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Yearly Archives: 2019 − News & Stories

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!


Reindeer on early snow-free tundra areas.


The winter season is now, in early May or actually soon mid May, about to come to an end, but we are currently having beautiful days, after an April that was partly quite, well, mixed. Now we having temperatures below zero again – but not much, it is not too cold – and it is nice and sunny at times. Good reasons to get out there and enjoy the amazing ice- and snow landscape, once again in winter mode.

Reindeer and ptarmigan

Spring is not far away anymore in Spitsbergen: Ptarmigan and reindeer are happy about spots of snow-free tundra.

We move rather efficiently trough the valleys to the east. Adventdalen, Eskerdalen and Sassendalen, one by one, like perls on a necklace. We leave them quickly behind, as we want to travel far this time.

At Rabotbreen we enter the wide glacier landscapes of east Spitsbergen. The huge moraine of Rabotbreen also shows signs of the approaching spring, icicles are hanging in small ice holes and caves. The sun is strong enough to make some ice melt even when temperatures are actually still below the freezing point.

Ice cave Rabotbreen

Little ice cave in the moraine of Rabotbreen.

Iciclces in ice cave, Rabotbreen

Icicles in an ice hole at Rabotbreen.

We leave also this interesting landcsape quickly behind us, and soon we turn north, deviating from the popular and beloved route across Nordmannsfonna towards Mohnbukta on the east coast. This time, we want to go further north.


Heading north across Fimbulisen.

All we have around us is snow, ice and mountains. The landscape appears infinitely wide. Coastal and tundra landscapes have disappeared far behind us. Instead, there is one glacier after the other, one small ice cap neighbouring the next one. Well, they are not exactly small. Of course they can’t compete with those in Greenland and even Antarctica, but still, we are talking hundreds of square kilometres. Fimbulisen, Filchnerfonna, Lomonosovfonna … the latter one is the source to the mighty glaciers Nordenskiöldbreen and Mittag-Lefflerbreen. Lomonosovfonna is 600 square kilometres large!


Infinite spaces: the ice cap Lomonosovfonna.

Our destination: Newtontoppen. This is Spitsbergen’s highest mountain, 1713 metres high. Or to be clear: the highest mountain of Svalbard, the whole archipelago. 1713 metres are, of course, not very impressive, compared to the large mountain ranges of this world. But it is far away … getting there is the first thing, and even on a lovely spring day like this, it is pretty cold.


Newtontoppen comes into our view.

For me, it is the second tour to Newtontoppen. The first time was in 2010. Back then, the two of us used ski, pulk and tent, something that took us almost 4 weeks through this vast landscape. Today, we are faster.


Newtontoppen with a decorative cloud.

Back then, we were a bit more lucky with the weather on Newtontoppen: today, the top remains in a thin cloud, although it is largely fine and clear otherwise.

Newtontoppen is not a difficult mountain to ascend, it is “only” far away – and cold.

Newtontoppen peak

The top of Newtontoppen with clouds and stormy wind.

The wind on top of Newtontoppen is strong and it is ice cold, near -20 degrees of centigrade – plus windchill. So it is not exactly picnic time up here, but we enjoy being here, higher than anywhere else on Spitsbergen, for some moments.

And the view is clearing up just a few metres further down. There is a shoulder in about 1500 metres where the granite is coming to the surface. From here, we have got an impressive view over the surrounding mountains and ice fields.

View from Newtontoppen

View from Newtontoppen to the south.

The way back home is a long one … more than 300 kilometres in total, from Longyearbyen to Newtontoppen and back.

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.


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.


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.

Mohnbukta: snow mobile tour to Spitsbergen’s east coast

As beautiful as Longyearbyen’s surroundings are especially at this time of year, it is always tempting and actually also great to get further away from “civilisation”. We take the opportunity that the fine weather provides, pack the sledges and set course east through Adventdalen. Spitsbergen’s east coast, especially Mohnbukta, is a classical destination for snow mobile tours in the late winter – now – for good reason, as you will see!


View over inner Adventdalen.

It is cold, around minus 20 degrees centigrade as so often during the last couple of weeks. Clear and calm.

The large moraine of Rabotbreen, east of Sassendalen, may be an obstacle for some who are not used to driving snow mobiles, as there are some curves, bends and little slopes.


Dead glacier ice in the moraine of Rabotbreen.

For us, it is a great and very impressive bit of landscape. Just the scale is enormous! And then there are some exposed bits of dead glacier ice, slowly melting away, creating some amazing shapes and colours on their way back to the global water cycle.


The little ice cap Nordmannsfonna.

We continue across Nordmannsfonna, a little ice cap where you get a litte impression of how it might be in central parts of Greenland or Antarctica. It is of course just a miniature version of those continental inland ice masses, but for me this is enough. Honestly, I have never really been keen on going to any pole, by burning nuclear fuel to get to the north pole or by burning endless volumes of aircraft fuel to get to the south pole, where tourists are not always really given a warm welcome by the crew of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. But anyway … I am getting off topic. I am happy here on Spitsbergen’s Nordmannsfonna and her relatives around here 🙂

Iceberg Mohnbukta

Weathered iceberg in Mohnbukta.

We have reached Mohnbukta after a short drive down another glacier. The bay and the wide waters of Storfjord are frozen solid as far as we can see, and we have a fantastic view all the way to Barentsøya and Edgeøya. The ice is a fantastic world in itself! There are some small (well, it is all relative), but beautifully (absolutely!) weathered icebergs frozen in the sea ice. We had some stunning specimens here in earlier years, click here for some panorama photos of ’em.

Lunch break Mohnbukta

Lunch break in Mohnbukta.

A great place for a little lunch break 🙂

Then there is the glacier front of Hayesbreen as the scenic highlight of the day. Just stunning! Especially on a day like this. Now – it is late March – the sun is still low even around noon, which is when she is coming from the perfect direction to illuminate this amazing ice cliff. A great spectacle of ice, of colours, shapes and size!

Glacier front of Hayesbreen, Mohnbukta

Glacier front of Hayesbreen, Mohnbukta (I).

Glacier front of Hayesbreen, Mohnbukta

Glacier front of Hayesbreen, Mohnbukta (II).

Then … off again, and back home. We have still got more than 90 kilometres ahead of us.

Way back home over Königsbergbreen

Way back home over Königsbergbreen.

The lovely evening light makes the trip over Königsbergbreen and through Sassendalen another delight. Something we just have to enjoy, there won’t be any evening light here anymore in just a few weeks time!

Evening light, Sassendalen

Evening light in Sassendalen.

Finally, my current ceterum censeo: I have made a new photo book, focussing on aerial photography and thus showing the Arctic from a very unsual perspective. In theory, the book is in German, but in practice, it does hardly have text. 134 out of 137 pages do just have stunning photos, placenames and a little map. Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) – Aerial Arctic shows Jan Mayen and Svalbard from the air.

Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) - Aerial Arctic

Rolf’s new photo book Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) – Aerial Arctic shows Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen from a new and stunning perspective.

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.

Eiskarte Van Mijenfjord, Sveagruva

The harbour of Sveagruva at Kapp Amsterdam.

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.

Northern light …

The days are getting longer, and time is just flying! Now we have already had this year’s spring equinox. The equatorial plane of the Earth passed through the centre of the sun on Wednesday (20 March) at 21.58 hours (UT = universal time = GMT). From now on, the days are longer again than the nights on the northern hemisphere, and the further north you are, the more light and the less darkness.

This means that the current northern light season in Spitsbergen is now slowly coming to an end. On Saturday (16 March) we had another amazing celestial performance. A stunning aurora borealis, intense, vibrant, fast.

Northern light near Longyearbyen

Auroa boralis above Operafjellet.
The northern light season in Spitsbergen is now coming to an end.

This northern light was definitely above average! To capture the very fast movement, I used shutter times of up (or, rather, down) to 0.3 seconds, and even that was probably too slow to capture the filigrane, but very lively structures (click here to read more about northern lights and how to photograph them).

Aureole (or dome) of northern light above Adventdalen

Aureole (or dome) of northern light above Adventdalen.

The last days were full, there was just no time to write new blog entries … there will be more soon.

Solfest: Sola er tilbake – the sun is back!

Sola e’ tilbake! That was the motto of the day last Friday (several day ago already, time is running!), which was THE big day: solfest – sun fest – in Longyearbyen!

As mentioned, the sun has actually returned to the lower part of Longyearbyen, near Adventfjord, several days before …

Sun, Longyearbyen

Sun in lower Longyearbyen, Friday (8.3.) morning.

… but as those parts of Longyearbyen did not exist back then, the solfest is traditionally and duly celebrated on 08 March, shortly after 12.30 hours, as the sun returns to the stairs of the old hospital. This old hospital building is long gone, but the stairs from the back door are still there. Actually, the stairs are said to be a reconstruction so people know where to celebrate, but anyway … they are next to the kindergarten close to the Svalbard church. So that is where everybody meets on solfest-day at 12.30 hours. Hundreds of people gather to welcome and celebrate the sun! Especially the children, dressed as little suns, really sweet. Everybody is singing and cheering the sun up, who is doing her best to climb above the mountain: Sol! Sol! Komm igjen! Sola er min beste venn! – Sun! Sun! Come on! The sun is my best friend! The rhyme does not really work in English, well.

Sunrise during the solfest, Longyearbyen

Sunrise above Lars Hiertafjellet during the solfest in Longyearbyen,
Friday noon (8.3.).

And finally, here she is! The sun, bright as ever, climbs over the rim of Lars Hiertafellet, behind Larsbreen, and there is great cheering and jubilation. It is really an emotional moment! There has not been any direct sunlight in Longyearbyen during 5 months, due to the mountains around the settlement.

Sun, Gipshuken

Sunny view towards Gipshuken and Billefjord.

Yes, the sun is back. It is great to be outside, to enjoy the light-flooded landscape and to feel the sun on the skin.

Sun, Nordenskiöld Land

Sun over Nordenskiöld Land.

But, it is and remains icy cold, the thermometer is rather constantly somewhere near minus 20 degrees centigrade. There is fresh ice near the shore of Adventfjord, but a solid ice cover just does not want to form in spite of the cold. The warm water supply coming with the West Spitsbergen Current (“Gulf Stream”) is inexhaustible, I guess. Unfortunately. A frozen Adventfjord, that would be great. We have not had that for quite a few years.

Ice, Adventfjord

Fresh ice forming near the shore of Adventfjord, in Hiorthhamn.

Sassendalen and Tempelfjord

The winter keeps showing off with cold, stable weather and the sun is climbing a tiny little bit higher every day. We make use of such grand conditions as often as possible to enjoy the outdoors in this amazing country, to which the light is now returning with might.



Here, we are in Sassendalen. It is big and wide, one of Spitsbergen’s largest valleys. At this time of year, it is one of the most frequently used snow mobile routes, to the east coast or to Tempelfjord. But it is so big that it is easy to find a silent corner without traffic.


Hiking in Sassendalen.

We park our snow mobiles in such a silent corner and start hiking up a gentle, but endless slope. You could hike a whole, long day here without really getting somewhere, but getting somewhere is not the point here. Just being here is the point. It seems a bit otherworldly. The light, the landscape … the wind has blown the snow away from many surfaces. The country appears very barren. Nevertheless, many reindeer roam here, trying to find some food.


Reindeer in polar-desert-like landscape, looking for food.

Later, we drive north, towards Tempelfjord. We have been here some weeks ago already. Today, the landscape shines in completely different light, the intensity of which is impossible to grasp with a few words unless you are Sheakespeare.

Fjordnibba, Tempelfjord

View from the mountain Fjordnibba into Tempelfjord.

Even under “normal” light conditions, the view from the little mountain Fjordnibba over Sassenfjord and Tempelfjord is stunningly beautiful. Whoever created this landscape must have been in excellent mood that day. Amazing.

And then in this light …

Tunabreen, Tempelfjord

Glacier front of Tunabreen in Tempelfjord in sunset light.


You just can’t spend enough time in such places! I just have to return as often as I can.

And the timing is just perfect right now. It is just before 4 p.m., the sun is about to disappear behind the mountains, casting the last direct light of day in fire-red colour over mountains, fjords and glaciers.

Sunset, Tempelfjord

Sunset over Sassenfjord and Nordenskiöld Land.

Inner Tempelfjord is largely frozen solid – only at Fredheim, the ice has broken up recently – and now there is a fresh ice cover forming also further out in Sassenfjord. Let’s see how far far the development goes this season. Here, we have the view towards Diabasodden in outer Sassenfjord.

View from Fjordnibba to Sassenfjord and Diabasodden

View from Fjordnibba to Sassenfjord and Diabasodden.

A final little excursion takes us from the mountain down to sea level at Fredheim. It is icy cold today, air temperatures are around -25 degrees centigrade. The cold becomes visible in the colours, which range from pink through purple to blue. Colours of frost and ice.

Eis am Ufer, Tempelfjord

Ice on the shore in Tempelfjord at Fredheim.

Finally, a last view into Tempelfjord. As I said, colours of the cold! A picture can give you an idea of the colours – just an idea, but at least – but it does not deliver the sounds. The silence is one thing, the sound of the ice yet another. The ice is constantly working on the shore, being moved by the tides and possibly by some waves further out, in open water. The ice is groaning and moaning, squeaking and squealing. Not load, but constantly.

Eis am Ufer, Tempelfjord

Ice on the shore of Tempelfjord at Fredheim.

Finally, my current ceterum censeo: I have made a new photo book, focussing on aerial photography and thus showing the Arctic from a very unsual perspective. In theory, the book is in German, but in practice, it does hardly have text. 134 out of 137 pages do just have stunning photos, placenames and a little map.

Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) – Aerial Arctic shows Jan Mayen and Svalbard from the air.

Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) - Aerial Arctic

Rolf’s new photo book Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) – Aerial Arctic shows Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen from a new and stunning perspective.


News-Listing live generated at 2019/May/23 at 10:03:54 Uhr (GMT+1)