The Norwegian Polar Institute has been commissioned by the Ministry of Climate and Environment to obtain a better overview of motor traffic in Svalbard. Snowmobilers will initially notice this from the technical equipment being set up to count them on their way in and out of Longyearbyen.
Testing the equipment
The Governor of Svalbard is planning in the near future to mount equipment at extreme southern end of town, heading up toward Longyearbreen.
"There is equipment that uses a relatively simple methodology used on the mainland to count cars, cyclists and other road users," said Guri Tveito, head of the governor's environmental department. "The same is used by the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate in national parks to measure traffic."
A potential problem with the equipment is it has not been tested in Svalbard's climate. The first task will therefore be calibrating the counter to ensure an accurate tally. Since the 2015 snowmobile season is already well underway, data collected this year will likely not be included in so-called long-term tallies used in research projects.
The equipment is based on infrared technology that captures heat from snowmobiles and people as they pass.
Getting a better overview of motorized traffic in Svalbard is something both environmental ministry and the auditor general have long called for. A system for tracking figures and developments in helicopter traffic in the archipelago is available, but is lacking for other traffic.
"To establish a long-time monitoring of the traffic will help researchers be able to to say something about the effect of the motorized traffic in Svalbard," Tveito said. "But to establish that research project they must have figures that are missing today."
Counting snowmobiles at the city limits won't provide an accurate picture of traffic overall in Svalbard, which Tveito said will be addressed once officials know they can conduct an accurate count.
"If we get this equipment to function as intended, we will get together and jointly determine where it is most appropriate to set them up," she said. "When it comes to counting points far out in the terrain, so we are facing a technical challenge."
The environment chief emphasized the only thing that will be registered by the equipment being set up is the number of passengers. Snowmobile types and the identity of those passing cannot be determined using the equipment.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini