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Yearly Archives: 2020 − News & Stories


Polar bear shot at Longyearbyen camping in August: proceedings closed

The outcome did not come as a surprise: the case against a man who shot a polar bear on Longyearbyen camping in the early morning of 28 August, when a man died after being attacked by the bear, is now closed, no charge will be brought up. It was, evidently, a case of defence of another person. The bear had entered the campsite area in the morning of 28 August, when those few persons who were there were all sleeping, so initially nobody noticed the bear. The polar bear then attacked Johan “Job” J. Kootte from the Netherlands while he was sleeping in his tent. Another person who had been sleeping another tent had access to a weapon and fired a shot against the bear, who then moved away.

The bear was later found dead on the parking place next to the nearby airport.

Longyearbyen camping

The site of the tragic events of 28 August 2020: Longyearbyen camping (archive image).

When a polar bear is killed, a case is always and automatically opened because the species is strictly protected in Svalbard. Now the Sysselmannen informed that the case is officially closed: it was a case of defence of a third person – the shot was fired in an attempt to save someone’s life – and thus legal.

Tragically, the attempt to save Kootte’s life was not successful. He died from his injuries before he reached the hospital.

Another case is still open. This concerns the question wether Longyearbyen camping, where Kootte was employed during the season, should have taken other security measures, with respect to the Norwegian labour protection law (arbeidsmiljølov).

Northern news: bank and batteries

The polar night is usually not a time of big news from the north, and the current dark season follows that tradition – fortunately, as news have too often not been good ones this year. A polar bear that was seen in Adventdalen did not bother to come close to Longyearbyen, which is good. There is, so far, no avalanche risk relevant for the settlement, which is also good. In previous winters, avalanche warnings have led to evacuations of parts of Longyearbyen over weeks or even months.

But that does altogether not mean that nothing happens at all. A lot happens behind the scene to fight the economical consequences of the corona crisis, which have hit Longyearbyen hard, even though there has not been any confirmed infection in Spitsbergen so far.

A battery for Longyearbyen

This is something that probably everybody can agree on: the coal power plant, built in 1982, is a stone-age kind of power solution for Longyearbyen, an otherwise rather modern place. But it is a matter of hot debate what kind of energy supply Longyearbyen may have in the future.

But one thing appears to be certain: any energy supply that involves renewables will require some kind of energy storage system. Important steps have now been made in this direction, as Svalbardposten reports: the municipality (Lokalstyre) has decided to dedicate 40 million kroner in the budget for 2021 to a battery park next to the power plant. The state company Enova is supposed to cover the rest of the costs which are estimated at 60 million kroner in total.

The battery park is expected to also make today’s energy supply cheaper, more reliable and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly when energy peaks can be buffered by the battery rather than by the coal power plant itself.

Coal power plant Longyearbyen

Today’s coal power plant in Longyearbyen: not exactly an up-to-date energy solution.

The bank doesn’t always win

It is usually the bank that wins in the end, but not always. SpareBanken Nordnorge decided earlier this year to close their branch office in Longyearbyen, which is – was – Spitsbergen’s only bank. Not surprisingly, this decision has been met with strong critizism locally. Many bank services are available only, but many questions remain open, including important ones for which clients often prefer to meet someone in their bank in person. And another potential problem, a bit more Longyearbyen-specific, is the question of the many non-Norwegian locals who need to identify themselves for certain transactions. There is the idea that the post office may provide this service in the future.

And yet another question, also relevant for tourists, is cash. Spitsbergen’s one and only ATM has been out of service for a long time already, because of problems with the cash supply. It is not yet clear what the solution might be. Various paying methods without cash are widely used in Norway including Longyearbyen these days, but many still want some cash in the wallet and it is still legal tender, supposed to be available anywhere in the country.

Anyway, the bank closed for good on 18 December despite of local protest. The staff was offered a warm farewell by local choirs, and celebrations are said to have ended in the popular Karlsberger Puben just opposite the road.

The Arctic Wednesday: polar online presentations

Our plan B, originally kind of an emergency solution to replace the cancelled live dates in November and December, turned out to be amazingly successful, to our great surprise. So we, Birgit Lutz and Rolf Stange, have now scheduled the “Arctic Wednesday”: a series of online presentations where we can pick up selected topics. Let’s travel together online to the beautiful, cold ends of the world! We will start on 13 January with a series of six dates, every Wednesday for six weeks. Birgit and I have selected a range of topics ranging from adventure and travel through history to environment, which we hope you will enjoy.

The Arctic Wednesday: polar online presentations

The Arctic Wednesday: polar online presentations with Birgit Lutz and Rolf Stange.

The presentations will be in German. I know there are a lot of German-speaking visitors to the English site, for example from the Netherlands – this is why I include this brief note here in English. For further information, please refer to the German version of this page (change language by clicking on the flagg symbol on top of this page).

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

Sysselmannen becomes Sysselmester

The Sysselmannen is the highest representative of the Norwegian government in Spitsbergen. Currently, Kjerstin Askholt holds this position as the second woman in history. The position is called Sysselmannen no matter if a woman or a man is in office.

According to new Norwegian law, all official names for governmental institutions will have to be gender-neutral as of next year. This turned out to be a bit of a challenge regarding the Sysselmannen. Ideas discussed in public included funny words such as Sysselsheriff or Sysselhøvding (-chief), but nothing really useful.

Sysselmann becomes Sysselmester

Sysselmann becomes Sysselmester in 2021.

Now a descision has been made: Sysselmannen will be changed to Sysselmester. All involved appear to be happy with this solution. The Sysselmannen is also police chief or, in Norwegian, politimester (police master), something goes well along with the new designation.

From 01 July 2021, the Sysselmannen will be history and Oslo’s highest representative in Svalbard will be the Sysselmester from then on. A lot of work still needs to be done until the old designation has disappeared from all official logos on paper, on means of transport, of which the Sysselmannen/Sysselmester has an amazing amount, and elsewhere.

Even that: Spitsbergen screensaver

How cool is that: an arctic screensaver! The next-best thing after actually being there is having the Arctic on the screen. Get the Spitsbergen screensaver now! The product description is German, but the screensaver does not inlcude any language beyond placenames, so it doesn’t matter as soon as you have got it in the screen.

The screensaver includes 133 stunning images of the arctic scenery of Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen, taken from a fascinating aerial perspective. The selection is based on the photos featured in the photo book Aerial Arctic.

Spitsbergen screensaver

Arctic online: the Spitsbergen screensaver.

Click here for further information about the arctic screensaver – it has never been so good to hang out in front of the screen!

Spitsbergen screensaver

133 fascinating aerial images of Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen.

The bad news is: the screensaver is for PC computers only. It won’t work on other operating systems such as Apple etc.

Online presentation: Spitsbergen – Norwegens arktischer Norden

The live presentations that I had scheduled didn’t work this year, so let’s go online! We will meet on the internet and travel Spitsbergen through the arctic seasons, from the polar light to the midnight sun.

The first date, Wednesday, 9 December, is almost fully booked, so there will be a second date on Tuesday, 22 December.

This presentation will be in German, but I know there are a lot of German speaking visitors also on the English site here, hence the offer also here on the English website – if you understand some German, please don’t hesitate to join me on Wednesday!

Spitzbergen - Norwegens arktischer Norden

Spitzbergen – Norwegens arktischer Norden: impressions from the arctic seasons, from the polar night to the midnight sun.

For further details, please change to German at the top of the page or visit my online shop by clicking here to buy tickets.

Photo prints with Spitsbergen driftwood frames

Still missing a really beautiful Christmas present for yourself or a beloved one? Here comes the solution for all arctic enthusiasts – no, not for all of them, just for four lucky ones, because each of these four high quality prints comes in exclusive single edition. Just once, no more.

So finally I have done what I had initially on my mind when I started with the idea of the picture frames made from real Spitsbergen driftwood. Initially, the idea was about my pictures. I wanted them to get good … well … frame conditions. This worked so well that the frames somehow took of with a life on their own, without the pictures.

Now I have got four photographic highlights, selected amongst ten thousands, many of which would easily have deserved the same honour. But there is now just four and no more. Two images show polar bears – there was just no way around the king of the Arctic – and two feature Spitsbergen’s stunning glacier landscapes in the amazing light of the arctic winter.

Here they are. Four images, four pictures, four frames. Exactly one original of each one. No copies.

The colours of the prints come out much better than on the photos here that show the prints together with the frames.

Glacier front on Spitsbergen’s east coast: Heuglinbreen in Mohnbukta

Glacier front on Spitsbergen's east coast: Heuglinbreen in Mohnbukta

Glacier front on Spitsbergen’s east coast: Heuglinbreen in Mohnbukta.

It is arctic winter and we are standing on the frozen fjord next to the mighty ice cliff of Heuglinbreen in Mohnbukta on the east coast of Spitsbergen. The sun has returned after the polar night, but it is still low on the sky, thus casting stunning light over the scenery and making the beautiful blue and green colours of the ice shine out.

To the Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com-shop: High quality photo print with Spitsbergen driftwood frame: Glacier front on Spitsbergen’s east coast: Heuglinbreen in Mohnbukta

Polar bear in Hornsund

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Polar bear in Hornsund

Polar bear in Hornsund.

An impressive, strong male polar bear that we could observe from the sailing ship Antigua on the icy shore of Hornsund. This particular polar bear was so impressive that one crew member later got it tattooed on his shoulder! That is not on offer here, but the print of the photo of this beautiful animal is without any doubt an eye-catcher on the wall, just as this particular polar bear in Hornsund in real life.

To the Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com-shop: High quality photo print with Spitsbergen driftwood frame: polar bear in Hornsund

Mountain and glacier landscape in Tempelfjord

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Mountain and glacier landscape in Tempelfjord

Mountain and glacier landscape in Tempelfjord.

It is early March and we are standing on top of a little mountain on the shore of Tempelfjord. The sun, just having returned after the polar night, is still low in the sky even mid-day, casting amazing light over the whole scene, with intense colours and long shadows on the crevassed glacier Tunabreen.

To the Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com-shop: High quality photo print with Spitsbergen driftwood frame: Mountain and glacier landscape in Tempelfjord

Polar bear family in Tempelfjord

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Polar bear family in Tempelfjord

Polar bear family in Tempelfjord.

We aren watching the famous (by several documentaries) female polar bear “Frost” as she enjoys a playful and relaxed day out on the ice in Tempelfjord together with her two little cubs. These were a good five months old at the time of photography in early May. At this time of year, there are plenty of seals lying on the ice and the little polar bear family can enjoy life without worries, something that comes clearly through on this photo. A beautiful experience, both out there in nature and as a picture on the wall.

To the Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com-shop: High quality photo print with Spitsbergen driftwood frame: Polar bear family in Tempelfjord

Polar bear dead during scientific anaesthetisation: case closed

A polar bear died in September after anaesthetisation by scientists of the Norwegian Polar Institute. The anaesthetisation was done as part of an annual routine programme to gather data from a larger number of polar bears.

Polar bear skull

Life is dangerous, also for polar bears. Even drowning due to scientific anaesthetisation seems to be a realistic risk. But we don’t know what happend to this polar bear.

The case was investigated by the Sysselmannen, as always when a protected animal in Spitsbergen comes to harm. The result shows that the polar bear most likely died from drowning: it appears likely that the head of the bear ended up in a water-filled terrain depression before the scientists arrived on scene. A lethal side effect of the anaesthetic that was used (Medetomidin) can, however, not be excluded, or a combination of both factors, according to an official press release.

The Sysselmannen could not identify legally relevant behaviour. The case has thus been closed.

The mouse hunt is opened

In Svalbard the hunting season is open – for mice! Everything else in the video, I wanted to try something new.

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Mice on Svalbard

Additional departure with Arctica II: 28.8.-5.9.2021

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.

Spitsbergen 2021 with Arctica II: additional departure

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.

Polar bear in Adventdalen

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, helicopter

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.

The public is asked to be aware and alert.

Lice found in fur of arctic foxes

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: lice detected

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 page for the weekend: Svenskehuset

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.

Svenskehuset

Svenskehuset at Kapp Thordsen: Spitsbergen’s oldest house and site of several famous winterings.
This ist just a screenshot – click here for a virtual tour through Svenskehuset.

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 back in productive operation again

Yesterday’s news on this site mentioned that repair works in mine 7, which was partly flooded by meltwater during the extremely warm days in July, were still ongoing. This was, however, already outdated at the time of publication: the first coal left mine 7 already on Saturday late evening, as the mining company Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani told Svalbardposten.

Mine 7

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.

Northern news

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 Longyearbyen

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.

Guides Spitsbergen

For many years, we have been taking care of good teams ourselves.
Due to the growth of tourism also in the polar areas, however, it is without any doubt a good thing to establish industry-wide standards.
This is a photo from times long gone by – a great team, without any question! From left to right: Captain Alexander Pruss, a young Rolf Stange (that’s me), Peter Balwin and Matthias Kopp, during a Spitsbergen-voyage on board Professor Multanovskiy in 2009.
Those were the days 🙂
My apologies for getting lost in nostalgia for a brief moment.
Photo © Bärbel Erwert, who was our ship doctor.

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