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Yearly Archives: 2019 − News


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.

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.

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.

Sval­bard Ski­ma­ra­thon

Today (Satur­day, 27 April) at 9 a.m., the star­ting shot for the Sval­bard Ski­ma­ra­thon 2019 was fired by Sys­sel­mann Kjers­tin Askholt.

Sysselmann Kjerstin Askholt starting shot Svalbard Skimarathon 2019

Sys­sel­mann Kjers­tin Askholt is rea­dy to fire the star­ting shot for the Sval­bard Ski­ma­ra­thon 2019.

The moment when the 2019 com­pe­ti­ti­on was a fact must have come as a bit of a reli­ef for the orga­nisers. The strong thawing during the week befo­re Eas­ter took a hea­vy toll on the snow con­di­ti­ons, and the rou­te had to be moved on a short warning. Today’s Ski­ma­ra­thon takes the par­ti­ci­pants across Advent­da­len and a short turn into Mälarda­len, then along the coast of Advent­fjord to Hior­th­hamn and Advent City and final­ly into Hanas­kog­da­len and then back again.

Start Svalbard Skimarathon 2019

Start of the Sval­bard Ski­ma­ra­thon 2019.

In addi­ti­on comes the strike of the SAS pilots. Many had hoped that Lon­gye­ar­by­en would be exclu­ded from the strike as the­re are no alter­na­ti­ve means of get­ting here and away regu­lar­ly avail­ab­le other than fly­ing. Buses and trains are obvious­ly not an opti­on, in con­trast to many cities in main­land Scan­di­na­via. But the SAS flight Fri­day after­noon was can­cel­led and more can­cel­la­ti­ons are likely to fol­low.

How many regis­tered par­ti­ci­pants were unab­le to fly to Lon­gye­ar­by­en is not known, but it is likely to be more than just a hand­full. And a few days ago, the num­ber of par­ti­ci­pants was alrea­dy a bit lower than in 2018: about 800 in con­trast to about 700. The­se figu­res are not final, as par­ti­ci­pants could regis­ter up to Fri­day evening, some­thing that some locals always do, depen­ding on their moti­va­ti­on sta­tus of the day and the wea­ther fore­cast.

Award ceremony Svalbard Skimarathon

Pre-race award cere­mo­ny 🙂

Today’s Sval­bard Ski­ma­ra­thon is the 27th one. It is one of the lar­gest regu­lar events in the calen­dar for Lon­gye­ar­by­en, attrac­ting inter­na­tio­nal par­ti­ci­pants from many coun­tries.

A gre­at day with much fun to all par­ti­ci­pants and all others invol­ved!

Spits­ber­gen back to win­ter mode on Eas­ter Sunday

After an ear­ly snow mel­ting peri­od last week, the win­ter retur­ned to Spits­ber­gen exact­ly on Eas­ter Sunday with tem­pe­ra­tures below zero. After a cou­p­le of very wet and grey days, which frus­tra­ted tou­rists, locals, gui­des and tour ope­ra­tors ali­ke, mol­ten snow beca­me ice – at least! – and the sun came out again.

Skating rink Longyearbyen Camping

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Cam­ping: last week a lake, this week an ice area.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Cam­ping, last week an impres­si­ve land­s­cape of lakes and lagoons, is now an ice area, with a sur­face just a bit too rough to pro­vi­de a use­ful ska­ting rink. Else­whe­re, it is flat and shi­ning as a mir­ror, some­thing that does not make moving around easier, both in the field and in town. Spikes (isbrod­der in Nor­we­gi­an) can be very hel­pful and may pre­vent acci­dents.

Skating rink Adventdalen

Advent­da­len: last week a river, this week a ska­ting rink.

Now it is good to be out­side again!

And, yes: the Eas­ter bun­ny also came all the way north to Spits­ber­gen. Hap­py Eas­ter! 🙂

Happy Easter

Hap­py Eas­ter!

Spits­ber­gen is mel­ting: ear­ly snow melt in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Snow melt – 4 weeks too ear­ly

Yes, this is how the last ent­ry star­ted as well. It is not gre­at. Yes, the­re have always been mild air incur­si­ons with thawing tem­pe­ra­tures and rain in Spits­ber­gen, even in mid-win­ter. The cli­ma­te here is mari­ti­me.

But a who­le week? In April, a mon­th that tends to be qui­te sta­ble other­wi­se? That is qui­te tough.

Wetterbericht Longyearbyen

The wea­ther fore­cast for Lon­gye­ar­by­en from last Wed­nes­day
(© Nor­we­gi­an Meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal Insti­tu­te).

This is what the wea­ther fore­cast loo­ked like on Wed­nes­day. Tem­pe­ra­tures in red, abo­ve zero, and rain. This is how it was pret­ty much all of the week, from Mon­day to Fri­day. Today (Satur­day), the­re is some mild frost again, at least.

Longyearelva

The river­bed of Lon­gyea­rel­va had to be ope­ned to pre­vent floo­ding of the road.

Whe­re­ver you look, it is sad. It is mel­ting and flowing ever­y­whe­re. The­re are ponds and lakes ins­tead of white snow sur­faces, smal­ler rivers have star­ted to flow again, tun­dra are­as are com­ing through the wet snow.

Snow melt in Bjørndalen

The Tun­dra is com­ing through the snow,
here in Bjørn­da­len in the begin­ning of this snow melt week.

They had to come with a dig­ging machi­ne to clear the river bed of Lon­gyea­rel­va, the river in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, from snow to pre­vent the road from being floo­ded. That is a nor­mal pro­ce­du­re – but not in mid April (it was on Thurs­day).

The camp­si­te is a lake. The­re was actual­ly one lonely cam­per a week ago, but he left for some rea­son.

Lake on the camp site Longyearbyen

The camp­si­te near Lon­gye­ar­by­en is a lake.

Eas­ter wee­kend with ques­ti­on marks

The Eas­ter wee­kend has begun, one of the main tou­rist sea­sons in Nor­way. Ever­y­bo­dy is out and about, on tour some­whe­re, on holi­day or visi­t­ing someo­ne. Pre­fer­a­b­ly some­thing that has to do with a hut, snow and ski, alter­na­tively a boat will also do.

A boat might actual­ly be the bet­ter opti­on than the kind of tour that you would expect in Spits­ber­gen at this time of year. White, wide snow land­s­capes, snow mobi­le trips to pla­ces far away or dog sledge tours and ski hikes some­whe­re around Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

But, alas, ever­ything is grey and wet and water is flowing ever­y­whe­re. The hotels are ful­ly boo­ked, pla­nes come every day with eas­ter tou­rists who have boo­ked rooms and trips for stun­ning pri­ces, loo­king for­ward to a tas­te of the real Arc­tic.

Right place, but wrong time.

Ins­tead, mine 3, which is a muse­um mine now, is get­ting a lot of visi­tors. This is one of few pla­ces whe­re you can book an inte­res­ting excur­si­on right now regard­less of the wea­ther con­di­ti­ons, as long as the road is open. Not the kind of expe­ri­ence most would have thought of when they plan­ned their trip, but cer­tain­ly a very inte­res­ting expe­ri­ence.

Just for the sake of com­ple­teness: they are still run­ning some snow mobi­le tours, obvious­ly under rather mar­gi­nal con­di­ti­ons.

Visitor mine Gruve 3

Visi­t­ing gruve 3, the visi­tor mine.

Today (Eas­ter Satur­day), the­re is some mild frost again, and tem­pe­ra­tures are sup­po­sed to fall tomor­row. We will see if we get a bit more win­ter here again, or if the win­ter sea­son is alrea­dy over. That is a ques­ti­on many are con­si­de­ring in Lon­gye­ar­by­en now.

Mid­ni­ght sun: next sun­ri­se August

The­re is no “night” any­mo­re in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The last sun­set was on Thurs­day, the mid­ni­ght sun is shi­ning sin­ce yes­ter­day (Good Fri­day). The next sun­set will be on 26 August – at 00.05 a.m., which means it is actual­ly the 25 August, astro­no­mi­c­al­ly (becau­se of day­light saving time, astro­no­mi­c­al mid­ni­ght is near 01 a.m.)

The ice cave in Lon­gyear­breen

Snow melt – 4 weeks too ear­ly

Cur­r­ent­ly – today it is 18 April – I get the impres­si­on that Spits­ber­gen is real­ly mel­ting and flowing away. The snow melt has star­ted, several weeks to ear­ly. This April will without any doubt be the 101st mon­th in a row with tem­pe­ra­tures abo­ve the long-term average.

But more about that later. One effect of the wea­ther is that I have some time to wri­te again now. It has been a while ago …

Ice cave – 4 weeks ago

… that we went to the ice cave in Lon­gyear­breen. The­re are ice caves here in pret­ty much all gla­ciers, and the one clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en are popu­lar pla­ces to visit, both by tou­rists with gui­des and by locals. You can dog-sledge or ski to the ice cave in Scott Tur­ner­breen in Bol­terda­len, you can hike to the one on Lars­breen, also with snow­shoes or on ski, and you can get to the one on Lon­gyear­breen with a wider ran­ge of trans­por­ta­ti­on means, here also inclu­ding snow mobi­le or snow cat.

Ice cave in Longyearbreen

In the ice cave in Lon­gyear­breen (mid March).

The ice caves are actual­ly meltwa­ter chan­nels, but they usual­ly fall dry during the win­ter sea­son (meltwa­ter flow may occur at any time of year, so be care­ful). Then they can be visi­ted. Depen­ding on the “ter­rain”, this can be easy or dif­fi­cult. Some are so nar­row and steep that visi­t­ing them may be impos­si­ble, at least for nor­mal peop­le, others are more visi­tor-friend­ly. In any case, an ice cave is a fasci­na­ting expe­ri­ence!

Ice cave in Longyearbreen

Ice cave in Lon­gyear­breen.
Usual­ly I don’t post too many pic­tures of mys­elf, but I do like this one 🙂

Tem­pe­ra­tu­re in Lon­gye­ar­by­en sin­ce 100 mon­ths abo­ve average

Cli­ma­te in Lon­gye­ar­by­en war­mer than average sin­ce 100 mon­ths

Febru­a­ry and March 2019 have most­ly been cold mon­ths with tem­pe­ra­tures around -20 degrees cen­tig­ra­de and below over many peri­ods, but it has not been enough to reach the mon­th­ly average. Also in March, the average tem­pe­ra­tu­re of the mon­ths was abo­ve the long-term average. This was the 100th mon­th in a row that the tem­pe­ra­tu­re (average of the mon­th) was abo­ve the long-term average – more than 8 years, in other words, as cli­ma­te sci­en­tist Kje­til Isak­sen reports to Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Refe­rence peri­od: 1960-1990

The refe­rence peri­od for the long-term average is 1960-1990. The nor­mal tem­pe­ra­tu­re from this peri­od is histo­ry: cli­ma­te chan­ge is three times fas­ter in Spits­ber­gen than in main­land Nor­way and six times fas­ter than glo­bal­ly. Accord­ing to Isak­sen, this is lar­ge­ly due to incre­a­sed water tem­pe­ra­tures in the fjords and sur­roun­ding seas: the­re is more heat exchan­ge bet­ween sea and atmo­s­phe­re than befo­re and the decre­a­sed ice cover enab­les the water to absorb sun radia­ti­on and turn it into heat rather than reflec­ting a hig­her pro­por­ti­on back into space as pre­vious­ly.

Avalan­che bar­ri­ers as an adap­t­ati­on to cli­ma­te chan­ge in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Sci­en­tists do not expect this trend to stop at any time soon. In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the com­mu­ni­ty is adap­ting to a new cli­ma­te.

Avalanche barriers on Sukkertoppen close to Longyearbyen

Avalan­che bar­ri­ers on Suk­ker­top­pen clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

After the cata­stro­phic avalan­che from 19 Decem­ber 2015 which has clai­med two lives, hund­reds of inha­bi­tants are evacua­ted every year during the avalan­che sea­son, many of them for several mon­ths. Plans are cur­r­ent­ly made to tear down buil­dings with 142 flats in are­as which are at risk from avalan­ches. Housing shor­ta­ge and an over­hea­ted housing mar­ket are chal­len­ges that many locals in Lon­gye­ar­by­en cur­r­ent­ly have to deal with.

Bar­ents­burg

Also in Bar­ents­burg peop­le are awa­re of the­se deve­lo­p­ments and an avalan­che risk map has recent­ly been publis­hed. Some buil­dings are in are­as at risk and would not be built now whe­re they are today. But it is assu­med that the situa­ti­on can be con­trol­led tech­ni­cal­ly, without moving or tea­ring down buil­dings.

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.

Groun­ded traw­ler Nor­th­gui­der: reco­very plan­ned in August

The shrimp traw­ler Nor­th­gui­der ran aground in Hin­lo­pens­trait clo­se to Spar­ren­e­set on Nord­aus­t­land, just south of Murchi­son­fjord. The who­le crew could be saved by heli­co­p­ter, as repor­ted ear­lier. The crew has later descri­bed the who­le expe­ri­ence, in total darkness, strong cold and stor­my wind, as very dra­ma­tic.

Fishing trawler Northguider grounded in Hinlopenstretet

Fishing traw­ler Nor­th­gui­der groun­ded in Hin­lo­penstre­tet, clo­se to the coast of Nord­aus­t­land. Pho­to: Kyst­ver­ket.

300 tons of die­sel and other envi­ron­ment­al­ly dan­ge­rous sub­s­tan­ces and goods could be sal­va­ged in Janu­a­ry, but the Nor­th­gui­der is still sit­ting on rocks. Experts from Sjøf­arts­di­rek­to­ra­tet, the Nor­we­gi­an ship­ping aut­ho­ri­ty, judge her posi­ti­on as sta­ble. The advan­ta­ge of that is that for­ces of natu­re such as wind, cur­r­ents and ice are unli­kely to push the ship into deeper waters. The dis­ad­van­ta­ge is that also human efforts to sal­va­ge the groun­ded ship will requi­re con­si­derable efforts and a major ope­ra­ti­on. It is esti­ma­ted that the sal­va­ging ope­ra­ti­on will take several weeks of work on the sce­ne.

The Sys­sel­man­nen, as the aut­ho­ri­ty who is gene­ral­ly respon­si­ble for the manage­ment of the area in ques­ti­on, and the Sjøf­arts­di­rek­to­rat and the Kyst­vakt (coast guard) have now deci­ded that the sal­va­ti­on work will be car­ri­ed out in August. At that time, the gene­ral con­di­ti­ons regar­ding wea­ther, ice and light should be most favoura­ble.

The coast guard ves­sel KV Sval­bard is cur­r­ent­ly on her way to the acci­dent site to assess the situa­ti­on the­re again, dou­ble-che­cking that the­re are no envi­ron­ment­al­ly harm­ful sub­s­tan­ces and items are on board any­mo­re and that the posi­ti­on of the Nor­th­gui­der is sta­ble. Fur­ther moni­to­ring is plan­ned by moti­on detec­tors and beacons sen­dung the posi­ti­on of the ship in case of any unex­pec­ted move­ments.

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

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).

Lunckefjellet

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.

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