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Home* News and Stories → More crev­as­ses on Spitsbergen’s gla­ciers

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.

By the way, my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (1): Spitz­ber­gen – vom Polar­licht bis zur Mit­ter­nachts­son­ne”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!

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last modification: 2021-01-04 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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