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Svalbard: Climate Change Canary in the Coal Mine

Posted on: October 4, 2019












  1. The map at the top of this post  shows that there are parts of Canada (Alert), parts of Greenland (Nord), parts of Europe (Svalbard and the Franz Yosef Islands), and parts of Russia (Severna Zemia) that actually touch or encroach into the Arctic circle. Of these only Svalbard, an archipelago of mountainous glaciated islands, has a permanent economically productive settled year-round community that is non-military, non-weather station, and non-scientific expedition. The economic activity of Svalbard was once dominated by whaling but at present it consists mostly of coal mining, tourism, and hosting of scientific expeditions.
  2. An oddity of Svalbard in the context of its Arctic circle location is its unusual climate given its high latitude. Summer temperatures are ≈5C on average and the winter average is ≈-14C. These temperatures are ≈2C warmer than the parts of Russia and Canada at the same latitude with the difference generally attributed to the moderating effect of the North Atlantic Current System shown above. In the study of the climate oddities of Svalbard, it is often described in the literature as “high Arctic archipelago”.
  3. The importance of Svalbard in the study of climate change is usually stated as “The Arctic is warming more rapidly than other region on the planet, and the northern Barents Sea, including the Svalbard Archipelago, is experiencing the fastest temperature increases within the circumpolar Arctic, along with the highest rate of sea ice loss and the greatest impact on ecosystems. An exploration of this line of climate impact research is provided below in the Svalbard bibliography. In this line of research it is acknowledged that the the North Atlantic Current System does not really explain all the climate oddities of Svalbard and a further explanation is offered in terms of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) climate change that uses changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to explain all climate and ice melt phenomena.
  4. The failed but much publicized anticipation of the ice-free Arctic in September and morbid but failed anticipation of the extinction of the polar bear and the Svalbard reindeer derive from this line of research as exemplified in these historical headlines from 2007 to 2017: Climate change threatens Svalbard’s 3000 polar bears, Svalbard is ground zero for climate change, Scientists say that Svalbard’s glaciers make up 60% of the land mass but are retreating literally before their eyes, Sea ice melting around Svalbard, Svalbard’s fiords that used to freeze over no longer do so, An overall loss of ice in Svalbard has caused habitat loss for species that include the reindeer. The intense interest in this region is apparently based on the so called Arctic Amplification and the anticipated feedbacks from melting Arctic sea ice and of an anticipated release of methane, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases from a thawing permafrost. A detailed list of these concerns about Svalbard and the Arctic region is reflected in the bibliography of climate impacts on Svalbard 1995-2018 listed below.
  5. Here we propose that this evaluation of the impact of climate change on Svalbard in particular and the Arctic in general in terms of rising temperatures, melting sea ice, receding glaciers, declining iciness of fiords, and the rain-on-snow issue, made exclusively in terms of the effects of atmospheric composition, contains an extreme atmosphere bias such that the effects of known geological features of the region are not taken into account. We now explore some of these features with reference to (1) A Related Post on the geological features of the Arctic relevant to climate change [LINK] , (2) an analysis of the Jan Mayen “fracture zone” posted online by  [LINK] , and (3) an open access research paper available online for full text download [Blischke et al 2019] .
  6. Not generally known by the climate change audience and not generally acknowledged by the sources of climate change information is that the Arctic is geologically very active. A relevant feature of the Arctic in this regard is the Mid-Arctic Rift System shown in the graphic below provided by James Kamis [LINK] and Gillian Foulger [LINK] driven by a mantle plume system underneath Greenland and Iceland known as the Greenland-Iceland Mantle Plume. The spectacular 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano is a creation of this geological feature of the region. The more persistent and continual heat transfer mechanism from the mantle is by way of the two rift systems on either side of Greenland. The BBLRS (Baffin Bay Labrador Rift System) is west of Greenland and the bigger and more active MARS (Mid-Arctic Rift System) is on the east. These rift systems are drawn in the graphic below as red cross hatched lines.
  7. A rift is a region where tectonic plates in the lithosphere are moving apart with the pressure creating heat & magma release through volcanic activity and by other means. The red triangles drawn inside the MARS are locations of known active submarine volcanoes where volcanic activity tends to be more continuous and less spectacular than above land volcanoes but with equal or greater heat and magma release. The Mid Arctic Rift system is a monster. It begins south of Iceland and goes north 6,000 kilometers past Jan Mayen Island and the Svalbard archipelago clear across to the other side of the Arctic with more than 24 known active submarine volcanoes that are unevenly distributed. The portion of the rift that runs from Iceland to Svalbard is dense with volcanoes containing two thirds of the volcanoes in the rift system. It is called the Jan Mayen Trend.
  8. The underlying feature of the Jan Mayen Trend is a plate boundary where two plates collide one going under the other to create the energy that becomes evident on the surface as heat. The thesis of this post is that this energy flow from the mantle to the ocean plays a role in surface phenomena [LINK] . Therefore, all surface phenomena related to warming such as the relative mildness of Svalbard climate, sea ice melt, the rain on snow issue, and the effect of warming on ecosystems and animals such as the polar bear and the Arctic reindeer must not be assumed to be related to fossil fuel emissions such that they can be moderated by climate action consisting of reducing the rate of emissions.

bandicam 2019-07-01 16-29-44-526




Eisenman, Ian, Norbert Untersteiner, and J. S. Wettlaufer. “On the reliability of simulated Arctic sea ice in global climate models.” Geophysical Research Letters 34.10 (2007).  While most of the global climate models (GCMs) currently being evaluated for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report simulate present‐day Arctic sea ice in reasonably good agreement with observations, the intermodel differences in simulated Arctic cloud cover are large and produce significant differences in downwelling longwave radiation. Using the standard thermodynamic models of sea ice, we find that the GCM‐generated spread in longwave radiation produces equilibrium ice thicknesses that range from 1 to more than 10 meters. However, equilibrium ice thickness is an extremely sensitive function of the ice albedo, allowing errors in simulated cloud cover to be compensated by tuning of the ice albedo. This analysis suggests that the results of current GCMs cannot be relied upon at face value for credible predictions of future Arctic sea ice.









  1. Salvigsen, Otto, Steven L. Forman, and Gifford H. Miller. “Thermophilous molluscs on Svalbard during the Holocene and their paleoclimatic implications.” Polar Research 11.1 (1992): 1-10.  Five species of guide fossils from the Holocene warm period in Svalbard are considered: Mytilus edulis, Modiolus modiolus, Arctica islandica, Littorina littorea and Zirphaea crispata. These are now extinct in Svalbard; Zirphaea crispata, especially, requires considerable higher water temperatures than occur there today. Known radiocarbon dates on Mytilus, Modiolus and Zirphala are given. Thirty-four dates on Mytilus edulis show that it lived in Svalbard from before 9500 BP to about 3500 BP, and probably again around 1000 BP. Five dates on Modiolus and Zirphaea indicate a climatic optimum in Svalbard from about 8700 BP to 7700 BP. The most favourable places then had conditions similar to the northeastern coast of Finnmark, northernmost Norway, today. Mytilus edulis is considered a good climate indicator, and a future warming of the marine climate in Svalbard could be indicated by its eventual re-immigration into the area.
  2. Dowdeswell, J. A., et al. “Mass balance change as a control on the frequency and occurrence of glacier surges in Svalbard, Norwegian High Arctic.” Geophysical Research Letters 22.21 (1995): 2909-2912.  The end of the Little Ice Age (LIA) in Svalbard (76–81°N), a climate‐sensitive region at the northern extreme of strong poleward heat transfer, was marked by an abrupt increase in mean annual air temperature of up to 5°C around 1920. Glacier mass balance has been consistently negative since this time, and large cumulative net losses of mass have occurred at most glaciers. Energy‐balance modelling confirms the sensitivity of Svalbard glaciers to climate change, predicting a negative shift in net mass balance of up to 0.8 m a−1 (water equivalent) per degree temperature rise. This climate‐related shift in glacier mass balance has reduced the intensity of glacier surge activity in Svalbard. One glacier, known to have surged since the end of the LIA, has since failed to accumulate the mass required to re‐initiate the surge cycle, and is also now cold at its base and incapable of rapid flow by basal sliding. Three overviews of the total number of actively‐surging glaciers in Svalbard between 1936–90 show a decrease from 18 to 5. This is significant compared with the expected numbers of surges based on LIA conditions. Post‐LIA climate change in Svalbard has therefore affected not only glacier extent, but also ice dynamics. This is trend will probably continue given CO2‐induced climate‐warming.
  3. Aanes, Ronny, et al. “The Arctic Oscillation predicts effects of climate change in two trophic levels in a high‐arctic ecosystem.” Ecology Letters 5.3 (2002): 445-453. During recent decades there has been a change in the circulation of atmospheric pressure throughout the Northern Hemisphere. These variations are expressed in the recently described Arctic Oscillation (AO), which has shown an upward trend (associated with winter warming in the eastern Arctic) during the last three decades. We analysed a 12‐year time series on growth of Cassiope tetragona (Lapland Cassiope) and a 21‐year time series on abundance of a Svalbard reindeer population. High values of the AO index were associated with reduced plant and reindeer population growth. The North Atlantic Oscillation index was not able to explain a significant proportion of the variance in either plant growth or reindeer population fluctuations. Thus, the AO index may be a better predictor for ecosystem effects of climate change in certain high‐arctic areas compared to the NAO index.
  4. Putkonen, J., and G. Roe. “Rain‐on‐snow events impact soil temperatures and affect ungulate survival.” Geophysical Research Letters 30.4 (2003). Field data from Spitsbergen and numerical modeling reveal that rain‐on‐snow (ROS) events can substantially increase sub‐snowpack soil temperatures. However, ROS events have not previously been accounted for in high latitude soil thermal analyses. Furthermore such events can result in widespread die‐offs of ungulates due to soil surface icing. The occurrence of Spitsbergen ROS events is controlled by the North Atlantic Oscillation. Globally, atmospheric reanalysis data show that significant ROS events occur predominantly over northern maritime climates, covering 8.4 × 106 km2. Under a standard climate change scenario, a global climate model predicts a 40% increase in the ROS area by 2080–2089. A compelling and growing body of observational evidence, supported by results from climate models and theoretical considerations, shows that the high latitudes are the most sensitive regions of the Earth’s climate system [IPCC, 2001; Serreze et al., 2000]. Snow covered land surfaces there are largely underlain by thermally‐vulnerable permafrost or seasonal frost [Washburn, 1980]. Since these areas are also home to delicately balanced ecosystems, an urgent concern is to better understand the impact of climate variability and climate change on boreal and arctic environments. Using field observations from a well‐established research site in Spitsbergen (latitude 78°57′N, longitude 12°27′E) [Dalsbo, 2002; Hallet and Prestrud, 1986; Hanssen‐Bauer et al., 1992; Putkonen, 1998] and nearby meteorological data, we demonstrate that wintertime rain‐on‐snow (ROS) events, although infrequent, are capable of exerting a considerable influence on mean wintertime soil temperatures. ROS events are therefore a powerful mechanism through which anthropogenic climate change may impact seasonal soil temperatures and, consequently, the long‐term survival of regional permafrost. The land surface components of global climate models do not generally represent the consequences of ROS events (the Genesis climate model is the only climate model we know of that accounts for ROS warming (Gordon Bonan, personal communication, Feb., 2002)) and, to our knowledge, have been left out of all studies which have examined the impact of climate on permafrost [Anisimov et al., 1997; Budyko and Izrael, 1993; Judge and Pilon, 1983; Kane et al., 1991; Lachenbruch and Marshall, 1986; Lunardini, 1996; Nelson et al., 1993; Osterkamp and Gosink, 1991; Pavlov, 1996; Riseborough and Smith, 1993; Smith and Riseborough, 1996]. Arctic ecologists have long known that ROS events are linked with large‐scale ungulate (reindeer, caribou, elk, musk‐ox) deaths in Spitsbergen [Aanes et al., 2000; Solberg et al., 2001], Scandinavia [Kumpula, 2001], eastern Siberia [Beltsov, 2002; McFarling, 2002], Canada [Miller et al., 1975], Greenland [Forchhammer and Boertmann, 1993] and suggested in Alaska [Griffith et al., 2002], all regions where reindeer herding or ungulate populations are an important part of the economy. ROS events result in soil surface icing, which the animals are unable to penetrate [Reimers, 1977; Reimers, 1982], and the resulting warmer sub‐snowpack temperatures promote growth of fungi and mold leading ungulates to avoid affected areas [Kumpula et al., 2000]. A climate‐change induced increase in the frequency and spatial coverage of ROS events may therefore have significant physical and ecological consequences precisely where permafrost is most vulnerable at its southern boundary, and where large herds of reindeer and caribou sustain native populations. Furthermore, ROS events are also known to be important triggers of avalanches in mountainous areas [Conway and Benedict, 1994; Conway and Raymond, 1993]. Over the past eighteen years we have monitored soil temperatures, soil thermal properties and micro‐meteorological forcing at our field site near Ny‐Ålesund, Spitsbergen [Putkonen, 1998](The records are not continuous over this period, but they are extensive enough to give us a good indication of the soil thermal behavior in response to climate forcing. The program was initiated in the summer of 1984 at a patterned ground site [Hallet and Prestrud, 1986]). Automated observations revealed episodes of significant and rapid soil warming under a thick (∼1m) snow pack (Figure 1). The warmings cannot be driven by changes in near surface air temperature alone. Temperatures at the soil surface showed neither a decrease of amplitude away from a source (i.e., the snow surface), nor an increasing time lag with depth, both of which are requirements for a pure thermally‐conductive system. It is apparent that a significantly more effective mode of heat transfer is required between atmosphere and permafrost to explain the observations. Examination of the local meteorological record showed that a nearby research station received rain or mixed snow and rain during the warming episodes. The anomalous warmings described above could theoretically also result from melting the snow, as is typically observed in the spring. However, we can rule this out because the warmings occurred during the Arctic polar night (no shortwave radiation available for melting) and the near surface air mass of a few degrees above freezing point cannot melt the snow at a sufficient rate. Rainfall, if in sufficient quantity, percolates through the snowpack [Conway and Benedict, 1994] and pools at the soil surface (If the rain percolates into the soil the thermal difference between thermal conduction and water advection and related release of latent heat is even larger as the latent and thermal energy bypasses larger domain of thermal inertia), because of the typically low infiltration capacity of the soil. As the water slowly freezes at the soil surface it gives up latent heat and warms the soil beneath and the snow above. The resulting ice/water bath constrains the near‐surface temperature of the soil to 0°C. A simple calculation illustrates the importance of ROS on seasonal soil temperature. The latent heat given up by the freezing of 50 mm of water is 1.7 × 107 Jm−2. Calculations from a permafrost model, described below, show that typically about 25% of this energy goes to heating the underlying soil. Now assuming an overlying snowpack of 1 m [Putkonen, 1997] (representative thermal conductivity 0.3 Wm−1K−1 [Sturm et al., 1996]), and mean winter air temperature of −15°C, it takes about 33 days for the remaining amount of heat to be conducted through the snowpack, during which time the soil surface temperature must remain at 0°C.
  5. Eisenman, Ian, Norbert Untersteiner, and J. S. Wettlaufer. “On the reliability of simulated Arctic sea ice in global climate models.” Geophysical Research Letters 34.10 (2007).  While most of the global climate models (GCMs) currently being evaluated for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report simulate present‐day Arctic sea ice in reasonably good agreement with observations, the intermodel differences in simulated Arctic cloud cover are large and produce significant differences in downwelling longwave radiation. Using the standard thermodynamic models of sea ice, we find that the GCM‐generated spread in longwave radiation produces equilibrium ice thicknesses that range from 1 to more than 10 meters. However, equilibrium ice thickness is an extremely sensitive function of the ice albedo, allowing errors in simulated cloud cover to be compensated by tuning of the ice albedo. This analysis suggests that the results of current GCMs cannot be relied upon at face value for credible predictions of future Arctic sea ice.
  6. Stempniewicz, Lech, Katarzyna Błachowiak-Samołyk, and Jan M. Węsławski. “Impact of climate change on zooplankton communities, seabird populations and arctic terrestrial ecosystem—a scenario.” Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 54.23-26 (2007): 2934-2945.  Many arctic terrestrial ecosystems suffer from a permanent deficiency of nutrients. Marine birds that forage at sea and breed on land can transport organic matter from the sea to land, and thus help to initiate and sustain terrestrial ecosystems. This organic matter initiates the emergence of local tundra communities, increasing primary and secondary production and species diversity. Climate change will influence ocean circulation and the hydrologic regime, which will consequently lead to a restructuring of zooplankton communities between cold arctic waters, with a dominance of large zooplankton species, and Atlantic waters in which small species predominate. The dominance of large zooplankton favours plankton-eating seabirds, such as the little auk (Alle alle), while the presence of small zooplankton redirects the food chain to plankton-eating fish, up through to fish-eating birds (e.g., guillemots Uria sp.). Thus, in regions where the two water masses compete for dominance, such as in the Barents Sea, plankton-eating birds should dominate the avifauna in cold periods and recess in warmer periods, when fish-eaters should prevail. Therefore under future anthropogenic climate scenarios, there could be serious consequences for the structure and functioning of the terrestrial part of arctic ecosystems, due in part to changes in the arctic marine avifauna. Large colonies of plankton-eating little auks are located on mild mountain slopes, usually a few kilometres from the shore, whereas colonies of fish-eating guillemots are situated on rocky cliffs at the coast. The impact of guillemots on the terrestrial ecosystems is therefore much smaller than for little auks because of the rapid washing-out to sea of the guano deposited on the seabird cliffs. These characteristics of seabird nesting sites dramatically limit the range of occurrence of ornithogenic soils, and the accompanying flora and fauna, to locations where talus-breeding species occur. As a result of climate warming favoring the increase of ichthyiofagous cliff-nesting seabirds, we can expect that large areas of ornithogenic tundra around the colonies of plankton-eating seabirds situated far from the sea may disappear, while areas of tundra in the vicinity of cliffs inhabited by fish-eating seabirds, with low total production and supporting few large herbivores, will likely increase, but only imperceptibly. This may lead to habitat fragmentation with negative consequences for populations of tundra-dependent birds and mammals, and the possibility of a substantial decrease in biodiversity of tundra plant and animal communities
  7. Alsos, Inger Greve, et al. “Frequent long-distance plant colonization in the changing Arctic.” Science 316.5831 (2007): 1606-1609.  The ability of species to track their ecological niche after climate change is a major source of uncertainty in predicting their future distribution. By analyzing DNA fingerprinting (amplified fragment-length polymorphism) of nine plant species, we show that long-distance colonization of a remote arctic archipelago, Svalbard, has occurred repeatedly and from several source regions. Propagules are likely carried by wind and drifting sea ice. The genetic effect of restricted colonization was strongly correlated with the temperature requirements of the species, indicating that establishment limits distribution more than dispersal. Thus, it may be appropriate to assume unlimited dispersal when predicting long-term range shifts in the Arctic.
  8. Coulson, Stephen James. “Terrestrial and freshwater invertebrate fauna of the High Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.” Zootaxa 1448.1 (2007): 41-68. An overview of the terrestrial and freshwater invertebrate fauna of the High Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is presented. Sixty seven additional species to the previous checklist are listed and the described terrestrial and freshwater invertebrate fauna of Svalbard now stands at 1,107 species. Species presented are cross referenced to the literature. A brief comparison with the invertebrate fauna of Greenland indicates that Svalbard may be under-represented in Hymenoptera, Hemiptera and Lepidoptera but over-represented in Collembola and Acari. However, since 82% of Svalbard primary source manuscripts originate from three locations along the west coast, there is a resulting likely bias in our knowledge of the invertebrate fauna. The west coast has a mild climate for the northerly latitude due to the influence of the West Spitsbergen Current, a northerly flowing branch of the North Atlantic Drift. The faunistically poorly known east coast is hypothesised to have a different invertebrate fauna due to the predominant winds and currents originating from the north east and hence this coast will have a different history of immigration and colonization from the west coast. The use of checklists is therefore cautioned due to possible sampling bias and omissions created by a concentration of work on popular groups and at a limited number of localities. However, this does not detract from their importance as baseline databases, especially during a period of rapid environmental change.
  9. Weslawski, Jan Marcin, Jozef Wiktor, and Lech Kotwicki. “Increase in biodiversity in the arctic rocky littoral, Sorkappland, Svalbard, after 20 years of climate warming.” Marine Biodiversity 40.2 (2010): 123-130.  Rocky littoral macroorganisms that live between the high and low water marks were sampled in the summers of 1988 and 2007–2008 in Hornsund Fjord and along the adjacent Sorkappland coast (76–77°N). The same sampling stations and methodology were used to collect the samples. Over the last 20 years, the study area has been exposed to well-documented increases in air and sea temperature, increased windiness, and marked decreases in both the duration and extent of sea ice cover. The study revealed a twofold increase in the number of species found intertidally, a threefold increase in the biomass of macrophytes, and an upward shift in algae occurrence on the coast. Subarctic boreal species occupied new areas, while arctic species retreated. There were no species new to the area in 2007–2008, and all newcomers to the intertidal zone were noted in 1988 in the sublittoral zone. The relative stability of intertidal flora and fauna after 20 years is explained by the fact that the warm Atlantic waters (the main warming agent) are distant from the Sorkappland coast. Current observations show a marked change in the coastal belt biocenosis (organism community).
  10. Stien, Audun, et al. “Icing events trigger range displacement in a high‐arctic ungulate.” Ecology 91.3 (2010): 915-920.  Abstract: Despite numerous studies of how climate change may affect life history of mammals, few have documented the direct impact of climate on behavior. The Arctic is currently warming, and rain‐on‐snow and thaw–freeze events leading to ice formation on the ground may increase both in frequency and spatial extent. This is in turn expected to be critical for the winter survival of arctic herbivores. Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus plathyrynchus) have small home ranges and may therefore be vulnerable to local “locked pasture” events (ice layers limit access to plant forage) due to ground‐ice formation. When pastures are “locked,” Svalbard reindeer are faced with the decision of staying and live off a diminishing fat store, or trying to escape beyond the unknown spatial borders of the ice. We demonstrate that Svalbard reindeer do the latter, as icing events cause an immediate increase in range displacement between 5‐day observations. Population‐level responses of previous icing events may therefore not accurately predict future responses if the spatial extent of icing increases. The impact of single events may be more severe if it exceeds the maximum movement distances, so that the spatial displacement strategy reported here no longer buffers climate effects.
  11. Węsławski, Jan Marcin, et al. “Climate change effects on Arctic fjord and coastal macrobenthic diversity—observations and predictions.” Marine Biodiversity 41.1 (2011): 71-85.  The pattern of occurrence and recent changes in the distribution of macrobenthic organisms in fjordic and coastal (nearshore) Arctic waters are reviewed and future changes are hypothesized. The biodiversity patterns observed are demonstrated to be contextual, depending on the specific region of the Arctic or habitat type. Two major areas of biotic advection are indicated (the North Atlantic Current along Scandinavia to Svalbard and the Bering Strait area) where larvae and adult animals are transported from the species-rich sub-Arctic areas to species-poor Arctic areas. In those Arctic areas, increased temperature associated with increased advection in recent decades brings more boreal-subarctic species, increasing the local biodiversity when local cold-water species may be suppressed. Two other large coastal areas are little influenced by advected waters; the Siberian shores and the coasts of the Canadian Archipelago. There, local Arctic fauna are exposed to increasing ocean temperature, decreasing salinity and a reduction in ice cover with unpredictable effect for biodiversity. One the one hand, benthic species in Arctic fjords are exposed to increased siltation (from glacial meltwater) and salinity decreases, which together may lead to habitat homogenization and a subsequent decrease in biodiversity. On the other hand, the innermost basins of Arctic fjords are able to maintain pockets of very cold, dense, saline water and thus may act as refugia for cold-water species.
  12. Derocher, A. E., et al. “Sea ice and polar bear den ecology at Hopen Island, Svalbard.” Marine Ecology Progress Series 441 (2011): 273-279.  The maternity denning of polar bears Ursus maritimus was studied at Hopen Island, Svalbard, Norway, using information collected by direct observation and live-capture of females and cubs during den emergence in spring of 1994 to 2008. The number of maternity dens observed annually varied from 0 to 36. The arrival of sea ice at Hopen Island in autumn shifted from late October to mid-December during the period 1979 to 2010. Fewer maternity dens were found on Hopen Island in years when sea ice arrived later in the autumn. There were no significant differences in body mass or litter size between female polar bears denning on Hopen Island and females caught elsewhere in Svalbard; however, females denning on Hopen Island were significantly younger than females denning elsewhere in Svalbard. Later arrival of sea ice in the autumn at Hopen Island was correlated with lower body mass of adult females and their cubs at emergence. The timing of arrival and departure of sea ice is highly variable but a trend of later arrival in autumn may be affecting the denning ecology of polar bears at the southern extent of their range in Svalbard.
  13. Metcalfe, Daniel B., et al. “Patchy field sampling biases understanding of climate change impacts across the Arctic.” Nature ecology & evolution 2.9 (2018): 1443.  Effective societal responses to rapid climate change in the Arctic rely on an accurate representation of region-specific ecosystem properties and processes. However, this is limited by the scarcity and patchy distribution of field measurements. Here, we use a comprehensive, geo-referenced database of primary field measurements in 1,840 published studies across the Arctic to identify statistically significant spatial biases in field sampling and study citation across this globally important region. We find that 31% of all study citations are derived from sites located within 50 km of just two research sites: Toolik Lake in the USA and Abisko in Sweden. Furthermore, relatively colder, more rapidly warming and sparsely vegetated sites are under-sampled and under-recognized in terms of citations, particularly among microbiology-related studies. The poorly sampled and cited areas, mainly in the Canadian high-Arctic archipelago and the Arctic coastline of Russia, constitute a large fraction of the Arctic ice-free land area. Our results suggest that the current pattern of sampling and citation may bias the scientific consensuses that underpin attempts to accurately predict and effectively mitigate climate change in the region. Further work is required to increase both the quality and quantity of sampling, and incorporate existing literature from poorly cited areas to generate a more representative picture of Arctic climate change and its environmental impacts.
  14. Descamps, Sébastien, et al. “Climate change impacts on wildlife in a High Arctic archipelago–Svalbard, Norway.” Global Change Biology 23.2 (2017): 490-502.  Abstract: The Arctic is warming more rapidly than other region on the planet, and the northern Barents Sea, including the Svalbard Archipelago, is experiencing the fastest temperature increases within the circumpolar Arctic, along with the highest rate of sea ice loss. These physical changes are affecting a broad array of resident Arctic organisms as well as some migrants that occupy the region seasonally. Herein, evidence of climate change impacts on terrestrial and marine wildlife in Svalbard is reviewed, with a focus on bird and mammal species. In the terrestrial ecosystem, increased winter air temperatures and concomitant increases in the frequency of ‘rain‐on‐snow’ events are one of the most important facets of climate change with respect to impacts on flora and fauna. Winter rain creates ice that blocks access to food for herbivores and synchronizes the population dynamics of the herbivore–predator guild. In the marine ecosystem, increases in sea temperature and reductions in sea ice are influencing the entire food web. These changes are affecting the foraging and breeding ecology of most marine birds and mammals and are associated with an increase in abundance of several temperate fish, seabird and marine mammal species. Our review indicates that even though a few species are benefiting from a warming climate, most Arctic endemic species in Svalbard are experiencing negative consequences induced by the warming environment. Our review emphasizes the tight relationships between the marine and terrestrial ecosystems in this High Arctic archipelago. Detecting changes in trophic relationships within and between these ecosystems requires long‐term (multidecadal) demographic, population‐ and ecosystem‐based monitoring, the results of which are necessary to set appropriate conservation priorities in relation to climate warming. Extract: Climate projections of the Svalbard Region indicate a future warming rate up to year 2100 that is three times stronger than that observed during the last 100 years (Førland et al., 2012). Winters are getting warmer (Førland et al., 2012; Hansen et al., 2014; Nordli et al., 2014), which is having significant impacts on the biodiversity, structure and functioning of Arctic terrestrial ecosystems (Ims & Fuglei, 2005; Hansen et al., 2013; Cooper, 2014).The average mid‐winter air temperature in the Longyearbyen area (West Spitsbergen, 78°15′N, 15°30′E) at the end of this century is projected to be around 10°C higher than at present (Førland et al., 2012; Hansen et al., 2014); air temperature data from other weather stations in Svalbard show a similar rate of warming (Fig. 2). Projections for precipitation indicate a continued increase up to the year 2100 (Førland et al., 2012). However, data on precipitation are not very reliable due to the difficulties in measuring solid forms of precipitation (Førland & Hanssen‐Bauer, 2000). In general, there has been a decrease throughout the Arctic in the maximum winter snow water equivalent depth and the snow cover duration (Liston & Hiemstra, 2011). Data on snowfall in Svalbard are relatively sparse, but the longest time series available suggests that snow cover duration and spring snow depth have significantly decreased in recent decades (Fig. 3). Snow measurements are influenced by many factors (Cooper, 2014) that vary across spatial scales, and the decrease in the seasonal duration of snow cover and snow depth observed in the Longyearbyen area (Fig. 3) may not necessarily represent other areas in Svalbard.














17 Responses to "Svalbard: Climate Change Canary in the Coal Mine"

[…] That may be so but it can’t be blamed on AGW as described in three related posts [LINK] [LINK] [LINK] that describe the overlooked role of geological activity in the […]

[…] study of sea ice decline. This issue is presented in detail in three related posts on this site: [LINK]  [LINK]  […]

Just recently discovered your website. Lots of good stuff to read.
Regarding Svalbard you should have a look at this map:,76.91,1627/loc=5.435,77.855
Shows SST’s around Svalbard. Notice the hot water just west of the bay where Longyearbyen is situated, and also the airport with the weather station.
If not a fluke in the data the best explanation seems an underwater volcano. Small wonder the ice is melting near Lonyearbyen 😉

Wow. Great stuff. Thank you. I will add this info to that post.

If you click on Earth on the map you can select a data under Control.
Another hot spot was visible SE of Svalbard. It has recently disappeared.

Created a GIF spanning ~4 years of monthly SST data nicely showing the two hot areas around Svalbard:

Wow. Brilliant. Thanks. Would like to use it. With your permission of course.

Noticed the gif on your blog. Perhaps more appropriate to give credits to the developer of Earth:
I just made some 50+ screenshots and turned them into a gif 😉

Thank you. I will make that change.

Your contribution is significant.

No problem. Seems like a good recipe to create Arctic Amplification:
have an underwater volcano upwind of one of the few thermometer stations in the Arctic 😉

[…] Arctic including the Mid Arctic Rift system and the Jan Mayen Trend are described in related posts [LINK] [LINK] and in the Graphic in Figure […]

For those that don’t know: Glassiah = Glacier

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