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Monthly Archives: March 2019 − News


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.

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