A few days before the launch of the G7 in Biarritz, and the decision of the States not to issue a joint declaration at the end of the summit, Energy Observer, which has just achieved a historic premiere by joining the Arctic thanks to renewable energies and hydrogen, is calling for absolute emergency to act to slow down climate change. The debacle of the millenary glaciers seen in Svalbard by the team, the Ground Zero of climate change, reminds us of the urgency of a general mobilization. We must listen to the signals the planet is sending us, and to the available solutions. It is still possible to absorb the shock and react so that our world becomes Noah’s Ark instead of Titanic.
Svalbard, the Ground Zero of climate change
It is not a simple formula, but a definition. More than anywhere else on the planet, Svalbard is a true global climate barometer. Subjected to all sea and air currents, there are impressive temperature variations, sometimes reaching 30 degrees Celsius in 24 hours. Scientists call these phenomena Arctic or Polar Amplification, which has been particularly sensitive for about ten years: Spitsbergen overreacts to all climatic factors, and its temperature increases 2 to 3 times faster than elsewhere.
Dozens of researchers and scientists work there every day trying to understand and measure the jolts of our climate. Among them, Heidi Sevestre has accompanied the crew with her expertise as a doctor of glaciology to enable them to give concrete testimony to the colossal stakes of these phenomena.
Paradoxically, Svalbard has always been a land of energy extraction, from whale oil to coal mines, and tomorrow Arctic hydrocarbons. The latter arouse the lusts of the major powers, from China (the leading icebreaker manufacturer today…) to Russia (still present in Spitsbergen) to the USA (with declared Arctic ambitions) or Canada, which are preparing to exploit the melting ice to drill and extract ever more fossil fuels. This is now an obvious disaster, while it is now essential to invest massively in renewable energies. Svalbard has all the cards in hands to switch to this type of energy: wind, water, mountains and even a lot of light in summer…
Glaciers, fragile sources of life for humanity
They cover 60% of the surface of Svalbard, and are very sensitive to any climatic variation. Their mass is collapsing with known consequences such as rising sea levels, but also the loss of their solar reflection and data stored in the ice for thousands of years. But the glaciologist also allowed the crew of Energy Observer to observe other less well-known phenomena.
All glaciers are in motion and erode rocks like sandpaper, bringing significant sediment to the fjords year-round when the ice dissolves. “We have realized that these inputs are fundamental because they are the basis of the food chain, in waters that are otherwise relatively low in nutrients. The acceleration of glacier melting therefore feeds phytoplankton more in the short term, but if these glaciers are depleted, all marine biodiversity will be depleted. “explains Heidi, who also took the crew there to see the “Surge” phenomena. This Anglo-Saxon term defines the phenomenal acceleration of some glaciers such as that of “Basin 3”, northeast of Spitsbergen, which has lost as much mass as the other 1600 of the archipelago and is now moving 25 meters a day! This phenomenon concerns all tidal glaciers, those that merge into the sea. As a result of rising sea temperatures, their base melts faster and their final slope increases, creating impressive crevasses. The latter capture rainwater and meltwater and direct it directly under the glacier, which causes lubrication and therefore a spectacular acceleration of the sliding speed, which itself increases the size of the crevasses… A vicious circle that reminds us of the irreversible temperature thresholds, and overall the unprecedented urgency of the situation.
Let us just remember that one or two degrees more make us touch these values, which would release the methane from the permafrost with the equivalent of 130 to 160 Gigatons of CO2. Enough to destroy all living species…
The glaciologist also provided her analyses on the crucial importance of so-called tropical glaciers, including those of the Andes, because the closer we get to the equator, the more immediate their impact is. 70% of the world’s fresh water comes from snow and glaciers, so understanding their current behavior is vital.
“Our existence is intimately linked to that of glaciers, and we too often ignore it,” says Jérôme Delafosse, Expedition leader of Energy Observer after these days exploring those of Spitsbergen and the Svalbard archipelago with Heidi Sevestre.
Heidi and Jérôme conclude together: “The climate has always changed, that’s not the problem. What strikes us now is the speed. If species have been able to adapt over millennia of change, will they be able to do so over a decade? But the human being has a conscience, and it is essential not to give up, we must keep hope, we have the resources and technologies, as Energy Observer demonstrates. But if we are all to act on a daily basis, if every action counts and if we are to implement the necessary innovations, it is urgent that political decision-makers take the decisions to cushion an inevitable global shock!“
Polar expeditions have historically been major consumers of fossil energy, from Sir Shackleton, whose Nimrod was followed by another ship filled with coal, to modern sailboats with overflowing diesel holds. Slipping silently and safely at the foot of the Arctic glaciers without accelerating their melting was an ambitious goal for Energy Observer’s engineers and sailors. “They didn’t know it was impossible, so they did,” Mark Twain would comment.
Victorien Erussard, Captain and founder of Energy Observer: “We are a floating laboratory: this navigation to Svalbard with extremely cold water and temperatures has allowed us to test everything, from storage to ENR production. A real race against fossil fuels, which we could not failed. In the heart of the Arctic, the energy mix has proven to be particularly efficient and shows us its full potential also on land. It is thus possible to move differently today. We hope to contribute on our own scale to accelerating the deployment of ENR and green hydrogen, which are key elements in addressing climate change and our future energy needs.”
Energy Observer therefore continues its intensive and demanding mission as a clean tech laboratory to accelerate the energy transition, one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. As a bearer of concrete and positive solutions, his journey in the Arctic also brings him face to face with alarming observations, and his mission as ambassador for the Sustainable Development Goals requires him to testify to an absolute and indisputable urgency. Because on the eve of the G7, we must realize that today’s decisions will impact the planet for centuries to come.