Polar Bears EverywhereLongyearbyen's town limits are marked by polar bear warning signs. Beyond these signs, you're required to carry a rifle and know how to use it. There are more polar bears than people in Svalbard.
Seven Sisters of SvalbardAs iconic as San Francisco's Seven Sisters, the colors for these houses were chosen by a Norwegian government employee whose job it was to choose all Longyearbyen's house colors. Many of these buildings are slated for demolition due to avalanche danger. There is no place for the displaced families to go.
Mine 2Longyearbyen was founded by American coal magnate John Longyear, and the American Mine was the first of seven mines. Sold in 1916 to Norway, Store Norske Spitbergen Kolkumpani continues to mine coal from Mine 7, the last coal mine in Norway. The remnants of Mine 2 cling to the mountainside above the road to Nybyen. In winter, local children believe Mine 2 is the location of Santa's workshop.
Water and SewageTwo pipes snake through Longyearbyen. One is the water supply, the other is the sewage pipe. There is no water treatment plan in Longyearbyen, so sewage is piped directly to the fjord. The pipes are kept above ground to protect the permafrost. Although it is forbidden, you can occasionally see children walking along the pipes.
Coal Plant StackLongyearbyen's heat and electricty comes from the coal burning Longyear Power Station. It is the only coal plant in Norway, and it is fueled by the plentiful local coal.
The DerelictThe Meloria was damaged off Svalbard in 2018, and her 8 person crew was rescued by SAR. The vessel was towed to Longyearbyen and hauled onto shore. The owners were denied permission to relaunch her, and have been unable to sell her. She languishes on the beach, abandoned.
Ready for ChristmasChristmas in Longyearbyen is special. The tourists have gone home. Svalbard belongs to the residents again. Main street is strung with lights, and the monument to the miners who settled this town is dressed for the holiday.
Longyearbyen's Historic CemeteryThe cemetery was begun in 1918 with the interment of seven miners who died of the Spanish Influenza. While burials of cremains are allowed, the last corpse burial was in 1950. As the permafrost melts and avalanche risk increases the cemetery will need to be relocated.
Reindeer in SpringLongyearbyen exists in the wild. In spring reindeer come to town to graze. Tourists chase them hoping for a better photo opportunity, costing the animals valuable calories they need to have young and survive the winter. As more buildings are erected, grazing is removed, making it more difficult for reindeer to graze in their traditional grounds.
The Longyearbyen ReservoirLongyearbyen's drinking water is supplied by glacial and snow meltwater. The reservoir is located immediately across from Adventfjord's salt water, separated by a narrow strip of land. As climate change causes sea water to rise, there is increased concern that the salt water will contaminate the town's drinking water.
The Avalanche FenceIn 2015 two people were killed and nine injured when an avalanche destroyed ten houses in Longyearbyen. Since then avalanches have become the norm, with evacuations and road closures every year. 140 homes are slated for demolition, and avalanche fences are being erected on Sukkertoppen to hopefully stave off the worst of avalanche danger.
Site of the 2015 AvalancheOn Saturday morning, December 19, 2015 a sudden avalanche swept over eleven houses, trapping 20 people under the snow.It was dark season, so with only artifical light to guide them the town immediately went into action, hunting for people and digging them out. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the people of Longyearbyen, only nine people suffered injuries, and two died. It could have been much worse. Little remains of the demolished structures, but no one forgets.
Vannledningsdalen Flood ControlVannledningsdalen has a long history of serious flooding. In the mountains above lies an ice lake. When the ice at its mouth melts, the slushy water rushes down the valley. In the past, it has destroyed houses and bridges on its way to the Longyear delta. Berms and ditches have been constructed to try and control it. Here, the water's passage has been bulldozed out in an attempt to keep the water in a safe track.
Road Closed to HusetAvalanche danger is increasing. Huset, one of Longyearbyen's most historic buildings and still an important community center, was endangered by avalanches several times in spring 2019 with mud and snow slides blocking the road. Police set up barriers to prevent people from using the road, and kept guard outside to warn anyone in the restaurants of imminent avalanche danger.
Outgoing SAS flightOver 150,000 people fly into Longyearbyen's tiny airport, the majority of them tourists. Both SAS and Norwegian fly multiple daily flights into Longyearbyen. built in 1973, the airport runway is insulated against the permafrost to prevent the ground's melting in summer. There is no passport control in Svalbard, though visitors are required to go through customs in either Tromsø or Oslo.
Snowmobile FarmTourist season expands a little more every year. In 2019, tourists started coming to Longyearbyen in late February for the start of "scooter season." Tourist companies like Hurtigruten maintain large numbers of snowmobiles for tourist use. Where to park them is becoming an increasing issue between the tour companies and the town's residents.
Scooter SeasonAs the sun returns in February and March the light is extraordinary and polar bear mating season begins. Many people come for scooter tours that promise polar bear sightings. After reports of guides harassing polar bears to give their clients better photo ops the governor closed two valleys to all traffic, angering local tour companies who felt they were being punished for the bad behavior of non-local guides.
Guide and Bear DogOutside of town you are required to carry a gun, or go with an armed guide. Polar bears are predators perfectly designed for this landscape. Here, humans are the hunted, not the hunter. Many retired sled dogs have a second job as bear dogs. Dogs can scent the bears long before a person can spot them, which can be an advantage in an encounter.
Walking the DogDuring the long winter months snowmobiles are the perfect way of getting around town as well as going out into the wilderness. Like this little fellow, I have seen many dogs like this little fellow, enjoying a run on a long lead followed by their owner on a snowmobile. It looks odd, but the dogs enjoy it the chance to stretch their legs.
Syttende Mai ParadeCelebrating 17 Mai, Norway's Constitution Day, in Longyearbyen is unlike anywhere else. The parade incorporates not just the Norwegian population, but also Russians from the neighboring town of Barentsburg, and a truly international population of school children. Wreaths are laid jointly by Norwegians and Russians celebrating both their WWII war dead, and those killed in mining accidents. While relations between the two countries are cool, in Svalbard, together they honor their shared history of joy and sorrow.
Mein Schiff 4 Docks at LongyearbyenCruise ship season begins in late June as the sea ice breaks up around Svalbard. Over 100,000 cruise ship tourists visit Svalbard in a year. Many arrive on ships like the Mein Schiff 4 which carries almost 3,000 passengers serviced by 1,700 crew. The environmental impact from these massive ships is considerable, while the economic benefit to Longyearbyen is small.
Midnight SunBy mid May the sun is high above the horizon for 24 hours a day. This heralds the beginning of tourist season. As the sea ice melts, more and more boats arrive until finally at the end of June big cruise ships come into to town with unloaded thousands of tourists into the high arctic sun.
Dog ParkingNo cats are allowed in Svalbard due to the danger they pose to seasonal birdlife. Dogs, however, are everywhere. There are an approximate 900 dogs on Svalbard for a population of 2,500 people. Many of them are working sled dogs, some of whom become pets or service dogs when they retire. But there are also other breeds of dogs brought in as companion animals. All dogs are required to be leashed at all times.
Svalbard Ski MarathonThe Svalbard Ski Marathon is held in late April every year and attracts hundreds of competitors who want to test their endurance in arctic conditions. In 2019, for the first time, the route of marathon had to be changed. The sea ice wasn't stable, and there wasn't enough snow. A new route further outside of town was plotted, and snow was brought in from further north to ensure there would be enough for the skiers' trail.
Return of the SunAs the sun begins its return in February the light is astonishing. At first every shade of blue illuminates the mountains, then as the sun increases its height pink and lavender shades dominate. It is beautiful. What you can't see is that the buildings in this photograph are built upon layer after layer of dumped trash. In summer, the steep cliff bleeds rusted metal. In the winter, snow hides everything.
Flood PlainLongyearbyen is built along the Longyear river delta. Flooding is common, and recently two bridges have been washed out by the river. However, space is at a premium, and with many buildings being destroyed, new ones must go up. Earth works have been built to hopefully contain the river as this valuable space is slated for a big project for UNIS including new dorms and mixed residential/business use.
Bulding Worker BarracksIn June construction began on worker barracks. There aren't enough construction workers in Longyearbyen for this project. Workers will be brought in, and since nothing is available to rent, housing must be built for them. These container-sized units are being stacked two high, and are 20, maybe 30 feet from my bedroom window.
Hiorthfjellet and LongyearbyenHiorthfjellet dominates the landscape of Longyearbyen. While there are many conflicting plans for Longyearbyen's future, no one knows for sure what will happen. Standing at the intersection of so many conflicting and powerful interests, it's serene beauty seems eternal. But bit by bit, it is becoming something completely different.