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Monthly Archives: September 2020 − News & Stories

Walk in the forest near Pyra­mi­den

Back to Spitsbergen’s beau­tiful aspects, which seem even remo­ter this year. It took seve­ral attempts to get to Pyra­mi­den this time. In Spits­ber­gen, ever­y­thing – well, almost – depends on the wea­ther. The trip to Pyra­mi­den by boat is more than 50 kilo­me­t­res, and our boat wasn’t exact­ly Anti­gua or any­thing big­ger. So, the wea­ther should be ok. But we got our chan­ce and arri­ved in Bil­lefjord after a lunch break in Skans­buk­ta.


In Pyra­mi­den, we could rely on a fri­end­ly wel­co­me at Hotel Tuli­pan. A lot has hap­pen­ed the­re in recent years, the stan­dard is impro­ved – the bar is love­ly and the food is good. The old, Soviet-style rooms are not available any­mo­re, to my per­so­nal reg­ret, but I guess that’s the walk of time. Some life has also retur­ned to the Cul­tu­re House. And they keep working here and the­re.

Pyramiden: Canteen

Things are hap­pe­ning in Pyra­mi­den. Here, the old can­teen is being reno­va­ted.

The devo­ni­an forest in Mun­ind­a­len

But we wan­ted a walk in the forest. Well, in the Pyra­mi­den area, you can not walk in a forest, but you can actual­ly walk to a forest. In Mun­ind­a­len, to be more accu­ra­te. This forest grew in the Devo­ni­an, more than 350 mil­li­on years ago, pro­ba­b­ly in a river plain. Then, the trees were buried by sand and mud during a flood … and they beca­me fos­si­li­sed. Just as they were, in a ver­ti­cal posi­ti­on, or “in situ”, as geo­lo­gists say. One of the oldest forests in the world.

Tree fossil, Devonian, Munindalen

Imprint of a fos­si­li­sed tree in Devo­ni­an rocks, Mun­ind­a­len.

The­re were no trees befo­re the Devo­ni­an. (And if you hap­pen to find simi­lar fos­sils in Pyra­mi­den its­elf: they date to the Car­bo­ni­fe­rous, just as the coal, so they are a good bit youn­ger than the Devo­ni­an trees in Mun­ind­a­len). So it is worth get­ting wet and very cold feet as you have to step into the icy melt­wa­ter river becau­se the out­crop is a litt­le rock­wall right next to it (or just bring your rub­ber boots, which we for­got …).

Pyramiden: Mimerdalen, horses

Even the reinde­er were big­ger than else­whe­re in Pyra­mi­den back then 😉
Serious­ly: they had hor­ses.

Then, the fog came and sett­led in for seve­ral days, cut­ting Spits­ber­gen phy­si­call off from the out­side world (pla­nes don’t land in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in den­se fog). I spent most of the time on the return trip to Lon­gye­ar­by­en hol­ding on to the GPS 🙂

If you would like to take a vir­tu­al trip to Pyra­mi­den while it is hard to get the­re in real life – check the Pyra­mi­den pan­ora­ma pages, the­re is ple­nty of stuff the­re!

Gal­lery: Pyra­mi­den and Mun­ind­a­len

Some impres­si­ons from the trip from Lon­gye­ar­by­en via Skans­buk­ta to Pyra­mi­den and Mun­ind­a­len.

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

Lon­gye­ar­by­en is shrin­king. And: the bank does not always win

Lon­gye­ar­by­en is chan­ging during the coro­na cri­sis. The popu­la­ti­on is shrin­king: 273 peo­p­le have left sin­ce ear­ly March, accor­ding to offi­ci­al sta­tis­tics. In addi­ti­on comes an unknown num­ber of peo­p­le who have never regis­tered or who did not give noti­ce of their depar­tu­re.

Many peo­p­le lost their jobs when the coro­na cri­sis hit hard in spring and sum­mer, and many can’t afford Longyearbyen’s high living expen­ses any­mo­re and moved back to their count­ries of ori­gin. The Spits­ber­gen trea­ty grants citi­zens from many count­ries free access, but the draw­back is that Nor­way does not sup­p­ly Svalbard’s non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants with any social secu­ri­ty regard­less how long they have lived the­re. The­re was a one-time finan­cial aid by the govern­ment in spring becau­se of the coro­na situa­ti­on, which also made it dif­fi­cult for many to move away, but it was made clear that this pro­gram­me would not be exten­ded.

To many people’s sur­pri­se, the bank is also among­st the losers: the mother com­pa­ny, Spare­Bank Nordn­or­ge, has deci­ded to clo­se 16 branch banks in north Nor­way. The com­pa­ny says that the reason is a chan­ged cus­to­mer beha­viour as cus­to­mers use the inter­net and do not go to the bank any­mo­re, as Sval­bard­pos­ten found out. It does not sur­pri­se that the decis­i­on is met with strong cri­ti­cism in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Post office and bank, Longyearbyen

Post office and bank in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: the post stays, the Bank will clo­se.

At least the post office will stay: will most post offices in Nor­way will be clo­sed, the one in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is among­st the lucky few who will stay. In many places in Nor­way, pos­tal ser­vices will only be available in shops and super­mar­kets in the future.

Polar bear dead in con­nec­tion with sci­en­ti­fic anaes­the­ti­sa­ti­on

The series of sad news from Spits­ber­gen does not stop. On Wed­nes­day, a polar bear died in con­nec­tion with anaes­the­ti­sa­ti­on for sci­en­ti­fic pur­po­ses, accor­ding to the Sys­sel­man­nen.

The inci­dend hap­pen­ed in Wij­defjord during the rou­ti­ne autumn cam­paign to mark polar bears. In this pro­cess, bears are anaes­the­ti­sed with tran­qui­li­ser guns from a heli­c­op­ter to mark the ani­mal and for other sci­en­ti­fic pur­po­ses, usual­ly inclu­ding weig­hing and taking samples. The bear that died on Wed­nes­day was bear num­ber “30 or 31” of the cur­rent cam­paign.

So far it is only known that the bear did not sur­vi­ve. It is not yet known in public when in the pro­cess and how and why exact­ly he died. The Sys­sel­mann­nen ope­ned a case to inves­ti­ga­te the inci­dent, so no fur­ther details have been released at the time of wri­ting, for exam­p­le con­cer­ning the ques­ti­on if a vet was pre­sent or not.

The rou­ti­ne to regu­lar­ly anaes­the­ti­se a lar­ger num­ber of polar bears, invol­ving a heli­c­op­ter cha­se, has met cri­ti­cism alre­a­dy befo­re. Accor­ding to Jon Aars, lea­ding polar bear sci­en­tist of the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, it is com­mon to “lose” 2 to 4 bears in 1000 anaes­the­ti­sa­ti­ons. This was the third time sin­ce 2003 that it hap­pen­ed to Aars, as he told Sval­bard­pos­ten. Accor­ding to Aars, mar­king bears is jus­ti­fied by the worth of the data thus obtai­ned for sci­en­tists.

polar bear skull

Mee­tings of humans and polar bears have alre­a­dy cost the lives of 4 bears and one per­son in Spits­ber­gen this year.
(The pho­to is sym­bo­lic: harm­less find of an old polar bear skull in Hin­lo­pen Strait).

It is alre­a­dy the fourth inci­dent this year whe­re a polar bear died during or after cont­act with peo­p­le. The­re was, of cour­se, the recent fatal attack of a bear on a man at the camp­si­te near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, whe­re a man and a polar bear died. A bear was shot by the poli­ce in ear­ly Janu­ary alt­hough the­re was no imme­dia­te dan­ger. And in late Janu­ary, an anaes­the­ti­sed bear died during heli­c­op­ter trans­port away from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It seems that the lat­ter case has not been hand­led well and the inci­dent attrac­ted sub­stan­ti­al cri­ti­cism and rai­sed a num­ber of ques­ti­ons, for exam­p­le if a vet should be pre­sent during such ope­ra­ti­ons. It has not yet been reve­a­led if a vet was pre­sent when the bear died in Wij­defjord on Wed­nes­day.

Blog: trip to Svenske­hu­set at Kapp Thord­sen

After all the bad and even ter­ri­ble news of the last cou­ple of weeks, regar­ding a poten­ti­al­ly dead­ly virus that keeps making ever­y­bo­dies lives dif­fi­cult and a very dead­ly polar bear attack, it is easy to for­get that Spits­ber­gen is still a beau­tiful place. It is time for a few pho­tos to bring that back to mind.

It is a cou­ple of weeks ago now, but that doesn’t mat­ter. Isfjord was flat as a mir­ror, so we took the oppor­tu­ni­ty for a Zodiac tour from Lon­gye­ar­by­en to Svenske­hu­set at Kapp Thord­sen.

Gal­lery: Svenske­hu­set

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

I am not going to repeat the dra­ma­tic histo­ry of the “Swe­dish house” (Svenske­hu­set) at Kapp Thord­sen here, as I have recent­ly com­pi­led a spe­cial side dedi­ca­ted to Svenske­hu­set – inclu­ding pan­ora­ma images, as you may alre­a­dy have gues­sed. Have a look the­re if you are inte­res­ted. I do recom­mend it. Final­ly get­ting the­se images was a strong moti­va­ti­on to take this trip.

And other than that, spen­ding a long day in fine wea­ther in a place like this, with fine views over Isfjord and all the big and small impres­si­ons of the sce­n­ery and the tun­dra, is an expe­ri­ence of the kind of which you (or, at least, I) just can’t get enough in life.

Regar­ding the small impres­si­onf of the tun­dra: I have always expe­ri­en­ced it as slight­ly dis­ap­poin­ting to pho­to­graph the flowers. Becau­se of the limi­t­ed depth of field with macro pho­to­gra­phy, only a small part of the flower appears in focus. But today, pho­to tech­no­lo­cy enables us to take it a good step fur­ther. “Focus stack­ing” is the key. It requi­res some effort regar­ding pre­pa­ra­ti­ons, equip­ment, pho­to­gra­phy and editing, but I think it is worth it in the end:

Arctic bell-heather, Svenskehuset

Arc­tic bell-hea­ther near Svenske­hu­set.
Fokus-stack­ing makes it pos­si­ble to have almost the who­le flower in focus.

Phippsøya polar bear (MS Bre­men, 2018): pro­cee­dings clo­sed

The legal case of the polar bear that was shot in 2018 by crew mem­bers of the Ger­man crui­se ship MS Bre­men is clo­sed, as the Sys­sel­man­nen infor­med in a press release on Fri­day.

Polar bear, Phippsøya

Polar bear on Phippsøya, fee­ding on a car­cass.
It was most likely this bear that was shot
by crew mem­bers of MS Bre­men in this place 11 days later.

The inci­dend hap­pen­ed on 28 July 2018, when 14 crew mem­bers of MS Bre­men went ashore on Phippsøya, which belong to the islands of Sjuøya­ne, to prepa­re a landing for pas­sen­gers. The group included the expe­di­ti­on lea­der, four polar bear guards, a pho­to­grapher and other crew mem­bers. Two polar bears guards were soon sent out to check a part of the ter­rain that could not be seen from the landing area. They met the polar bear which had been hid­den in a ter­rain depres­si­on. The bear atta­cked one per­son, who suf­fe­r­ed head inju­ries. The bear did not stop the attack in spi­te of seve­ral war­ning shots being fired, so two per­sons fired in total three shots against the bear which kil­led him. The per­son who was atta­cked sur­vi­ved with minor inju­ries.

The pho­to­grapher took pho­tos of the event, which hence was well docu­men­ted and easy to recon­s­truct.

Now the public pro­se­cu­tor of Troms and Finn­mark (north Nor­way) has deci­ded to clo­se the case. Shoo­ting a polar bear is prin­ci­pal­ly ille­gal and under punish­ment, but this was now offi­ci­al­ly found to be a case of self defence.

The case that had been ope­ned against the com­pa­ny was also clo­sed. Here, the com­pa­nies safe­ty rou­ti­nes had been inves­ti­ga­ted.

The inves­ti­ga­ti­ons were finis­hed in Novem­ber 2019, but com­pe­tence bet­ween dif­fe­rent aut­ho­ri­ties was initi­al­ly unclear and then the Coro­na cri­sis led to fur­ther delays.

Crui­ses in Spits­ber­gen now only with 30 per­sons in total

The Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment has put more rest­ric­tion on crui­ses in Spits­ber­gen: they are now only allo­wed for ships car­ry­ing 30 per­sons in total – that is, pas­sen­gers and crew tog­e­ther. Day trips wit­hout over­night stays on board are not con­cer­ned by this rest­ric­tion.

The govern­ment says that the dif­fi­cul­ties a Covid-19 out­break would bring on any lar­ger ship would be dif­fi­cult to con­trol, hence the new rest­ric­tion.

Le Boreal, Spitsbergen

The Le Bore­al (here seen in Lief­defjord in 2015) was one of only a few ships at all that have been able to do crui­ses this sum­mer in Spits­ber­gen.

In June, the govern­ment ope­ned the pos­si­bi­li­ty to do crui­ses in Spits­ber­gen. But alre­a­dy then, rest­ric­tions such as a reduc­tion of pas­sen­ger num­bers by 50 % kept many tour ope­ra­tors and ship owners from start­ing the sea­son in Spits­ber­gen at all. After a Covid-19-out­break on MS Roald Amund­sen, also Hur­tig­ru­ten stop­ped their expe­di­ti­on crui­ses com­ple­te­ly. Bey­ond Hur­tig­ru­ten and Ponant (Le Bore­al), only a very few smal­ler ships were acti­ve with crui­ses over seve­ral days this year in Spits­ber­gen, such as Ori­go, who mana­ged to do a handful of trips, and Cape Race, who just finis­hed one suc­cessful­ly, only to can­cel the rest of the sea­son becau­se of the recent intro­duc­tion of qua­ran­ti­ne for tra­vel­lers from Ger­ma­ny. Cape Race will now try her luck in Scot­land – fin­gers crossed!

The govern­ment has announ­ced to re-con­sider this most recent rest­ric­tion until 01 Novem­ber. I would say: no rush. Then the sea­son is over any­way, if it has ever hap­pen­ed in the ongo­ing Coro­na-year at all.

Wreck of North­gui­der remo­ved

The wreck of the North­gui­der is now com­ple­te­ly remo­ved from Hin­lo­pen Strait.

The shrimp traw­ler ran ground in Hin­lo­pen, very clo­se to the coast of Nord­aus­t­land, in late Decem­ber 2018. The crew could be res­cued by heli­c­op­ter in a dra­ma­tic ope­ra­ti­on in very cold and stor­my con­di­ti­ons and com­ple­te dark­ness. Later, envi­ron­men­tal­ly dan­ge­rous mate­ri­als inclu­ding fuels and lubri­ca­ti­on oils, paints, elec­tri­cal equip­ment and fishing gear could be remo­ved.

Wrack Northguider

The wreck of the ship traw­ler North­gui­der and sal­va­ge ves­sels
in August 2019 in Hin­lo­pen.

It was plan­ned to remo­ve the wreck during the sum­mer of 2019, but dif­fi­cult ice con­di­ti­ons delay­ed the ope­ra­ti­on and then it tur­ned out that the wreck could not be remo­ved in one pie­ce becau­se it was too hea­vi­ly dama­ged.

Now the North­gui­der has been cut into seve­ral smal­ler pie­ces which could be taken to Nor­way. Divers con­firm­ed that no wrecka­ge is left on the sea flour eit­her, accor­ding to the Sys­sel­man­nen.


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