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Vulnerable to Climate Change – Longyearbyen, Norway

From heatwaves to hurricanes, floods to famine: seven climate change hotspots

Global warming will not affect everyone equally. Here we look at seven key regions to see how each is tackling the consequences of climate change, Guardian, John Vidal, 23 June 17 “….

Longyearbyen, Norway

The temperature in Longyearbyen on the Svalbard archipelago about 650 miles from the North Pole, averaged about –4C in April. If that sounds cold, consider that it was nearly 8C warmer than the 30-year average for the time of year, and that April was no outlier. The average temperature for the whole of 2016 in Longyearbyen was near freezing. Usually it is –10C.

Thawing Arctic is turning oceans into graveyards

“No region on the planet is experiencing more dramatic climate change than the Arctic,” says Kim Holmén, international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, who has lived on and off in Svalbard for 30 years. Although he is unsure precisely why temperatures are rising so fast there, he says, “make no mistake, there has never been a run of temperatures like this ever recorded.”

Holmén works at the Zeppelin research station at Ny-Ålesund, where 11 countries study climate change, air quality and ice. “Water temperatures on Svalbard have increased 10C or more in my time here,” he says. The fjord, which used to be covered with ice one-metre thick in winter, no longer freezes over. “We see temperatures changing, snow melting earlier, new species of fish. We are seeing big unexpected changes.”

Longyearbyen, home to some 2,100 people, is on borrowed time, Holmén says. “There have been two avalanches there in the last year, both defined as 1,000-year events. These are the types of events we expect to see increasing. A whole part of Longyearbyen may have to be abandoned.

The remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard brings a relatively warm stream of water from the south into the fjords and inlets which moderates the climate enough that coastal areas witness an explosion of green in the summer. In contrast, a cool ocean current keeps the eastern coasts cold and snowy even during the summer.“The changes taking place now will influence [many other places]. The global climate is clearly influenced by the Arctic. There will be ramifications everywhere. We already see more precipitation in northern Scandinavia and low pressure weather systems taking a more northerly route.”

Holmén is backed by Julienne Stroeve, professor of polar observation at University College London. I first met her in 2012 on a Greenpeace ship which steamed north from Longyearbyen to within 300 miles of the pole across a sea that would normally be iced over. She spoke from Cambridge Bay in the Canadian high Arctic.

“2017 is already setting records,” she says. “There was a record low [ice cover] for March this year, so that makes six months in a row with record [or near record] low ice conditions. There are many ways the Arctic is changing. You see it in melt season starting earlier than it used to and taking longer to freeze up, in the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the Arctic glaciers, the warming of permafrost temperatures, in increased coastal erosion, the northward migration of the tree line and species, and in how local communities can no longer keep their food in the ground because the thaw increased.”

Could a £400bn plan to refreeze the Arctic before the ice melts really work?

Both Stroeve and Holmén are by nature cautious scientists, not given to dramatic statements. But both say they are astonished, even scared, by the speed at which the Arctic changes are happening.

“Given our current emission rates of 35 to 40 gigatons [of carbon dioxide] per year we should see ice-free conditions in September in about 20 years,” says Stroeve.

Longyearbyen residents are getting used to more extreme weather and coming to terms with what it means for them. The town has created a new risk assessment map and an avalanche warning system. Some parts of the town may be deemed unsafe and will have to be moved. Others may be protected by snow fences or walls.

“What is happening here is a very obvious case of climate change with consequences for animals, plants and humans,” says Holmén. It is happening across the Arctic much faster than we thought possible, and I expect now to see an ice-free Arctic in 20 or so years.”….https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/23/from-heatwaves-to-hurricanes-floods-to-famine-seven-climate-change-hotspots?CMP=share_btn_tw

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June 24, 2017 - Posted by | ARCTIC, climate change

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