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Yearly Archives: 2020 − News & Stories


No admis­si­ons to UNIS-cour­ses for the rest of the year

UNIS has announ­ced to not admit new stu­dents to cour­ses for the sum­mer and fall 2020 becau­se of the Coro­na cri­sis. As the­re is so far no case of Covid-19 in Spits­ber­gen, the stra­tegy is to make sure that tho­se sci­en­tists and stu­dents who are alre­a­dy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en can con­ti­nue with their work and edu­ca­ti­on as nor­mal­ly as pos­si­ble, and being (and stay­ing) Covid-19-free does allow for a ran­ge of oppor­tu­ni­ties that UNIS wants to make use of.

UNIS, Longyearbyen

Guest lec­tu­re by Maar­ten Loo­nen, the Ny-Åle­sund-goo­se­man from the Net­her­lands,
at UNIS.

With this back­ground, no new stu­dents will be admit­ted to regu­lar cour­ses for the rest of the year. A few excep­ti­ons will only be made under strict con­di­ti­ons for mas­ter and PhD-stu­dents who need to to fieldwork for their the­sis.

Coro­na-qua­ran­ti­ne exten­ded

The Sys­sel­man­nen has announ­ced that the com­pul­so­ry qua­ran­ti­ne will be exten­ded until May 18 (18.00 hrs). It may be exten­ded bey­ond this date if neces­sa­ry.

This means that ever­y­bo­dy who tra­vels to Spits­ber­gen needs to stay in qua­ran­ti­ne for 14 days, regard­less of how one gets the­re and whe­re exact­ly one arri­ves.

Health and emer­gen­cy ser­vices might soon be in a dif­fi­cult situa­ti­on in case of a Covid-19 out­break in Spits­ber­gen, so aut­ho­ri­ties are taking any fur­ther steps with gre­at care. Con­side­ra­ti­ons are curr­ent­ly being made for start­ing to open the school again and for the cele­bra­ti­ons of the Nor­we­gi­an natio­nal day on 17th May. This date was one of the reasons to cho­se the 18th of May as the mini­mum dura­ti­on of the cur­rent qua­ran­ti­ne regu­la­ti­ons.

Corona-quarantine, Spitsbergen

Appli­es to all of Spits­ber­gen: Coro­na-qua­ran­ti­ne (pho­to com­po­si­ti­on).

At the same time plans are being made to return back to a – in a very wide sen­se – “nor­mal” life again in socie­ty and eco­no­my. Aut­ho­ri­ties empha­sise that this will be a long pro­cess that will requi­re gre­at care and may include set­backs. The importance of hygie­ne- and social distancing rules are high­ligh­ted and the public is reques­ted to abs­tain from tra­vel­ling to Spits­ber­gen unless neces­sa­ry.

The­re are, as of now, no con­firm­ed cases of Covid-19 in Spits­ber­gen.

Start­ing tou­rism up again in July?

Spits­ber­gen is curr­ent­ly almost com­ple­te­ly clo­sed to tou­rism. Only local inha­bi­tants and Nor­we­gi­ans may come at all, theo­re­ti­cal­ly also Nor­we­gi­an tou­rists, but ever­y­bo­dy has to stay in qua­ran­ti­ne for 14 days unless an excep­tio­nal per­mis­si­on is given in spe­cial cases. The air­line SAS is, howe­ver kee­ping the air traf­fic up, but the­re is men­ti­on of 10 flight pas­sen­gers per day in avera­ge, and the­se will hard­ly be tou­rists. The air­line Nor­we­gi­an is curr­ent­ly plan­ning to start fly­ing again in June.

The shut­down does obvious­ly have serious con­se­quen­ces for the local eco­no­my, inclu­ding rising unem­ploy­ment and calls for dona­ti­ons for exam­p­le from small com­pa­nies that have polar dogs, some­thing that has, by the way, at least part­ly been suc­cessful to some degree.

Nobo­dy knows when Spits­ber­gen will be open again for tou­rists. The fur­ther deve­lo­p­ment of the pan­de­mic will be decisi­ve, as you may have gues­sed, and decis­i­ons have to be made on various levels.

Tourists, Longyearbyen

Tou­rists in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: Nobo­dy knows when they will return.

Now Longyearbyen’s mayor (lokals­ty­re­le­der) Arild Olsen has told Sval­bard­pos­ten that he wants to con­sider ope­ning up for tou­rism again in July, “pos­si­bly limi­t­ed and we have to accept that it will be only Nor­we­gi­an tou­rists, to begin with”, as Olsen says. Limi­ta­ti­ons in an area that is still remo­te and does not have lar­ge-sca­le sophisti­ca­ted medi­cal infra­s­trac­tu­re will hard­ly sur­pri­se anyo­ne, but limi­ta­ti­ons per natio­na­li­ty may rise an eye­brow, con­side­ring the Spits­ber­gen trea­ty.

But the­re is obvious­ly still a way to go any­way befo­re any tou­rists will return to Spits­ber­gen or other remo­te desti­na­ti­ons.

Coro­na-cri­sis hits local eco­no­my bey­ond tou­rism

The Coro­na-cri­sis has hit Lon­gye­ar­by­en hard: tou­rism and ser­vice, both major fac­tors for the local eco­no­my, have lar­ge­ly col­lap­sed, lea­ding to a high level of unem­ploy­ment. Many fear losing their liveli­hood.

But also sec­tors out­side tou­rism and ser­vice are affec­ted: accor­ding to Sval­bard­pos­ten, the mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni AS has redu­ced the work­force in mine 7 near Lon­gye­ar­by­en by 8 peo­p­le becau­se the demand for indus­try coal has col­lap­sed on the inter­na­tio­nal mar­ket. The­se workers have alre­a­dy moved to Sveagru­va to take part in the lar­ge clean-up that fol­lows the end of coal mining the­re.

Coal mining in Svalbard: hit by the Corona-crisis

Coal mining in Spits­ber­gen is hit by the Coro­na-cri­sis
(archi­ve image, Svea Nord).

Also a major cus­to­mer of Svalsat (Kong­sberg Satel­li­te Ser­vices på Sval­bard) has gone bank­rupt due to the Coro­na-cri­sis, accor­ding to the web­site Highn­orth­news: the glo­bal com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons com­pa­ny One­web had the plan to pro­vi­de the who­le Arc­tic north of 60 degrees of lati­tu­de with high-speed, satel­li­te-based inter­net. 648 satel­li­tes should have been part of that pro­ject, 74 of which have alre­a­dy been lifted up to the orbit sin­ce August last year.

Major ground infra­struc­tu­re in high lati­tu­des is nee­ded to con­trol the satel­li­tes and to trans­fer data both ways, ser­vices that are pro­vi­ded by Svalsat, a com­pa­ny that runs a lar­ge park of anten­nas on Pla­tå­berg near the air­port in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. One­web hat a major con­tract with Svalsat. A num­ber of anten­nas dedi­ca­ted to the One­web pro­ject has alre­a­dy been built, the­re was men­ti­on of 60 One­web anten­nas in total on Pla­tå­berg.

Svalsat, Spitsbergen: hit by Corona

Svalsat near Lon­gye­ar­by­en: also hit by the Coro­na-cri­sis.

The future of One­web and of the arc­tic inter­net pro­ject, inclu­ding the lar­ge invest­ments that have alre­a­dy been made, is uncer­tain.

Svalsat has a rela­tively small num­ber of employees, but is its­elf an important cus­to­mer for many other local com­pa­nies. Svalsat has a num­ber of other important cus­to­mers, inclu­ding lar­ge orga­ni­sa­ti­ons such as ESA and NASA.

Coro­na cri­sis: small com­pa­nies with dogs under pres­su­re

The Coro­na virus has not yet come to Spits­ber­gen (as far as known at the time of wri­ting). The strict qua­ran­ti­ne rules are still in force, they have actual­ly been exten­ded on Fri­day (17 April) and will now last at least until 01 May, as the Sys­sel­man­nen infor­med.

As for eco­no­mies all over the world, Lon­gye­ar­by­en is suf­fe­ring sever­ely from the eco­no­mic­al con­se­quen­ces. Many com­pa­nies and peo­p­le depend on inco­mes deri­ved within tou­rism. Unem­ploy­ment has risen shar­ply to levels pre­vious­ly unknown at 78 degrees north.

Ever­y­bo­dy has regu­lar expen­ses and is under pres­su­re to cover them, but some have even hig­her regu­lar cos­ts and this includes com­pa­nies with polar dogs. Dogs need food and care even when the­re are now tou­rists. Cur­rent eco­no­mic­al aid by the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment is among­st others aiming at hel­ping com­pa­nies with their expen­ses until May. But the cur­rent win­ter sea­son is now coming to an end, and eco­no­mic­al­ly, the 2020 sea­son just never hap­pen­ed, and the next win­ter sea­son will not come any ear­lier than ear­ly 2021 – if it comes, that is. Com­pa­nies have said that they will be hap­py if 2021 brings 60 % of a nor­mal annu­al inco­me.

Sledge dogs, Longyearbyen

Out on tour with dogs near Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Makes serious­ly hap­py!
And so does food for the dogs after the tour.

Some of the smal­ler com­pa­nies have alre­a­dy appea­led for help: Sval­bard Hus­ky have an appeal on their web­site, and Sval­bard Vill­marks­enter have made an appeal in a local social media group, cal­ling for “dona­ti­ons ear-mark­ed dog-food”. Both are local fami­ly com­pa­nies.

If you want to be a spon­sor or god­pa­rent to a polar dog in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, then you are wel­co­me to get in touch direct­ly with eit­her Sval­bards Hus­ky through their web­sei­te (click here), via email (post@svalbardhusky.no) or give them a call: +47 784 03 078.

Or get in touch with Sval­bard Vill­marks­enter through the web­sei­te (click here), via email (info@svalbardvillmarkssenter.no) or on the pho­ne: +47 79 02 17 00.

Mar­tin Munck of Green Dog Sval­bard, a lar­ger com­pa­ny with 275 dogs, cal­cu­la­tes 100,000 kro­ner per month just for dog food (curr­ent­ly near 8900 Euro). In a con­ver­sa­ti­on with Sval­bard­pos­ten, he stron­gly rejects rumours that kil­ling dogs could be an opti­on.

Coro­na cri­sis: many lost their jobs in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The Coro­na virus hits eco­no­mies hard ever­y­whe­re in the world. Lon­gye­ar­by­en is no excep­ti­on and the cur­rent cri­sis gives rise to a phe­no­me­non that has so far been almost unknown up the­re: unem­ploy­ment. Tou­rism and the ser­vice indus­try have lar­ge­ly col­lap­sed and seve­ral hundred peo­p­le have lost their jobs. Accor­ding to offi­ci­al sta­tis­tics, the­re were 9 peo­p­le wit­hout jobs in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on 10 March, but alre­a­dy 261 on 23 March – the stron­gest increase in all of Nor­way, and the cur­ve is still going up stee­p­ly. The actu­al num­ber is sup­po­sed to be hig­her, becau­se citi­zens of count­ries out­side the Euro­pean Eco­no­mic Area (EEA) can not regis­ter as unem­ploy­ed in Nor­way.

The fact that unem­ploy­ment­ship has been vir­tual­ly unknown in Lon­gyear­ben is not only due to the good eco­no­mic­al situa­ti­on. Actual­ly, recent years have seen the col­lap­se of lar­ge parts of the coal mining indus­try and a lot of jobs were lost in this pro­cess. On the other hand, tou­rism and sci­ence have deve­lo­ped posi­tively. But the back­ground is ano­ther one, which has to do with the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty which recent­ly beca­me 100 years old: the trea­ty gives citi­zens from signa­to­ry count­ries the same indi­vi­du­al rights as Nor­we­gi­ans. Ever­y­bo­dy can live and work in Lon­gye­ar­by­en wit­hout asking for per­mis­si­on.

But this free­dom has a pri­ce tag: the­re is no social sys­tem that takes care of ever­y­bo­dy. Essen­ti­al­ly, ever­y­bo­dy is respon­si­ble to take care of him- or hers­elf. If you can’t finan­ce you life in Spits­ber­gen, then you have to lea­ve. Five per­sons have been expel­led by the aut­ho­ri­ties sin­ce 2017 becau­se they were not able to sup­port them­sel­ves finan­ci­al­ly. Four out of the­se five were expel­led befo­re 2020, so the­re is no con­nec­tion to the recent cri­sis.

In other words: if you can’t afford to live in Lon­gye­ar­by­en then you are not going to stay long, so the­re has not been unem­ploy­ment on any signi­fi­cant level until recent­ly. If you nee­ded public sup­port, then you had to rely on the social sys­tems of your home coun­try, many of which may not sup­port citi­zens living abroad or only to a degree that will not make much of a dif­fe­rence as Lon­gye­ar­by­en is a very expen­si­ve place.

This is, in prin­ci­ple, not going to chan­ge: Nor­way is gene­ral­ly neither obli­ged nor wil­ling to take respon­si­bi­li­ty for citi­zens of third count­ries who are get­ting in dif­fi­cul­ties in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. On the other hand, the cur­rent situa­ti­on is acu­te. Lon­gye­ar­by­en has a very inter­na­tio­nal popu­la­ti­on. The­re is, for exam­p­le, a signi­fi­cant num­ber of peo­p­le from Thai­land who came to Lon­gye­ar­by­en years ago to live and work the­re. Many have typi­cal­ly jobs in restau­rants or other ser­vice indus­tries that have now col­lap­sed. Many can hard­ly expect much sup­port from their ori­gi­nal home count­ries, and retur­ning the­re may also not be an opti­on easi­ly available to ever­yo­ne as many have given up the­re homes the­re years ago, plus the impos­si­bi­li­ty to tra­vel any­whe­re the­se days.

Longyearbyen

Lon­gye­ar­by­en during the Coro­na-cri­sis: dark times, even though it does not get dark any­mo­re in rea­li­ty and the sun will soon shi­ne 24 hours a day.

So the­re are many peo­p­le now in Lon­gye­ar­by­en who don’t have an inco­me. The­re are esti­ma­tes of near 300 peo­p­le. Mea­su­res are taken now in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (Lokals­ty­re) to offer public help to citi­zens from third count­ries out­side the Euro­pean Eco­no­mic Area. The­se mea­su­res come with a time limi­t­ed, but the­re is cle­ar­ly need for action right now. In the future, com­pa­nies in Lon­gye­ar­by­en may have to install social insu­rance sys­tems for their non-Nor­we­gi­an employees, but right now the pre­sent situa­ti­on needs to be dealt with. The­re have alre­a­dy been pri­va­te aid appeals for fami­lies in dif­fi­cul­ties, espe­ci­al­ly for peo­p­le who moved to Lon­gye­ar­by­en less than 6 months ago becau­se they are sup­port­ed only for 20 days in the cur­rent Coro­na cri­sis packa­ge by the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment. Tho­se who have been in Lon­gye­ar­by­en more than half a year will be sup­port­ed until 20 June.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re (com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil) has appli­ed for 178.5 mil­li­on kro­ner from the Govern­ment in Oslo to sup­port the local eco­no­my. This may include goods and orders that can be deli­ver­ed quick­ly by local com­pa­nies, finan­cial reli­ef for inha­bi­tants by cut­ting fees for exam­p­le for water, power and long-distance hea­ting, all of which is very expen­si­ve in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and to com­pen­sa­te for los­ses expec­ted in the eco­no­my of the com­mu­ni­ty. Just the can­cel­la­ti­ons by lar­ge crui­se ships for this year will pro­ba­b­ly cost more than 20 mil­li­on kro­ner in har­bour fees that will be lost.

Just as any­whe­re in the world, nobo­dy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has got an idea when and how the situa­ti­on will nor­ma­li­se again.

Month­ly tem­pe­ra­tu­re in March below avera­ge

The wea­ther sta­tis­tics from Lon­gye­ar­by­en have, for years on end, yiel­ded tem­pe­ra­tures abo­ve the long-term avera­ge. This has been the case for 111 months, a series that star­ted in Novem­ber 2010: sin­ce then and until Febru­ary 2020, the­re has not been a sin­gle month with an avera­ge tem­pe­ra­tu­re below the long-term sta­tis­tics.

But March 2020 tur­ned out to be the month that final­ly breaks up this series of more than 9 years. It is very unli­kely to be a new trend, just a cold month bet­ween many war­mer ones, but still – the month­ly avera­ge of March 2020 was -16.2°C or half a degree below the long-term avera­ge, accor­ding to Ketil Isak­sen from the Nor­we­gi­an meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal insti­tu­te.

Ice, Adventfjord

A cold March: fresh ice forming in Advent­fjord near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Half a degree below avera­ge is not exact­ly an awful lot, but nevert­hel­ess Isak­sen assu­mes that the cold win­ter gives the warm­ing per­ma­frost a litt­le break: becau­se of the thin snow cover, the cold should have pene­tra­ted the ground, an effect that should last a while into the sum­mer.

The refe­rence peri­od for the long-term avera­ge is 1960-1990. As soon as the cur­rent year is over, the­re will be a new refe­rence peri­od: 1990-2020. This will increase the refe­rence avera­ge tem­pe­ra­tu­re values becau­se the­se recent deca­des have been signi­fi­cant­ly war­mer than the pre­vious ones. Hence, as the new refe­rence value will then be hig­her, we will, in the future, see more months again with avera­ge tem­pe­ra­tures below the long-term avera­ge: a result of the new sta­tis­ti­cal base rather then the end of cli­ma­te chan­ge with will keep making the Arc­tic war­mer. This is, based on all cur­rent know­ledge, not going to chan­ge any time soon. The meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal record from Lon­gye­ar­by­en air­port (Sval­bard Luft­havn) shows that the tem­pe­ra­tu­re has risen by no less than 5.6 degrees sin­ce 1961!

Ice chart, Svalbard

Ice chart as of 01st April 2020. No April Fool’s Day joke, but quite a lot of ice.
© Nor­we­gi­an meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal Insti­tu­te.

Curr­ent­ly, we can at least enjoy the fact that the­re is a good ice cover in and near Spits­ber­gen, both fast ice in coas­tal waters and drift ice, curr­ent­ly rea­ching as far south as Bear Island (Bjørnøya)!

Polar bear died from cir­cu­la­to­ry col­lap­se

The fema­le polar bear that was anaes­the­ti­sed near Lon­gye­ar­by­en in late Janu­ary and that died during heli­c­op­ter trans­port is found to have died from cir­cu­la­to­ry col­lap­se as a con­se­quence of a com­bi­na­ti­on of stress, shock and medi­ca­ti­on, accor­ding to the Sys­sel­man­nen.

Sys­sel­man­nen (poli­ce) and Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te experts had star­ted to sca­re the polar bear away from Ves­t­pyn­ten near Lon­gye­ar­by­en by heli­c­op­ter in the late after­noon of 30 Janu­ary. The bear was moved across Advent­fjord and – part­ly by using snow mobi­les – into a side val­ley, whe­re she was final­ly anaes­the­ti­sed. A total of 2.5 hours pas­sed from the begin­ning of the ope­ra­ti­on until she was put to sleep: a long time for an ani­mal that is not made to run fast over lon­ger distances. It is for good reason that nobo­dy is gene­ral­ly allo­wed to fol­low a polar bear that has chan­ged its beha­viour so it might be at risk.

This seems to be exact­ly what hap­pen­ed in this case, con­side­ring a cha­se over 2.5 hours by heli­c­op­ter and snow mobi­le (the­re is men­ti­on of a short rest which is included in that time span), alt­hough “polar bear exper­ti­se” was pre­sent in shape of an expert from the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te. The pro­ce­du­re was obvious­ly too much for the bear, who recei­ved fur­ther medi­ca­ti­on after the initi­al aenes­the­ti­sa­ti­on and died in the heli­c­op­ter during trans­port to Kinn­vi­ka on Nord­aus­t­land.

Eisbären (Edgeøya)

Polar bear fami­ly: mother (left, in front) and two second year cubs in good shape.
Mid August, Edgeøya.

The bear was a fema­le with a very low weight of 62 kg. It is belie­ved that she was a first year cub or a very small second year cub. In eit­her case, she should still have been tog­e­ther with her mother.

Coro­na-virus: Spits­ber­gen in lock­down-mode

After a lucky return from Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, the only con­ti­nent curr­ent­ly not direct­ly affec­ted by the Coro­na-virus (but cer­tain­ly indi­rect­ly), I am now about to catch up with the Spits­ber­gen news on ths site. It is not that not­hing has hap­pen­ed up north. To start whe­re I stop­ped a few weeks ago: the coal mine Svea Nord was inde­ed offi­ci­al­ly clo­sed with a litt­le cerem­o­ny on 04 March, put­ting an end to a good 100 years of mining histo­ry in Sveagru­va.

I’ll get back to other issues over the next cou­ple of days. Now, the one thing that keeps the world busy and in awe: the Coro­na-virus – what else? So far, the virus has not rea­ched Spits­ber­gen. But it will not be pos­si­ble to keep the sett­le­ments ful­ly iso­la­ted from the rest of the world fore­ver. The ques­ti­on is, as any­whe­re, how to con­troll this tran­si­ti­on – if a con­trol­led tran­si­ti­on is pos­si­ble at all.

So far, the idea is to keep all sett­le­ments as iso­la­ted as pos­si­ble to pro­tect the local popu­la­ti­on from the virus. Tou­rism has come to a com­ple­te stop. Ever­y­bo­dy who is now tra­vel­ling to Spits­ber­gen has to remain in 14 days of qua­ran­ti­ne. Excep­ti­ons can only be made by the aut­ho­ri­ties under strict con­di­ti­ons if reques­ted by the employ­er or an insti­tu­ti­on. Gene­ral­ly, only Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens, resi­dents or peo­p­le with a work per­mit (does not app­ly in Sval­bard, but you would need to have a good pro­fes­sio­nal reason to tra­vel up the­re right now) are allo­wed in.

Snow mobiles Longyearbyen, Corona-virus

Snow mobi­les in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: curr­ent­ly silen­ced by the Coro­na-virus.

This will cle­ar­ly have a signi­fi­cant impact on the local eco­no­my: March and April are usual­ly high sea­son within tou­rism. Hotels and acti­vi­ties are usual­ly ful­ly boo­ked. Curr­ent­ly, howe­ver, many com­pa­nies and jobs in the ser­vice indus­try are at risk, and many gui­des have alre­a­dy left the island, wai­ting for bet­ter times in their home count­ries which are usual­ly che­a­per places to stay.

This is now in force until 13 April but may be exten­ded. The future deve­lo­p­ment remains to be seen, also with regards to the sum­mer ship­ping sea­son.

Spits­ber­gen, the Ant­ar­c­tic and the Coro­na virus

The win­ter sea­son should be super busy at this time in Spits­ber­gen, but ins­tead it is very silent now in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Barents­burg. No tou­rists the­re at all. The only thing that you might hear is the tou­rism indus­try crying.

And on this blog and news site: also not­hing at the time being.

The Ant­ar­c­tic is the only coro­na-free con­ti­nent, but that does not mean that it does not affect us here in the south. We have now been to the Ant­ar­c­tic for a while and I am still far south with Ort­eli­us. So I guess that I am curr­ent­ly the last one in the world who gets any news that seem to be chan­ging by the minu­te and hence it would pro­ba­b­ly be sil­ly to post any „news“ here.

Atlantic Ocean

But I did and do still wri­te about our jour­ney here in the south, in the blog on www.antarctic.eu. Also here, the Coro­na virus curr­ent­ly governs the world. No, not direct­ly. We on Ort­eli­us are all well, health-wise. But it sends us on a stran­ge jour­ney. Not as plan­ned back to the Ant­ar­c­tic Pen­in­su­la, but up north and back home. Slow­ly and with quite a few extra twists and bends that we still need to find out about. Read more in my ant­ar­c­tic blog.

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.

Anaes­the­ti­sed polar bear died during trans­port

The polar bear that was anaes­the­ti­sed and flown out last night died during the trans­port in the heli­c­op­ter, accor­ding to the Sys­sel­man­nen.

The cau­se of death is curr­ent­ly unknown. A post­mor­tem exami­na­ti­on is expec­ted to cla­ri­fy this within a few days.

Betäubter Eisbär

An anaes­the­ti­sed bear during pre­pa­ra­ti­ons for a heli­c­op­ter flight to Nord­aus­t­land (archi­ve image, 2016).

The bear is said to have been a fema­le that was not tag­ged.

The­re is always a remai­ning risk inher­ent to anaes­the­sy, espe­ci­al­ly as the weight and health con­di­ti­on of the “pati­ent” are most­ly unknown or can, at best, be rough­ly esti­ma­ted, some­thing that must obvious­ly have been dif­fi­cult last night in dark­ness.

Any­thing bey­ond this is mere spe­cu­la­ti­on at the time being until the results of the post­mor­tem are available.

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