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Home → January, 2022

Monthly Archives: January 2022 − News & Stories


The light is about to return to high lati­tu­des in the north, and I have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to fol­low. Or, actual­ly, to be a bit ahead of it.

Just in case anyo­ne wants to know: tra­vel­ling from Ger­ma­ny to Nor­way and fur­ther to Lon­gye­ar­by­en was remar­kab­ly easy. Somehow I expec­ted some kind of trou­ble, I was cer­tain­ly mental­ly pre­pa­red for it. As long as you have regis­tered your plan­ned ent­ry to Nor­way befo­re you actual­ly come and you are tes­ted nega­ti­ve direct­ly after arri­val and again wit­hin 24 hours befo­re depar­tu­re to Lon­gye­ar­by­en, not­hing should keep things from going smooth­ly (it may depend a bit on whe­re you come from – this is by no means legal advice, it is just recent expe­ri­ence). If the time bet­ween arri­val in Oslo and depar­tu­re to Lon­gye­ar­by­en is shor­ter than 24 hours, then one test will do. A lot depends obvious­ly on the amount of traf­fic in the air­port.

Don’t ask me how this may chan­ge in the future. Things are likely to chan­ge also in Nor­way soo­ner rather than later. Gene­ral­ly spea­king, the­re is talk about making things easier. What and for whom, I don’t know.

Ice, harbour Longsyearbyen

Ice in the har­bour of Long­sye­ar­by­en (små­båt­hav­na, “small boat har­bour”)

My stay in Lon­gye­ar­by­en was short and hec­tic this time. Shor­ter and more hec­tic than plan­ned. Ori­gi­nal­ly, the idea was to have a cou­p­le of days here befo­re I would car­ry on, but this didn’t hap­pen. The boat trip to the place that I was going to was moved to the next rather ear­ly morning after my arri­val. The­re wasn’t much time to put the feet on the table, as you may well guess.

The litt­le but stur­dy MS Farm of Hen­nigsen, the only boat on the water here at this – from a sailor’s point of view – ungod­ly time of year. It was a trip of 6-7 hours, and the chal­len­ge star­ted alrea­dy in the har­bour, which was kinf of half fro­zen. Ice on the water, a fine nort­hern light on the sky. A good way to start a new adven­ture.

With MS Farm across Isfjord

With MS Farm across Isfjord during the polar night.

The­re are alrea­dy several hours of day­light around noon, and we mana­ged to arri­ve at our desti­na­ti­on still with some light. Farm­ham­na on the west coast. Here, I will help Rico for a cou­p­le of weeks. He and his part­ner Karo­li­ne own this beau­ti­ful trap­per sta­ti­on, and here they do theirs to keep the tra­di­ti­on of over­win­te­ring hun­ting ali­ve, which has a histo­ry span­ning cen­tu­ries here in Spits­ber­gen.

Farmhamna: arrived

Farm­ham­na: arri­ved hap­pi­ly – arri­ved and hap­py.

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

The sta­te of affairs

The new is alrea­dy near­ly 4 weeks old. Not too much has hap­pen­ed in Spits­ber­gen that has real­ly shaken the world, but nevertheless it is time to have a look at the sta­te of affairs.

C & O in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

C as in coro­na, O as in Omi­kron – I guess the­re is hard­ly anyo­ne who can still hear it without get­ting tur­ned off. And who will be sur­pri­sed that C & O are now well estab­lis­hed also local­ly in Lon­gye­ar­by­en? Pro­bab­ly nobo­dy. The num­bers of posi­ti­ve tests is well up in two-digit num­bers – wit­hin a popu­la­ti­on some­whe­re near 2500. And it is defi­ni­te­ly not just about tra­vel­lers who just came up with „imports­mit­te“ (impor­ted infec­tion). The virus is cir­cu­la­ting local­ly, inclu­ding the school.

Corona virus, Longyearbyen


Near­ly ever­y­bo­dy tra­vel­ling up to Sval­bard is obli­ged to take a nega­ti­ve test done in Nor­way wit­hin 24 hours befo­re depar­tu­re (and ano­t­her one after arri­val), some­thing that locals – popu­la­ti­on, eco­no­my, poli­ti­ci­ans – are not amu­sed about at all, also con­si­de­ring that this is not the case else­whe­re in Nor­way. And the­re are tho­se who ask why Sval­bard gets a dif­fe­rent tre­at­ment than the rest of the coun­try. The tou­rism indus­try is get­ting more and more ner­vous about the important win­ter sea­son, which has alrea­dy been lar­ge­ly lost in to con­se­cu­ti­ve years.

No sabo­ta­ge on the cables

No, this is not about the deep sea cable that con­nects Sval­bard to the rest of the world which was dama­ged a few weeks ago. It is still uncer­tain what has actual­ly hap­pen­ed to it and it will take some time until the dama­ge is loca­ted, let alo­ne repai­red. But the func­tio­n­a­li­ty has at least been res­to­red, so the­re is red­un­dan­cy in the com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on again and the who­le pres­su­re isn’t just res­ting on the second cable alo­ne any­mo­re.

In this con­text, the initi­al­ly mys­te­rious case of a dama­ged cable on the sea floor off north Nor­way was also dis­cus­sed. Sabo­ta­ge was at least not exclu­ded in eit­her of the­se cases, and one had to exer­cise a bit of self disci­pli­ne in order not to think of Norway’s big and cur­r­ent­ly rather ill-tem­pe­red neigh­bour in the east (no, not Swe­den). But at least for the case near the islands of Ves­terå­len in north Nor­way, sabo­ta­ge seems rather unli­kely now, as NRK reports: the still „mis­sing“ bit of the cable was „found“ – inde­ed it tur­ned out that the part of the cable that was torn off and later found in a distance of 11 kilo­me­tres from the ori­gi­nal loca­ti­on, was actual­ly com­ple­te, so not­hing was mis­sing any­mo­re. This was estab­lis­hed after the length of the cable could be mea­su­red more pre­cise­ly.

An inves­ti­ga­ti­on of the ship traf­fic in the area at the time in ques­ti­on has resul­ted in infor­ma­ti­on that points to a fishing ves­sel as the cau­se for the cable clut­ter. This had initi­al­ly been con­si­de­red unli­kely as it was belie­ved that such an inci­dence could not have hap­pen­ed unno­ti­ced and that the crew would have repor­ted it, but this has appar­ent­ly not been the case. As unplea­sant as the who­le affair still is for ever­y­bo­dy invol­ved inclu­ding tho­se who don’t get the data they need for their sci­en­ti­fic work, at least this is one poten­ti­al strain off from inter­na­tio­nal rela­ti­ons which are dif­fi­cult enough as they are.

And as men­tio­ned abo­ve, it remains to be seen if the­re is an equal­ly harm­less (at least from a point of inter­na­tio­nal poli­tics) explana­ti­on for the case of the Sval­bard cable.

Polar Per­ma­cul­tu­re: neit­her per­ma nor cul­tu­re

The busi­ness was neit­her perma(nent) nor was the­re suf­fi­ci­ent cul­tu­re in it, at least loo­king at the for­mal side of affairs: Polar per­ma­cul­tu­re was an eco-friend­ly hor­ti­cul­tu­re busi­ness gro­wing for examp­le kit­chen herbs in a dome in Nyby­en. Local and envi­ron­ment­al­ly friend­ly food pro­duc­tion was and still is an idea that many will sym­pa­thise with (inclu­ding this aut­hor). But in this case, the attempt, which see­med to work suc­cess­ful­ly for a cou­p­le of years, came to a rather sad end as the com­pa­ny went bankrupt during the coro­na cri­sis in spi­te of public aid. So far so under­stand­a­ble. But the pro­blem is that the whe­rea­bouts of sub­stan­ti­al amounts of money, from public and pri­va­te sources, could not be traced – and 2 mil­li­on Nor­we­gi­an kro­ner (about 200,000 Euro) are not small chan­ge, obvious­ly. It tur­ned out that „chao­tic“ seems to be a rather mild descrip­ti­on of the accoun­ting wit­hin Polar Per­ma­cul­tu­re. The Sys­sel­mes­ter is inves­ti­ga­ting the case accord­ing to Sval­bard­pos­ten, con­si­de­ring to open a legal case against the for­mer com­pa­ny.

And other than that?

That’s it for the moment.

Data con­nec­tion cable to main­land dama­ged

Many, many years ago, ships were nee­ded to send messages from Spits­ber­gen to the world and vice ver­sa. The wire­less tele­graph sta­ti­on built in 1911 at Fin­nes­et made com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on con­si­der­ab­ly more effi­ci­ent. Fur­ther techi­cal upgrades fol­lo­wed throughout the 20th cen­tu­ry.

But this kind of con­nec­tion, alt­hough per­fect­ly fine for the ever­y­day needs of mining com­pa­nies, expe­di­ti­ons and fishing and other ships, was far from good enough for the traf­fic that aro­se when Sval­Sat was estab­lis­hed in 1997: a sta­ti­on with a collec­tion of satel­li­te anten­nas to send data to satel­li­tes and recei­ve data tra­ve­ling the oppo­si­te way. The num­ber of anten­nas at Sval­Sat has incre­a­sed ever sin­ce and is now amoun­ting to some­thing near 100.


Satel­li­te anten­nas of Sval­Sat on Pla­tå­berg near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

As cus­to­mers like NASA and ESA don’t like to wait until a data DVD or USB stick is ship­ped out to them, a fib­re cable was laid to the main­land in 2004 to trans­port lar­ge volu­mes of data in real time. It is actual­ly a set of two indi­pen­dent cables to crea­te red­un­dan­cy and thus a robust struc­tu­re. Sin­ce the­se cables exist, Lon­gye­ar­by­en has super-fast inter­net (alt­hough the user expe­ri­ence of more mer­tals may occa­sio­nal­ly be dif­fe­rent).

The two cables on the sea floor are a very important and sen­si­ti­ve bit of infra­st­ruc­tu­re. Almost all com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on of all of Spitsbergen’s sett­le­ments depends on them, as well as the data traf­fic that is going through Sval­Sat: con­trol­ling satel­li­tes in polar orbits and recei­ving their data when they are nee­ded. Navi­ga­ti­on, com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, sci­ence, wea­ther – the who­le lot, ever­ything that satel­li­tes do the­se days. Obvious­ly an important bit of glo­bal infra­st­ruc­tu­re.

Last Fri­day, one of the cables was dama­ged in the ear­ly morning, as the ope­ra­ting com­pa­ny Space Nor­way noti­fied in a press release. A sea-going cable lay­ing ves­sel is nee­ded to repair the dama­ge, and it will take time until this is done.

The second cable is enough to cater for all data traf­fic and the­re are no restric­tions as long as it is ope­ra­ti­ve. But the­re is no fur­ther red­un­dance, and a loss of the second cable would have huge con­se­quen­ces. A cri­sis manage­ment group had a first mee­ting in Lon­gye­ar­by­en to dis­cuss sce­n­a­ri­os “in case”. Offi­cials empha­sise, howe­ver, that the­re is no rea­son to belie­ve that a loss of the second cable is likely to hap­pen.

The dama­ge seems to have occu­red at a distance bet­ween 120-130 km from Lon­gye­ar­by­en, in an area whe­re depth is fal­ling from the shal­lower shelf to the deep sea. The con­ti­nen­tal shelf is an area whe­re huge mass move­ments natu­ral­ly occur from time to time, so the dama­ge may have been cau­sed by a natu­ral event. But no fur­ther details are known so far, and aut­ho­ri­ties do not exclu­de cri­mi­nal­ly rele­vant action of third par­ties, accord­ing to NRK.

The case reminds of the mys­te­rious loss of a cable con­nec­tion of rese­arch instal­la­ti­ons on the sea floor off north Nor­way. Last year, the “Lofo­ten-Ves­terå­len Mee­res­ob­ser­va­to­ri­um”, or short: “LoVe” sud­den­ly tur­ned black. LoVe is a civi­li­an rese­arch faci­li­ty desi­gned to collect a rather com­pre­hen­si­ve set of high-reso­lu­ti­on data of various sorts, inclu­ding acoustic data. LoVe is, in other words, capa­ble of record­ing sub­ma­ri­ne traf­fic at least to some degree. It tur­ned out that no less than 4 kilo­me­tres of cable were remo­ved. 3 out of the­se 4 km of cable were later found in a distance of a good 10 km from the ori­gi­nal site. A natu­ral cau­se for the event can, as of now, not be exclu­ded, alt­hough all opti­ons con­si­de­red (inclu­ding cur­r­ents, giant squid or wha­les) sound more or less bizar­re. Bot­tom traw­ling can not be ruled out eit­her, but it is hard to ima­gi­ne that this would have hap­pen­ed unno­ti­ced.

Submarine, Tromsø

The­re is a lot of sub­ma­ri­ne traf­fic off Nor­way. Not all of them ope­ra­te as much in public as this sub­ma­ri­ne that is here seen being towed in the har­bour of Trom­sø.

In this con­text, remarks have been made that Rus­sia is tech­ni­cal­ly capa­ble of ope­ra­ti­ons on the sea floor at rele­vant depths. Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties inclu­ding the secret ser­vice are invol­ved in the inves­ti­ga­ti­ons, as was repor­ted by NRK and inter­na­tio­nal media such as Ger­man SPIE­GEL Online.

The­se cases shed a dif­fe­rent kind of light on the desi­re of the Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry to con­trol high-reso­lu­ti­on map­ping of the Nor­we­gi­an sea floor inclu­ding Sval­bard and Jan May­en.


News-Listing live generated at 2022/December/03 at 05:45:57 Uhr (GMT+1)