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Monthly Archives: March 2022 − News & Stories


Light win­ter in Spits­ber­gen

… at its best. “Light win­ter”, does that actual­ly trans­la­te? “Licht­win­ter” is not a com­mon word in Ger­man eit­her, but a won­derful one. Not “win­ter light” in terms of a less pro­no­un­ced cold sea­son, but a win­ter com­bi­ned with beau­tiful light. And that is exact­ly what you can get in Spits­ber­gen in late March. Unless the wea­ther is as it was around mid March this year. Quite ter­ri­ble at times. But then, win­ter came back with force, with tem­pe­ra­tu­es well below -20 degrees cen­ti­gra­de 🙂 ever­y­bo­dy who cares for out­door life in the Arc­tic could have a sple­ndid time.

Snow, Nordenskiöld Land

Wind-car­ved snow sur­face in Nor­dens­ki­öld Land.

And so did we. Beau­tiful arc­tic win­ter impres­si­ons. March can pro­du­ce won­derful light: during night­ti­me, it still gets more or less dark – alt­hough it is get­ting a bit thin on the ground with regards to nor­t­hern lights – so long sun­sets cast stun­ning light over the sno­wy land­scape. After the spring equin­ox, this year on March 20, the dark­ness of the night beg­ins to give way to the light of the mid­night sun. An won­derful time for anyo­ne who app­re­cia­tes poten­ti­al­ly fan­ta­stic light situa­tions, just as the late sum­mer.

Sea fog & sunset, Adventfjord

The light of the low sun and sea fog over Advent­fjord on a cold day,
with the air­port in the back­ground.

We made good use of the­se stun­ning days. Here are some impres­si­ons of the light win­ter in Spits­ber­gen in the second half of March bet­ween east coast, Advent­fjord and Van Mijenfjord:

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

Wea­ther kalei­do­scope

The wea­ther last week was most­ly any­thing but plea­sant, as I wro­te alre­a­dy in the pre­vious artic­le on this site. On Fri­day, a polar low pres­su­re moved across Spits­ber­gen and pro­du­ced a rather asto­nis­hing series of wea­ther chan­ges within a short peri­od of time: the rain stop­ped and ins­tead we final­ly got a bit of snow again, and the tem­pe­ra­tures drop­ped below free­zing again. Not much, but bet­ter than not­hing.

Skitour, Adventdalen

A first litt­le excur­si­on into Advent­da­len after the recent warm wea­ther spell.

That was final­ly some­thing useful.

But it was a mat­ter of a few hours until we got the next inte­res­t­ing wea­ther event in shape of a snow storm well bey­ond the ever­y­day com­bi­na­ti­on of wind and snow in the­se lati­tu­des. I don’t know what wind speed we had, but being out­side was quite chal­len­ging and to some degree actual­ly dan­ge­rous: see­ing and breathing were dif­fi­cult in this tur­bu­lent whirl of wind and snow, the storm could just blow you off your feet at times and items were blown around and could have hit you. The storm did actual­ly cau­se some minor dama­ge also to items that had been stan­ding out­side for years alre­a­dy.

Snow storm, Longyearbyen

Snow storm in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

But this rather inte­res­t­ing wea­ther expe­ri­ence did not last long, and alre­a­dy on Satur­day we could to some degree enjoy what most would pic­tu­re for them­sel­ves when they think about the arc­tic win­ter. But the snow con­di­ti­ons in and near Lon­gye­ar­by­en have inde­ed suf­fe­r­ed a lot during the last week’s warm tem­pe­ra­tures and rain.

May­be we get some more snow now. Fin­gers crossed

Elveneset, Sassenfjord

Win­ter sce­n­ery at Elve­ne­set in Sas­senfjord on Satur­day.

It has always been and remains an inte­res­t­ing phe­no­me­non that tha­wing wea­ther and snow melt always hit Lon­gye­ar­by­en and the near sur­roun­dings befo­re they make them­sel­ves felt else­whe­re. It is here that the snow melt always comes weeks befo­re it does so in other places. You can almost rely on having fine win­ter con­di­ti­ons e.g. in Sas­send­a­len when the snow has tur­ned into slush and rivers have bro­ken up in and around Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Once you have left Lon­gye­ar­by­en and lower Advent­da­len behind you, it looks like not­hing has hap­pen­ed.

Some impres­si­ons from the­se (wea­ther-wise) rather tur­bu­lent days:

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

… bad times: rain and mel­ting snow in the win­ter

Well, “bad times” is cle­ar­ly a very rela­ti­ve descrip­ti­on of life in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. We are having a good life. No bombs are fal­ling from the sky. Just rain. But, hey … rain! In March! And far too much, and a lar­ge pro­por­ti­on of the white beau­ty around is is just mel­ted and flown away during the last cou­ple of days.

A strong low pres­su­re sys­tem fur­ther south in the north Atlan­tic has pum­ped a lot of warm air up north. This warm air incur­si­on brings wind, rain and mel­ting tem­pe­ra­tures. Far more of all of the­se than we actual­ly app­re­cia­te.

Our litt­le world up here is mel­ting.

Longyearbyen: rain and melting snow in the winter

Lon­gye­ar­by­en: rain and melt­wa­ter turn streets into litt­le lakes.

This was at least our impres­si­on for seve­ral days, whe­re­ver you tur­ned the eye. Water was fal­ling down from the sky, water tur­ned the snow grey, then dark and final­ly into water, crea­ting lakes on flat tun­dra are­as. Water bro­ke through the snow in rivers that should remain fro­zen for seve­ral months still.

Rub­ber boots were the best choice for a litt­le walk. It hap­pens quick­ly that you make one wrong step and your foot dis­ap­pears in a deep hole of slush, a very cold and unp­lea­sant mix­tu­re of snow and melt­wa­ter. On the other hand, it can be slip­pery and smooth as glass just a step fur­ther. It is very popu­lar in Nor­way to use spikes. A gre­at inven­ti­on, they have cer­tain­ly saved many peo­p­le from bro­ken legs and what not.

Longyearbyen: rain and melting snow in the winter

Drai­na­ges had to be crea­ted in many places to pre­vent the rivers from floo­ding.
Nor­mal rou­ti­ne in May and June, but very uncom­mon in March.

For any­thing fur­ther away, any tours out into the arc­tic win­ter­won­der­land of Spits­ber­gen in the late win­ter: it is pret­ty much the only reasonable opti­on to wait until Spits­ber­gen actual­ly is a win­ter­won­der­land again. It wasn’t for days on end, and it still isn’t at the time of wri­ting. Win­ter will bey­ond any doubt return. It is not gone, it is just taking a break. It will be col­der again, the rivers will free­ze again, lakes will turn into ice.

The ques­ti­on is if we get enough snow again to tour reason­ab­ly out the­re in the wild, fil­ling the many dark gaps whe­re the tun­dra is now free of snow. Let’s hope so, in the inte­rest of all who are coming up here with dreams of the arc­tic win­ter. The­re are many of them in March and April.

Spitsbergen: rain and melting snow in the winter

Snow mobi­le rou­tes have tur­ned into slus­hy snow swamps and lakes. If you dri­ve here, you risk get­ting stuck and dama­ging the vege­ta­ti­on under the slush.

Until the snow melt comes in May and finis­hes this win­tern for good.

Adventdalen: damaged tundra

It is, for good reason, not allo­wed to dri­ve on natu­ral ground unless it is fro­zen AND snow-cover­ed. The­re are tho­se who take a libe­ral approach to this rule at the end of the sea­son or during warm wea­ther spells, to put it mild­ly – alt­hough it is legal­ly bin­ding. The result looks like this and it will take many years wit­hout fur­ther dis­tur­ban­ce to for the vege­ta­ti­on to reco­ver (Advent­da­len, next to the road. Pic­tu­re taken in june 2019).

The ques­ti­on will ine­vi­ta­b­ly come up: is this now wea­ther or cli­ma­te chan­ge? My short ans­wer: it has aspects of both. Wea­ther and cli­ma­te are hard to sepa­ra­te when it comes to any given meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal event. Both are just dif­fe­rent per­spec­ti­ves, dif­fe­rent time sca­les, for pret­ty much the same coll­ec­tion of phe­no­me­na which altog­e­ther descri­be the atmo­sphe­re, espe­ci­al­ly its lower lay­ers (that’s whe­re we usual­ly are). Such as tem­pe­ra­tu­re, pre­ci­pi­ta­ti­on, wind, air pres­su­re and humi­di­ty, to name some of the most important ones. Wea­ther is what you can see, feel and mea­su­re here and now. If you coll­ect the same data over many years and turn them into aver­a­ges and other sta­tis­ti­cal values, then you take the cli­ma­te per­spec­ti­ve.

So, in this given case, it is hard to say if it would have hap­pend wit­hout cli­ma­te chan­ge. Sci­ence has made important advan­ces in recent years regar­ding such ques­ti­ons, so it would be inte­res­t­ing to hear an expert’s opi­ni­on or even see the results of sci­en­ti­fic model­ling of this week’s warm air incur­si­on in Spits­ber­gen.

All I can do here is try to come up with some more or less edu­ca­ted gues­sing. The ten­den­ci­es that cli­ma­te chan­ge crea­te for this part of the Arc­tic appear to be pret­ty clear: more fre­quent wea­ther chan­ges, more strong wind, more pre­ci­pi­ta­ti­on, espe­ci­al­ly more rain in the win­ter.

The­re are tho­se who will say now that win­ter rain was not com­ple­te­ly unhe­ard of 100 years ago, and yes, that is true. But both the fre­quen­cy and the inten­si­ty of the­se events are incre­asing now, and cur­rent cli­ma­te chan­ge makes an important con­tri­bu­ti­on to this deve­lo­p­ment, or rather: the decisi­ve one.

So, chan­ces are that we would not have had this week’s warm air incur­si­on up here wit­hout cli­ma­te chan­ge, or at least that it would have been much less inten­se. We have had days of rain and tem­pe­ra­tures up to around 5 degrees cen­ti­gra­de – abo­ve free­zing! In March! I still can’t real­ly belie­ve it.

Also locals who have seen many Spits­ber­gen win­ters watch the wea­ther with asto­nis­ment and very litt­le amu­se­ment the­se days. And tho­se who came up exact­ly this week to enjoy the arc­tic win­ter­won­der­land – well, what can I say. My pity is with them.

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

Good times …

Spits­ber­gen during the light win­ter, as it should be. Snow, ice and cold. The infa­mous warm air incur­si­ons with tem­pe­ra­tures abo­ve free­zing, rain and mel­ting snow had not yet occur­red this win­ter, to the delight of man and beast ali­ke.

Adventdalen, Pingos

Spits­ber­gen win­ter: pin­gos in Advent­da­len

Also to our delight, and we made good use of the oppor­tu­ni­ty, enjoy­ing the beau­ty of natu­re and life in gene­ral in Longyearbyens’s clo­ser and slight­ly more distant sur­roun­dings, on well known and les­ser well known rou­tes.

You always keep lear­ning in the Arc­tic. I found out that using a snow-cover­ed pile of stones at the foot of a steep slo­pe isn’t a good tool to stop a snow mobi­le after a rapid downhill des­cent. Lea­ving the snow mobi­le with the (hel­met-cover­ed) head first through the wind screen isn’t the world’s best idea eit­her. Not that I couldn’t have thought of that befo­re 😉 it wasn’t on one of the usu­al rou­tes.

But minor adven­tures like that just hap­pen when you are out in the arc­tic wild­ner­ness, and as long as not­hing real­ly hap­pens, bey­ond what can be fixed with a quick and easy repair, all is good. We enjoy­ed tho­se days. Here some impres­si­ons of the­se tours bet­ween Lon­gye­ar­by­en, Nord­manns­fon­na and Tem­pel­fjord:

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

Local tou­rism orga­ni­sa­ti­on asks mem­bers not to spend money in Rus­si­an sett­le­ments

Against the back­ground of Putin’s aggres­si­ve war in the Ukrai­ne, the local tou­rism inter-trade orga­ni­sa­ti­on Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd encou­ra­ged the mem­ber com­pa­nies not to spend money in the Rus­si­an sett­le­ments in Spits­ber­gen, Barents­burg and Pyra­mi­den.

Barentsburg: brewery

Popu­lar in the past, now con­tro­ver­si­al: the bre­werey in Barents­burg.

It was just a few days ago that Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd initi­al­ly made a dif­fe­rent decis­i­on, arguing that boy­cotts and sanc­tions should be mea­su­res bet­ween govern­ments and sta­tes, but not on a local level. The recent tur­n­around came becau­se many poin­ted out that the inco­me gene­ra­ted in the Rus­si­an sett­le­ments bene­fits the owner of the sett­le­ments inclu­ding all tou­ristic offers and ser­vices: the Rus­si­an sta­te-owned Trust Ark­ti­ku­gol, or in other words: the Rus­si­an govern­ment, which now leads a bru­tal and ille­gal war in the Ukrai­ne.

Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd does not advi­se against tours to Barents­burg and Pyra­mi­den, just from spen­ding money the­re. Tours espe­ci­al­ly to Barents­burg used to be very popu­lar befo­re the recent lar­ge-sca­le Rus­si­an inva­si­on star­ted. The­se excur­si­ons usual­ly included a local meal and an oppor­tu­ni­ty to buy sou­ve­nirs, inclu­ding local­ly made ones. Many tour ope­ra­tors will now stop this prac­ti­ce.

But not all: also the new decis­i­on is con­tro­ver­si­al. The­re are tho­se tour ope­ra­tors who argue that such boy­cotts will hit the wrong peo­p­le, name­ly the local popu­la­ti­on – which includes many Ukrai­ni­ans – rather than the regime in Moscow.

Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd makes only recom­men­da­ti­ons to the mem­ber com­pa­nies, but the­se recom­men­da­ti­ons are not bin­ding. Every tour ope­ra­tor will deci­de indi­vi­du­al­ly if they will con­ti­nue tours to the Rus­si­an sett­le­ments and if they con­ti­nue to buy and pay for local ser­vices.

Sun fes­ti­val in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The sun fes­ti­val (sol­fest) is an important high­light in the annu­al calen­dar for many in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It is tra­di­tio­nal­ly cele­bra­ted on 08 March, when the first direct rays reach Skjæringa, the oldest part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en. On this day, a lar­ge crowd comes tog­e­ther at the stairs of the old hos­pi­tal (which does not exist any­mo­re) clo­se to the church.

Sun festival (Solfest), Longyearbyen

Sun fes­ti­val (Sol­fest) in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

This was also what hap­pen­ed in good tra­di­ti­on this time, alt­hough clouds on the sou­thern hori­zon threa­ten­ed to spoil the event. Many locals and cer­tain­ly also a num­ber of tou­rists gathe­red to cele­bra­te the return of the light. The tra­di­tio­nal pro­gram­me includes sin­ging, and when the sun was fight­ing to get through around 12.45 hours, she was lively chee­red to until she inde­ed final­ly came out, to ever­y­bo­dies gre­at delight!

Sun festival (Solfest), Longyearbyen

Sun fes­ti­val in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: “Here comes the sun” 🙂

Talk of luck – soon, the hori­zon dis­ap­peared again behind a grey curtain of clouds.

The sun fes­ti­val is actual­ly nmo­re than “just” the 08th of March, it is a who­le week with a series of various cul­tu­ral events. Some of them, such as the tra­di­tio­nal revye that always comes with the sol­fest, have to be post­po­ned by seve­ral weeks becau­se too many of the artists are curr­ent­ly fight­ing Covid-19 🙁

From Farm­ham­na to Lon­gye­ar­by­en

I have retur­ned to Lon­gye­ar­by­en after five weeks in Farm­ham­na. Back to civi­li­sa­ti­on – well, in a wider sen­se. Lon­gye­ar­by­en, any­way. And in time for the sun fes­ti­val, the second one this year for me. We had one in Farm­ham­na alre­a­dy on 16 Febru­ary 🙂

The time I spent in Farm­ham­na was plain­ly won­derful. Rich and full in expe­ri­en­ces and impres­si­ons. Stun­ning and inte­res­t­ing. A lot of food for an arc­tic-hun­gry soul and for a simi­lar­ly min­ded came­ra.

But this chap­ter is over now for me. I have been a litt­le lazy in Farm­ham­na con­cer­ning wri­ting here, I spent most of the time the­re in the “here and now”. I have to get back to that. But not now.

Farm­ham­na is not the end of the world, but not far from it eit­her. Get­ting the­re and away is not just done easi­ly and quick­ly, as the­se pic­tures may illus­tra­te:

Surf

Surf can always make life dif­fi­cult on the west coast (and else­whe­re) …

So far, this year seems to bring a lot of ice to the “cold coast” (Sval­bard), at least in rela­ti­on to recent stan­dards. The­re is quite a bit of ice even on the west coast right now, as the ice chart shows. Too often, the­re has been hard­ly any ice at this time of year in recent years.

Ice

… and ice isn’t an unknown phe­no­me­non in Spits­ber­gen eit­her.

Also in the Farm­ham­na area, the­re has been quite a lot of ice in recent weeks. At times, the litt­le pen­in­su­la was com­ple­te­ly blo­cked from all direc­tions, and other bays in the area were also fil­led with ice. Not neces­s­a­ri­ly thick and solid, but enough to keep a boat from get­ting the­re.

Ice

This is what the bay Farm­ham­na has been like the last cou­ple of weeks.

The com­bi­na­ti­on of surf on one side of the pen­in­su­la and ice on the other side added some extra exci­te­ment (and sweat) to the exch­an­ge ope­ra­ti­on, whe­re I left Farm­ham­na and Rico got his fami­ly back. Final­ly it work­ed. The two Hen­nings­ens of Henn­ningsen Trans­port and Gui­ding in Lon­gye­ar­by­en made it pos­si­ble with their litt­le but strong ship Farm (the­re is inde­ed a rela­ti­onship bet­ween the place and the boat, as the name sug­gests) and some good Zodiac dri­ving to shut­tle peo­p­le and car­go in and out in chal­len­ging con­di­ti­ons.

Ice and Zodiac

Zodiac ope­ra­ti­on in icy waters.

On board, the­re was a small group of peo­p­le, inclu­ding Kris­ti­na, who were the­re for the rare oppor­tu­ni­ty of a visit to Farm­ham­na. This did unfort­u­na­te­ly not work out, given the con­di­ti­ons. Ins­tead, they got a fair bit of rock’n’roll on the boat at times. In the end, we were hap­py that we could make the key part of the ope­ra­ti­on work. Don’t ever take any­thing for gran­ted on and around the­se islands!

Farm

Farm in posi­ti­on in Farm­ham­na.

Local tou­rism inter-trade orga­ni­sa­ti­on against boy­cott of Rus­si­an sett­le­ments

While the Rus­si­an war is raging in the Ukrai­ne, many are asking in Lon­gye­ar­by­en how to deal with the Rus­si­an neigh­bours in Barents­burg, whe­re part of the popu­la­ti­on is Ukrai­ni­an, and the lar­ge­ly aban­do­ned sett­le­ment of Pyra­mi­den.

The important win­ter tou­rism sea­son has star­ted, and the many tou­rism com­pa­nies in Lon­gye­ar­by­en were loo­king for­ward to the sea­son after two very dif­fi­cult coro­na years. Day trips to Barents­burg have, so far, been among­st the most popu­lar offers; Pyra­mi­den is also an important desti­na­ti­on, alt­hough less fre­quent­ly visi­ted than Barents­burg becau­se if it fur­ther away.

Now many in the indus­try are won­de­ring how to deal with the­se offers con­side­ring the Rus­si­an aggres­si­on, war and cri­mes in the Ukrai­ne and the inter­na­tio­nal reac­tions. The local tou­rism inter-trade orga­ni­sa­ti­on Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd has taken the ques­ti­on upn and dis­cus­sed it bet­ween their mem­bers and with aut­ho­ri­ties.

Barentsburg

Barents­burg: usual­ly a popu­lar desti­na­ti­on, now con­tro­ver­si­al.

As a result, Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd does not recom­mend to boy­kott the Rus­si­an sett­le­ments. The orga­ni­sa­ti­on argues that sanc­tions should be mea­su­res on a govern­men­tal level but not on a local, pri­va­te sec­tor level, whe­re a boy­kott is more likely to hit peo­p­le local­ly rather than the Rus­si­an govern­ment and others who are respon­si­ble for the cur­rent war and crime in the Ukrai­ne. Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd indi­ca­tes that they unders­tood from Oslo aut­ho­ri­ties that a nor­mal rela­ti­onship is desi­red on a local level, accor­ding to Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Some mem­bers had argued for a boy­kott of the Rus­si­an sett­le­ments, and cli­ents had can­cel­led their boo­kings. Accor­ding to Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd, it is up to every com­pa­ny not to offer trips to Barents­burg or Pyra­mi­den, and it is any­way up to every tou­rist to book a tour to the­se sett­le­ments or not.

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