

Polar bear clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en

A polar bear was seen clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en near 5 a.m. on Mon­day (27 May) morning. It was in Advent­da­len, not far from the road and the lower­most houses. The Sys­sel­man­nen (poli­ce) was cal­led, several shots were fired with a fla­re gun and the heli­co­p­ter went out to sca­re the bear away from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The bear then wal­ked away along the shore towards Hior­th­hamn, on the other side of Advent­fjord.

The public is remin­ded to take the risk of mee­ting a polar bear serious­ly also near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Sysselmannen's helicopter and the polar bear

The Sysselmannen’s heli­co­p­ter and the polar bear (lower left) in Advent­da­len.

Geese arri­ved in Spits­ber­gen after spring migra­ti­on

Spring has also arri­ved in arc­tic Spits­ber­gen. Ear­ly migra­ting birds such as the snow bun­ting and Litt­le auk came alrea­dy more than a mon­th ago in April, fil­ling the tun­dra in and around Lon­gye­ar­by­en respec­tively the moun­tain slo­pes with their sin­ging (snow bun­ting) and cra­zy laugh­ter (snow bun­ting).

Tem­pe­ra­tures are still cold, mild frost, but the snow-free tun­dra patches are gro­wing every day and the rivers show signs of brea­king up.

Adventdalen

Tun­dra is com­ing through the snow in Advent­da­len.

By now, most migra­ting birds have retur­ned to their sum­mer ter­ri­to­ries. A good week ago, the first Pink-foo­ted geese were sud­den­ly sit­ting, well camou­fla­ged, on the tun­dra next to the roads in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, and the first Bar­na­cle geese fol­lo­wed soon.

Brent geese, Adventfjord

Brent geese on the shore of Advent­fjord (a Bar­na­cle goo­se in the back­ground).

Once the first geese had arri­ved, dozens and hund­reds fol­lo­wed during the next cou­p­le of days to sett­le down on snow-free tun­dra are­as in Advent­da­len and even wit­hin Lon­gye­ar­by­en. In this area, the snow melt starts regu­lar­ly a cou­p­le of weeks ear­ly than else­whe­re in Spits­ber­gen, making the tun­dra are­as here an important res­ting area for many birds, which feed on tun­dra vege­ta­ti­on, after their spring migra­ti­on. Later they will disper­se to their various bree­ding are­as wit­hin the regi­on.

Brent geese

Brent geese on the shore of Advent­fjord (Pink-foo­ted geese in the fore­ground).

Cur­r­ent­ly, it is very easy to obser­ve all geese spe­ci­es that breed in Spits­ber­gen as well as Com­mon eider ducks, King eider and many otehr spe­ci­es very clo­se to or even wit­hin Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Soon they will move to more inac­ces­si­ble are­as and then most of them will also be very shy. Then, it will be much more dif­fi­cult, if not impos­si­ble, to secu­re good obser­va­tions and pho­tos, even with good equip­ment.

Espe­cial­ly the Brent goo­se is a dif­fi­cult spe­ci­es to obser­ve. It is not an ever­y­day sight during the sum­mer and obser­va­tions are usual­ly from a grea­ter distance. So it is a spe­cial plea­su­re to see this spe­ci­es on a short distance on the shore of Advent­fjord just next to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. As long as you stay a bit hid­den or wit­hin a car, the risk of dis­tur­ban­ce is low.

Pink footed goose, Barnacle goose and Brent goose, Adventfjord

All three spe­ci­es of geese that breed in Spits­ber­gen in one pho­to:
Pink foo­ted goo­se, Bar­na­cle goo­se and Brent goo­se, Advent­fjord.

I am almost a bit proud of this last pho­to that has all three spe­ci­es of geese that breed in Spits­ber­gen in one frame: Pink foo­ted goo­se (upper left, not sharp), Bar­na­cle goo­se (lower left) and Brent goo­se (lower right).

Housing mar­ket in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: avalan­ches and Airbnb

Housing mar­ket in Lon­gye­ar­by­en under pres­su­re

The dif­fi­cult housing mar­ket in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has been the sub­ject on the­se pages alrea­dy several times befo­re. For years, it has been almost impos­si­ble to find an afford­a­ble place to live.

139 flats to be demo­lis­hed

The situa­ti­on got worse after the tra­gic 2015 avalan­che, which kil­led 2 peop­le in their homes and des­troy­ed several houses. In the after­math, a new avalan­che risk eva­lua­ti­on was made for Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The sho­cking result is that houses with a total of no less than 139 flats have to be demo­lis­hed, and avalan­che bar­ri­ers to secu­re remai­ning buil­dings are nee­ded. A num­ber of avalan­che pro­tec­tions have alrea­dy been built on the slo­pes of Suk­ker­top­pen.

Fur­ther 41 fats at risk

Now doubts are com­ing up if it will actual­ly be pos­si­ble to secu­re some of the remai­ning buil­dings suff­ci­ent­ly. The requi­re­ment is to build avalan­che pro­tec­tion that is strong enough even for worst case sce­n­a­ri­os of cli­ma­te chan­ge – “busi­ness as usu­al” sce­n­a­ri­os regar­ding future glo­bal CO2 emis­si­ons. In this case, foun­da­ti­ons would have to go as deep down into the slo­pe as 14 metres to make the bar­ri­ers strong enough.

The ques­ti­on is if this is actual­ly pos­si­ble in the steep ter­rain. The ans­wer is cur­r­ent­ly unclear. In the worst case, fur­ther houses with up to 41 homes will have to be remo­ved, as repor­ted by Sval­bard­pos­ten. This con­cerns houses clo­se to Suk­ker­top­pen in Way 228.

Even though the result – demo­li­ti­on or not – is cur­r­ent­ly uncer­tain, one thing is for sure: the housing mar­ket in Lon­gye­ar­by­en will beco­me even more dif­fi­cult.

Residential houses, and avalanche barriers on Sukkertoppen

Resi­den­ti­al houses, and avalan­che bar­ri­ers on Suk­ker­top­pen.

Airbnb

Ano­t­her fac­tor which has cau­sed public deba­te over years is the short-term ren­tal plat­form AirbnB. It is no secret that a num­ber of homes in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are ren­ted out by their respec­ti­ve owners on short-term basis via Airbnb to tou­rists and not on long-term con­tracts to peop­le who want to live in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The actu­al num­ber of homes that are lost this way for the housing mar­ket is not exact­ly known, but it is con­si­de­red signi­fi­cant. When Sval­bard­pos­ten recent­ly rese­ar­ched the issue, 36 homes in Lon­gye­ar­by­en were offe­red on Airbnb.

More exact num­bers are cur­r­ent­ly not avail­ab­le, so the com­mu­ni­ty (Lokals­ty­re) has orde­red a report from a spe­cia­li­sed com­pa­ny to get more infor­ma­ti­on about the influ­ence of Airbnb on the local housing mar­ket. Depen­ding on the result, the com­mu­ni­ty could then con­si­der limi­ta­ti­ons.

Airbnb is in the cent­re of public dis­cus­sions lin­ked to the housing mar­ket in many pla­ces in the world, but Lon­gye­ar­by­en may be more dif­fi­cult than other towns: it is a small place with a small num­ber of houses, whe­re every loss makes a dif­fe­rence. The­re are many tou­rists with a lot of money, dis­tor­ting the small and tight local housing mar­ket. Third­ly, you can not just move, sett­le down in the next vil­la­ge and com­mu­te.

One thing is for sure: it is cur­r­ent­ly almost impos­si­ble to find a home in Lon­gyear­ben for smal­ler inco­mes.

Two per­sons dead in moun­tain acci­dent in Horn­sund

Two per­sons died during a moun­tain hike in Horn­sund. They were a woman and a man who belon­ged to the crew of the Polish rese­arch sta­ti­on in Horn­sund. They had set out for a pri­va­te tour on Fri­day but did not return until the agreed time on Sunday morning, so the remai­ning sta­ti­on crew star­ted a search.

Map of Hornsund showing the research station and the mountain Kamkrona

Map of Horn­sund showing the rese­arch sta­ti­on and the moun­tain Kam­kro­na (acci­dent site). © topo­gra­phic base: Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te.

They had ascen­ded the moun­tain Kam­kro­na, which is part of Sofi­e­kam­men, a long, steep ridge on the west side of Bur­ger­buk­ta. Kam­kro­na is about 8 km east of the rese­arch sta­ti­on and 770 metres high, the east side of the moun­tain is very steep.

Two victims of mountain accident in Hornsund

The moun­tain ridge Sofi­e­kam­men on the west side of Bur­ger­buk­ta in Horn­sund. Kam­kro­na is a peak appro­xi­mate­ly in the midd­le.

Accord­ing to a press release by the Sys­sel­man­nen the two vic­tims died during a fall of several hund­red metres in an avalan­che. No fur­ther details are public so far. The vic­tims were reco­ve­r­ed by SAR for­ces of the Sys­sel­man­nen and brought to Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Update: Accord­ing to Sval­bard­pos­ten, Sys­sel­man­nen poli­ce offi­cer Anders Hau­ge­rud told the Nor­we­gi­an news agen­cy NTB that the two appe­ar to have step­ped out on an over­han­ging snow bank on the moun­tain top. This was later con­fir­med.

As the fami­lies are infor­med, the names of the two decea­sed have been offi­cial­ly released. They were Anna Górs­ka and Michal Sawi­cki. Both had been working at the sta­ti­on, Anna as meteo­ro­lo­gist and Michal as geo­phy­si­cist.

Spits­ber­gen web­site in Nor­we­gi­an

This Spits­ber­gen web­site is now also online in Nor­we­gi­an under the domain name www.spitsbergen-svalbard.no.

It is by far the lar­gest and most com­pre­hen­si­ve web­site dedi­ca­ted exclu­si­ve­ly to Spits­ber­gen – or rather: to Sval­bard, becau­se it covers the who­le archi­pe­la­go inclu­ding the most remo­te cor­ners. That is reflec­ted by a lar­ge num­ber of sub-sites covering all aspects of the geo­gra­phy, wild­life, and flo­ra as well as the vast and still gro­wing collec­tion of polar pan­ora­mas whe­re you can vir­tual­ly tra­vel all over Sval­bard. News of inter­na­tio­nal inte­rest are inclu­ded as well as a tra­vel blog that covers all sea­sons and some insights into life in Lon­gye­ar­by­en … it’s all in the­re, in one web­site, with about 800 sub-pages and more than 1100 blog ent­ries (per lan­guage!). I star­ted working on the ori­gi­nal Ger­man web­site www.spitzbergen.de in 2006 and the Eng­lish ver­si­on www.spitsbergen-svalbard.com fol­lo­wed soon.

Spitzbergen.de now also in Norwegian

This Spits­ber­gen web­site is now also online in Nor­we­gi­an.

After Sval­bard – Nor­ge nær­mest Nord­po­len came out, it soon beca­me clear that the web­site had to go the same way. This hap­pend now after several mon­ths of inten­se work – now www.spitsbergen-svalbard.no is online. The­re are some Eng­lish pages still hid­den in the­re in a few pla­ces, their trans­la­ti­on is still going on. Lucky if you find one 🙂

Big thanks to all who have hel­ped to make this hap­pen! This inclu­des

Ida Eli­sa­beth Aar­vaag
Ceci­lie Berg­heim
Marie Brekk­hus
Mari Buck
Jan­ni­cke Høy­em
Jesper Kirk­hus
Tina Otten­heym
Aina Rog­stad
Eli­sa­beth Scho­ch
Vero­ni­ka Sund
Ida Eli­sa­beth Veld­man
Ivar Våge

Tusen takk skal dere ha!

So for all Nor­we­gi­an-spea­king visi­tors to this web­site: enjoy rea­ding and tra­vel­ling Spits­ber­gen online in Nor­we­gi­an on www.spitsbergen-svalbard.no!

Tun­dra swan near Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The swan song of the win­ter? Just in time for the “orni­tho­lo­gi­cal spring”, a rare tun­dra swan (Cyg­nus bewi­ckii) show­ed up near Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Swans are not on the list of bree­ding birds in Spits­ber­gen, they come just occa­sio­nal­ly as vagrants.

Tundra swan in Adventdalen

Tun­dra swan (Cyg­nus bewi­ckii) in Advent­da­len.

The­re are just five sightin­gs of tun­dra swans regis­tered on artsobservasjoner.no, a web­site to regis­ter spe­ci­es sightin­gs in Nor­way. The oldest one of the­se obser­va­tions is from 1987.

Tundra swan with pink-footed geese

Tun­dra swan with pink-foo­ted geese.

The­re are also sightin­gs of the who­oper swan (Cyg­nus cyg­nus) in Spits­ber­gen, 24 sin­ce 1992, inclu­ding 7 obser­va­tions from Bear Island (Bjørnøya). And regar­ding the tun­dra swan, things can actual­ly be a bit con­fu­sing: accord­ing to Wiki­pe­dia, “The two taxa wit­hin it are usual­ly regar­ded as con­spe­ci­fic, but are also some­ti­mes … split into two spe­ci­es: Bewick’s swan (Cyg­nus bewi­ckii) of the Palae­arc­tic and the whist­ling swan (C. colum­bia­nus) pro­per of the Nearc­tic.”

Tundra swan with pink-footed geese

Tun­dra swan with pink-foo­ted geese.

But in this case, local bird enthu­si­asts seem to have sett­led on a tun­dra swan (Cyg­nus bewi­ckii). The bird seems cur­r­ent­ly qui­te hap­py amongst several dozens of pink-foo­ted geese who came up during the last days after their spring migra­ti­on.

Tundra swan with pink-footed geese

Tun­dra swan with pink-foo­ted geese.

The­se pho­tos were taken without dis­tur­ban­ce with a focal length of 1200 mm and a high reso­lu­ti­on came­ra.

Also the­se repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the local sub­s­pe­ci­es of rein­de­er seem to be hap­py that the­re are more and more patches of tun­dra com­ing through the snow now. The snow mobi­les are stored away for this sea­son, beast and man are loo­king for­ward to the sum­mer now!

Spitsbergen-reindeer

Rein­de­er on ear­ly snow-free tun­dra are­as.

New­ton­top­pen

The win­ter sea­son is now, in ear­ly May or actual­ly soon mid May, about to come to an end, but we are cur­r­ent­ly having beau­ti­ful days, after an April that was part­ly qui­te, well, mixed. Now we having tem­pe­ra­tures below zero again – but not much, it is not too cold – and it is nice and sun­ny at times. Good rea­sons to get out the­re and enjoy the ama­zing ice- and snow land­s­cape, once again in win­ter mode.

Reindeer and ptarmigan

Spring is not far away any­mo­re in Spits­ber­gen: Ptar­mi­gan and rein­de­er are hap­py about spots of snow-free tun­dra.

We move rather effi­ci­ent­ly trough the val­leys to the east. Advent­da­len, Eskerda­len and Sas­senda­len, one by one, like perls on a neck­lace. We lea­ve them quick­ly behind, as we want to tra­vel far this time.

At Rabot­breen we enter the wide gla­cier land­s­capes of east Spits­ber­gen. The huge morai­ne of Rabot­breen also shows signs of the approa­ching spring, ici­cles are han­ging in small ice holes and caves. The sun is strong enough to make some ice melt even when tem­pe­ra­tures are actual­ly still below the free­zing point.

Ice cave Rabotbreen

Litt­le ice cave in the morai­ne of Rabot­breen.

Iciclces in ice cave, Rabotbreen

Ici­cles in an ice hole at Rabot­breen.

We lea­ve also this inte­res­ting landcsape quick­ly behind us, and soon we turn north, devia­ting from the popu­lar and beloved rou­te across Nord­manns­fon­na towards Mohn­buk­ta on the east coast. This time, we want to go fur­ther north.

Fimbulisen

Hea­ding north across Fim­bu­li­sen.

All we have around us is snow, ice and moun­tains. The land­s­cape appears infi­ni­te­ly wide. Coas­tal and tun­dra land­s­capes have disap­peared far behind us. Ins­tead, the­re is one gla­cier after the other, one small ice cap neigh­bou­ring the next one. Well, they are not exact­ly small. Of cour­se they can’t com­pe­te with tho­se in Green­land and even Ant­arc­ti­ca, but still, we are tal­king hund­reds of squa­re kilo­me­tres. Fim­bu­li­sen, Filch­ner­fon­na, Lomo­no­sov­fon­na … the lat­ter one is the source to the migh­ty gla­ciers Nor­dens­kiöld­breen and Mit­tag-Leff­ler­breen. Lomo­no­sov­fon­na is 600 squa­re kilo­me­tres lar­ge!

Lomonosovfonna

Infi­ni­te spaces: the ice cap Lomo­no­sov­fon­na.

Our desti­na­ti­on: New­ton­top­pen. This is Spitsbergen’s hig­hest moun­tain, 1713 metres high. Or to be clear: the hig­hest moun­tain of Sval­bard, the who­le archi­pe­la­go. 1713 metres are, of cour­se, not very impres­si­ve, com­pa­red to the lar­ge moun­tain ran­ges of this world. But it is far away … get­ting the­re is the first thing, and even on a lovely spring day like this, it is pret­ty cold.

Newtontoppen

New­ton­top­pen comes into our view.

For me, it is the second tour to New­ton­top­pen. The first time was in 2010. Back then, the two of us used ski, pulk and tent, some­thing that took us almost 4 weeks through this vast land­s­cape. Today, we are fas­ter.

Newtontoppen

New­ton­top­pen with a deco­ra­ti­ve cloud.

Back then, we were a bit more lucky with the wea­ther on New­ton­top­pen: today, the top remains in a thin cloud, alt­hough it is lar­ge­ly fine and clear other­wi­se.

New­ton­top­pen is not a dif­fi­cult moun­tain to ascend, it is “only” far away – and cold.

Newtontoppen peak

The top of New­ton­top­pen with clouds and stor­my wind.

The wind on top of New­ton­top­pen is strong and it is ice cold, near -20 degrees of cen­tig­ra­de – plus wind­chill. So it is not exact­ly pic­nic time up here, but we enjoy being here, hig­her than any­whe­re else on Spits­ber­gen, for some moments.

And the view is clea­ring up just a few metres fur­ther down. The­re is a shoul­der in about 1500 metres whe­re the gra­ni­te is com­ing to the sur­face. From here, we have got an impres­si­ve view over the sur­roun­ding moun­tains and ice fiel­ds.

View from Newtontoppen

View from New­ton­top­pen to the south.

The way back home is a long one … more than 300 kilo­me­tres in total, from Lon­gye­ar­by­en to New­ton­top­pen and back.

Bank rob­be­ry in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: ver­dict

Spitsbergen’s first bank rob­be­ry took place in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on 21 Decem­ber 2018. The offen­der was a 29 years old Rus­si­an citi­zen who had come to Lon­gye­ar­by­en a few days befo­re. He threa­tened the bank employees with a rif­le and for­ced them to hand out 70,000 Nor­we­gi­an kro­ner (ca. 7,000 Euro) with the words “This is not a joke. This is a rob­be­ry”.

The man was soon arres­ted by the poli­ce and taken into pre-tri­al cus­to­dy in Trom­sø. Now the court, Nord-Troms tin­g­rett, sen­ten­ced him to 14 mon­ths pri­son, as NRK repor­ted. In addi­ti­on, he has to pay NOK 20,000.00 to each of the 3 bank employees whom he had threa­tened during the rob­be­ry.

Bank robbery in Longyearbyen

Bank rob­be­ry in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: offen­der sen­ten­ced.

Serious psy­cho­lo­gi­cal pro­blems are said to have play­ed an important role. The man said that he had initi­al­ly plan­ned to com­mit sui­ci­de in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, but then deci­ded to raid the bank in order to be arres­ted. It is also men­tio­ned that he wan­ted to avoid having to return back to Rus­sia.

The rif­le that he had used during the bank rob­be­ry was loa­ded with sharp ammu­ni­ti­on and the offen­der poin­ted it towards the bank employees. It was a bolt-action Mau­ser rif­le, a very com­mon type of ren­tal wea­pon in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. After the rob­be­ry, the man went back to the ren­tal shop with the rif­le still loa­ded and retur­ned the wea­pon. Then he went back to the bank to return the money, but did not suc­ceed. Ins­tead, he was soon arres­ted by the poli­ce. He did not offer reis­tance.

The sen­tence is below the claim of the public pro­se­cu­ter, but hig­her than the defence lawy­er had plea­ded for. Revi­si­on is still pos­si­ble.

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