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Yearly Archives: 2022 − News & Stories


Giæ­ver­vil­la at Snat­cher­pyn­ten, Recher­chefjord: new vir­tu­al tour

I sup­po­se that many rea­ders of this web­site will have been to Spits­ber­gen, and some may even have been at Snat­cher­pyn­ten in Recher­chefjord. This bay is part of Bell­sund, a very beau­tiful and inte­res­t­ing fjord sys­tem in Spits­ber­gen. Among­st others, the­re are remains of hundreds of years of arc­tic histo­ry hid­den in the arc­tic land­scape.

Giævervilla at Snatcherpynten: Panorama

The­re is a new page with vir­tu­al tour dedi­ca­ted to Giæ­ver­vil­la at Snat­cher­pyn­ten in Recher­chefjord.

Giæ­ver­vil­la at Snat­cher­pyn­ten is an old house that has a histo­ry which is a bit spe­cial. If you have been the­re – gre­at. But the good news is: if you have not been the­re, it doesn’t mat­ter any­mo­re, becau­se now the­re is a who­le new page dedi­ca­ted to Giæ­ver­hu­set. The­re are pan­ora­ma images, a pho­to gal­lery and of cour­se the page tells the sto­ry of the place. Enjoy!

Giæverhuset at Snatcherpynten: Panorama

Screen­shot of the new vir­tu­al tour of Giæ­ver­vil­la at Snat­cher­pyn­ten.

New sewa­ge water tre­at­ment in Lon­gye­ar­by­en fil­ters 50 kg was­te in one week

It may not exact­ly fit into the atmo­sphe­re of the Christ­mas days … but nevert­hel­ess, the­re is some good news here, some kind of gos­pel, if you want it that way 🙂

It is a com­mon ques­ti­on: who is the sewa­ge water trea­ted in Lon­gye­ar­by­en? And it does usual­ly rai­se an eye­brow when the ans­wer is: not at all. And this is how it had been for more than a cen­tu­ry, until Novem­ber 2022. All sewa­ge water went straight into the fjord wit­hout any tre­at­ment at all.

But now it is Decem­ber 2022, and things have chan­ged to the bet­ter.

Longyearbyen sewage water treatment, Adventfjord

Advent­fjord next to Lon­gye­ar­by­en:
the­re are defi­ni­te­ly places in this area whe­re I wouldn’t go swim­ming.

A mecha­ni­cal sewa­ge water tre­at­ment was put into ope­ra­ti­on on 01 Decem­ber. The result of the first week of ope­ra­ti­on was impres­si­ve: 50 kg of gar­ba­ge were remo­ved from the sewa­ge water befo­re it went into Advent­fjord, accor­ding to a noti­fi­ca­ti­on by Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re. A sel­ec­tion of hygie­ne artic­les as one might suspect. All the stuff that doesn’t belong into the toi­let, as ever­y­bo­dy (?) knows, but that nevert­hel­ess obvious­ly far too often ends up the­re. Which is a phe­no­me­non in its­elf, but that is not the sub­ject here.

At least, now the­re is impro­ve­ment and a lot of that shit (sor­ry) will not end up in the sea any­mo­re from now on.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en local coun­cil to thin out in 2023

Ear­lier this year, the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment final­ly took the con­tro­ver­si­al decis­i­on to dis­pos­sess Longyearbyen’s inha­bi­tants who don’t have Nor­we­gi­an pass­ports off the local voting rights, except a very few who have spent at least three years as regis­tered inha­bi­tants of a main­land com­mu­ni­ty. click here for more details of the histo­ry of the who­le thing.

By now, some of the con­se­quen­ces of this dra­stic decis­i­on are beco­ming more clear, alt­hough the first local elec­tions under the new legis­la­ti­on will not be befo­re the fall of 2023. Then, about 700 for­mer voters will not be able to take part in the elec­tions, accor­ding to NRK. This con­cerns both voters and can­di­da­tes, such as Oli­via Eric­son from Swe­den, who will not be able to line up again in 2023.

Longyearbyen Lokalstyre

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re: about to thin out in 2023.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en has some­thing near 2500 inha­bi­tants. This is the total num­ber, inclu­ding many who are not yet of full age any­way or who have not yet lived in Lon­gye­ar­by­en for three years, which has always been a requi­re­ment to vote. The actu­al num­ber of voters is accor­din­gly lower. 700 voters who lose their voting rights accor­din­gly repre­sent some­thing near one third. Future local coun­cils will thus lose a lot of demo­cra­tic legi­ti­ma­ti­on. It is also feared that many will feel as second class citi­zens and hence redu­ce their com­mit­ment to local mat­ters.

Ano­ther con­se­quence is that smal­ler par­ties may not be able to line up any­mo­re for elec­tions in the future. Par­ties must have at least seven can­di­da­tes to take part in elec­tions, and smal­ler par­ties have always strug­g­led to meet this requi­re­ment in a small place such as Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The local Green par­ty MDG (Mil­jø­par­tiet De Grøn­ne) has now announ­ced to not line up any­mo­re for the 2023 elec­tions. In 2019, three of their can­di­da­tes were for­eig­ners, inclu­ding Oli­via Eric­son from Swe­den. Eric­son and other peo­p­le are sho­cked and frus­tra­ted to be depri­ved of their demo­cra­tic rights. The­re may be more par­ties who will drop out for the same reason, for exam­p­le Frems­kritts­par­tiet (FrP).

Seve­ral cur­rent mem­bers of the local coun­cil, inclu­ding cur­rent mayor (lokals­ty­re­le­der) Arild Olsen, have announ­ced that they will quit in 2023 becau­se of the new legal situa­ti­on, accor­ding to NRK.

Dri­ving licen­ses: Sys­sel­mes­ter finds solu­ti­on

The recent dri­ving licen­se issue cau­sed con­sidera­ble unsett­led­ness espe­ci­al­ly in Longyearbyen’s Thai com­mu­ni­ty. By coin­ci­dence, it was found out that dri­ving licen­ses from count­ries such as Thai­land do not meet cer­tain for­mal cri­te­ria and hence are not valid in Nor­way inclu­ding Sval­bard. This has cau­sed dif­fi­cul­ties for a num­ber of peo­p­le, espe­ci­al­ly from Thai­land, who live in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­re are many who need to dri­ve a car also within their jobs.

Car, Spitsbergen

Road traf­fic in Spits­ber­gen.

Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties have now estab­lished at least a tem­po­ra­ry solu­ti­on, accor­ding to a noti­ce by the Sys­sel­mes­ters: dri­ving licen­ses from count­ries that have rati­fied the Vien­na Con­ven­ti­on on Road Traf­fic will be accept­ed until 31st Decem­ber 2023. Until then, a per­ma­nent solu­ti­on needs to be found. The­re is some small print con­nec­ted to this solu­ti­on, but it is assu­med that it will app­ly to most, if not all, of tho­se who curr­ent­ly have a pro­blem with their dri­ving licen­se.

Time of moul­ting of polar foxes con­trol­led by tem­pe­ra­tu­re

Polar foxes (also known as “arc­tic fox”) moult twice a year, with a chan­ge from the thi­c­ker win­ter fur to the thin­ner sum­mer fur in spring and back again in autumn. Both kinds of polar foxes do that: the white fox with the pro­mi­nent chan­ge from white win­ter fur to brown sum­mer fur and back, and the blue fox which is – no, not blue, but brown throug­hout the year.

Next to ther­mal iso­la­ti­on, camou­fla­ge can be an important func­tion of the fur, at least for the white fox, and this requi­res a syn­chro­nis­ed timing of the moul­ting and the snow melting/fresh snow peri­ods.

Polar fox, fur version: Blue fox

Polar fox, fur ver­si­on 1: Blue fox.

So far, sci­en­tists assu­med that the timing of the moul­ting peri­od is lar­ge­ly con­trol­led by the length of day­light. This could be pro­ble­ma­tic if the timing of the snow melt/fresh snow peri­od gets decou­pled from cer­tain cus­to­ma­ry day­light length values. This might result in ani­mals still having white win­ter fur on brown tun­dra when the snow melt is through, ear­lier than in pre­vious times, and this again would invol­ve a loss of camou­fla­ge: the ani­mal has a hig­her risk of fal­ling vic­tim to a pre­da­tor or pos­si­bly to redu­ced hun­ting suc­cess if it its­elf is a pre­da­tor, such as the polar fox.

Polar fox, fur version: white fox, summer fur

Polar fox, fur ver­si­on 2: white fox in sum­mer coat.

But recent sci­en­ti­fic data indi­ca­te that the timing of the fur chan­ge may be cou­pled to tem­pe­ra­tu­re and snow cover deve­lo­p­ment rather than to the length of day­light, as bio­lo­gist Lucie Lapor­te-Devyl­der and co-aut­hors from NINA (Nor­we­gi­an insti­tu­te for natu­re rese­arch) wri­te in a sci­en­ti­fic publi­ca­ti­on Lapor­te-Devyl­der used pho­tos taken over years by auto­ma­tic came­ras and cor­re­la­ted them with meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal and snow cover data. The result indi­ca­tes that tem­pe­ra­tu­re and snow cover are a signi­fi­cant fac­tor for the timing of the fur chan­ge of polar foxes. This might mean that polar foxes are bet­ter able to adjust to cli­ma­te-chan­ge-indu­ced chan­ges the snow cover then pre­vious­ly belie­ved.

Polar fox, fur version: white fox, winter fur

Polar fox, fur ver­si­on 3: white fox in win­ter coat.

The data are from the Snøhet­ta area on the Nor­we­gi­an main­land. The results may, howe­ver, not be ful­ly appli­ca­ble to the polar fox popu­la­ti­on in Sval­bard. On the main­land, polar foxes with bad camou­fla­ge run a hig­her risk of pre­da­ti­on by sea eagles, but the­re are no eagles or other lar­ge birds of prey in Sval­bard.

The­re, howe­ver, polar foxes have an enti­re­ly dif­fe­rent pro­blem with their fur: lice are curr­ent­ly beco­ming more and more com­mon in Sval­bard. So far, nobo­dy can tell whe­re they are coming from and what the con­se­quen­ces will be for the affec­ted foxes.

Ath­lets from Barents­burg and Lon­gye­ar­by­en met for com­pe­ti­ti­on

It should be a mat­ter of cour­se, but it isn’t at at time when the Rus­si­an war of aggres­si­on still rages in the Ukrai­ne: despi­te of all dis­trust bet­ween Rus­sia and the wes­tern world on various levels, ath­lets from Lon­gye­ar­by­en went to Barents­burg on Sun­day to meet the local ath­le­tes the­re for a sport com­pe­ti­ti­on. The sports­peo­p­le from Lon­gye­ar­by­en got trans­port to Barents­burg with the governor’s ship Polar­sys­sel and got a fri­end­ly wel­co­me in Barents­burg, befo­re they enga­ged in com­pe­ti­ti­ons within bad­min­ton, table ten­nis, chess, flo­or­ball, vol­ley­ball and foot­ball.

Football, Barentsburg

Foot­ball match in Barents­burg (archi­ve image, 2019).

If you are inte­res­ted in the results, you can find them in more detail in Sval­bard­pos­ten but the bot­tom­li­ne adds an addi­tio­nal sur­pri­se to the who­le thing: the ath­lets from Lon­gye­ar­by­en won all com­pe­ti­ti­ons.

But the most important thing is obvious­ly that peo­p­le from both sides met in a peaceful and even fri­end­ly way, roun­ding the event off with a ban­quet.

Dal­nie Zel­ent­sy: sci­ence or spy­ing?

Inter­na­tio­nal poli­tics tou­ch­ing Sval­bard remain hea­vi­ly affec­ted by the dif­fi­cult rela­ti­onship to Rus­sia. Curr­ent­ly, a Rus­si­an appli­ca­ti­on filed by the Rus­si­an embas­sy in Oslo on behalf of the Inti­tu­te for mari­ne bio­lo­gy in Mur­mansk is caus­ing some dis­cus­sion among­st Nor­we­gi­an secu­ri­ty experts and poli­ti­ci­ans. The Mur­mansk insti­tu­te wants to car­ry out a rese­arch voya­ge with the ves­sel Dal­nie Zel­ent­sy from 15 Decem­ber 2022 to 10 Janu­ary 2023, with a major pro­por­ti­on of the time spent in Sval­bard waters.

Professor Molchanov, Longyearbyen

Rus­si­an ships were often char­ted by wes­tern com­pa­nies and insti­tu­ti­ons during bet­ter years in the past. Here we see MV Pro­fes­sor Molch­a­nov in Advent­fjord – in 2013, years after she was released from char­ter con­tracts with wes­tern expe­di­ti­on crui­se com­pa­nies
(archi­ve image, illus­tra­ti­on only).

Experts have told the Nor­we­gi­an news web­site NRK that it would be nai­ve to assu­me that real sci­ence would be the only pur­po­se of the trip. Offi­ci­al­ly, the voya­ge is meant to gather water and bot­tom samples in Sval­bard waters and the Barents Sea and experts don’t doubt that this kind of rese­arch will actual­ly be car­ri­ed out – but not as the only mis­si­on of the Dal­nie Zel­ent­sy. Secu­ri­ty poli­tics experts say that the insti­tu­te for mari­ne bio­lo­gy in Mur­mansk has strong con­nec­tions to the Rus­si­an navy, inclu­ding a pro­gram­me to train wha­les and seals for mili­ta­ry pur­po­ses. They say that the insi­tu­te is “not an inno­cent sci­en­ti­fic play­er, but a civi­li­an insti­tu­ti­on with a strong mili­ta­ry aspect”, and one would have to expect the sche­du­led Sval­bard crui­se to include a non-sci­en­ti­fic com­po­nent. This might be any­whe­re within sabo­ta­ge and spy­ing or trans­port of mili­ta­ry goods and per­so­nell, for exam­p­le to Barents­burg, which the ves­sel is sche­du­led to visit during the crui­se. This could be done tog­e­ther with a sci­en­ti­fic pro­gram­me which in its­elf inde­ed might be harm­less. In ear­lier years, the Dal­nie Zel­ent­sy was also used by wes­tern sci­en­tists, for exam­p­le from UNIS, for rese­arch in Sval­bard.

Also other Rus­si­an “sci­en­ti­fic” ves­sels have recent­ly been seen near important Nor­we­gi­an infra­struc­tu­re, for exam­p­le of the oil and gas indus­try, and experts expect the infor­ma­ti­on gathe­red by them to be poli­ti­cal rather than sci­en­ti­fic, at least in part. Ano­ther pur­po­se of the­se acti­vi­ties may be to keep Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties such as the coast­guard busy to wear them out over time.

As a con­clu­si­on, the experts demand the rejec­tion of the appli­ca­ti­on from Nor­we­gi­an poli­ti­ci­ans, which is said to be legal­ly pos­si­ble withe the 12 mile zone of Sval­bard but more dif­fi­cult out­side.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en: power sup­p­ly wit­hout coal from 2023

One thing is for sure: Lon­gye­ar­by­en needs a new ener­gy sys­tem. The old coal power plant is, well, exact­ly that: a) old and b) a coal power plant. On Wed­nes­day, an admi­nis­tra­ti­ve board within the com­mu­ni­ty admi­nis­tra­ti­on of Lon­gye­ar­by­en con­firm­ed an ear­lier decis­i­on of the com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil (Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re) to run Longyearbyen’s ener­gy sup­p­ly wit­hout coal from late 2023.

But anyo­ne who expects a modern, cli­ma­te-neu­tral ener­gy sup­p­ly is in for a dis­ap­point­ment: to start with, ener­gy will be sup­pli­ed by a die­sel-based power sta­ti­on, which will be an upgraded ver­si­on of today’s stand­by power plant. A cli­ma­te-neu­tral solu­ti­on is, howe­ver, who Lon­gye­ar­by­en wants and needs on the long term: green­house gas emis­si­ons are to be redu­ced by 70-80 % until 2030. The plan is to achie­ve this with a mix of tech­no­lo­gies likely to include pho­to­vol­taics, wind and bat­tery-based ener­gy sto­rage solu­ti­ons.

Coal power station, Longyearbyen

The coal power sta­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The dis­cus­sion about a new solu­ti­on is almost as old as the power plant its­elf.

But cli­ma­te pro­tec­tion is not the reason for the move from coal to die­sel. Accor­ding to Sval­bard­pos­ten, secu­ri­ty of sup­p­ly is one main reason. Power cuts are a rather well-known phe­no­me­non in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The latest one was just two days ago on Wed­nes­day in the late after­noon. It las­ted, with a bit of on and off, for 1.5 hours. Addi­tio­nal­ly it is said that the fur­ther ope­ra­ti­on of the coal power plant would requi­re incre­asing main­tainan­ce and finan­cial efforts, and the working con­di­ti­ons for the staff are not up to date.

Based on the expec­ted deve­lo­p­ment of ener­gy pri­ces, howe­ver, the chan­ge to die­sel is expec­ted to bring an increase of some­thing near 14 % to con­su­mers in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It does not sur­pri­se that Wednesday’s con­fir­ma­ti­on of the decis­i­on was met with a loud deba­te in local social media groups in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­re are many who are proud of Longyearbyen’s coal mining histo­ry and many doubt that impor­ted die­sel, bought on poten­ti­al­ly tur­bu­lent world mar­kets, is a bet­ter solu­ti­on than local coal.

Rus­sia and Nor­way agree on fishery quo­tas for the Barents Sea

Wes­tern count­ries have redu­ced their con­nec­tions to Rus­sia to a mini­mum, but the­re are still a few open chan­nels in use and both sides are still able to make agree­ments that many will think of as sur­pri­sing: Nor­way and Rus­sia have sea­led an agree­ment on fishery quo­tas for the Barents Sea and the Nor­we­gi­an Sea, at the Barents­ob­ser­ver reports.

Russian fishing vessel, Barents Sea

Rus­si­an fishing ves­sel in the Barents Sea.

The Nor­we­gi­an-Rus­si­an Joint Fishery Com­mis­si­on has been in exis­tence sin­ce 1976. It sets over­all quo­tas for eco­no­mic­al­ly important spe­ci­es such as cod, had­dock, cape­lin and hali­but and it defi­nes the share that the fishing fleets of the two count­ries get. The indi­vi­du­al share is usual­ly near 50 % of the total quo­ta.

The quo­ta for cod was redu­ced now for two times in a row by 20 %.

Nor­way and Rus­sia also agreed to con­ti­nue their coope­ra­ti­on within the sci­en­ti­fic moni­to­ring of fish stocks and rela­ted admi­nis­tra­ti­on.

As a con­se­quence of Russia’s war against the Ukrai­ne, Nor­way has clo­sed most ports for Rus­si­an fishing ves­sels. Only Trom­so, Båts­fjord and Kir­kenes remain acces­si­ble for Rus­si­an ships, which are regu­lar­ly sub­ject to minu­te con­trols in the­se ports. Rus­sia has announ­ced to ter­mi­na­te the coope­ra­ti­on with Nor­way in case the govern­ment in Oslo deci­des on fur­ther rest­ric­tions. On the other side, Nor­we­gi­an fisher­men com­plain about fre­quent clo­sings of lar­ge are­as in the Rus­si­an sec­tor of the­se waters due to mili­ta­ry exer­ci­s­es. This often hap­pens on short noti­ce, which trou­bles the fishi­ung fleet.

Rus­si­an espio­na­ge in Nor­way inclu­ding Sval­bard

Russia’s hybrid war against the west has star­ted to hit Nor­way, inclu­ding the country’s arc­tic islands of Sval­bard. Dro­nes of unknown ori­gin have in recent weeks been seen fly­ing near important infra­struc­tu­re inclu­ding tech­no­lo­gy of the oil and gas indus­try. In some cases, this has included dro­nes fly­ing seve­ral thousand met­res high, well bey­ond the ran­ge of small con­su­mer-type dro­nes that are used for exam­p­le by ama­teur pho­to­graph­ers. Today (Tues­day, 25 Octo­ber) a man was arres­ted in Trom­sø, as NRK repor­ted. The man is suspec­ted of espio­na­ge under fal­se iden­ti­ty for a Rus­si­an intel­li­gence ser­vice.

Drone Spitsbergen

Dro­nes can be used for a wide ran­ge of pur­po­ses, from inno­cent pho­to­gra­phy through sci­en­ti­fic work, SAR and poli­ce ope­ra­ti­ons up to espio­na­ge, mili­ta­ry ope­ra­ti­ons and bomb ter­ror. The pho­to shows a public demons­tra­ti­on of dro­nes used by the Sys­sel­mes­ter of Sval­bard for admin­stra­ti­ve pur­po­ses and SAR and poli­ce ope­ra­ti­ons.

Ano­ther man was arres­ted becau­se of ille­gal dro­ne flights in Sval­bard. Accor­ding to Barents­ob­ser­ver, the man has con­nec­tions to Putin’s envi­ron­ment. He is suspec­ted of having made ille­gal dro­ne pho­tos that are curr­ent­ly under poli­ce inves­ti­ga­ti­on. The­re are seve­ral no fly zones in Sval­bard, such as the 5 km safe­ty zones sur­roun­ding the air­ports. Addi­tio­nal­ly, Nor­way does not allow Rus­si­an citi­zens to fly dro­nes any­whe­re in Nor­we­gi­an airspace as a reac­tion to the Rus­si­an war in the Ukrai­ne. A lawy­er of the suspec­ted man has indi­ca­ted to pos­si­bly chall­enge this ban becau­se of the Sval­bard Treaty’s requi­re­ment of equal tre­at­ment, but if such a move would be suc­cessful in court is an open ques­ti­on at best.

Such Rus­si­an acti­vi­ties are likely inten­ded to crea­te fee­lings of uncer­tain­ty, con­fu­si­on and fear in other count­ries.

Mine 7: coal mining until 2025

Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in mine 7 in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en will be con­tin­ued until 2025, as the mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni (SNSK) explai­ned in a press release. The reason is the chan­ged geo­po­li­ti­cal situa­ti­on and its impli­ca­ti­ons for glo­bal ener­gy mar­kets.

Mine 7

Mine 7 is loca­ted on a moun­tain in Advent­da­len.

Ear­lier, 2023 was set as the last year of Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen. One main reason to main­tain coal pro­duc­tion is, so far, the sup­p­ly for the local coal power plant, but the com­mu­ni­ty of Lon­gye­ar­by­en aims at fin­ding a new power solu­ti­on and has not rene­wed the con­tract with the mining com­pa­ny bey­ond 2023.

But the demand for coal on the inter­na­tio­nal mar­kets is high and so are the pri­ces. Hence, SNSK could secu­re good con­tracts until 2025. For many years, the Cla­ri­ant group has been the main cus­to­mer for Nor­we­gi­an coal from Spits­ber­gen, and will remain so until 2025.

In 2021 – befo­re the Rus­si­an war against the Ukrai­ne star­ted, SNSK increased its tur­no­ver to 93 mil­li­on Nor­we­gi­an kro­ner, com­pared to 48 mil­li­on kro­ner in 2020 – wit­hout chan­ges of the annu­al pro­duc­tion.

The­re are curr­ent­ly bet­ween 40 and 45 peo­p­le working in mine 7. SNSK plans to increase the num­ber of employees in mine 7 to 52, with an annu­al pro­duc­tion of 125,000 tons.

Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol excluded from Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd

The local tou­rism asso­cia­ti­on Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd has excluded Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol from its mem­bers. This was deci­ded today (12 Octo­ber) during a board mee­ting.

Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol is a com­pa­ny owned by the Rus­si­an sta­te. The Trust owns and runs Barents­burg and all acti­vi­ties the­re, inclu­ding tou­rism.

Trust Arcticugol

Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol, here in Pyra­mi­den: excluded from Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd and Visit Sval­bard.

One con­se­quence is that the offe­rings of Goarc­ti­ca, the Trust’s daugh­ter com­pa­ny for tou­rims, are not available any­mo­re on Visit Sval­bard, an important boo­king plat­form for local tour ope­ra­tors.

The reason is the Rus­si­an war of aggres­si­on in and against the Ukrai­ne. Chair­man Ron­ny Strøm­nes poin­ted out that it was not pos­si­ble any­mo­re to remain pas­si­ve, con­side­ring the Rus­si­an inva­si­on and seve­re vio­la­ti­ons of public inter­na­tio­nal law and human rights. Strøm­nes empha­si­zed that today’s decis­i­on is direc­ted against the Rus­si­an govern­ment and not against the peo­p­le in Barents­burg. He expres­sed hope that the future deve­lo­p­ment will make nor­mal rela­ti­onships pos­si­ble again, inclu­ding a rene­wed mem­ber­ship of Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol in Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd.

Goarc­ti­ca, the Trust’s tou­rism branch, published a video on social media show­ing how the lights are being tur­ned off in various loca­ti­ons in Barents­burg.

Rus­sia, Nor­way, Sval­bard and deep sea cable

One could almost laugh if it wasn’t actual­ly so serious and sad, and with such a dra­ma­tic geo­po­li­ti­cal back­ground: the­re is, on one side, a small coun­try that more or less regu­lar­ly sends a coast­guard or navy ship to remo­te parts of its waters to show pre­sence and to pat­rol the­se waters.

And on the other hand, the­re is a huge coun­try in the neigh­bour­hood, that has been pro­vo­king the who­le regi­on and many count­ries bey­ond that with tools within mili­ta­ry and other are­as, inclu­ding inter­net trolls, cyber attacks and so on and so forth, up to sabo­ta­ge of public infra­struc­tu­re.

The big coun­try obvious­ly thinks it has all the right of the world to do all this, or they just pre­tend it must have been someone else.

At the same time, the same big coun­try claims that the navy pre­sence of the small coun­try is an inac­cep­ta­ble pro­vo­ka­ti­on and a breach of important inter­na­tio­nal trea­ties.

This is, of cour­se, a very much sim­pli­fied and, to some degree, pole­mic sum­ma­ry of the cur­rent events. But just the fact that it seems safe to assu­me that all rea­ders will know which count­ries this is about is tale-tel­ling.

Coastguard, Svalbard

Nor­we­gi­an coast­guard ship in Sval­bard waters.

So, what hap­pen­ed now? Recent­ly, Rus­sia accu­sed Nor­way once again to have brea­ched the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty (often refer­red to as the Sval­bard Trea­ty) with their mili­ta­ry pre­sence in Sval­bard. It is the regu­lar pre­sence of Nor­we­gi­an coast­guard ships and occa­siona­ly a fri­ga­te in Sval­bard waters that alle­gedly irri­ta­tes Rus­sia. With this back­ground, it would be an idea to have a look at what the abo­ve-men­tio­ned trea­ty acc­tual­ly says, but on the other hand, who in Moscow cares about what is actual­ly writ­ten in a trea­ty? But just in case someone else­whe­re is inte­res­ted, this is the rele­vant Artic­le 9 of the trea­ty: “… Nor­way under­ta­kes not to crea­te nor to allow the estab­lish­ment of any naval base in the ter­ri­to­ries spe­ci­fied in Artic­le 1 and not to con­s­truct any for­ti­fi­ca­ti­on in the said ter­ri­to­ries, which may never be used for war­li­ke pur­po­ses”.

That is actual­ly pret­ty clear and straight­for­ward. And so are any con­clu­si­ons one might draw from the text. Nor­way doesn’t do any­thing that is in con­flict with arc­tic­le 9. Full stop. End of this part of the sto­ry. The rest is just pro­vo­ka­ti­on.

Ano­ther sto­ry is that of the deep sea cables. This is, if at all, then only at a very quick, first, super­fi­ci­al glan­ce inde­pen­dent from the first sto­ry. The­re are cables that con­nect Lon­gye­ar­by­en to main­land Nor­way, to pro­vi­de fast and relia­ble – that is the idea, at least – com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on for ever­y­thing from pho­ne­calls and ever­y­day inter­net use to satel­li­te data from SvalSat, the satel­li­te anten­na field near Lon­gye­ar­by­en which is of gre­at importance for many inter­na­tio­nal users inclu­ding orga­ni­sa­ti­ons such as ESA and NASA and others. One of the­se cables – the­re are two, for safe­ty reasons – was dama­ged in Janu­ary (click here to read more about that). Soon it was estab­lished that the dama­ge was done by humans and not by natu­ral pro­ces­ses.

Recent­ly, the move­ments of a cer­tain Rus­si­an fish traw­ler were deba­ted in media such as NRK. A ship known by the name Mel­kart-5 crossed the posi­ti­on abo­ve the cables in the area of the dama­ge more than 100 times within a few days. Bey­ond that, the­re is an impres­si­ve list of move­ments of this ship and its ten­der near places such as Nor­we­gi­an oil and gas fields, pipe­lines and a bridge near Kir­kenes that is regu­lar­ly used during Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry exer­ci­s­es. In addi­ti­on, the­re are long peri­ods, whe­re no signal of the ship’s AIS was recei­ved any­whe­re at all.

Russian fishing vessels, Svalbard

Rus­si­an fishing ves­sels han­ding over car­go in Sval­bard waters.

The­se are the facts. Any­thing bey­ond this is spe­cu­la­ti­on, con­side­ring cur­rent public know­ledge.

Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties inclu­ding the Sys­sel­mes­ter of Sval­bard have expres­sed reg­ret that legis­la­ti­on to pro­tect sea flo­or infra­struc­tu­re dates back to the stone age of the­se instal­la­ti­ons and does not pro­vi­de useful legal tools today.

The Spits­ber­gen dou­ble calen­der 2023 is available, with Bear Island and Jan May­en

The brand new Spits­ber­gen dou­ble calen­der 2023 is available! “Dou­ble calen­dar” means that the 12 calen­der sheets are used on both sides, and addi­tio­nal­ly to the twel­ve beau­tiful Spits­ber­gen pho­tos you get ano­ther twel­ve calen­der pages which are dedi­ca­ted to Bear Island an Jan May­en (six sheets for each one of them). As always, my new Spits­ber­gen dou­ble calen­der has a com­ple­te­ly new sel­ec­tion of pho­to­graphs and it comes in two sizes, A3 (lar­ger) and A5 (smal­ler). Click here for fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on and orde­ring.

P.S. save money by buy­ing seve­ral copies: if you order two or more, then the pri­ce per copy is lower. Christ­mas is on the way, and the­re is always someone’s bir­th­day coming up 🙂

Frost: queen wit­hout land or a cri­mi­nal polar bear?

As if an ani­mal such as a polar bear could be a cri­mi­nal. But the­re are tho­se in Lon­gye­ar­by­en who say that Frost is a cri­mi­nal polar bear.

Accor­ding to polar bear sci­en­tist Jon Aars, “Frost” is a fema­le polar bear, age almost 17 years, cap­tu­red and mark­ed by the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te for the first time in 2009 in Wij­defjord and known to sci­en­tists as N23992. In later years, Frost got cubs a num­ber of times: twins in 2011, 2012 and 2013 – the rapid series indi­ca­ted that she must have lost her off­spring at least the first two times – and again twins in 2015 and 2017 and a sin­gle fema­le cub both in 2020 and 2022. Frost is a well-known polar bear for sci­en­tists, who have caught and mark­ed her repea­ted­ly.

Polar bear and hut in Adventfjord

Polar bear and hut in Advent­fjord.
It is not known if this polar bear actual­ly is Frost.

Unfort­u­na­te­ly, Frost and her siblings have many times had cont­act to sett­le­ments, huts and humans, some­ti­mes with tra­gic con­se­quen­ces. In 2014, one of her twins from 2013 died in Bil­lefjord under cir­cum­s­tances not ful­ly reve­a­led but in clo­se tem­po­ral con­nec­tion to a sci­en­ti­fic anaes­the­tiza­ti­on. The other one of the­se two unfort­u­na­te twins was shot after it had been in a camp in Tem­pel­fjord in 2015, whe­re one per­son recei­ved minor inju­ries. The sad cli­max was, howe­ver, rea­ched when one of Frost’s des­cen­dants kil­led cam­ping place mana­ger Johan Jaco­bus „Job“ Koot­te in his tent on the cam­ping place in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on 28 August, 2020. The polar bear was shot.

Frost got her popu­lar name in the docu­men­ta­ry “Queen wit­hout land” made by the Nor­we­gi­an film maker Asge­ir Hel­ge­stad.

Polar bear family, Billefjord

Polar bear fami­ly in Bil­lefjord, Sep­tem­ber 2021.
It is unli­kely that this is frost, becau­se she got a sin­gle cub in 2020.

Frost appears to spend most of her time in Isfjord, with occa­sio­nal visits to inner Wij­defjord. She has appeared many times in the vici­ni­ty of the sett­le­ments, Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Pyra­mi­den, and occa­sio­nal­ly pro­ba­b­ly also within them. And she seems to have got used to brea­king into huts and tras­hing them in search for food, as hap­pen­ed recent­ly to the hut of Gre­en­dog, a com­mer­cial dogyard in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The Sys­sel­mes­ter (govern­ment representative/police) usual­ly tri­es to sca­re polar bears away with fla­re guns, heli­c­op­ters of snow mobi­les. If this doesn’t work, anaes­the­tiza­ti­on and a flight to a remo­te place within Sval­bard are among­st the remai­ning opti­ons. But this has alre­a­dy been done with Frost, only to see her coming back a while later. More robust, but non-lethal deter­ring methods such as rub­ber bul­lets or pep­per spray or a “polar bear pri­son” as in Chur­chill, whe­re bears are kept for a while with only water and no food to teach them that get­ting too clo­se to sett­le­ments and humans is not a good thing, are appar­ent­ly not in the arse­nal of Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties.

Which means that a dead­ly rif­le shot soon comes into con­side­ra­ti­on. This was now pro­po­sed for Frost by Longyearbyen’s mayor, Arild Olsen, who said that Frost has beco­me a dan­ger to the public. But such a decis­i­on can not be made by Longyearbyen’s mayor. Only the Sys­sel­mes­ter, curr­ent­ly Lars Fau­se, has the power to deci­de on this. Fau­se, howe­ver, said that the law does not per­mit the pre­ven­ti­ve shoo­ting of a bear. Ins­tead, it allows this final step only in case of dan­ger to human life; in excep­tio­nal cases also to pro­tect major mate­ri­al values.

But Fau­se said he alre­a­dy made up is mind what to do when a polar bear comes clo­se to, for exam­p­le, the way to school of Longyearbyen’s child­ren.

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