We have cancelled all trips this year – now it is time to make new, fresh plans. For the arctic summer season 2021, we have scheduled one additional departure with SY Arctica II.
Of course we can’t predict the future, but considering the various news about vaccines we think we can be optimistic. After our traditional, long Spitsbergen voyage with Arctica II in August, there will be one more trip with this lovely little sailing ship,starting 28 August and finishing on 05 September.
Arctica II on the west coast of Spitsbergen: additional departure in 2021.
Due to all the cancellations of the 2020 season, there is a lot of interest in upcoming trips, so now we can offer 9 additional places and definitely a unique and intense experience.
This departure will be German speaking. The detailed description of the voyage including the price will follow soon, and then it will also be possible to make reservations. For further information or reservations, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with my colleague Uwe Maaß in the office of the Geographischen Reisegesellschaft or with me if you have any questions about the trip, the itinerary or the ship etc.
Please click here for further information about Arctica II German. And have a look at the triplogs and photo galleries from the voyages that we have done in the past to get a good idea of how they are going and what might happen. This trip will be shorter than the long trip in August, so we don’t plan to circumnavigate Spitsbergen. The focus will be on hiking and nature experience in the major fjord systems on the west coast of Spitsbergen, such as Isfjord, Bellsund, Forlandsund and Kongsfjord. The hikes will, in average, be longer than those that we usually do, for example, on Antigua. Please have a look at my page about arctic terrain (German) to get an idea of the conditions we will meet out in the field.
Again, there is a polar bear in Adventdalen, not far from Longyearbyen. It was seen for the first time on Sunday near Operafjellet by a group of hikers; the Sysselmannen decided to pick up the group by helicopter to be on the safe side.
Polar bear in Adventdalen: a helicopter is used to remove an anaesthetised bear from the area (archive image).
It is said that the polar bear in question is a large male, possibly the same animal that was in the Adventfjord area in september. Attempts to scare it away with a helicopter did not make much of an impression on the bear. As of Wednesday, the polar bear was still in Adventdalen, where he was so far staying within a limited area. So far, the Sysselmannen has no plans to anaesthetise the bear and to fly it out. It is assumed that the bear will just continue with his ever-lasting search for food and move on sooner or later.
An alarming discovery: lice have been found in the fur of arctic foxes. So far, arctic foxes were generally found to be free of lice, both on the Scandinavian mainland and in Spitsbergen.
Arctic fox with winter fur in good order. The fur can be affected by lice to a degree that it does not insulate anymore sufficiently.
A taxidermist became sceptical when he saw fur from Arctic foxes from Spitsbergen, which had been caught a year ago. The fur was visibly affected in the neck area, with less hair than normal, and small animals were visible in the fur. These were later identified as lice by a specialist in Tromsø, as was now reported by Svalbardposten.
The foxes in question were caught a year ago in Bødalen and Colesdalen, both south of Longyearbyen. Now, all local fox hunters are encouraged to keep their eyes open. Should lice indeed be about to get established in arctic foxes, then the consequences might be dramatic, as foxes need an intact fur to cope with the cold of the arctic winter.
But the first thing that needs to be coped with is a huge gap of scientific knowledge. The annual fox-hunt is currently ongoing in Spitsbergen. Foxes are still hunted by a very few professional trappers and by leisure hunters. There are 25 areas for fox hunting in Spitsbergen, thereof 23 in Nordenskiöld Land (Longyearbyen’s wide surroundings) and 2 in the area of Ny-Ålesund.
The new page for the weekend (and beyond) is dedicated to Svenskehuset at Kapp Thordsen: built in 1872, is it today the oldest house on Spitsbergen that is still standing. Originally, the place was the focus of the Swedish dream to turn Spitsbergen into a Swedish colony. But as soon as the next winter, 17 Norwegian sailors died there under circumstances that remained a mystery for more than 100 years. Since then, the house is also known as Spøkelseshuset (the haunted house).
Two more winterings followed later, including the Swedish expedition of the first International Polar Year in 1882-83. One of the expedition members was a young, then unknown ingenieer named Salomon August Andrée.
There is now a whole weppage dedicated to Svenskehuset, with all of the stories in some detail and – even better – a virtual tour that takes you through every room of the famous hous. There is a completely new version of the virtual tour that runs like a film – Click here and enjoy 🙂
Mine 7 (to the right of the image centre) on the mountain Breinosa near Longyearbyen. Further back and to the left the small ice cap Foxfonna.
Large parts of mine 7 are situated under Foxfonna.
A lot of repair work needed to be done after the flooding in July. Amongst others, large parts of the electrical equipment had to be renewed. Now, coal can be shipped again to the local coal power plant in Longyearbyen and to international customers. Production work is now going on almost 24/7 in two long shifts to produce as much coal as possible. Nevertheless, Store Norske will probably have to accept an economicaly poor result this year, with the production stop and expensive repair works in mine 7 being only one factor. Other factors include the general difficulties of the world economy due to corona and the closing of Sveagruva.
Smaller repair works will still be going on for some time while production is already going on. Store Norske aims also at making sure that a flooding on this scale will not happen again. Large parts of mine 7 are situated under the ice cap Foxfonna, so meltwater ingressions during the summer season are not unheard of, but normally it has been possible to control them by pumping the water out. Larger pumps will now be part of the technical solution to this problem.
The polar night has settled down on Spitsbergen and the various lockdowns and travel restrictions related to Corona anyway. The world’s attention is focussed on events elsewhere rather than the Arctic, where life is going on with minor excitements from the departments “business as usual + everyday madness”.
The Spitsbergen-news overview as of late October/early November:
The previous week began with spectacular fireworks of northern lights over Spitsbergen as well as other places in the aurora oval as much as they had a free sky in the appropriate moments. Many amazing photos came from Longyearbyen in those days.
Northern light over Adventdalen near Longyearbyen.
Mine 7, which was partly flooded with meltwater during the record-warm days in July, is still not in productive operation again. We have been hearing for a while that routine work will start soon again, but this has not yet happened as of the time of writing (Monday, 02 November). Currently, the mining company Store Norske expects production to start up again this week. Coal from mine 7 is used in the local power plant and it is shipped to customers mainly in Germany, who have placed orders again after a stop during the Corona lockdown in spring.
Galleri Svalbard, so far located in Nybyen, has announced to move to central Longyearbyen. Nybyen, an upper part of Longyearbyen which is suffering from a risk of snow avalanches and rockfalls, will then lose a main tourist attraction.
With SvalBad, there is a new sauna in the port of Longyearbyen. It is heated with wood and offers the opportunity for a very efficient cool-down in the fjord 🙂
The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) has announced industry-wide standards for guides, thus taking up a development that has been ongoing for years.
A couple of years ago in Tromsø – we were just about to set sail for Bear Island and Spitsbergen – Jonneke van Eijsden said it would be good to have the book in Dutch.
Initiative and main translator: Jonneke van Eijsden
Initiative and main translator: Jonneke van Eijsden.
Sure, no doubt, I could agree on that. But the then ongoing Norwegian translation of the book had already brought me close to my limits in terms of time, money and nerves, so I was not really inclined to open up a new big project, so my slightly reserved reply was something like “fine, go ahead if you want to.”
And Jonneke went ahead and did it. The whole thing, from the table of contents to the appreciations in the end.
Quite unbelievable, isn’t it?
Much appreciated: help from friends and colleagues
But that was, of course, not all. People with solid knowledge of Dutch language and arctic terminology in various fields were needed to help the project on its way towars a book that could be printed. This group of good people included Marion den Bakker, Arjen Drost, Sarah Gerats, Regina Meijndert, Annette Scheepstra, Ronald van Belzen, Tom van Hoof and Ronald Visser. And highly knowledgeable people like Hans Beelen, Louis Beyens and Maarten Loonen, all acknowledged experts in their fields, alowed us to pick their brains.
And my old master Rinie van Meurs was so kind to contribute with a foreword!
A big “thank you” to all of you! This Dutch Spitsbergen guidebook would not exist without you!
Co-author: Michelle van Dijk
The Netherlands have got a long history in relation to Spitsbergen, starting with the discovery in 1596 during Willem Barentsz’ third voyage and the name. That led to a special perspective that is best understood and described from an inside perspective.
So this Dutch book has, for the first time in the by now quite long history of this book, two authors: Michelle van Dijk joined me in the role of co-author and added various sections such as one about Willem Barentsz, one about 17th century whaling, then the whole story of Barentsburg, Rijpsburg and NeSpico, Sjef van Dongen, local information about places such as Smeerenburg, … all Dutch chapters of the Dutch relationship to Spitsbergen (and, of course, not unmentioned in the other editions of the book, but Michelle wrote new versions of these sections, adding more detail and a new perspective). And of course she took off within her own field of knowledge and passion and wrote a new chapter about plants.
In other words, the new book is not just a mere translation of the pre-existing English and German versions (there is also a Norwegian one, but that was not used in the translation process), but a new book with content that the other editions don’t have, at least not as it is here. It won’t surprise that it is the thickest one of the whole family, with an impressie 656 pages.
I am and remain the main author: Rolf Stange.
So, if you speak Dutch (or if you are interested anyway), click here and check it out! Orders can be placed from now and shipping will start soonest, as soon as we get the key rings in that will be shipped with the first 100 books (see below).
With spitsbergengids.nl, Michelle has created a new site, dedicated to the Dutch guidebook. There you can, of course, also find Michelle’s other and own book, Sjef van Dongen – Nederlandse Poolhelt.
And an exclusive gift made in Longyearbyen with the first 100 orders
And on top of this: the first 100 orders that come in through my or Michelle’s webshop will be complemented by an exclusively made key ring made in Longyearbyen by master carpenter Wolfgang Zach, who is also the man behind the Spitsbergen driftwood picture frames and the kitchen slats. The key rings are made of two different kinds of wood, both with origins in Spitsbergen: the dark wood is from oak beams that were used in mine 7 to support the roof, and the polar bear is made from driftwood. We have got 100 of these key rings, exclusively made to come with the first 100 orders and, in this exact design, not available elsewhere!
These beautiful key rings are made in Longyearbyen as an exclusive gift that comes with the first 100 copies of the Dutch Spitsbergen guidebook ordered individually through my webshop or Michelle’s 🙂
A new page for the weekend! Most will know Grønfjord mainly as the place where Barentsburg is located. But it is actually a beautiful fjord with lovely scenery, interesting nature and good hiking opportunities in the summer as well as in the winter. Find background information about nature and history together with plenty of photos on the Grønfjord page which has just got a completely fresh overhaul – check it out!
View from Grønfjordfjellet south of Barentsburg over the inner parts of Grønfjord.
One of many new photos on the overhauled Grønfjord page.
“Quiet on the northern front” is, of course, not entirely true. There is always something going on in Spitsbergen, but currently not much that would shake the world. The locals can still be happy about not having a single case of Corona/Covid 19 in Spitsbergen. Hurtigruten Svalbard considers to sell their local properties to a “serious investor” to rent their hotels etc. then on a long-term basis. I guess you have to have studied something other than geography to understand that kind of business model. The Sysselmannen will release 18 employees this year and replace them with new ones, mostly because the people have to return to their long-term engagements in mainland Norway if they want to keep them. Such as large turnover is, of course, not what anyone would want – the Sysselmannen has 45 positions in total, currently, so that is an exchange of staff of more than 30 %.
Polar bears and people have recently managed to keep a healthy distance from each other. Fortunately.
It’s things like that which are currently going on. Everything is important for some people, but it is not shaking the world.
New book projects on the way
The corona-year has, amongst others, resulted in more time at the office table than originally planned. A new book project has already more than 300 pages of text, another one is also making some progress. But many more pages will have to be written in both cases before anything will be ready for release. “New book project” is, of course, not entirely true. Both have been work in process for more than just a couple of months, to put it mildly. So there is something positive in having more time than planned.
Another thing that has taken up at least some speed is re-doing a number of pages within spitsbergen-svalbard.com. Many pages that I was proud of 10 years ago are getting a bit … well, old now. A number of pages have got new maps, illustrations, photo galleries and revised text as necessary. This includes pages about beautiful fjords that many of you will know, and pages about more unknown places that you can explore if you feel like travelling Spitsbergen online – the door is open, just come in, there is plenty of good stuff waiting!
The renewed page about Dickson Land and Billefjord. One of the most beautiful and interesting parts of Spitsbergen, believe it or not! An area that certainly deserved something better than what I had in that place until a few days ago.
KongsfjordKrossfjord used to be merged into one page until recently, an unbearable situation 🙂 now both of these beautiful and frequently visited fjords have got their own, improved page.
There are, of course, also a couple of new panorama pages, dedicated to individual sites rather than larger areas (in contrast to the pages mentioned above), some of them with many images (both panorama and conventional photos) and a lot of background information, such as the page about Svenskehuset.
The same is the case with the new page about Brucebyen, a lovely and very interesting place in Billefjord. I have a lot of fond memories from Brucebyen, but the new page is, of course, not about my own stories. It is rather about the history of the famous Scottish polar explorer William S. Bruce and his Scottish Spitsbergen Syndicate.
What else do we have? Oh, of course, Collinsodden at the entrance of Krossfjord. That’s a place I bett most of you won’t have been to, but it is worth a visit, the scenery is not exactly what you would initially think of when you mentally picture Spitsbergen, but it is beautiful and there is, of course, an interesting little story connected to the place.
And Wigdehlpynten in Woodfjord. Colours, colours … that is Christiane Ritter’s red desert sand.
… to be continued.
So there is plenty of reading material for one or two rainy autumn days or dark winter evenings. By the way, as you may have noticed, it comes not only completely free, but also without all the online ads popping up that you have on most other “free” websites, which gather a lot of your data and reduce the reading experience greatly in my opinion. That’s how other website owners make their money. Nothing like that on spitsbergen-svalbard.com. Not that economy didn’t play a role for me, obviously, and this years I would have more reason than at other times to tap that resource. But I don’t want to do that, because I like my website as it is and I want to keep it this way. If you want to support it – have a look at my webshop, there is a lot of good arctic books and fine other things that might give you (or someone you like) pleasure.
So … have a look at these new/renewed pages listed above. I greatly enjoyed making them and I hope they find your interest.
Spitsbergen-Svalbard: the guidebook – now coming up in Dutch
The guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard has been translated and it is now printed, soon it will be ready for shipping 🙂 another big project that has come to an end – well, not really, but the process of making the book in the first place. More about that soon.
The labour inspectore (Arbeitstilsynet) will be strengthened with one million kroner.
The mining company Store Norske is to receive 40 millions to compensate for expected losses in mine 7, which is suffering from generally high costs and additional problems due to flooding with glacial meltwater after the hot summer days in July. The government aims at securing the supply of Longyearbyen’s coal power plant with local coal.
61.1 Millionen are needed for securing Longyearbyen against snow avalanches and river floods – both are very important issues for Longyearbyen.
The comprehensive clean-up of Sveagruva and the nearby mines of Lunckefjellet and Svea Nord is expected to require 412.8 millions in 2021.
Svalbardmuseum is in for a grant of 1.5 millions, to “strengthen the museum and stimulate more activity”, also in the light (or, rather, darkness) of the corona crisis.
Also the Sysselmannen will get increased fundings, amongst others for to create a stilling for a lawyer to work tasks that a public prosecutor might otherwise take care of, when cases leave the Sysselmannen – an institution that includes the police – in Longyearbyen.
Longyearbyen has a lot of important issues to deal with and some of them will be taken important steps further with Oslo’s new budget for 2021. Getting a new power source on the way to replace the old coal power plant would certainly make sense, to mention just one of many problems that Longyearbyen needs to take care of.
The local tourism organisation Visit Svalbard was disappointed by getting an increase of only 100,000 kroner on top of the current budget of 3.05 millions. Visit Svalbard represents many local companies, all of which are hit hard by the corona crisis.
But community representatives expressed themselves mostly satisfied. Amongst others, Longyearbyen will now also get the opportunity to apply for fundings from “klimasats”, a public fund for for climate protection projects that was established for mainland communities already in 2016. Longyearbyen has very high per capita CO2 emissions and electricity is very expensive. A new solution might bring considerable improvement for both issues. Currently, a hydrogen-based solution is discussed. Hydrogen could be supplied from north Norway and is expected to reduce both CO2 emissions and the high prices for electricity significantly.
The government’s budget plans still need the parliament’s approval.
Less and thinner ice in the innermost branches of Isfjord such as Tempelfjord and Billefjord, and a solid ice-cover in the wide, central parts of Isfjord proper nothing but a remote dream – that has been the reality in Spitsbergen’s largest fjord in recent years, which does hardly live up to its name, “Ice fjord”, anymore. Considering oceanographical and biologial characteristics, Isfjord has not really been a high-arctic fjord anymore, but rather a sub-arctic one.
Isfjord has developed a sub-arctic oceanographical character in recent years,
something that has involved, for example, more whale sightings.
The photo shows a blue whale in Isfjord in September 2018.
This may currently be changing again – not permanently, however, but at least for a while. This is the result of oceanographical data that have recently been gathered by a team of UNIS scientists. The data are part of a long-term project to monitor the development in Isfjord. Frank Nielsen, professor for oceanography at UNIS, and his team have now published a report in Svalbardposten.
A key result is that there is currently much less mild, salt-rich Atlantic water in Isfjord than in previous years and the remaining volume of this water is largely at depths below 150 metres. In recent years, mild Atlantic water that drifts north with the Gulf Stream and reaches Spitsbergen’s west coast, where it is called the West Spitsbergen current, has had an increasingly strong influence in the fjords on the west coast. These have, as a consequence, lost much of their high-arctic character in terms of oceanography and biodiversity, rather becoming sub-arctic fjords instead. Important indicators include water temperatures, salt concentrations and species composition, especially of zooplankton.
In the innermost branches, such as Petuniabukta (pictured here),
Isfjord’s high-arctic character has been retained so far.
Recent climatic changes have led to this development: part of the complex pictures are changed routes of low pressures, which now move north between Greenland and Spitsbergen, rather than moving east over the Barents Sea. The new route of the low pressures tends to push Atlantic water north and into Spitsbergen’s west coast fjords – an effect that can last over years, even though the low pressures disappear after a few days.
This year, however, regional weather patterns have been more like what they used to be in the past, with a more stable northerly influence which has, noticeably, led to few warm air incursions with melting temperatures in the winter, something that had become more common in the years before. Another result of the current air flow pattern in this sector of the Arctic is the less pronounced influence of temperate water masses in Spitsbergen’s fjords on the west coast. Other reasons for this current development may include the strong melting of local glaciers in the very warm weather of the last summer, which has led to a higher input of cold freshwater to the top layer of the fjord.
All this has now led to a change of species-composition of zooplankton back to a more high-arctic mixture. Arctic zooplankton is largely dominated by copepods. In recent years, the sub-arctic species Calanus finmarchicus has become dominant in most parts of Isfjord, but now it is mainly the high-arctic species Calanus glacialis that is dominant again.
Currently, also central parts of Isfjord have a high-arctic oceanographical character again.
If this development is not soon terminated by strong low pressures associated with heavy storms from the “wrong” direction, then one of the results could be an ice cover that is more extensive and stronger than seen in recent years. Another result, if it lasts for a while, may be fewer whales and less cod in Isfjord next year.
But in case anyone is struck by the thought that climate change in the Arctic is called off now: this is not the case. As Nilsen puts it in his article, it is not a stable situation, but “rather a local dead-cat bounce within a warming Arctic” (original quote: Men en stabil situasjon er det ikke, det er mer som en lokal krampetrekning i et Arktis under oppvarming).
September is generaly the months with the lowest sea ice cover in the Arctic: the summer warmth has melted a lot of ice, and the cold of the winter is yet to come. So is is normal to expect little drift ice near Spitsbergen in September.
BUT – what does “little” drift ice mean? Even just a quick glance at the long-term development reveals a clear trend towards less and less ice. Arctic sea ice is monitored since 1979, and never has there been as little ice as in September, following a summer that has brought Longyearbyen record-breaking temperatures and a hot summer also elsewhere in the Arctic, such as Siberia, to mention just one example.
According to a press release by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, the monthly temperature average for September for the whole Arctic was 2.9 degrees above the long-term average, which is based on the reference period 1961-1990. When a new reference period will be introduced in 2021, based on the three decades from 1991 to 2020, the temperature deviations will appear less dramatic. But this will be no reason to declare the current climate change history, it will just be a different perception due to a new statistical reference period. An artefact, in other words.
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.
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.
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 …).
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.
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 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.