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Sounding the erosion alarm

Earlier this fall the sea took en enormous chunk of land near the cabins in Bjørndalen. One of them is now only centimeters from a several meters tall edge FOTO: Geir Barstein

Sounding the erosion alarm

Two cabins on the way out to Bjørndalen are in danger of vanishing into the sea in the near future. All that's needed is a real storm, according an erosion researcher.



Translated by Mark Sabbatini

"This is completely extreme," said Nils Lorentsen, the owner of one cabin, peering over the edge of the eroding coast." I didn't think anything like that would happen, at least not in my time."

What was once a gentle slope kids could play on down towards the beach is now a vertical wall that descends right down to the sea. A few meters away is the the edge of his cabin.

"The change is absolutely huge," Lorentsen said.

It all happened within a few hours on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning last week. A combination of high tides, low pressure and heavy precipitation gave the sea the energy to eat its way far inland. Bent Jakobsen, the owner of a nearby cabin, said he has never seen anything similar.

"I came down to the cottage, and it was raining and blowing horizontally," he said. "There was a lot of sea, and insanely high and big, heavy swells that hit over the edge. It was probably ten, fifteen meters at its highest."

Not stable

Joining Nils Brennbergfjell, another affected cabin owner, was Astrid Meek, the city's senior development advisor, during an inspection Monday to assess the emergency situation by Knut Aune Hoseth from the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE).

Hoseth said there is no doubt the buildings are exposed.

"This is a situation where they will not be stable in the long term," he said, addig frosts are likely to secure the ground for the next few months, if nothing else.

It will take a while before the final NVE report is ready, but already it is clear at least two of the cabins will likely have be moved further inland.

Centimeters away

Most at risk is the property owned by Brennbergfjell. The main house is two-and-a-half meters from the slide, but the annex building has only a space of a few centimeters from the abyss.

"I did not think it would go at first, but once something must be done," said Brennbergfjell, who normally lives in the cabin he bought during the 1980s.

"Now I've moved into a different cabin here."

Lorentsen's cabin is facing the second-highest danger.

"The man from NVE was relatively sure that we will have to move the cabin," he said, fearing it will be an expensive affair. "He also said that it must be viewed in the context of an avalanche from the mountain behind us. We end up caught in the middle, but we'll see."

"I have reported it to the insurance company, but they were uncertain whether it can be covered as a natural event," Lorentsen said.

Jakobsen has been crossing his fingers for a long time in the hope he will not have to relocate his cabin inland. Unlike the other cabins, it stands on a more solid foundation consisting of slate stones in the floor It will slow, but not necessarily prevent, natural forces in the future.

"It is disturbing whether we have to move, which is a big job," he said. "But if it comes up as a requirement, it must of course be done. One is glad to see the building standing near enough the edge to being able to hear the waves, but clearly if it comes at the cost of cottage and life something must be done."

Erosion meeting

Representatives of the city government and Store Norske, which owns the property, agreed during a meeting Tuesday to find a new location for at least the two more vulnerable cabins.

"Now we are waiting for NVE report and see what it says," Meek said. "The reason is it will probably stabilize when winter comes, but there might also just be mild weather."

The cabins are not the only things in danger of ending up in sea in the vicinity. The road out to Bjoerndalen may also fail within a short time.

"It's only a matter of time if nothing is done," said Emilie Guegan, a doctoral student in the Department of Civil and Transport at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. "It can go this year. All that is needed is a real storm."

Guegan, in cooperation with researchers at The University Centre in Svalbard, has for several years monitored how the sea is gnawing into the road at Vestpynten.

"It varies by between 40 and 100 centimeters per year," said Guegan, who delivered her thesis about the project this week.

"The road is of great concern," she said, proposing moving the road a few meters as the best solution. "There are two periods during the year when erosion takes place: In the fall it is very vulnerable to bad weather and in spring there is a lot of meltwater that removes sediments."

Must salvage the road

Meek confirmed the road was also discussed during Tuesday's erosion meeting.

"The responsibility for the road is the landowner's – therefore Store Norske's," she said. "The solution is therefore up to them."

Sveinung Lystrup, property and administration manager for Store Norske, said the company will evaluate the situation soon.

"We are aware of this," he said. "There has been an ongoing erosion in the entire coastal zone and it is a challenge. We will arrange a meeting as an extension of recent developments and discuss what we do next."

Se bildet større

Chief geologist Knut A. Hoseth (left) from the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate, city's senior development advisor Astrid Meek and cabin owners Nils Lorentsen and Bent Jakobsen inspected the sight on monday. FOTO: Geir Barstein

Se bildet større

Parts of the road out to Bjørndalen is also at risk. Measurements by Vestpynten show 40 to 100 centimeters of erosion each year. FOTO: Geir Barstein

Se bildet større

The three affected cabins in Bjørndalen in red. FOTO: Norsk Polarinstitutt

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