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Home → February, 2019

Monthly Archives: February 2019 − Travelblog

Arc­tic win­ter light in Tem­pel­fjord

Some visit a temp­le to find enligh­ten­ment.

We visit Tem­pel­fjord and find the light.

Eskerdalen, light of dawning polar day, mid February

View through Eskerd­a­len, Sas­send­a­len in the distance
in the dawn of the ear­ly polar day in Febru­ary.

The start of our litt­le excur­si­on was admit­ted­ly a bit bum­py. First we had to drag a car out of a deep snow hole that a sup­po­sed tur­ning around area had tur­ned out to be. It was not the first time that f§/%!”=g hole has foo­led someone. We should put up a sign …

Tempelfjord, Isfjord

View over outer Tem­pel­fjord towards Isfjord.

Also the snow mobi­les don’t want to do what we want them to do, some­thing the­se things quite often do. But final­ly we are off and on the road. It is a bit fresh today, well below -20°C around Lon­gye­ar­by­en and cer­tain­ly not far from -30 in Sas­send­a­len and Tem­pel­fjord. A col­leage who was on the east coast today said later that he esti­ma­ted the air tem­pe­ra­tu­re on the gla­ciers around -40°C … as men­tio­ned, it is fresh today.


View from Fjord­nib­ba into Tem­pel­fjord.

It is not just the air that is icy, so are the fjords as well. The­re is a con­ti­nuous lay­er of ice stret­ching from Fred­heim into Tem­pel­fjord. Also Sas­senfjord – the con­ti­nua­tion of Tem­pel­fjord towards Isfjord – shows clear signs of free­zing. If this only con­tin­ued! We will see what hap­pens the next weeks.

Lukas enjoys the amazing views over Tempelfjord

Lukas enjoys the ama­zing views over Tem­pel­fjord.

After enjoy­ing the ama­zing views from the litt­le moun­tain Fjord­nib­ba, we make a litt­le excur­si­on to Fred­heim, the famous hut built by the even more famous trap­per Hil­mar Nøis. He star­ted buil­ding Fred­heim in 1924 and tur­ned it into a real home during the years to come. In 2015, Fred­heim was moved a few met­res hig­her up and away from the coast that was slow­ly app­rach­ing the his­to­ri­cal huts due to coas­tal ero­si­on.

We enjoy the place, the gre­at sce­n­ery, the cold, the ice, the light and last but not least some hot soup for a while befo­re we start moving back home. The days are still short, but it is ama­zing how quick­ly the light is coming back.

Ice in Tempelfjord

Ice on the shore of Tem­pel­fjord.

Suns­hi­ne and 20 degrees …

… is not real­ly what you expect in Spits­ber­gen in Febru­ary.

But it is also not real­ly a good descrip­ti­on of what we curr­ent­ly have in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Theo­re­ti­cal­ly, we should have had the first sun­ri­se on Satur­day (16 Febru­ary). This does not mean that you can see the sun from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. You would have to climb one of the hig­her moun­ta­ins such as Troll­stei­nen, some­thing that is actual­ly quite popu­lar on that very day.

But it was clou­dy, so a tour some­whe­re in the near­by val­leys was a good thing.

Moonlight tour with dogs in Adventdalen

Moon­light tour with dogs in Advent­da­len.

Today (Mon­day) was the first real­ly clear day. The grey snow clouds gave way to the clear sky during the mor­ning. The blue light of the late polar night is now giving way to the pink-blue light of the ear­ly polar day, at least around noon.

So today we could see the sun again – at least indi­rect­ly. It won’t be befo­re 08 March that you can see the sun direct­ly in Lon­gye­ar­by­en again, some­thing that will be cele­bra­ted duly. But the moun­ta­ins are now get­ting beau­tiful crowns of pink-oran­ge glo­wing light now for a while around mid-day.

First sunlight on Hiorthfellet

First sun­light on Hiorth­fel­let.

The sun remain­ed abo­ve the hori­zon for quite some time, cas­ting her beau­tiful light over the moun­tain tops for the first time in months, while the moon is clim­bing over the peaks.

Yes, and we do have 20 degrees (cen­ti­gra­de) and even more. Below zero, of cour­se!

The moon next to Adventtoppen

The moon next to Advent­top­pen.

Lun­ckef­jel­let: the end of an arc­tic coal mine

The Lun­ckef­jel­let coal mine is a poli­ti­cal-eco­no­mic­al phe­no­me­non. The first ton of coal was “pro­du­ced” in Novem­ber 2013 – a sym­bo­lic act, the mine was not yet in pro­duc­ti­ve ope­ra­ti­on. This was not the case eit­her when Lun­ckef­jel­let was offi­ci­al­ly ope­ned on 25 Febru­ary 2014, but the mine was “rea­dy to go”. Many thought pro­duc­tion would start now big-time, as the mine had until then cost more than 1 bil­li­on Nor­we­gi­an crowns (more than 100 mil­li­on Euro) and it was the­re and rea­dy to start pro­duc­tion.

Scientists on the way to the Lunckefjellet coal mine

Sci­en­tists on the way to the Lun­ckef­jel­let coal mine.

But this was not to hap­pen. The coal pri­ces on the world mar­kets drop­ped and the mines of Sveagru­va, the Nor­we­gi­an mining sett­le­ment in Van Mijenfjord, went into stand­by ope­ra­ti­on just to make sure they would not beco­me inac­ces­si­ble and mining could start one day – if this decis­i­ons was made.


Sveagru­va: Nor­we­gi­an coal mining sett­le­ment (Swe­dish foun­da­ti­on in 1917) in Van Mijenfjord.

In the fall of 2017, the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment put their foot down. Being the 100 % owner of the Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni (SNSK), the com­pa­ny that owns and runs all Nor­we­gi­an coal mines in Spits­ber­gen, the govern­ment could direct­ly deci­de about the fate of mining and miners in Sveagru­va and Lon­gye­ar­by­en and rela­ted eco­no­mies. The decis­i­on in 2017 was to put an end to all mining in Sveagru­va. Both the coal mine Svea Nord, which had been pro­fi­ta­ble for a num­ber of years, and the new mine in Lun­ckef­jel­let were to be pha­sed out and phy­si­cal­ly clea­ned up as far as pos­si­ble. And the same was to hap­pen for the sett­le­ment Sveagru­va its­elf. Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen is only con­tin­ued now in mine 7 near Lon­gye­ar­by­en (whe­re the ope­ra­ti­on has sin­ce increase from one shift to two shifts).


Day faci­li­ties and mine ent­rance at Lun­ckef­jel­let.

The reasons were offi­ci­al­ly said to be enti­re­ly eco­no­mic­al con­side­ra­ti­ons. The govern­ment does not real­ly give more infor­ma­ti­on than neces­sa­ry, rele­vant docu­ments have been declared con­fi­den­ti­al. Many see the end of coal mining in Sveagru­va, espe­ci­al­ly in the new­ly built Lun­ckef­jel­let mine, with a tear in their eyes, as tra­di­ti­on, jobs and an indus­try that is important for Lon­gye­ar­by­en are about to get lost.

The end of coal mining in Spits­ber­gen does not come as a total sur­pri­se, ever­y­bo­dy knew it would come one not too far day. Other bran­ches are deve­lo­ped, with sci­ence, edu­ca­ti­on and tou­rism high up on the list. Nevert­hel­ess, Lon­gye­ar­by­en would not exist wit­hout coal mining and mining has been the main acti­vi­ty here for most of the histo­ry so far. Many peo­p­le have an emo­tio­nal con­nec­tion to mining and quite a few still have a real one, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly, and losing coal mining will hurt them eco­no­mic­al­ly.

The govern­ment was not inte­res­ted in dis­cus­sing offers from inves­tors to con­ti­nue mining in Lun­ckef­jel­let, which was never inten­ded to last for more than may­be 7-8 years any­way. This does not add to the cre­di­bi­li­ty of the offi­ci­al reaso­ning for clo­sing of the Lun­ckef­jel­let mine being sole­ly based on the dif­fi­cult eco­no­my.

Tunnel Lunckefjellet

Tun­nel of the coal mine in Lun­ckef­jel­let.

The coal mine in Lun­ckef­jel­let will be clo­sed soon. The ven­ti­la­ti­on sys­tem is curr­ent­ly being dis­mant­led, and once that is not ope­ra­ti­ve any­mo­re, only spe­cia­lists with self-con­tai­ned breathing appa­ra­tus could, theo­re­ti­cal­ly, still enter the mine – for a short peri­od, until the roof has beco­me mecha­ni­cal­ly unsta­ble. This will not take a lot of time. The Lun­ckef­jel­let mine will soon be as dif­fi­cult to reach as the far side of the moon.

Tunnel Lunckefjellet

Device to moni­tor rock move­ments in the roof of the mine.

Stabilising the roof, Lunckefjellet

Bolts to secu­re the roof are expo­sed to per­ma­nent ero­si­on and mecha­ni­cal stress. If they are not regu­lar­ly con­trol­led and ser­viced a coal mine soon beco­mes a very dan­ge­rous place.

Last week (5-7 Febru­ary 2019), geo­lo­gists from the mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske and UNIS took lite­ral­ly the last chan­ce to take samples from the coal seam in Lun­ckef­jel­let. The coal geo­lo­gy in Spits­ber­gen is less well known than one might assu­me and than geo­lo­gists would want it to by: nobo­dy real­ly knows what the land­scape exact­ly loo­ked like whe­re the bogs grew that later for­med the coal.

Geologist Malte Jochmann, Lunckefjellet

Geo­lo­gist Mal­te Joch­mann at work in Lun­ckef­jel­let.

Of cour­se the­re were bogs, and salt­wa­ter from a near­by coast is likely to have been an important fac­tor, at least at cer­tain times. But which role did sweet­wa­ter play, lakes and rivers? Why are the­re sand­stone and con­glo­me­ra­te (gra­vel-bea­ring sand­stone) lay­ers and chan­nel fil­lings within and just on the edge of the coal seam? What did the sea level do at the near­by coast, what was the influence of tec­to­nics? Were the­re hills or even moun­ta­ins in the area, or was the sur­roun­ding reli­ef more or less level?

Geologische Aufnahme, Lunckefjellet

Geo­lo­gists Mal­te Joch­mann, Maria Jen­sen and Chris­to­pher Mar­shall at work in the Lun­ckef­jel­let mine, inspec­ting out­crops and poten­ti­al sam­pling sites.

A walk through the tun­nels of the Lun­ckef­jel­let mine pro­du­ces fasci­na­ting views into the geo­lo­gi­cal histo­ry, rai­sing ques­ti­ons and ans­we­ring some of them. The geo­lo­gists Mal­te Joch­mann (SNSK/UNIS), Maria Jen­sen (UNIS) and Chris­to­pher Mar­shall (Uni­ver­si­ty of Not­ting­ham) had just two days to docu­ment out­crops and to take samples which might ans­wer some of the­se ques­ti­ons in fur­ther, detail­ed inves­ti­ga­ti­ons invol­ving advan­ced labo­ra­to­ry methods.

Eiskristalle, Lunckefjellet

Even insi­de a moun­tain you are con­stant­ly remin­ded that you are in the Arc­tic: the tem­pe­ra­tu­re is con­stant­ly below zero, and ice crys­tals are gro­wing on black coal sur­faces.

Now the Lun­ckef­jel­let mine is about to be clo­sed fore­ver. A lot of equip­ment has alre­a­dy been remo­ved, soon the mine can not be ente­red any­mo­re. Also Sveagru­va will be sub­ject to a major clean-up, initi­al work has alre­a­dy begun. The­re won’t be much left in the end. Some arte­facts which are con­side­red having his­to­ri­cal value will remain (ever­y­thing older than 1946 is gene­ral­ly pro­tec­ted in Spits­ber­gen, the thres­hold will pro­ba­b­ly be moved up to 1949 in Sveagru­va) and pos­si­bly a very few buil­dings for future use – rese­arch? Limi­t­ed tou­rism? Nobo­dy knows.

It will not be mining, that is for sure.

Sky of stars, Spitsbergen

Sky of stars on the way back from Sveagru­va to Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

A day in Spits­ber­gen: polar dogs and polar jazz

The expe­ri­en­ces to be made here in Spits­ber­gen in one day can be very rich in con­trast: a litt­le ski tour in Advent­da­len with com­pa­ny on four legs brings exer­cise, fresh air and impres­si­ons of light and land­scape – pure plea­su­re. For all invol­ved, with two and for legs.

With ski and dogs Adventdalen

With ski and dogs Advent­da­len.

A few hours later you may find yours­elf in an old hall which belongs to mine 3. No coal is mined in mine 3 any­mo­re, after years of silence it is now regu­lar­ly used as a mining muse­um and occa­sio­nal­ly for events. Today, the­re is one of the last con­certs of this year’s Polar­jazz fes­ti­val going on here. An expe­ri­men­tal Spits­ber­gen-Jazz-ope­ra – does that make sen­se? 🙂 The title is “Spor” (tracks) and it com­bi­nes sto­ries, impres­si­ons and emo­ti­ons from the histo­ry and natu­re, hun­ting and mining in Spits­ber­gen. All of that is put into music and sounds by a trio, in major parts with the addi­tio­nal voal powers of the Store Nor­ske Manns­kor, resul­ting in sounds that vary from spheric/experimental through jaz­zy to groo­vy.

Polarjazz with 'Spor' in Mine 3

Polar­jazz 2019: ‘Spor’ in Mine 3.

The atmo­sphe­re of the event was cer­tain­ly even increased by the loca­ti­on.


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