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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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