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Daily Archives: 4. January 2021 − News & Stories


More crev­as­ses on Spitsbergen’s gla­ciers

First of all: hap­py new year!

Many of Spitsbergen’s gla­ciers have “always” had a lot of cre­va­ses, while others are con­side­red good traf­fic ways for tho­se moving around in the arc­tic wil­der­ness. This is – was? – the case espe­ci­al­ly for many of Spitsbergen’s smal­ler gla­ciers that ter­mi­na­te with a gent­le slo­pe on land, rather than with a cal­ving front at sea level. The smal­ler ones, ending on land, usual­ly move more slow­ly, which crea­tes less stress in the ice and hence fewer crev­as­ses.

More crev­as­ses on clas­si­cal “tou­ring gla­ciers”

This has appear­ent­ly chan­ged for at least a num­ber of gla­ciers, as the Sys­sel­man­nen estab­lished during a heli­c­op­ter inspec­tion of fre­quent­ly tra­vel­led gla­ciers in Nor­dens­ki­öld Land in Octo­ber 2020. It tur­ned out that some of the­se gla­ciers had signi­fi­cant­ly more crev­as­ses than they used to have in the past.

Glacier tour

Many of Spitsbergen’s gla­cier have been thought to have few crev­as­ses only, which made them com­pa­ra­tively easy tou­ring ter­rain …

Ano­ther fac­tor rele­vant for safe­ty on gla­ciers is snow, which can build up snow bridges over crev­as­ses. Such bridges are fine when they are strong and safe, but they can be very dan­ge­rous traps if they are too thin to be strong enough, but thick enough to hide the crev­as­se. The sum­mer of 2020 was at times extre­me­ly warm and has mel­ted a lot of snow also on the hig­her parts of the gla­ciers. Snow bridges have build up again from zero.

Safe­ty and respon­si­bi­li­ty

Ever­y­bo­dy who is out in the field in arc­tic ter­rain, be it with snow mobi­le, hiking, ski­ing, dog sledge, … should be careful and take ade­qua­te safe­ty mea­su­res, espe­ci­al­ly in gla­cia­ted ter­rain. That has always been true and now this seems to be more rele­vant than befo­re at least on some of Spitsbergen’s fre­quent­ly tra­vel­led gla­ciers, and most likely also on other ones. In the press release, the Sys­sel­man­nen made it very clear that anyo­ne who is on tour is him-/hers­elf respon­si­ble for his/her own safe­ty. Just in case anyo­ne nee­ded a remin­der.

Crevasses

… but this has chan­ged for at least some of them. Crev­as­ses like the ones seen here are life dan­ge­rous, espe­ci­al­ly when they are hid­den under snow.

The Sys­sel­man­nen has published a pdf with pho­tos and maps that show some of the gla­ciers and crev­as­se fields in ques­ti­on.

The reasons are not yet sci­en­ti­fi­cal­ly estab­lished. It would be natu­ral to assu­me that the velo­ci­ty of shrin­king gla­ciers is decre­asing rather than the oppo­si­te. For a bit of spe­cu­la­ti­on, it may appear reasonable to think that the extra melt­wa­ter sup­p­ly during the warm sum­mer of 2020 has decreased the inter­nal fric­tion of the gla­ciers, which may lead to grea­ter speed and thus grea­ter mecha­ni­cal stress, hence more crev­as­ses.

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