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Monthly Archives: July 2020 − News & Stories


Water ingress in mine 7

It was probably the extremely warm weather of the last weekend that now gives the mining company Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani (SNSK) troubles with water in mine 7, the last Norwegian coal mine still in operation in Spitsbergen.

Water ingressions are not unusual in Spitsbergen’s coal mines, many of which are partly situated under glaciers. Mine 7 is close to the small ice cap Foxfonna which “provides” meltwater to the mine during the melting season, so pumps are routinely in operation. But the latest ingression went far beyond the capacities of the available pumps.

Water ingress in mine 7

Water ingressions are not uncommon in the coal mines in Spitsbergen. Here, a boat is even kept available to move around in flooded areas (the photo is from the mine Svea Nord).

Mine 7 is currently anyway on plant holiday. The water ingress was discovered during a routine control on Sunday morning. Equipment and personell from Sveagruva and mainland Norway are now supposed to deal with the situation and return the mine back into productive condition. Coal production is scheduled to start up again, but this is likely to be delayed.

Coal from mine 7 is mainly used in Longyearbyen’s coal power plant. Another fraction is exported. According to the SNSK, there is enough coal in storage in Longyearbyen to feed the power plant 5-6 months.

New temperature record in Longyearbyen

Temperature record in Longyearbyen

The temperature display at the petrol station showed 23 degrees (centigrade) on Saturday afternoon. The official measurement was 21.7°C.

Summer heat beyond 21°C – that is very unusual for Longyearbyen. The highest temperature ever so far had been 21.3 degrees centigrade, measured on 16 July 1979. This record was broken on Saturday late afternoon, when the official temperature record went up to 21.7°C.

Temperature record in Longyearbyen

A record-breaking temperature of 21.7°C was measured on Saturday afternoon in Longyearbyen. The glaciers definitely lost a lot of ice during this weekend. Many tons of melted ice run off every minute here in the river in Longyearbyen.

A light breeze made the heat wave bearable, though. The outside areas of the restaurants were crowded, and it seems a safe guess that a record-breaking number of BBQs were operated in and near Longyearbyen on Saturday evening.

Temperature record in Longyearbyen

The record summer heat of 21.7°C may well haved resulted in a record-breaking number of BBQs going at the same time.

Hurtigruten and Ponant are operating the first cruises in Spitsbergen

This year’s first two medium-sized expedition cruise ships have now started their season in Spitsbergen – in spite of all restrictions and difficulties connected to shipping in times of the Corona crisis. Yesterday (Friday, 17 July), Hurtigruten’s MS Spitsbergen started her first trip. This may not be too much of a surprise, as tourists from Scandinavian countries (expect Sweden) were allowed into Norway already from 15 June, and around that time the Norwegian government made first steps towards permitting ships with a capacity of up to 500 passengers to sail again in Spitsbergen’s waters. This was and is, in theory, valid for all ship owners, but in practice, it could well be understood as a “lex Hurtigruten”, or at least it is not a surprise that the Norwegian company is the first that is practically able to take advantage of it.

Corona-Virus, Spitzbergen

Ponant’s ship Le Boreal on 18 July as the first non-Norwegian cruiseship in the port of Longyearbyen.

The French company Ponant followed on day later with Le Boreal, although the information that tourists from most EU/EEA countries are allowed to travel to Norway again is just one week old; the list of “green countries” was published on 10 July.

And the company’s earlier drafts of the mandatory health safety plan is said to have had its weaknesses. According to Svalbardposten, the local disease control official had expressed beyond doubt to be unhappy about several issues. Ponant, however, seem to have improved their papers and the Sysselmannen have given their thumbs-up and Le Boreal is allowed to sail and operate several trips over a couple of weeks in Svalbard waters. Passengers are flown in and out of Longyearbyen with scheduled flights, as no charter flights are currently permitted at Longyearbyen airport.

There are, however, a couple of conditions that every company considering cruises in Spitsbergen currently has to deal with: amongst others, only half of the passenger capacity of any ship – 264 beds in case of the Le Boreal – is permitted to be used.

The Le Boreal passengers had to be tested negatively for Covid-19 prior to their departure from home and again before disembarkation in Reykjavik, for the first cruise that finished yesterday in Longyearbyen. In case of Covid-19 cases or suspicion on board, the ship has to sail to Tromsø and not to Longyearbyen. It will be interesting to follow the further development and the reaction of other companies, but it seems likely that many, especially those operating small ships, will find it difficult if not impossible to operate under these conditions, also considering economical aspects.

But there are, as always, exceptions to the rule: the small expedition ship Origo has already carried out her first trips in Spitsbergen. But she had spent several months of waiting at anchor for a chance to start sailing near Longyearbyen.

Spitsbergen with SV Antigua in September also cancelled because of Corona

Unfortunately, but not really surprising, we also have to cancel our last Spitsbergen-voyage this year with SV Antigua (08-18 September 2020). Even though Norway will start to allow most European tourists into the country again, current health safety regulations in place to control the Corona/Covid 19 risk make it impossible to operate this voyage and other ones. A small ship in remote areas is not a good situation these days.

The participants will now be contacted by the Geographischen Reisegesellschaft.

Corona-Virus, Spitsbergen

With Antigua in Spitsbergen: won’t happen in 2020 because of the Corona virus.

This applies also to our hiking and photography trip in and around Pyramiden (31 August – 07 September 2020). This will also be cancelled, the participants will be contacted soon.

Norway about to open borders for tourists from most EU countries

The Norwegian Ministry of economics and fisheries has communicated that tourists from most EU-countries will be allowed to travel to Norway again from 15 July. Today (10 July) the Norwegian institute for public health (Folkehelseinstitutt) has published a map which shows the various European countries in green or red, respectively. Tourists from “green countries” will be allowed to enter Norway from 15 July without special reason or permission. Citizens from Scandinavian countries except Sweden were already allowed into the country from 15 June.

This map is, however, to be updated at intervals of 14 days or at any time earlier if needed. Tourists from countries with higher or unclear infection rates may be faced with travel restrictions such as quarantine.

Not all EU-countries have made it onto the “green list”: Portugal, Luxembourg, several countries in southeast Europe and most parts of Sweden are bright red on the map. The example of Sweden shows that the Norwegian government may take decisions on a regional level: tourists from several provinces in south Sweden (Blekinge, Kronoberg and Skåne) may also travel to Norway without restrictions from 15 July, in contrast to the rest of the country.

Tourists from countries outside Europe are currently generally not allowed into Norway unless they have close relatives or a partner in the country, according to the Norwegian government.

Spitsbergen with Antigua – some thoughts

Normally, on this site I write and publish articles and blog posts about things that have actually happened, and I try to keep it mostly in unemotional style. But the world isn’t normal these days, so this article/blog/whatever is a bit different.

It is about something that does not happen and it is latently emotional.

Yesterday, on 09 July, we would have boarded good old SV Antigua in Longyearbyen. About 30 passengers, probably quite excited, in good spirits and with high hopes and expectations. Ten crew: the Captain (probably Robert), mates, deckhand, galley and service, three guides – Alex, Kristina and me. Everybody had been looking forward to this trip for quite some time already, until the whole thing fell victim to the corona virus, as so much this weird year. 19 beautiful days in Spitsbergen – gone. Not just any kind of days. Spitsbergen under sail, that is always special, intense and rich with all sorts of experiences. On every trip, we see and experience stuff where I think “wow, how amazing is that …” and that is after almost 25 years of travelling Spitsbergen.

Antigua, Spitzbergen

Spitsbergen with Antigua: would have started yesterday (9 July).

Nobody will ever know what we will actually have missed this summer on this trip and others that don’t happen now. But of course it is possible to dream and guess a bit. Let’s try to take it a little step up onto an informed level. As always, it starts with a look at weather forecast and icechart:

Marine weather forecast Spitsbergen

Marine weather forecast for Saturday (12 July).

Today (Friday), there would still have been a fair bit of wind on the west coast. Maybe not great for a first day on a ship, but it should be calm in Isfjord, albeit possibly a bit wet, at least during Friday night and Saturday early morning. I think we might have well spent our first day in there. There are so many fjords with an endless number of beautiful places there. Tempelfjord, Billefjord, Nordfjord with Ekmanfjord, Coraholmen and so on, Bohemanflya, … just to mention a few (click on the links for a bit of online travelling). The list is endless.

On Saturday, the wind on the west coast is supposed to turn south. I guess then we might have left Isfjord to set sail and a northerly course with fine sailing wind. The forecast indicates calm weather for a couple of days next week in the north, and then it is just a wonderful world to explore.

Marine weather forecast Spitsbergen

Marine weather forecast for Sunday (12 July).

And now a quick look at the ice chart, which is really an interesting one now. There is still a lot of drift ice in the east and northeast and many of the fjords, especially on Nordaustland, are still frozen solid. As it looks now, this trip would not have been a circumnavigation. This is, in times of climate change, not common for a trip that starts near mid July, but obviously not impossible. Of course it would have been exciting just to go and check it out, but it is also interesting to keep checking the ice chart every once in a while during the next couple of weeks and see what happens.

Eiskarte Spitzbergen

Ice chart Spitsbergen as of 09 July (© Norwegian Meteorological Institute).

But then, have a good look at, say, Liefdefjord and Woodfjord! Open – probably mostly navigable, in other words – drift ice, with some larger ice fields, such as the yellow dot close to Reinsdyrflya, and solid (“fast”) ice in inner Woodfjord! We could certainly have spent a couple of great days there. And then on to Nordaustland and Hinlopen. The combination of drift ice, stunning scenery and a lot of wildlife, from guillemots to walrus, polar bears and probably whales would most likely have made for some unforgettable experiences.

Isfjord

Who knows what we might have done and seen the first day(s) in Isfjord? Just a few impressions from previous years. Could have been something like this. Or something completely different.

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

Forlandsund

We spent quite a bit of time in Forlandsund last year, as those who were there will remember with no regrets 😉 all the Forlandsund pictures are from 2019.

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

Woodfjord and Liefdefjord

Just a few possible impressions as we might have met them now in Woodfjord and Liefdefjord. And Spitsbergen’s north coast is, of course, much more than “just” that. There is also the Raudfjord, Wijdefjord, Sorgfjord … oh, well …

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

A lot of “might have” and “would” and so on. It is currently nothing but imagination and dreams. Unseen, not experienced, not lived. The 40 polar enthusiasts that should have met on a sailing ship to explore the far north, to share the excitment and fascination, will never meet in this combination. Sad.

So, fingers crossed that we will meet next year or in 2022 in Spitsbergen, or elsewhere between the north pole and the south pole!

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