Briefs from Svalbardposten for the week of June 20, 2017


Better efficiency called key part of future energy supply
Buildings in Longyearbyen are so energy inefficient it’s possible to increase population by nearly half, build houses for them and still save energy compared to what Longyearbyen uses today. That assertion was one of the many topics discussed during a two-day seminar last week about the city’s future energy supply. Igor Sartori, a senior scientist for SINTEF, said many houses resembling temporary shelters with poor insulation have stood for decades. He promoted he concept of upgrading such strucutres with efficient insultation used in new homes, although some at the seminar questioned how it might affect the city’s current fee system where everyone pays a flat rate if usage varies widely by dwelling. Participants also continued an ongoing discussion in recent years of alterantives to coal as a power source, such as a cable from the mainland, natural gas, solar, hydrogen geothermal and biofuels.

Longyearbyen needs full-time public psychological care, says lone departing therapist
Permanent publicly-financed psychological counselling is needed in Longyearbyen, according to the town’s only practitioner who is departing this week. “Someone needs to follow up with those who are struggling,” said Anna Eckhardt, who offered private counselling from June of 2015 until last month. “Research shows that between 30 and 50 percent of the population will experience a period during their lifecycle where they struggle psychologically. That is also true here in Svalbard.” She noted the uncertainty created by two destructive avalanches and other events since December of 2015 are still causing many residents anxiety. Eckhardt  said 87 people registered as clients during her time here, including 15 children. In addition, about 15 people contacted her, but didn’t visit her because it wasn’t covered by the public health care system. About half of the adults contacted her themselves, while the others were referred by doctors, the governor and others. The Norwegian government has recently discussed providing funds for local psychology care, but details of how much and when remain murky.

78th month of above-average temps in May – just barely
May was the 78th straight month of above-average temperatures in Longyearbyen – but just barely, with two warm days at the end of the month keeping the streak alive. The average temperature for the month was minus 3.9 degrees Celsius was 0.2 degrees higher than normal. On May 30 the temperature was 7.3 degrees and on May 31 it was five degrees. But what’s a “normal” month in the modern era may be misleading since the baseline is the years from 1961 to 1990, an internationally defined period. “Compared to the period we use as a baseline (this) May has been quite normal, but during the last 20 years it has been mild,” said Håvard Larsen, a meteorologist for the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in northern Norway. Ketil Isaksen, a climate researcher for the meteorological institute in Oslo, said there have been major temperature variations in recent years that reflect the warming seen in the Arctic. “It has been especially pronounced in the Arctic during the last 20 to 30 years. In addition, there are also large natural variations,” he said, referring to maps clearly showing there is more ice north and east of Svalbard right now than there has been for a while.

Graffiti suspect won’t face charges, to owners’ chagrin
A German man accused of defacing numerous buildings in town, including some historic monuments, with graffiti will not be prosecuted, according to Svalbard Lt. Gov.  Berit Sagfossen. The man was arrested last July 18 and spray paint was found in his luggage, but he declined to admit guilt to police and was allowed to take a flight home that evening, Sagfossen.said at the time the intent was to prosecute him, but now “the case is not considered to be so serious that it is appropriate.” Store Norske Property Manager Sveinung Lystrup Thesen said he’s disappointed with the message the decision sends. “If there are environmental crimes committed by foreigners then one should consider handling it immediately and not rely on them finding themselves in court later on,” he said. The company is considering a civil lawsuit against the man to recover the cost of the damage.