Polar bears complicate life for world's northernmost residents

Thu May 30, 2013 11:09am EDT
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By Balazs Koranyi

OSLO (Reuters) - Ole Oeiseth doesn't like leaving his house without a gun.

"A polar bear can come anytime and from anywhere; the hungry young males are especially unpredictable," he said.

Oeiseth runs Ny-Aalesund, the world's northernmost permanent settlement in Norway's high Arctic, the launching point for many North Pole expeditions, including Roald Amundsen's 1926 Zeppelin flight, the first undisputed reach for the pole.

"None of the buildings are ever locked so you can take cover in case a bear comes," said Oeiseth, a former military officer, who lives in the villa built by Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911.

A former coal mining colony, Ny-Aalesund is a quiet research outpost of 30 to 40 people about 2,100 km north of Oslo, growing to over 100 from June, when scientists from around 20 nations arrive for its short summer. It is owned and run by the Norwegian state firm Kings Bay.

"There's no mobile phone, I can't be reached. It's wonderful. I can live for the moment and not worry about tomorrow," community worker Nina Weseth, 34, said.

Ny-Aalesund's residents arrive on two-year contracts and even with extensions, must leave after four years to save their sanity from the isolation, cold and extremely long and dark winters. But for now it's 24-hour sunshine for the summer.

The sun will next set on August 25 and within two months, darkness sets in, lasting until the next sunrise in February.   Continued...

A sign warns residents of the arctic Svalbard islands in Norway of the danger from roaming polar bears, May 26, 2013. Svalbard in Norway's high Arctic, is home to 2,500 people and about 3,000 polar bears. Picture taken May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Balazs Koranyi