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 Lacking knowledge about distance measurements

Ymerbukta, with the Esmark glacier. FOTO: Valerie Berthe Elisabeth Roque

Lacking knowledge about distance measurements

Tour operators knew too little about calculating the distance to glacier fronts in Svalbard, according to the casualty report for a fatal accident in Ymerbukta in August 2012.

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Oppdatert:
11.07.2014 kl 13:03

Ghylanie Pouseler, 47, died after being struck by a chunk of calving ice from Esmarkbreen at the head of Ymerbukta. The small boat with tourists was too close to the glacier when the accident took place in the morning of Aug. 21 nearly two years ago. The passengers were on a day trip in small boats with guides when a large part of the glacier front slid out and hit solid land. Chunks of ice were flung about and one hit Pouseler, who died almost instantly from her injuries.
The glacier phenomenon is called subaerial calving, meaning the chunks of ice can be thrown far away after hitting the ground.

Too close
The French woman's parents tried to seek charges against the operator, but the case was dismissed last year.
The Accident Investigation Board Norway released a 28-page report of its investigation in the accident July 4. It concludes the dinghy was closer to the glacier than the allowed 200 meters. It also states the guides miscalculated the distance and the small boats may have been as close as 100 to 130 meters.
The board's report also concludes the guides and crew of the cruise vessel Polaris I were aware the glacier could calve and that ice could fall on solid ground, but they were probably not aware the calving could be so violent.

Missing methods
The board also points out the conflict between passenger expectations on the basis of advertising material about the trip and the safety distances.
The guides were probably in a situation where they had to strike a balance between these conflicting expectations, based on their own experience and assessment of the situation. In this instance of the small boats being closer than 200 meters to the glacier front and the guides deliberately choosing this, the trade-off described above helped influence their decision, the report states.
The report also notes there is a lack of methods and training to judge distances to the glaciers, and points out the safety instructions from the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) do not focus on how the distance judgments can be carried out at this time.

Guidance

The last important point, according to the investigation board, is the phenomenon of subaerial calving has not been studied sufficiently.
The report recommends developing guidelines for how guides and crew with tourism operators can make distance measurements to glacier fronts, and that the Governor of Svalbard should coordinate these efforts, which are already underway.

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