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The “bear” facts – on Longyearbjen

I left Ny Alesund having seen most of the mesocosms deployed and everything running well.
The local Arctic fox – who apparently lives under the 1912 houses which have become the Dutch Arctic station – appeared to see me off.

I found Longyearbjen in a state of great excitement because a polar bear had drifted in on the sea ice a few days ago. I was hoping he’d come back, but so far he hasn’t. It was a big attraction, because although they are said to be all around, understandably they don’t come into town that often. The authorities were happy as long as he snoozed on his iceberg, but when he started to move around, they zapped him with a tranquillizer dart and moved him off to a “safer” location.That left the ice floes clear for the Eiders.

Longyearbjen is called after American John M. Longyear, who established the first mine here in 1906. The mining history of the settlement is in evidence everywhere, old coal shafts and the pylons which carried the rope line used to transport the coal to the port.

Coal is still mined here today. It’s controversial, Greenpeace staged a protest here last year, which has made them quite unpopular with the locals, worried about their jobs. That’s presumably one reason why up in Ny Alesund, somebody threw a seal’s head onto the deck of the Esperanza. The local newsletter ‘icepeople’, self-styled as “the world’s northernmost alternative newspaper” reported on the return of the environmentalists saying “This time Greenpeace is promising – it seems – to be good”, i.e. because they are supporting scientific research rather than protesting. The newsletter people are clearly still wary, though.
There is a test project running here for carbon capture and storage. I went to the site of the borehole with the director, Gunnar Sand.

They are testing whether the underground storage site would be safe to store 90% of emissions from the local coal-fired power plant. He says they could be up and running by 2015. But he also stresses the need for much more intensive testing, as safety is paramount. He says Longyearbjen is ideal for a pilot plant, as they have a small community with a closed system. He thinks the world will be dependent on coal for the next fifty years at least, given especially the developments in China. More later on DW radio and the website.

There’s supposed to be a population of 2000 here. I don’t know where they all are, it makes a rather empty impression most of the time. Most people I’ve met have been incomers, who tend to come for a short time, fall in love with it and stay as long as they can. Margrete Nilsdater Skaktavl Keyser is one.

Margrete came here for a short course and went on to do a full degree here. The student residences at the far end of the town show the two main attractions that seem to bring students to the uni here : snow mobiles in winter and nature all around, all year round, with plenty of potential for field work on all aspects of Arctic sciences:

Margrete came here as a student for a short course and stayed on for a longer degree, writing on polar bears. You need a job to stay here, so she takes whatever she finds and goes home to the Norwegian mainland in between.In the season, she guides people on snowmobile trips. At the moment she’s working with the Svalbard authorities compiling a data base on encounters between humans and polar bears, trying to work out guidelines for avoiding “incidents”. I’ve been keeping that in mind walking around here. You can’t leave the town area safely without a rifle, flares etc. People have been killed around here, although it’s a good few years ago.
Glaciology Professor Doug Benn, a fellow Scot who taught in my old university St. Andrews, invited me to join him and two junior colleagues for a look at the local glaciers yesterday. He’s also an active researcher into a glacial area of the Himalayas. More on that next time.
As you can see, no hikes outside town without the rifle. Doug is the one in charge of the party’s safety here:


June 3, 2010 | 8:56 am




Ice Blogger’s Paradise

Pictures often say more than words.
I have now arrived in Longyearbjen and the wind has filled the fjord with ice again. The sun has come out, the sky is blue. Let me leave you for today with these impressions. More talk tomorrow.


June 2, 2010 | 9:12 pm



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All systems go for the world’s biggest ocean acidification test

Today was a big day all round, and it started grey and snowy, with feelings of tense anticipation. For the scientists, it’s the next step towards the work they’ve put so much effort into over the last up to four years. If the mesocosms can be put in place successfully, they can lower the sacks and close them up to start the world’s biggest experiment on ocean acidification. If not, they’re in a bad way.
For the Greenpeace team, it’s time to put the giant testtubes they’ve carefully brought up to the Arctic from Kiel in Germany into the water, the fruition of their work with the scientist team. It’s a premiere all round. Not only is it a new and large-scale experiment, it’s a premiere in terms of Greenpeace and an official science body working together. As Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace climate campaigner from Germany and Professor Ulf Riebesell explained to me, the memorandum of understanding stipulates clearly who does what. The scientists are independent, doing their own work, grateful to Greenpeace for providing the boat without which none of this could have happened. Greenpeace is responsible for the logistics and helping because they want the data on the effects of ocean acidification on Arctic ocean ecosystems and organisms to be collected. Everybody stresses there are no foregone conclusions. Lab tests have indicated calcifying organisms are likely to suffer badly, but only this bigger experiment will give an indication of how whole systems react.
Let me give you the rest of the day in pictures.

The crew on the Esperanza were up bright and breezy and ready to start loading the mesocosms from the quay onto the boat at 8. Well you can’t say crack of dawn, since it’s light all night.
The scientists were down to keep an eye on operations

and IFM Geomar engineer Detlef Hoffmann, who seems to me to have been spending his life going up and down in the lift fixing up the mesocosms was back in place.

One by one, the first 3 mesocosms were lifted onto the Esperanza.

Professor Ulf, who’s coordinated the experiment, and Klaus, who designed the mesocosms, watch anxiously from the deck of the Esperanza.

At the deployment site, number one goes over, steady as she goes…

In the scientists\’s boat, Prof. Jean Pierre, the EPOCA coordinator,keeps an anxious eye.

The IFM technical experts in the dinghy do the necessary to affix the equipment.

Having “suited up” and gone into one of the Greenpeace dinghy, I’m able to follow the next “mesocosm overboard” operation from the water, looking up to the Esperanza.

The Greenpeace communications team are busy documenting this slightly different “campaign”.

Down she goes…

Well met, IFM Geomar.

Ulf has got on his survival gear and come down to check it out for himself.

And Greenpeace climate campaigner Martin Kaiser, on board the Esperanza, can be happy with the results so far.


June 1, 2010 | 7:52 pm




Out in the Kongsfjord

Before I go any further:
Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso, the coordinator of the whole EPOCA project, (see last blog post) has drawn my attention to the websites for the EPOCA project and suggested Ice Blog readers might like a look, so here they are. Thanks Jean-Pierre:
European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA) blog
EPOCA Svalbard 2010 Blog

Sunday afternoon: the plan is to deploy the mesocosms in the fjord Monday morning if the weather remains stable. So Sebastian Krug from IFM Geomar, who is responsible for the logistics of the deployment, took some of his colleagues out in a boat with a remote-controlled underwater camera

this afternoon to check the anchors which have been put down to hold the floating test-tube constructions and make sure the lines coming up are not tangled and everything is where it should be. I was able to join them.
We need survival suits for this as the water is around freezing point. Everybody gets a briefing on the dangers of hypothermia up here, which sets in very quickly if you fall into the water without a suit, and nobody takes any chances.

Sebastian’s colleagues Andrea Ludwig, Sine Klaasen and Kai Schulz from IFM Geomar, the Kiel University marine science institute that’s managing all this, are also doing test runs with their equipment to take water samples and transport them back to the world’s most northerly marine lab in the base at Ny Alesund. They will be doing this with samples from the mesocosms regularly, once they’re in place and have been “dosed” with the required doses of CO2, a different amount in each mesocosm to simulate, in situ, what would happen if the ocean acidifies to a particular amount, according to the different IPCC scenarios, depending on how much CO2 we continue to emit in the coming decades. Kai is responsible for adding the CO2.

It started off as a grey day with snowflakes, but the sun came out surprisingly in between. The weather changes quickly and frequently here in the Arctic. You have to make the best of every sunray.

(View back to Ny Alesund)

Meike Nikolai is the communications officer from IFM Geomar. She’s documenting all of this for the institute’s records and website. She took this photo.

Thanks Meike.
We got close up to this iceberg in the fjord. Hoping it and its colleagues will keep a safe distance from the mesocosms site.

Our little friend did his work underwater.

He makes some interesting blubbering and spitting sounds as he goes down (which you’ll hear when you tune into the radio stories on this project some time in the not too distant future! Keep an eye on the DW website and Living Planet
DW Environment web page
Nathan (Living Planet host), I hope you have plenty of space for this one, it’s a very exciting project.
The anchors are looking good, so weather and ice permitting, it’s full speed ahead for deployment on Monday morning. The scientists are getting excited, some nervous. They’ve been working for several years preparing this and it is the first of its kind. The crew on the Greenpeace boat are also excited about it all. They are playing a key role in getting this world premiere on the stage.


June 1, 2010 | 9:28 am



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Sunday morning in Ny Alesund

We didn’t get the usual 7.30 morning wake up knock on the door this morning, a Sunday treat.
Still, when I looked out onto the pier, Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso, the coordinator of the whole EPOCA project, was out there in a shower of sleet preparing test samples.

When I looked up the fjord to the huge glaciers, there was some floating ice to be seen in the distance. The mesocosms will be placed at the other,more sheltered end, but the one thing that could cause a problem, the scientists have told me, is if the wind changes and blows the icebergs down this way. The frames for the mesocosms are very stable, but the ice could damage the plastic sacks.I\’m told there will be some kind of barrier put round to protect them, still this is the main factor causing a little apprehension as the actual deployment comes closer. The team would like to start the experiment as soon as possible, but logistics have pushed the deployment back a little, probably to start tomorrow.

The world\’s most northerly post office (open once a week I believe!) looks picturesque even in a shower of sleet.
Meanwhile, the sun has been putting in the odd appearance, although it still keeps snowing or sleeeting, which gives a lovely light to the place. I think so anyway. The place is very quiet so far, probably a mixture of Sunday and the weather. Seems a shame to me not to be out and about.
Our resident Svalbard reindeer seems to think the same. Here he’s heading across the snow:

And as the summer comes in, he’s finding more and more tasty greenery:


May 30, 2010 | 10:21 am



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