Well, “bad times” is clearly a very relative description of life in Longyearbyen. We are having a good life. No bombs are falling from the sky. Just rain. But, hey … rain! In March! And far too much, and a large proportion of the white beauty around is is just melted and flown away during the last couple of days.
A strong low pressure system further south in the north Atlantic has pumped a lot of warm air up north. This warm air incursion brings wind, rain and melting temperatures. Far more of all of these than we actually appreciate.
Our little world up here is melting.
Longyearbyen: rain and meltwater turn streets into little lakes.
This was at least our impression for several days, wherever you turned the eye. Water was falling down from the sky, water turned the snow grey, then dark and finally into water, creating lakes on flat tundra areas. Water broke through the snow in rivers that should remain frozen for several months still.
Rubber boots were the best choice for a little walk. It happens quickly that you make one wrong step and your foot disappears in a deep hole of slush, a very cold and unpleasant mixture of snow and meltwater. On the other hand, it can be slippery and smooth as glass just a step further. It is very popular in Norway to use spikes. A great invention, they have certainly saved many people from broken legs and what not.
Drainages had to be created in many places to prevent the rivers from flooding.
Normal routine in May and June, but very uncommon in March.
For anything further away, any tours out into the arctic winterwonderland of Spitsbergen in the late winter: it is pretty much the only reasonable option to wait until Spitsbergen actually is a winterwonderland again. It wasn’t for days on end, and it still isn’t at the time of writing. Winter will beyond any doubt return. It is not gone, it is just taking a break. It will be colder again, the rivers will freeze again, lakes will turn into ice.
The question is if we get enough snow again to tour reasonably out there in the wild, filling the many dark gaps where the tundra is now free of snow. Let’s hope so, in the interest of all who are coming up here with dreams of the arctic winter. There are many of them in March and April.
Snow mobile routes have turned into slushy snow swamps and lakes. If you drive here, you risk getting stuck and damaging the vegetation under the slush.
Until the snow melt comes in May and finishes this wintern for good.
It is, for good reason, not allowed to drive on natural ground unless it is frozen AND snow-covered. There are those who take a liberal approach to this rule at the end of the season or during warm weather spells, to put it mildly – although it is legally binding. The result looks like this and it will take many years without further disturbance to for the vegetation to recover (Adventdalen, next to the road. Picture taken in june 2019).
The question will inevitably come up: is this now weather or climate change? My short answer: it has aspects of both. Weather and climate are hard to separate when it comes to any given meteorological event. Both are just different perspectives, different time scales, for pretty much the same collection of phenomena which altogether describe the atmosphere, especially its lower layers (that’s where we usually are). Such as temperature, precipitation, wind, air pressure and humidity, to name some of the most important ones. Weather is what you can see, feel and measure here and now. If you collect the same data over many years and turn them into averages and other statistical values, then you take the climate perspective.
So, in this given case, it is hard to say if it would have happend without climate change. Science has made important advances in recent years regarding such questions, so it would be interesting to hear an expert’s opinion or even see the results of scientific modelling of this week’s warm air incursion in Spitsbergen.
All I can do here is try to come up with some more or less educated guessing. The tendencies that climate change create for this part of the Arctic appear to be pretty clear: more frequent weather changes, more strong wind, more precipitation, especially more rain in the winter.
There are those who will say now that winter rain was not completely unheard of 100 years ago, and yes, that is true. But both the frequency and the intensity of these events are increasing now, and current climate change makes an important contribution to this development, or rather: the decisive one.
So, chances are that we would not have had this week’s warm air incursion up here without climate change, or at least that it would have been much less intense. We have had days of rain and temperatures up to around 5 degrees centigrade – above freezing! In March! I still can’t really believe it.
Also locals who have seen many Spitsbergen winters watch the weather with astonisment and very little amusement these days. And those who came up exactly this week to enjoy the arctic winterwonderland – well, what can I say. My pity is with them.
Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.
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 (3): Die Bäreninsel und Jan Mayen”, with German text Click here for further details!
Lofoten, Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen from the air - Photobook: Norway's arctic islands. The text in this book is German, but there is very little text, so I am sure that you will enjoy it regardless which languages you read (or not).
The companion book for the Svalbardhytter poster. The poster visualises the diversity of Spitsbergen‘s huts and their stories in a range of Arctic landscapes. The book tells the stories of the huts in three languages.
Comprehensive guidebook about Spitsbergen. Background (wildlife, plants, geology, history etc.), practical information including travelling seasons, how to travel, description of settlements, routes and regions.
Join an exciting journey with dog, skis and tent through the wintery wastes of East Greenland! We were five guys and a dog when we started in Ittoqqortoormiit, the northernmost one of two settlements on Greenland’s east coast.
12 postcards which come in a beautifully designed tray. Beautiful images from South Georgia across Antarctica from the Antarctic Peninsula to the Ross Sea and up to Macquarie Island and Campbell Island.