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Home* News and Stories → News from the north

News from the north

For various reasons, I had to lea­ve the news sec­tion on this web­site alo­ne for a cou­ple of days, but (almost) not­hing is get­ting lost here … so, what has hap­pen­ed up the­re recent­ly?

Actual­ly, quite a lot:

Sun fes­ti­val

The sun is back! Fol­lo­wing good tra­di­ti­on, the return of the sun was cele­bra­ted in Lon­gye­ar­by­en with the key event on 08 March. That is the day when the sun is actual­ly visi­ble again abo­ve the moun­ta­ins from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. From the old parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, that is, whe­re the tra­di­ti­on was born; you can actual­ly see the sun a cou­ple of days ear­lier from the newer parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en clo­se to the fjord. And alre­a­dy in late Febru­ary from sui­ta­ble places in the sur­roun­dings of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, in ele­va­ted posi­ti­ons or in Hior­th­hamn (on the north side of Advent­fjord). As long as you have a clear view to the south.

Tal­king about a free view: it all doesn’t real­ly help when the sun is hiding behind clouds. This was the case this time on 08 March. Nevert­hel­ess, locals and tou­rists cele­bra­ted the occa­si­on with a series of cul­tu­ral events that come with the return of the sun.

sun festival Longyearbyen

sun fes­ti­val with clear sky (archi­ve image; this time, it was over­cast).

Emer­gen­cy res­cue ser­vices in demand: acci­dents and evacua­tions

The busy win­ter sea­son is in full swing, and the emer­gen­cy res­cue ser­vices are in demand. On Satur­day, a ski hiker was res­cued during stor­my wea­ther from Rabot­breen. Due to serious­ly bad wea­ther, SAR forces had to abort a first attempt to find the man on Fri­day, but a short wea­ther win­dow allo­wed for a suc­cessful heli­c­op­ter flight on Satur­day. In the mean­ti­me, the man, a Polish citi­zen, has tal­ked to various media. He was on the way to New­ton­top­pen, to prepa­re for a later expe­di­ti­on in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca. With seve­ral expe­di­ti­ons in arc­tic parts of Cana­da and Sibe­ria, the man has con­sidera­ble rele­vant expe­ri­ence.

This was only one of seve­ral recent examp­les. During the busy win­ter sea­son, it is not a very rare event that peo­p­le – tou­rists or locals – have to be evacua­ted from the field after snow mobi­le (or other) acci­dents.

The local sec­tion of the Red Cross remin­ded ever­y­bo­dy recent­ly that also pro­fes­sio­nal SAR forces have to deal with wea­ther and other dan­gers of natu­re and may not alway be able to prompt­ly help peo­p­le in need, espe­ci­al­ly under con­di­ti­ons when things are likely to hap­pen.

Snow mobile group, Adventdalen

Snow mobi­le group out on tour in Advent­da­len.

One of the more curious events of this kind in a wider sen­se hap­pen­ed on Tues­day in Hior­th­hamn, when a snow mobi­le caught fire. No peo­p­le were har­med. The exact reason is not publi­cal­ly known in this case, but it may for exam­p­le hap­pen when someone dri­ves with the hand bra­ke put on. Not unhe­ard of.

While I was wri­ting the­se lines on Wed­nes­day, a serious snow mobi­le acci­dent hap­pen­ed that sad­ly took one person’s life. Read more about this case here in a dedi­ca­ted pos­ting (I kept the artic­le that you are rea­ding right now unpu­blished for ano­ther day becau­se it felt inap­pro­pria­te to publish it, whe­re the news of a fatal acci­dent are just one of many bits and pie­ces of infor­ma­ti­on).

By now, the­re is some more infor­ma­ti­on available. The decea­sed per­son was in his 60s and tra­vel­ling alo­ne. He was the last one in a gui­ded group of snow mobi­le tou­rists when he got off the track and fell down a steep, 10-12 met­res deep ravi­ne. First aid mea­su­res were appli­ed but when the SAR heli­c­op­ter arri­ved, saving the man’s life was bey­ond reach despi­te of all efforts.

Small ships under pres­su­re, big ones coming big time

Big­ger crui­se ships may be in for a record-brea­king sum­mer. A spec­trum from 100+ pas­sen­ger expe­di­ti­on ships to lar­ge crui­se ships car­ry­ing seve­ral thousand pas­sen­gers may bring up to 75,000 tou­rists to Lon­gye­ar­by­en in the upco­ming sum­mer. This will, for exam­p­le through port fees, bring a lot of money to Longyearbyen’s public cash balan­ce and pri­va­te com­pa­nies will also bene­fit, but others watch this deve­lo­p­ment with mixed fee­lings. The­re are many locals who feel that the place is over­c­row­ded when lar­ge crui­se ships are in port, and the hos­pi­tal has alre­a­dy expres­sed worries regar­ding health ser­vice capa­ci­ties.

Ships, Longyearbyentdalen

Tou­rists tra­vel to Sval­bard on a wide ran­ge of ships from small sai­ling boats to lar­ge crui­se ships.

At the same time, tour ope­ra­tors focus­sing on small ships are worried about the future of their acti­vi­ties which is threa­ten­ed by serious rest­ric­tions announ­ced by the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment. They have been mat­ter of con­tro­ver­si­al public dis­cus­sion alre­a­dy for some time. The­re are no recent news, and we have to wait and see what the result of the pro­cess will look like. On Wed­nes­day, repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the local eco­no­my tra­vel­led to Oslo to pre­sent their view­point and express their worries about poli­tics that, as they feel, seem to have lost the con­nec­tion to the local rea­li­ty.

It seems as if the mis­si­on of the Lon­gye­ar­by­en repre­sen­ta­ti­ves had at least some suc­cess: seve­ral mem­bers of the Nor­we­gi­an par­la­ment have sin­ce exp­pres­sed doubts about the legal pro­po­sals and sug­gested to put the pro­cess on hold until the new Sval­bard­mel­ding is out in 2024. The Sval­bard­mel­ding is a govern­ment decla­ra­ti­on that defi­nes a frame for future Sval­bard poli­tics for a cou­ple of years. The last one came out in 2016, and it did not say any­thing about clo­sing lar­ge parts of the archi­pe­la­go for most peo­p­le and other stuff that is going on right now.

Click here to read more about the plans of the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment. Accor­ding to cur­rent know­ledge, we expect chan­ges to enter force in 2024.

At the same time, Nor­we­gi­an oil and gas busi­nesses cele­bra­te a record-brea­king year, due to high pri­ces on the world mar­kets which are at least in part the con­se­quence of the Rus­si­an war against the Ukrai­ne, and new dis­co­veries in the North Sea, accor­ding to NRK.

Few will deny that cer­tain fields of regu­la­ti­on con­cer­ning tou­rism need impro­ve­ment, for exam­p­le a gui­de cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on sche­me which has been dis­cus­sed for years, a limit to the num­ber of expe­di­ti­on ships (100 or maxi­mum 200 pas­sen­gers capa­ci­ty), a size limit for lar­ger ones and a gene­ral ban on cru­de oil in arc­tic waters, while the­re is no fac­tu­al reason to dis­pos­sess real­ly small ships of the pos­si­bi­li­ty to land pas­sen­gers almost any­whe­re on Svalbard’s coast­li­ne as has been the case so far. But con­side­ring the poli­ti­cal pres­su­re on tou­rism in Sval­bard on one side and the fur­ther deve­lo­p­ment of oil and gas, one may expe­ri­ence Nor­we­gi­an envi­ron­men­tal poli­tics as rather ambi­va­lent.

Envi­ron­men­tal toxins at Hotell­ne­set

Pol­lu­ti­on pro­blems of cer­tain are­as at Hotell­ne­set, near the air­port, with cer­tain long-lived envi­ron­men­tal toxins (PFAS) thought to cau­se can­cer have been known for years. The sub­s­tances go back to fire­fight­ing sub­s­tances used on a fire­fight­ing exer­cise area. Jørn Dyb­dahl, form­er­ly owner of a riding cent­re at Hotell­ne­set, con­siders his can­cer to be rela­ted to the local pol­lu­ti­on. The hand­ling of the mat­ter by rele­vant aut­ho­ri­ties has been a mat­ter of cri­ti­cism for a long time.

Hotellneset

Hotell­ne­set near Lon­gye­ar­by­en air­port has a long histo­ry of indus­tri­al use and cor­re­spon­ding pol­lu­ti­on.

Natur­vern­for­bun­det in Troms, an eco­lo­gy group form north Nor­way, have recent­ly added to the cri­ti­cism: while 100 mg are the the­shold value for PFAS in main­land Nor­way and envi­ron­men­tal aut­ho­ri­ties are actual­ly deba­ting the reduc­tion of the allo­wed maxi­mum value to 2 mg, the Nor­we­gi­an envi­ron­men­tal aut­ho­ri­ty (mil­jø­di­rek­to­rat) has sug­gested 150 mg to be an accep­ta­ble maxi­mum value for Hotell­ne­set. Natur­vern­for­bund Troms fears that envi­ron­men­tal stan­dards are lowe­red to save cos­ts of the clean-up which has to be car­ri­ed out. Accep­ting hig­her thres­hold values would inde­ed be a stran­ge step espe­ci­al­ly in an arc­tic eco­sys­tem which due to the low tem­pe­ra­tures is espe­ci­al­ly sen­si­ti­ve to che­mi­cal influen­ces.

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last modification: 2023-03-17 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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