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Spitsbergen: what are the consequences of melting ice?

Energy Observer is becoming the first vessel in the world to join the Arctic Circle, only powered by renewable energy and hydrogen. 2,400 miles to sail from St Petersburg to Spitsbergen, an iconic destination for many reasons.

This island in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is deeply impacted by the climate change more than anywhere else on the planet. A phenomena that Energy Observer will report on during its Odyssey.

Since 2014, Antarctica has lost an area of ice equivalent to four times that of France. However, the region is not warming up. It remains the coldest place on Earth. On the other hand, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of our planet. Glaciers and sea ice are melting. In less than 20 years, the region has lost 1.6 million square kilometres of ice. And the melting of the ice pack keeps accelerating. With consequences for the local ecosystem, but also for the rest of the globe, in the short, medium and long term.

In the fjords, researchers are already finding unexpected fish species. The rise in water temperatures due to melting ice provides the region with Atlantic conditions. Cods are becoming rarer, putting seals at risk as they struggle to change their diets. White whales, on the other hand, seem to enjoy the mackerel and herring that have recently appeared in the Arctic.

A diminishing natural habitat

Polar bears suffer from habitat loss. And a period and territory of hunting that is shrinking. With the disappearance of the ice pack, the overall health of bears is deteriorating. There are fewer litters and adults are more fragile.

Humans, on the other hand, could also suffer from the disappearance of the few animal species they feed on. But perhaps, with the decrease in ice surfaces, they will see an increase in the possibilities of navigation and even transport by land. And a possible new exploitation of offshore oil and gas reserves. With the social and environmental concerns that will accompany them.

Rising water levels

More generally, it is a sea level rise of nearly 60 metres that awaits us if the threatened 30 million cubic kilometres of ice were indeed to melt. Since the beginning of the 20th century, sea levels have already risen by about 20 centimetres. Thus, Pacific islands were swallowed up. Closer to home, the Gulf of Lions coastline is facing rapid erosion.

And what researchers call polar amplification does not help the situation. Because with the decrease in snow-covered areas, darker areas or marine surfaces appear and absorb a little more of the sun’s heat. Increasing global warming.

In the video below, the melting of ice in the Arctic is quite visible, with the melting of old ice being replaced by younger and thinner ice.

Modification of ocean currents

Ocean currents could also be severely disrupted. These currents that carry cold water southward and carry tropical waters northward. As a result, the global climate could become more chaotic and extreme weather events more frequent and intense.

These effects are likely to be all the more pronounced as permafrost, the frozen ground of the Arctic, also appears to be threatened by global warming. This is a major threat because a large amount of carbon has naturally been stored there over time. Today, there is still uncertainty about the speed of its thaw. But its contribution to global warming could range from 1°C… to no less than 12°C!

Our Spitsbergen series

[Spitsbergen Objective] Ground zero of climate change

More information

Scientists shocked by Arctic permafrost thawing 70 years sooner than predicted – The Guardian

There’s Way Too Little Ice Around Svalbard Right Now – Gizmodo

Permafrost collapse is accelerating carbon release – Nature