Pyramiden - A view from our expert author

Pyramiden Svalbard by Kitty Terwolbeck Flickr© Kitty Terwolbeck, Flickr

Make the full day’s snowmobile journey from Longyearbyen to this Russian mining ghost town.

In winter, Pyramiden has been completely abandoned since 1998, while in summer, a small team of Trust Arcticugol staff is based here – originally initiated and funded by the Russian state for cleaning up the area, but in reality mainly used for removing re-usable equipment for Barentsburg and for extracting valuable materials (scrap metal), which has been sold by the Trust management to Western buyers.

Little maintenance has been done by Trust Arcticugol and damage has been speeded up by the extraction of valuable materials, for instance by using explosives for dismantling metal masts quickly, which at the same time shattered nearby windows. Maybe even more worrying is the neglect of the protective gravel walls, which guided floods around Pyramiden, as the settlement was built on the delta fans of several streams, which in the melting season can become violent. Today, these walls have been all but washed away and floods have already started their destructive work.

In principle, Russia has rediscovered the value of its strategic outposts, but the Trust Arcticugol management has no immediate interest in conserving the settlement until a new reason for Pyramiden is found, inclusive of attractive subsidies. Instead, continuing to extract sellable materials seems to be the most profitable solution – all the while hoping for access to further state funds for a later revitalisation (which in fact could be even bigger, the more the settlement is demolished until then).

Possibilities exist for renewed activity in the area, starting with the Russian oil industry’s plan to explore and maybe later exploit the oil and gas deposits found some 10km away from Pyramiden on the other side of the fjord. In the end this would not help Pyramiden very much, while also bearing considerable ecological risks. Another possibility is the ambitious concept of transforming Pyramiden into a base for international research and ecotourism.

Meanwhile, decay continues – including the risk of a huge mess of materials – some of which, like old oil barrels, etc, are harmful – being scattered by floods and storms over a huge area.

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