Assessment looks at dust in Arctic and its impacts on Svalbard

Longyearbyen, the largest settlement, and the administrative centre of Svalbard, Norway. (iStock)

An international assessment has examined dust sources for Svalbard, and it recommends conducting continuous and direct measurements to enhance understanding of the long-term effects on the archipelago’s environment.

“The evaluation says that Svalbard has been recognized as an important high latitude dust (HLD) source,” the Finnish Meteorological Institute, one of the participants in the study, said. 

“These sources are affected by permafrost thaw.”

Svalbard is an archipelago located between the Norwegian Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

The islands are part of Norway, with Spitsbergen being the largest among them. 

Long-range sources from Africa, Asia, and Eurasia

The international team conducted the study by analyzing existing measurements and modeling outcomes related to dust in Svalbard. Their primary goal was to gain a deeper understanding of both local and long-range dust sources in Svalbard and to identify areas that require further research.

Their findings revealed that the most significant sources of long-range dust originated from Africa, Asia, and Eurasia.

In contrast, Iceland, North America, and Greenland contributed the least amount of dust.

A file photo of the town of Ny-Aalesund on the Svalbard archipelago in Arctic Norway. (Gwladys Fouche/Reuters)

“The cryosphere is an important part of the climate system and small changes in surface properties can have large radiative impacts,” the paper said.

“Dust deposition has a great effect on the cryosphere because it lowers the surface albedo and therefore influences the surface energy balance and melt rates.”

Recommendations for future study:
  • Identify and describe new dust sources in Svalbard
  • Improve dust monitoring in Svalbard
  • Learn more about local and long-range dust movement
  • Make a list of where dust comes from
  • Understand how dust and black carbon affect snow and ice

Source: Dust in Svalbard: local sources versus long-range transported dust (SVALDUST)

Climate change is making it more important than ever to understand how the particles move around the world, and their impacts on polar regions, the researchers said.

“Dust loading in the atmosphere has increased by 25-100% since pre-industrial time,” the report said.

“There is an estimated two billion tonnes of dust travelling in the atmosphere every year, and double this mass if sand and giant particles are included. Changes in the emission of high latitude dust (HLD) have not yet been estimated, but first estimates are that HLD contributes about 5 per cent to global dust emissions.”

The assessment was published in 2023 as part of the Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System (SESS) annual report 2022.

The complete assessment can be read here.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Finland: Better wildfire & agriculture management among recommendations from Arctic Council black carbon expert group, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Melting permafrost may release industrial pollutants at Arctic sites: study, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.
Netiquette »

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *