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Daily Archives: 26. May 2019 − News & Stories


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.

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