There's a book launch, climate talks, a feast for everyone in the settlement, a private research conference in Oslo, a party in the polar ambiance of the Fram museum and several historical lectures. Dec. 14 is the 100th anniversary of when enterprising men from Sunnmøre established the Kings Bay Coal Company. And it's now 53 years since the first researcher spent the winter in Ny-Ålesund. The world's northernmost community of nearly at 79 degrees latitude north has undergone major restructuring from its days as a mining community, which shut down long ago and gave way to being one of the world's most important sites for researching climate change.
For a time the settlement at Kongsfjorden was the base for several spectacular attempts to reach the North Pole, as well as exploring the unknown Arctic Ocean. Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth and Umberto Nobile became the first to fly over the North Pole by traveling from Ny-Ålesund to Alaska on the Norge airship. The largest gift for the celebration – soon to make its way north and arrive in February – is another key part of history. The Toa steam locomotive has been present in the unique settlement almost since the beginning, and if its metal plates could talk the tales would be filled with plenty of drama, activity and happy moments.
The locomotive just went through a major refurbishment due to wear caused by the exposed seaside location where it has long remained still. The Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund provided a seven-figure grant for the project and the now-gleeming locomotive will be grandest gift during the jubilee.
"The locomotive is very fine and will become an even more attractive eyecatcher than previously. They performed first-rate restoration work," said Kings Bay AS Director Ole Øiseth. The state-owned company owns Ny-Ålesund and, as the "local authority," is responsible for all infrastructure and an active facilitation of scientists from a variety of nations.
Another significant gift was revealed in the Norwegian government's proposed budget for next year. It includes 20.5 million kroner for a new research building, work on which is scheduled to begin this spring. It will join the many different research facilities including a marine laboratory and the atmospheric station on Zeppelinfjellet which collects insect data, gathers atmospheric measurements, monitors glaciers and performs long-term studies of foxes and Barnacle Geese.
A variety of research projects are carried out simultaneously, and in the future, scientists will work together much more often. The objective is for researchers from institutions in China, India, South Korea, Norway, Germany, France and many other countries to cooperation more and learn from each other.
Most of what happens in Ny-Ålesund requires permission from The Governor of Svalbard and The Norwegian Directorate of Cultural Heritage. Of the 29 buildings, nearly half are culture heritage sites and therefore must be protected and maintained. No other Norwegian settlement has as high a percentage of listed buildings.
Over the years, professionals from Kings Bay AS have put most of the buildings in working order, including the workers' housing from the 1920s that is regarded today as a cultural gem. That jewel was visited by Cultural Heritage Director Jørn Holme during a local anniversary celebration on Wednesday. Three longtime members of the agency, the board of directors of Kings Bay, and all the staff and residents in the settlement were also present.
Professor Rolf Hanoa presented a book commemorating the anniversary during the event. He has been a company doctor in Ny-Ålesund during several time periods, and knows both the village and residents from the inside. The book is 400 pages and is, according to Øiseth, an important encyclopedia of everything that has happened in the settlement for 100 years.
"Rolf Hanoa has done a brilliant job," Øiseth said. "The book is invaluable for us. We believe that it will be under the Christmas tree for many Ny-Ålesund enthusiasts and polar enthusiasts."
On Friday the author will be present when the anniversary book debuts in Longyearbyen and on Dec. 14 it will be presented during the big 100th annual festival in Oslo.
The Norwegian Research Council is arranging a seminar to mark 50 years of research in Ny-Ålesund on Dec. 13. Among the participants will be Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen and some of the nation's top researchers who will discuss the latest news about glaciers, pollutants, the atmosphere, animals, birds, tundra, the Northern Lights, and life in the dark and the unknown sea. Fifty years of research will also be put into a historical perspective.
The following day, on the settlement's 100th anniversary, the festivities will continue in Gjoa Hall at the Fram Museum. Attending will be associates and representatives from the relevant ministries. Among others, Per Kyrre Reymert will discuss the history of various buildings and Susan Barr of the cultural heritage directorate will examine the role of government in the preservation of cultural heritage sites. Thor Bjorn Arlov will take a historical look at the changes in Kings Bay, and Øiseth will addresses the status of the 100-year-old settlement and its future.
Are there any other gifts on Øiseth's wish list beyond the steam locomotive and new research building?
"We would have liked to have even more active research collaboration in Ny-Ålesund," Øiseth said. "All the positive forces should be united in efforts to understand the climate changes we face. That could have provided even more worldwide climate research."
Anniversary gift: Kings Bay AS Director Ole Øiseth will soon receive back the restored Tor steam locomotive. It is the heaviest gift being presented to the 100-year-old settlement of Ny-Ålesund. Photo: Ole Magnus Rapp