Briefs from Svalbardposten for the week of September 4, 2018


A unique “freezing wall” is protecting the seed vault during its reconstruction, demolition of about 150 structures in avalanche-prone areas is scheduled to begin next fall and a polar bear disrupts the plans of an annual youth camp.

Seed vault protected by unique ‘freezing wall’ during reconstruction
The original access tunnel of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault has been removed, along with 17,000 meters of soil and rocks, paving the way for workers to install a need watertight access tunnel. In a first for Statsbygg, the construction company, the earth around the entrance is being held in place with a 20-meter-high and five-meter-thick “freezing wall” filled with ice-coated pipes  powered by a 500-kilowatt power plant. The 100-million-kroner project was approved by the government in February due to water leaking into the vault because the surrounding permafrost was not refreezing as expected when the facility was designed. The glass art has been removed while work is in progress and officials have closed the site off to visitors. The company is hoping to complete most of the project before the soil freezes this winter.

Demolition of buildings in avalanche zone won’t happen until next year
The demolition of 140 to 150 apartments and other structures near an avalanche-prone mountainside in the center of Longyearbyen is scheduled to begin next fall, according to city officials. An expert assessment determined the buildings are exposed to an unacceptable level of risk and building protective snow barriers is not a practical option. It remains unclear who will pay for the demolition and relocation of the buildings’ owners/occupants since Svalbard is exempt from Norway’s nature disasters compensation policy. In the meantime, work will continue this fall and winter on avalanche barriers being build above homes near the mountainside that can be protected, along with the rapid construction of new apartments in safe areas.

Polar bear forces Camp Svalbard to drastically change its plans 
An annual outdoor camp for youths had to drastically alter its plans after a polar bear damaged a tour group’s tents at the site. More than 50 youths were planning to attend Camp Svalbard at Ymerbukta. “Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions has a camp in Ymerbukta,” said Police Chief Lt. Vidar Arnesen. “While those in the camp were on a boat, a polar bear visited the camp. It caused damage to some tents, but no people were in danger.” The bear returned later, but was scared off. Due to the bear’s presence and stormy weather, the youths spent Saturday in town taking part in outdoor activities such as kayaking and indoor target shooting. On Sunday they took a boat to Nordenskjöldbreen where they took a guided hike on the glacier.