Arctic warming brings big change to Svalbard fjord

For years, Kongsfjorden has been a key site for Arctic research. Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer
Kongsfjorden at Svalbard used to be covered by a metre-thick ice in winter. Now it is ice-free.

Marine environment is undergoing rapid change, researchers say after ten years of comprehensive studies in the area.

All life in Kongsfjorden is challenged by the higher temperatures, the researchers say. They have now published a series of articles about their findings in the journal Polar Biology.

The research shows that several organisms in the fjord are no longer able to reproduce as before, and that there is a danger of new organisms and species moving in from the North Atlantic, the Norwegian Polar Institute says in a press release.

For years, Kongsfjorden has been a key site for Arctic research. The rare mix of Arctic and Atlantic sea water, which comes into the fjord and meets with fresh water from rivers, and ice from glaciers make it natural laboratory.

The fjord can be called a climate indicator, which takes the pulse on the bigger climatic drivers in Arctic marine environment, the Polar Institute says.

“The warming of the Arctic is going with full steam and will be more extreme in the years to come,” says Haakon Hop, senior researcher at the Polar Institute.

“Changes in lower trophic level will have consequences higher in the food change to fish, sea birds and marine mammals, of which there today are big populations at Svalbard,” he adds.

“We already see that the kelp forests are growing at shallow waters, which gives favorable living conditions for seabed animals like sea urchins, snails and starfish.”

The weather in Svalbard has long shown clear signs of imbalance. Temperature data from 2016, show that all 12 months of the year were far warmer than normal. While there used to be up to a metre-thick ice in Kongsfjorden in winter, the fjord is now completely ice-free.

Researchers from 14 countries have contributed to the new publications in Polar Biology.

“The results which are displayed in the articles are unique and contribute to bringing research at Ny-Ålesund to new levels,” says Christina A. Pedersen, research coordinator at Ny-Ålesund.

Situated at 78° north on the west coast of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, Ny-Ålesund has since the mid-1960s formed a sprawling research community.

A total of ten countries now operate research stations on site, and the permanent round-the-year population counts 35 persons. In summer, the number of researchers on site grows to almost 200, Kings Bay, the company owns and operates the community, informs.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Is climate change making the muskoxen sick on Victoria Island?, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark: Reinstilling pride in the Inuit seal hunt, Eye on the Arctic

Finland:  Indigenous rights under fire says Finnish Saami leader, Yle News

Greenland:  The changing sea ice & what it means for Inuit, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland:  Feature Interview – Hunting culture under stress in Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Norway:  Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge can help us prevent climate changes says Ban Ki-moon, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Anthrax outbreak in Arctic Russia could be just the beginning: scientist, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden:  Bear hunt quota worries reindeer herders in Sweden’s Arctic, Radio Sweden

United States:  Slowing Arctic warming called the only hope for polar bears in the long term, Alaska Dispatch News

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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