Svalbard Daily Planet for the week of Aug. 4-10, 2019


Ukraine joins non-Arctic nations seeking a strong presence in Svalbard to Russia’s outrage, Svalbard Bryggeri debuts a seriously watered-down beverage, why the seed vault isn’t an ideal place to go bananas and other recent headlines about Svalbard from the global mainstream media.

• Saturday, Aug. 10: Ukraine sets sights on Svalbard, Arctic – viable prospect, or wishful thinking?


Workers descend one of the few streets in Barentsburg, where Ukrainians make up 60 percent of the population in the Russian-operated mining settlement. Photo by Hanne Knudsen / Innovasjon Norge.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Norway, Vyacheslav Yatsiuk, visited Svalbard on June 12, where he stated that his country “may become an Arctic player” even though Kyiv is not currently directly involved in the region’s affairs. Ukraine’s presence in the Arctic is limited to approximately 400 miners working in Barentsburg (where they make up around 60 percent of the local population), employed by the Russian state-owned coal company Arktikugol. The relatively low salaries (between $600 and $1,400 per month) are more attractive for Ukrainians than Russian laborers. But Russia, aggressively making the Arctic a top geopolitical priority, is responding with outrage to the Ukraine declared intent to expand its presence. Artur Chilingarov, president of the Russian Federation on international cooperation in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, said Ukraine will not become an Arctic power, because “she has irreversibly lost her technological capabilities.” Furthermore, he said, Russia will never give its necessary support to Ukraine joining the Arctic Council.

• Friday, Aug. 9: Citizen scientists tacking humpback whales get first picture of Scotland-Svalbard migration


This humpback whale photographed in Svalbard was also observed off the coast of Scotland by people following its migration path on social media, the first such instance the species has been seen using the lower latitude waters as a “service station” during its summer swim to the tropics. Photo by Iain Rudkin Photography.

A humpback whale, a species increasingly seen in UK seas as they make vast migrations between breeding and feeding grounds, has become the first-ever UK-sighted whale also seen far away in Svalbard after its picture was spotted on Facebook by volunteer “citizen scientists.” Scientists studying the photographs and sightings of the whales in Scotland’s Firth of Forth posted on social media believe the area is being used as a “service station” on their long journey from the Arctic to the tropics. Volunteers from the Forth Marine Mammals Project, armed with a photograph of the whale and three others regularly seen in the firth in winter 2018, worked with the scientists to see if they could find a record of the mammal elsewhere.

• Thursday, Aug. 8: ‘We will…get Ramlösa off the island’ – Svalbard Brewery’s canned water production underway


The white stuff outside in Svalbard will soon be bubbly, not non-alcoholic, stuff inside Svalbard Brewery, which is expecting to offer canned carbonated water for sale beginning this month. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Canned water from Svalbard Brewery is scheduled to go on sale at retail outlets later this month, according to Robert Johansen, the brewery’s founder. “We will produce carbonated water and get Ramlösa off the island,” he quipped to Svalbardposten, referring to the Swedish brand that dominates Norway’s market. The brewery will initially sell plain water, but plans to eventually offer citrus and other flavors, producing a total of about 50,000 liters a year.

• Wednesday, Aug. 7: Migration of mackerel sets nothernmost record as researchers make mass catch near 77°N


A mackerel caught just south of Longyearbyen is among more than five tons researchers caught during an annual stock count and measurement that has seen the species continuously progress further north. Photo by Leif Nøttestad / Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.

Mackerel is among numerous species continuing to migrate every further north as climate change makes conditions more hospitable, with participants in an annual stock measurement and population count in Svalbard and northern mainland waters catching about 700 kilograms of the fish at nearly 77 degrees latitude north and about 4.5 tons at 76 degree, according to The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research. “The average size ranged from 214 grams in the southern regions to 609 grams in the northernmost regions, showing that it is the largest mackerel that migrates farthest north in the summer,” the institute noted.

• Tuesday, Aug. 6: Tiny robotic ocean explorer to take on ‘dangerous’ Svalbard mission


Mark Inall holds a robotic sub less than a meter long that will studying glacier calving for a research expedition he is leading in Svalbard this month.

An underwater robotic vehicle less than a meter long and weighing about four kilograms will be deployed during a Svalbard expedition beginning Aug. 7 deemed too dangerous for humans to help further understand the extent of glacier melting by studying the effect of meltwater on ‘calving,’ which causes huge chunks of ice to break off the glacier edge. “Given the importance of Arctic glacial ice melt in terms of climate change and sea level rise, the interaction between melt water and sea water beneath glaciers is hugely understudied,” Mark Inall, lead researcher for a teams from the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Oban, told The Oban Times. “We have satellite images and models that help to predict the extent of ice loss but it is extremely important to ‘ground-truth’ these predictions by investigating conditions in the field.”

• Monday, Aug. 5: Study: dangerous chemical PFBS in 88 percent of Earth’s water samples, including Svalbard’s 


Alf Kristian Lund, a researcher at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, immerses himself in his work in the icy waters of Norway. Photo courtesy of the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute.

Water samples collected by the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute from all over the world show a harmful chemical used for industrial purposes exists in 88 percent of them, including one of the most remote and supposedly pristine places on Earth. “So far, PFBS has been found, among other places, in raindrops, in snow in Svalbard, in our bodies and in the water tap in the kitchen of my parents-in-law at Skøyen in Oslo,” wrote Hans Peter Arp, the institute’s principal engineer for water and resources, in a summary at NGI’s website. PFBS is used for materials including Teflon, outdoor equipment, non-stick food packaging paper and the foam in fire extinguishers. They are considered toxic to humans, animals and other life, and are less decomposable in the environment than microplastics.

• Sunday, Aug. 4: Why one has to go beyond the Svalbard seed vault to go bananas


A sample is extracted from a tray in a cryobiology lab, where species such as bananas and avocados are studied to determine how deep freezing can preserve them similar to the crops in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Photo courtesy of the San Diego Zoo.

While more than 820,000 seed samples from every region of the world are now in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault 11 years after it opened, the problem remains crops with a so-called recalcitrant seed – including avocado, mango, rubber and cocoa – can’t be stored at the vault’s -18C temperature without losing viability for regeneration. In addition, sterile crops like banana – which lack seeds – obviously aren’t an option for the vault. seed conservation is not an option. For those a form of genebanking involving cryobiology, using techniques such as freezing cell samples with liquid nitrogen, is essential, according to researchers gathering last week to share developments about their efforts, according to Inside Science.