Briefs from Svalbardposten for the week of Dec. 3, 2019


An expansion to nearly double the size of Svalbardbutikken beginning soon, a large amount of sea ice around Svalbard is definitely not a sign climate change impacts are lessening, and the lack of a director at Visit Svalbard for the past eight months is taking a toll on employees and planned projects.

Expansion to nearly double size of Svalbardbutikken scheduled to start soon
Work is scheduled to begin in a few months that will expand Svalbardbutikken from its current 2,300 square meters to 4,300 square meters, with a scheduled completion date in February 2021. Both the exterior and interior will get modernized looks, with a new main entrance and separate entrance for the Nordpolet alcohol retail store. The second floor will be renovated extensively, including an 840-square-meter space for yet-to-be-determined commercial use, and a 900-square-meter extension built at the southern end of the building. Store officials said the construction should not disrupt customers or affect prices – or result in additional employees being hired when the expansion is complete.

Lots of ice around Svalbard right now – but, yes, climate crisis lives on
Much of Svalbard is surrounded by sea ice, but despite low temperatures recently the freezing is due largely to a natural variation in wind directions and not an indication the impacts of climate change are lessening, according to Kim Holmén, international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute. Last year at this time there was virtually no ice in the waters around the archipelago, while there is considerable and dense drift ice this year. But Holmén emphasized the amount of ice in the Arctic continues to be exceedingly low and “the main reason we have a lot of ice around Svalbard now is that the dominant wind directions this year have come from the east. The ice comes from the areas around Frans Joseph’s land.” Also, despite low temperatures at the end of November, Longyearbyen’s monthly temperatures have now been above average for 108 straight months.

Lack of leadership taking a toll on Visit Svalbard employees
Visit Svalbard has been without a leader for eight months and, with a new director not expected to be hired for another two or three months, it is taking a toll on the tourism center’s employees. “It is a huge burden on the staff,” said Ronny Strømnes, chairman of Visit Svalbard’s board of directors. Employees are working longer hours and several projects have been delayed to compensate for the shortage. A total of 23 candidates are now scheduled to be considered by a hiring firm, with the hope of appointing a new director by Feb. 1.