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Svalbard: climate and weather

Light and clouds in Van Mijenfjord

Light and clouds in Van Mijen­fjord.

Click here for today’s wea­ther in Spits­ber­gen, Jan May­en and East Green­land.

Spitsbergen’s cli­ma­te is influ­en­ced by two ocea­nic cur­r­ents: the West Spits­ber­gen Cur­rent is the nort­hern­most sur­face branch of the gulf stream, brin­ging rela­tively mild water to Spitsbergen’s west and north coasts and giving the­se are­as a mil­der cli­ma­te with less drift ice. The East Spits­ber­gen Cur­rent, in con­trast, brings col­der water mas­ses with a lot of drift ice from the Arc­tic Oce­an in the north pole basin, making the eas­tern parts of the archi­pe­la­go a bit col­der in cli­ma­te, with much hea­vier ice con­di­ti­ons.

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

The average annu­al tem­pe­ra­tu­re in Isfjord is -7,5°C (refe­rence peri­od: 1960-1990). This is warm con­si­de­ring the lati­tu­de of 78°N, a con­se­quence of the influ­ence of the West Spits­ber­gen Cur­rent (Gulf stream). The cli­ma­te is accord­in­gly high arc­tic with a strong mari­ti­me com­po­nent. July is the war­mest mon­th with 5°C, the tem­pe­ra­tu­re fluc­tua­tions in sum­mer are mode­ra­te. Tem­pe­ra­tures below free­zing are rare bet­ween late June and ear­ly August, and more than 10°C are like­wi­se excep­tio­nal. Wind and clouds are very important for how one actual­ly expe­ri­en­ces the tem­pe­ra­tu­re. The­re are tho­se rare sum­mer days when you can enjoy sit­ting in the sun in a T-shirt.

Sunny day in Krossfjord

Gla­cier hike on a sun­ny sum­mer day.

Febru­a­ry is the col­dest mon­th with almost -15°C tem­pe­ra­tu­re average (again, the refe­rence peri­od is 1960-1990). In win­ter, tem­pe­ra­tu­re fluc­tua­tions are more pro­noun­ced, you have to expect tem­pe­ra­tures down to -30°C, occa­sio­nal­ly even col­der, as well as warm wea­ther spells with thawing tem­pe­ra­tures and rain even in the polar night.

Cold on Newtontoppen

On New­ton­top­pen, Spitsbergen’s hig­hest moun­tain, with tem­pe­ra­tures below -30°C.

Fog is com­mon becau­se of the dif­fe­rent air and water mas­ses mee­ting and mixing in the Bar­ents Sea. In Lon­gye­ar­by­en (air­port), the meteo­ro­lo­gists record 13 fog days per year on average, fog being defi­ned as a visi­bi­li­ty of less than 1 km. On Bjørnøya (Bear Island), the cor­re­spon­ding num­ber is an impres­si­ve 64.

Fog in Wahlenbergfjord

Fog in Wahlen­bergfjord, Nord­aus­t­land. In this case, the sun mana­ged to break through the fog lay­er.

Pre­ci­pi­ta­ti­on is gene­ral­ly low, with just under 200 mm/year in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (air­port) and 400 mm on the west coast (Ny Åle­sund). This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t rain. It just means the rain­drops are smal­ler than else­whe­re. You will get wet any­way. A lot of it is, of cour­se, fal­ling as snow.

Rainbow in Van Keulenfjord

Rain­bow in Bellsund. A rain sho­wer can have its beau­ti­ful sides.

The wind is chan­ging con­stant­ly in time and in space. Wha­te­ver wind you have got whe­re you are, it may be com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent in the next val­ley or fjord or wit­hin half an hour. Spits­ber­gen is not as win­dy as Ice­land, Scot­land or the Falk­land Islands or South Geor­gia. In sum­mer, calm days are more com­mon than strong winds, but a low pres­su­re may always move through, brin­ging 1-2 days of strong wind or even storm. The risk of strong winds is incre­a­sing in autum and win­ter, it is at its lowest in June and July.

Wind and snow drift, Krossfjord

Strong wind and snow drift at Lloyd’s Hotel in Krossfjord.

By now it should real­ly be com­mon know­ledge that cli­ma­te chan­ge is an ongo­ing deve­lo­p­ment and not an obscu­re pre­dic­tion and it makes its­elf felt more stron­gly in the Arc­tic than in lower lati­tu­des. In Spits­ber­gen, the rise tem­pe­ra­tu­re is stron­ger than any­whe­re else in Euro­pe, the win­ter tem­pe­ra­tures have alrea­dy risen by 2 degrees. The­re is appear­ent­ly a ten­den­cy towards mil­der win­ters with more fre­quent warm air influ­ence, and wet­ter, win­dier sum­mers. The gene­ral retre­at of gla­ciers is a very evi­dent phe­no­me­non, very appa­rent to ever­y­bo­dy tra­vel­ling in Spits­ber­gen for just a cou­p­le of years. Sci­en­ti­fic data pro­vi­de solid evi­dence, for examp­le from gla­ciers near Ny Åle­sund and in Horn­sund, in the vicini­ty of sci­en­ti­fic sta­ti­ons. A more detail­ed ana­ly­sis of cli­ma­te chan­ge and its cau­ses are bey­ond the scope of this web­site. The state­ment that cli­ma­te chan­ge is a fact that we do obser­ve and expe­ri­ence in Spits­ber­gen (and else­whe­re, for that sake) and not just a pre­dic­tion will be enough here.

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last modification: 2019-10-30 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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