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Yearly Archives: 2022 − News & Stories


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.

Black Febru­ary

Of cour­se it had been my inten­ti­on for a while alre­a­dy to wri­te again here. But life in Farm­ham­na is main­ly hap­pe­ning off­line, and that is good.

And now the world isn’t any­mo­re what it used to be. The who­le popu­la­ti­on of Farm­ham­na (curr­ent­ly two peo­p­le) is deep­ly sho­cked about the news that reach us here. It would just feel com­ple­te­ly out of place to wri­te about the beau­ty of the natu­re here in the far north and about the simp­le, but good life in a remo­te trap­per sta­ti­on while the world is on fire.

It is about 40 kilo­me­t­res from Farm­ham­na to Barents­burg as the ful­mar flies. We can see the light of Barents­burg reflec­ted by low clouds in cer­tain wea­ther con­di­ti­ons. It is not far at all. Barents­burg is a Rus­si­an sett­le­ment, but with many Ukrai­ni­ans among­st its 300-400 inha­bi­tants. So far, Rus­si­ans and Ukrai­ni­ans were living the­re tog­e­ther peaceful­ly, also after the Rus­si­an occu­pa­ti­on of the Krim pen­in­su­la and the con­flict in the eas­tern Ukrai­ne sin­ce then. How do peo­p­le feel the­re now? How are they, with the know­ledge about the situa­ti­on in their respec­ti­ve home count­ries? Impos­si­ble to ima­gi­ne for me. Sys­sel­mes­ter Lars Fau­se is in regu­lar cont­act with Barents­burg, fol­lo­wing nor­mal rou­ti­nes, and says that it is a “good and nor­mal dia­lo­gue”, wit­hout going into fur­ther detail.

So I finish my con­tri­bu­ti­ons here for Febru­ary with the fol­lo­wing pic­tu­re, which is curr­ent­ly often shared in social media to express the hor­ror about the situa­ti­on, pro­test against the Rus­si­an inva­si­on and war in the Ukrai­ne and com­ple­te digust for tho­se who are respon­si­ble for it.

Ukraine

The Ukrai­ne

On skis to Eidem­buk­ta

The days are quick­ly get­ting lon­ger after the return of the sun. This is inde­ed an ama­zin­gly quick pro­cess. Just 2-3 days after the very first sun­ri­se of the year, the sun is alre­a­dy for seve­ral hours abo­ve the hori­zon.

The fact that we have a clear sky again after more than a week of clouds does, wit­hout a doubt, also con­tri­bu­te to the sub­jec­ti­ve part of this impres­si­on.

Time to get out and see a bit more of the sur­roun­dings. Some of you may know Eidem­buk­ta from the sai­ling ship tours in the sum­mer sea­son. This lar­ge bay is just a few kilo­me­t­res north of Farm­ham­na.

Skiing to Eidembukta

Ski­ing from Farm­ham­na to Eidem­buk­ta. Towards the sun 🙂 at least for a while.

Stay­ing out­side for some time is inde­ed a refres­hing expe­ri­ence, with tem­pe­ra­tures around -15 degrees (C) plus wind­chill. It is much, much less win­dy than in parts of NW Euope up here the­se days, but the­re is a pret­ty con­stant bree­ze blo­wing, which feels quite icy.

I sche­du­le the day in such a way that I make use of the sun­light as much as pos­si­ble, but the idea to see and pho­to­graph Farm­ham­na from a distance with the sun­set in the back­ground fails due to a bank of clouds. It doesn’t mat­ter. The­re is beau­ty all around me whe­re­ver I turn my eyes. The wide, open, snow-cover­ed land with soft colours ran­ging from red through pink to blue, the drift snow being blown over the low hills. The lar­ge and beau­tiful­ly cur­ved coast­li­ne of Eidem­buk­ta. I fol­low the beach for a bit wit­hout fin­ding a sin­gle pie­ce of drift­wood, to my sur­pri­se. A litt­le can­yon sculp­tu­red by the melt­wa­ter river of Venern­breen, one of the near­by gla­ciers. I fol­low the can­yon for a bit, kee­ping a good eye on the cor­nices, but whe­re­ver they look sca­ry, the­re is enough space to stay away from them.

Canyon in Eidembukta

Can­yon in Eidem­buk­ta.

I see some lonely reinde­er on the way back. The only living crea­tures out here today, apart from a glau­cous gull and a few nor­t­hern ful­mars.

I try to find a shel­te­red place for a lunch break, but my spot under a litt­le rock cliff turns out to be the win­diest and col­dest place any­whe­re around. I don’t stay long and rather return to the hut with the cozy wood-bur­ning sto­ve.

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

Sun fes­ti­val in Farm­ham­na

In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, 8 March is the day to cele­bra­te the return of the sun, main­ly becau­se the place is sur­roun­ded by moun­ta­ins, espe­ci­al­ly to the south.

Not so here in Farm­ham­na 🙂 so we had the plea­su­re to see and cele­bra­te the sun alre­a­dy today, 16 Febru­ary. It is the first sun­ri­se after 112 days, the last one befo­re had been on 25 Octo­ber. As far as I am con­cer­ned, I have been here now for not even 3 weeks and still, it is quite spe­cial to see the sun again. Let alo­ne for Rico, who hasn’t seen the sun for months!

Farmhamna

Clear view to the south: no pro­blem in Farm­ham­na.

So we made sure we were the­re well in time, up on the “tele­pho­ne hill”, and we also made sure we were well equip­ped with came­ras, some stan­ding on legs, ano­ther one with wings – the who­le lot.

Farmhamna sun festival

“Sun fes­ti­val” in Farm­ham­na. It wasn’t real­ly a mass gathe­ring.

And we were lucky, becau­se during the mor­ning the sky had been com­ple­te­ly clou­dy. But just in time we got a low stri­pe of sky clear enough bet­ween the clouds and the hori­zon in the south, whe­re the oran­ge glow beca­me brigh­ter and brigh­ter, and final­ly, the­re she was, the sun – what a view, what a moment!

Farmhamna sunrise

The first sun­ri­se after 112 days.

Later in the after­noon, the clouds cover­ed the who­le sky again. Talk of luck!

If you want to read a bit more about mid­night sun and polar night, click here.

And here, some more impres­si­ons about this beau­tiful day in Spits­ber­gen.

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

Farm­ham­na

Now I have alre­a­dy been here in Farm­ham­na on Spitsbergen’s west coast for a while and some are won­de­ring how things are up here, so far north in the polar night. Well, inde­ed, when I am tra­vel­ling the same area under sail during the sum­mer, my tra­vel blog updates are a bit more regu­lar. But the days are not only beau­tiful but also usual­ly well fil­led with work and other acti­vi­ties and the mea­ning of life in such a place is pro­ba­b­ly not to spend every minu­te pos­si­ble on the com­pu­ter, is it? 🙂

Farmhamna

Farm­ham­na: Trap­per sta­ti­on on Spitsbergen’s west coast.

I will wri­te more here later, but to start with, I thought that I should intro­du­ce this beau­tiful and unu­su­al place, so I have crea­ted a dedi­ca­ted Farm­ham­na page (click here to open). It has the 360 degree pan­ora­mas that you may know from simi­lar pages in that sec­tion of this web­site, but also two pho­to gal­le­ries with images from both sum­mer and win­ter, the lat­ter ones also giving some idea of what Rico, I and the 7 dog­gies are doing here the­se days.

Data cable bet­ween Spits­ber­gen and main­land Nor­way dama­ged by human action

The dama­ge that occur­red to one of the two com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on cables that con­nect Spits­ber­gen to north Nor­way a few weeks ago attrac­ted a lot of public atten­ti­on (click here for more infor­ma­ti­on). The case is by no means sett­led, but the owner of the cable, Space Nor­way, and the respon­si­ble poli­ce agen­cy of Troms in north Nor­way have been in the area and were able to gather first data with an under­wa­ter robot.

Accor­ding to NRK, the poli­ce told Nor­we­gi­an media that human action appears to be likely as the cau­se for the dama­ge. Natu­ral influen­ces seem less likely now.

Telekommunikation Spitzbergen

Making a pho­ne call in the sett­le­ments of Spits­ber­gen is done in a more modern fashion than pic­tu­red here. And it’s not just about pho­ne calls.
But almost ever­y­thing depends on the deep sea data cables to the main­land.

Not­hing was reve­a­led about the natu­re of the dama­ge or even pos­si­ble respon­si­ble peo­p­le or groups; it was only said that the­re are so far no suspects. It is also not yet publi­cal­ly know in which depth the dama­ge occur­red. The cable sec­tion in ques­ti­on is about 100 km long and leads from the rela­tively shal­low shelf on the west coast of Spits­ber­gen to deep sea are­as.

It is actual­ly not the 2 cm strong cable its­elf that is dama­ged but its power sup­p­ly.

Repair works are sche­du­led later this year, in spring and/or sum­mer.

Farm­ham­na

Arri­ved!

Farm­ham­na is a litt­le hun­ting sta­ti­on on the west coast of Spits­ber­gen in For­lands­und, north of Isfjord. A wide-open, wea­ther-bea­ten low­land; often, it is win­dy on this rather expo­sed coast­li­ne.

You can find a lot of small bay and bea­ches, some well known and others well hid­den, behind small islets, rocks and pen­in­su­las. We have explo­red and enjoy­ed many of them during our sum­mer sai­ling ship trips. Also now, in the polar night, they can be useful; get­ting here and away is any­thing but straight­for­ward, and the litt­le bit of traf­fic the­re is is usual­ly by boat. Over land, the area is pret­ty inac­ces­si­ble.

Farmhamna

Farm­ham­na.

This pho­to gives an impres­si­on of Farm­ham­na at this time, end of January/early Febru­ary. Around noon, the brigh­test time of the day.

The light of the north!

Farmhamna

Farm­ham­na: mid-day twi­light.

And here an impres­si­on of the outer coast of Farm­ham­na, loo­king to the south, around mid-day. The­re is curr­ent­ly no more than twi­light, we won’t see the sun befo­re 16 Febru­ary at the ear­liest. Depen­ding on the wea­ther, it may well be later. Or, actual­ly, even a litt­le bit ear­lier … we’ll see.

In any case, it is still two weeks away. But we have alre­a­dy got seve­ral hours of twi­light, when the sun tra­vels bet­ween 5 and 7 degrees below the hori­zon, pro­du­cing the most beau­tiful shades of yel­low, oran­ge and red on the sou­thern sky and all sorts of blue else­whe­re.

And the­re is, as you may expect, some­ti­mes a total­ly dif­fe­rent kind of light shi­ning in the evening. Much wea­k­er than the sun, but infi­ni­te­ly beau­tiful.

The light of the north!

Northern light, Farmhamna

Nor­t­hern light abo­ve Farm­ham­na.
A bit weak, but a beau­tiful start on my very first evening here!

Yes, the­re may be the odd nor­t­hern light pho­to coming up here the next weeks … 🙂

Nor­way opens up

Nor­way dis­con­ti­nues most coro­na rest­ric­tions as of today (1st of Febru­ary) 2300 hrs local time, accor­ding to a govern­men­tal press release.

This includes signi­fi­cant ease­ments within edu­ca­ti­on, cul­tu­re and gas­tro­no­my, but also for tra­vel­lers: inter­na­tio­nal tra­vel­lers do not need to get tes­ted at the bor­der direct­ly after arri­val any­mo­re. Ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted tra­vel­lers with an accept­ed vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te and reco­ver­ed peo­p­le with appro­pria­te docu­men­ta­ti­on may enter wit­hout test; tho­se who do not have this sta­tus need a test taken befo­re depar­tu­re. Ever­y­bo­dy inclu­ding Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens still need to regis­ter online befo­re arri­val.

corona testing station Oslo Gardermoen

coro­na test­ing sta­ti­on at Oslo air­port Gar­de­r­moen: here seen calm, but often very busy.
Soon it will most­ly be relia­bly calm here.
(addi­tio­nal deco­ra­ti­on digi­tal­ly added by the aut­hor).

For peo­p­le tra­vel­ling to Sval­bard, the requi­re­ment to get tes­ted in Nor­way within 24 hours befo­re depar­tu­re is dis­con­tin­ued for regis­tered lco­al inha­bi­tants as well as ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted tra­vel­lers and tho­se who have reco­ver­ed from a recent Covid-19 infec­tion (accept­ed docu­men­ta­ti­on nee­ded in any case). The requi­re­ment to car­ry out a self test within 24 hours after arri­val is still in force.

Ever­y­bo­dy is still asked to keep a distance of one meter or to wear a mask whe­re­ver it is not pos­si­ble to keep this distance.

The Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment plans to dis­con­ti­nue all coro­na rest­ric­tions until 17 Febru­ary unless new and curr­ent­ly unfo­re­seen deve­lo­p­ments requi­re a new chan­ge of plans.

North­bound

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.

SvalSat

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.

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