Usually we prefer the passage on the inside of the island of Senja because the weather and sea conditions outside tend to be pretty rough. But on a good day like this, the outer passage allows one to visit lovely little harbours such as Hamn i Senja, located on a couple of skerries just off the coast of Senja.
Later, again there was no wind to put up the sails, but the good thing was that this mean flat seas, so we went out to the edge of the continental shelf near Andenes, the famous sperm whale place. And we were lucky!
Finnkroken has been an important place for trade and traffic for thousands of years. Today, it is taken care of with love by enthusiasts for local history, and a visit there feels a little bit like a trip in a time capsule. Jo Martin and his people are amazing, they tell their stories with so much enthusiasm.
Later, we visited the modern centre of the whole area: Tromsø. In all its urban splendour.
Last night we arrived at Hamnes on the island of Utøya and went alongside there for the night and this morning. Hamnes is an old trading place, still used as such, with parts being nicely refurbished as kind of a museum. Additionally, the island has beautiful hiking opportunities. Because of the snow, this is not necessarily the best time of year for hiking, but still, it is great to be out there, work a bit in the snow and enjoy stunning views. The colours have shifted from yesterday’s bright sunny blue to all possible and impossible shades of grey, which is by no means less attractive or impressive.
We spent the afternoon rounding the impressive Lyngen Alps. Later we set sails, but the sportive aspect disappeared a bit in the background because of a sudden lack of wind … but at the same time, the sun came out again and we enjoyed life on deck 🙂
The little harbour of Bergsfjord is beautifully located with snow-covered mountains everywhere around. Very impressive and very scenic, especially on a day like this – still, the weather couldn’t be better, the snow is glittering in bright sunlight.
After a few hours sailing we reached Seglvika on the east side of Kvænangen. An energetic fraction of the group climbed up over snow-covered rocky hills to reach a little mountain top, which yielded a really stunning view over the sea and mountains, all in glorious sunshine.
From Alta to Bodø is the route for the whole trip. The first day took us from Alta to Bergsfjord, a small place in Finnmark, north Norway.
You can hardly imagine more beautiful weather than today as we started with SV Meander in Alta in north Norway. Sun and complete absence of wind made being outside a very enjoyable, almost summer-like experience, in spite of snow and temperatures close to zero. We enjoyed stunning winter landscape with snow-covered mountains all around us as we cruised out of Altafjord until we arrived at a small harbour in Bergsfjord.
The guidebook “Spitsbergen-Svalbard” is now for the first time available in an ebook-format!
Through five updated editions, the guidebook has evolved into what many professional colleagues refer to as the “Spitsbergen-bible”. But so much information on 608 pages does have some weight, which is obviously not always great when you are travelling.
No problem, because now there is an ebook version available. To start with the bad news: it is currently only available on Apple Books. This is not what I want, but there are technical reasons for this.
According to a recent scientific study, global warming in the northern Barents Sea is 5-7 times faster than the global average. Even compared to the average development in the whole Arctic, which is a hotspot within global warming, the climatic development of the northern Barents Sea area is 2-2.5 times faster.
Heavy rain and thawing temperatures over days in Longyearbyen, mid March 2022, in the middle of what should be the coldest part of the winter. Generally speaking, weather and climate should not be confused, but an increasing frequency and intensity of such events signifies a climatic trend.
Loss of sea is is identified by Isaksen and co-authors as the main driving mechanism behind this dramatic regional trend. If present, sea ice effectively minimizes heat transfer between sea and atmosphere. Lacking sea ice in an area previously covered by ice most of the year or even year round, however, enable warm (relatively warm, that is) sea water to release heat to the atmosphere.
Especially in northeastern Svalbard, sea ice was present almost year round most of the time until the recent past. The loss of sea ice in this particular area explains the especially pronounced warming in that part of the Arctic.
“Frost” was Spitsbergen’s most famous polar bear. Amongst others, she played the star role in “Queen without land” by the Norwegian photographer Asgeir Helgestad. Or, to be more precise: she did not play the star role. She was the star.
In other documentaries she was called “Misha”. She graced the covers of several ones of my own books. Over the years, I had the privilege to observe Frost a couple of times.
The polar bear Frost with her family,
in better times in Tempelfjord.
Last Friday’s events at Vindodden in Sassenfjord will now be investigated by appropriate authorities, mainly Sysselmesteren. As of now, there is no indication of criminal behaviour, as Svalbardposten reports.
It is said that Frost was marked by scientists (Norwegian Polar Institute) during the days before her dead. Marking polar bears always involves general aenesthesia dispensed with a rifle shot from a helicopter. A potential connection of the aenesthesia and Frost’s death will be part of the investigation.
Frost had a cub with her that attacked the action forces as they retrieved her body from the sea. The cub was shot. Also this part of the incident will be investigated.
During her long life, Frost and her offspring had frequent contact with people and infrastructure, some of which was harmful or even tragic. This ranges from many damaged huts to the death of Johan (“Job”) Kootte in August 2020, which was caused by one of Frost’s cubs. Several of her cubs lost their lives during these and other incidents.
Two polar bears died on Good Friday in the early morning at Vindodden in Sassenfjord. A female bear drowned and her cub was later shot.
During the night – which is not dark anymore, the midnight sun is not far away – the little bear family was seen by people near Vindodden. Vindodden is a small peninsula in Sassenfjord with a couple of huts owned and used by locals from Longyearbyen, and during spring weekends, especially the Easter weekend, it is very popular to stay in a hut.
Vindodden in Sassenfjord: two polar bears died here in the early morning on Good Friday.
The polar bears approached the huts, where people tried to scare them away with warning shots fired from signal pistols. This worked, and the polar bears moved away, swimming in the fjord.
So far, so completely normal. Polar bears are excellent swimmers and can easily cover long distances in the water.
But in this particular case, the incident soon had a tragic outcome. The female bear was soon seen dead in the water, head down, with the cub swimming around her. The Sysselmester (police) was alarmed and came by helicopter. The dead female was retrieved from the water. The cub approached, the personell tried to scare the cub away, but this time, it did not work and the cub was subsequently shot.
The case will now be investigated in details, including hearing of witnesses and postmortem examination of the bear.
For years already, there has been a discussion about a new energy supply for Longyearbyen. The old coal power plant should have been replaced years ago, preferably with a more environmentally friendly and reliable energy source. A wide range of possible solutions has been discussed over the years.
Finally, a decision is now been made. The result may surprise at a first glance, but second thoughts will reveal great wisdom, considering the solution that has, in its essence, been used by indigenous cultures for ages around the globe, something that will suit the little arctic settlement in Spitsbergen well.
The new power supply will be based on biomass. The highlight of the new system is that it will be based on a local energy source, namely reindeer droppings, just as camel muck that has been used by nomadic people in hot deserts for generations.
Longyearbyen will get a power plant based on biomass, fired with reindeer droppings.
The decision is based on considerations and calculations that were made possible by the local reindeer population census of 2019, which yielded a total number of more than 22,000 animals. The reindeer don’t do anything else than turning tundra vegetation into precious fuel – and they produce more than enough to guarantee a sufficient supply of energy. Additionally, the droppings dry quickly in the arid high-arctic climate.
Technology to automatically collect the droppings on the tundra is currently being developed, based on automatic vacuum cleaners.
Words of almost refreshing honesty: According to the Norwegian news website NRK, the Norwegian government aims at making Longyearbyen’s population smaller and more Norwegian.
Longyearbyen (here on 17th May, the Norwegian national day) is a very Norwegian settlement, regardless of the international parts of its population. Nobody is questioning that – with the possible exception of the Norwegian government itself, which aims at reducing the population and increasing the Norwegian part of it. To achieve this goal, Oslo politicians don’t seem to have any inhibition to discriminate directly against foreigners, for example by dispossessing them of their local voting rights.
“The population of the archipelago is too high and it should not grow any further. The population needs a higher proportion of Norwegian citizens”, this is how NRK quotes the government, namely undersecretary of sate John-Erik Vika (Senterpartiet/Centre Party) in the ministry of justice, which is responsible for large parts of Norway’s Svalbard politics.
Longyearbyen locals with citizenship other than Norwgian have experienced Norwegian Svalbard and Longyearbyen policy – the part that is made in Oslo, to be more precise – in part as discriminating. A prominent example is last year’s decision to dispossess most foreigners of their local voting rights.
Thursday early morning, the sailing ship Noorderlicht ran aground in Norway. The accident site was at Rugholmen, north of Trondheim. Nobody was injured.
SV Noorderlicht (to the left) in Longyearbyen (2022).
There were 26 persons on board. 24 of them were soon evacuated by rescue forces without any drama or further danger. Captain and engineer remained on board with rescue forces on standby. After a while, they could get the ship off the rocks with towing assistance. SV Noorderlicht was then able to reach a port under her own steam. Damage appears accordingly little or none-existent. This was also confirmed by a speaker of the Norwegian police, as NRK reported.
An official hull inspection will be carried out before Noorderlicht is allowed to sail again.
I have many happy memories from voyages with SV Noorderlicht, both in Spitsbergen and mainland Norway. I wish all people concerned – passengers, crew and company – all the best, and safe and happy sailing again soon!
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:
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 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 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.
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 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.
One person died in a fatal snow mobile accident today (Wednesday, 15 March), according to the Sysselmester. The accident happened on a frequently used snow mobile route between Kapp Laila (Colesbukta) and Barentsburg, about two kilometres west of Kapp Laila.
The snow mobile route between Kapp Laila and Barentsburg.
The exact position of the accident is not yet publically known, but the approximate position suggests that the accident happened in the vicinity of a steeply incised valley. The route leads around the valley, but this can be challenging if, for example, the surface is icy. The man, a US citizen, was part of a guided tour.
There is currently no more information available.