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Home → February, 2020

Monthly Archives: February 2020 − News & Stories


Svea Nord is history

Svea Nord was the largest coal mine ever in Spitsbergen. It belonged to the mining complex of Sveagruva in Van Mijenfjord, together with the settlement of Sveagruva itself, the harbour facilities at Kapp Amsterdam and the mine in Lunckefjellet.

The mine was opened in 2001. A coal seam thickness of up to 6 metres allowed an annual production of 3 million tons. Not recordbreaking on a global scale, but the largest amount that was ever achieved in any mine in Spitsbergen. This put the mining company Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani in a good economical situation for some years around 2008.

Svea Nord coal mine

The longwall-method could be used very economically in Svea Nord with a coal thickness of 4-6 metres.

Then, prices on the world markest went downhill and the economical situation became difficult for the coal mines in Spitsbergen. Job cuts and a struggle for funding further mining operations were the theme of the day in 2013 and following years. The Norwegian government, owner of Store Norske, helped initially out but then decided in 2015 to put mining in Sveagruva on hold. In 2017 the decision followed to abandon all mining activities there altogether, including a removal of the mines and the settlement – a unique step in the history of Spitsbergen.

The mine in Lunckefjellet was closed already in early 2019. This mine was ready for productive operation in 2013, but the productive stage was never actually reached in Lunckefjellet.

Svea Nord

Tunnel in Svea Nord, with mining equipment ready to be removed before the mine is closed.

Now the large mine of Svea Nord is about to be closed. A lot of materials and equipment have been removed and will be shipped out. According to the plan, Svea Nord will be closed for good in March 2020.

At the same time, the clean-up of the settlement of Sveagruva is making progress. Apart from a few old artefacts that are protected as part of the historical heritage of the area, everything is supposed to be removed. In the end, only careful observers should be able to see that people lived here for decades and that this area was the site of industrial mining for almost a century. But there is still a way to go. Closing Svea Nord is a significant step within this process, and it is quite unique in the context of arctic mining: in the 20th century, it was common just to leave things just where they were unless they were valuable enough to remove them.

Svea Nord coal

The very last pieces of coal that have left Svea Nord will serve scientific purposes. Geologist Malte Jochmann and mining engineer Kristin Løvø at work (December 2019).

In December 2019, I had the opportunity to visit Svea Nord together with a team of geologists. While they were taking smaples, I had the chance to do some photography, capturing some impressions of Spitsbergen’s largest coal mine. As a result, I have created a page with photo galleries and panoramas of Svea Nord to make it at least virtually accessible for everybody while the mine is physically closed and inaccessible forever. There is actually a set of several pages, also including Sveagruva (settlement), Lunckefjellet (mine) and Kapp Amsterdam (harbour). They are all accessible through an overview page Svea area (click here).

Avalanche accident at Fridtjovbreen: two persons dead

Two people, both of German nationality, were killed during an avalanche accident at Fridtjovbreen, a glacier south of Barentsburg. Both were travelling as part of a guided group of the Arctic Travel Company in Barentsburg. When Norwegian rescue forces arrived on the scene, they could only declare both persons dead.

c5f_Fridtjovbreen_15April13_049

The Norwegian authorities are informing the relatives of the victims and will investigate the accident. The community of Longyearbyen has established a crisis team to help all people in Barentsburg and Longyearbyen who might be in need.

Polar bear weighed only 62 kg

The polar bear that died in late January during transportation in a helicopter weighed only 62 kg as first results of the post mortem revealed. This means that the bear must either have been very small or extremely thin. Even a small, sub-adult female should have more than 100 kg. Even a second year cub should weigh significantly more than 60 kg, and it should still be with its mother then. A first year cub would not be able to survive on its own, without the mother.

Also chances for survival for a (sub)adult polar bear with a weight of only 62 kg would have been doubtful at best.

This is currently, however, speculation. Further details of the post mortem, which will hopefully enable specialists to draw conclusions regarding the cause of death, will only be available in several weeks.

Young polar bear

Young polar bear together with its mother. The little bear was about 20 months old at the time the picture was taken and its weight was certainly well above 60 kg.

There is also new information regarding the polar bear visits to Longyearbyen in late December: DNA analysis of various samples revealed that it were at least two individuals who came close to and into the settlement then.

100 years Spitsbergen Treaty

The Spitsbergen Treaty was signed exactly 100 years ago, on 09 February 1920, in Versailles. The contract secured suverenity over the Spitsbergen islands but includes several limitations. Click here to read more about the treaty itself on the page dedicated to the treaty within this website.

Spitzbergenvertrag: Wedel Jarlsberg, Paris 1920

Fredrik Wedel Jarlsberg, Norwegian ambassador in Paris,
signs the treaty on 09 February 1920 in Versailles.

The Spitsbergen Treaty was negotiated over several months in Versailles in 1919. Fredrik Wedel Jarlsberg was leading the negotiations on behalf of Norway, but others including Fridtjof Nansen had been part of the political work that had paved the way to the treaty over years.

Today, the treaty is often referred to as the Svalbard Treaty, but the original treaty text does not include the word “Svalbard” at all.

Overlapping private territorial by a number of mining companies from various countries had to be sorted before the treaty could enter force. This happened finally on 14 August 1925, when the “Svalbard law” (Svalbardloven) came into force in Norway, turning the treaty into national law.

The treaty is still in force. There are some disputes regarding the use of marine resources (fishing, oil, gas, other mineral resources) outside the 12 mile zone, but within the 200 mile zone around Svalbard. The concept of these zones was defined much later and they were not part of the treaty, which hence leaves room for different interpretations, depending on whom you ask. Norway claims that the principle of nondiscrimination (equal rights for everybody regardless of nationality) is valid only within the 12-mile zone, but claims exclusive rights in the 200-mile economical zone (outside the 12-mile zone). Other countries do not agree, namely Latvia which was up to now the last country that entered the Spitsbergen Treaty on 13 June 2016 (a few months after North Korea) and Russia. Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs has just recently again released a press note claiming to be unhappy about restrictions of Russian activities in Spitsbergen and expects Norway to accept bilateral talks, something that Norway has never accepted in the past.

Spitzbergenvertrag: Mitgliedsländer

Signatory countries in the Spitsbergen Treaty.

Today, 100 years after the treaty was signed in Paris on 09 February 1920, a number of events and lectures are dedicated to the treaty in Longyearbyen, Norway and other countries.

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News-Listing live generated at 2020/April/09 at 10:59:58 Uhr (GMT+1)
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