Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 21:31 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 21:31 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: China and the Arctic

6 September 2010 15:39

Ralph Evans writes:

Justin Jones said 'China has a research station established in Norway'. Well, not exactly. The photo below shows the Chinese research station at Ny Alesund, a tiny settlement in Spitzbergen, known as Svalbard in Norwegian. I took the photo in 2005. The station was not exactly jumping: I could see nobody there and no lights on inside. However, the building is certainly there, staking a claim, I suppose.

Spitzbergen/Svalbard is Norwegian territory, but in the arctic east of Greenland and a long way north of Norway proper. Look it up on Google Maps. Norway administers it under a treaty signed by many nations. Non-Norwegians are free to go there. A Russian coal mine has been there for many years and may have been maintained as an arctic presence in the Cold War. Heaven knows why it is there now. Norway operates underground coal mines as well, and Ny Alesund was originally a coal mining town.

Ny Alesund is home to about 100 people during summer (when the sun shines for 24 hours) and had 26 for the (fully dark) winter before we were there. The settlement is home to ten research establishments operated by different countries (India included), so the Chinese scientists may not be lonely if they are there during the long dark winter. In the background to the second photo is what is claimed to be the world's most northerly post office, at 78 degrees 56 minutes north.

Ny Alesund does have a connection with trans-arctic travel. In the background of the first photo is a tower that has been there since 1926, when it was used to tether an airship. Aboard were the famous Norwegian arctic explorer Amundsen, an American called Ellsworth and Nobile, an Italian. They made the first arctic air crossing to Alaska, in 70 hours, but were lost on the return journey.

The other photo shows a tour guide with a rifle, compulsory there because of polar bears.