New climate report: Svalbard could become 10°C warmer

A large debris flow occured close to the cemetery in Longyearbyen on 15 October 2016. Professor Hanne Christiansen pictured to the left. Photo: Ole Humlum/UNIS

Top image: In October 2016 a large mud slide occurred right by the Longyearbyen cemetery. (Photo: Ole Humlum/UNIS).

In a new climate report released at UNIS last night, scientists predict that Svalbard, in a worst case scenario, could be become 10°C warmer by year 2100.

5 February 2019

The “Climate in Svalbard 2100” report, commissioned by the Norwegian Environment Agency, is written by researchers from 12 institutions, including UNIS. This report was commissioned in order to provide basic information for climate change effect studies and climate change adaptation in Svalbard. It includes descriptions of historical, as well as projections for future climate development in the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and ocean, and it includes effects on the physical nature, e.g. risks associated with landslides and avalanches.

From UNIS, professors Hanne H. Christiansen (permafrost) and Frank Nilsen (ocean and sea ice), together with associate professor Chris Borstad (glaciers), have contributed to the report.

Main findings
Under medium to high scenarios for future climate gas emissions, the following changes are projected for Svalbard from 1971–2000 to 2071–2100:

  • Increased annual air temperature (ensemble median about 10 ºC for high and 7 ºC for medium emissions)
  • Increased annual precipitation (ensemble median about 65% for high and 45% for medium emissions)
  • Events with heavy rainfall will be more intense and occur more frequently
  • River flow will increase, but the magnitude will strongly depend on the precipitation and temperature increase and contribution of glacier meltwater
  • In regions where the maximum annual snow storage will decrease, snowmelt floods will become smaller
  • Increased precipitation, and increasing fraction as rain, will lead to increased rain-floods and increased combined snowmelt-, glacier melt- and rain-floods
  • The snow season will become shorter
  • Erosion and sediment transport will increase
  • Near-surface permafrost is projected to thaw in coastal and low altitude areas for the high emission scenario
  • Many types of avalanches and landslides will become more frequent
  • The glacier area and net mass balance will be severely reduced during the 21st century
  • The loss of glacier mass and area will change the landscape and contribute to global sea-level rise
  • Because of large land uplift and reduced gravitational pull, the mean sea level around Spitsbergen will probably decrease

A climate projection for the ocean areas (for medium emissions) gives from 2010–2019 to 2060–69:

  • An average warming of surface waters around Svalbard of about 1°C
  • A substantially decreased sea ice concentration in the northern Barents Sea

The full report is available for download here.