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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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