Global warming linked to record melting ice on Svalbard glaciers

The Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, located northeast of Greenland, is experiencing a record melt season linked to human-caused global warming, scientists told Axios.

Why is this important: Meltwater pours into the Atlantic Ocean, where it helps raise sea levels. This year’s rapid melt demonstrates Svalbard’s status as one of the fastest warming places in the world. northern hemisphere, at about three times the rate of lower latitudes.

Enlarge: According to Xavier Fettweis, professor of geography at the University of Liège, the average runoff of meltwater is 42.6 billion tonnes in 2022, i.e. 3.5 times more than the average and 1.4 times more than the previous one. record set in 2018.

  • Svalbard set a record on July 17 for its highest recorded melt volume, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
  • This was due to a push of relatively mild air well north of Scandinavia and was also linked to a melt pulse in northern Greenland.
  • Fettweis said the snowmelt runoff anomaly is five times greater than the year-to-year variability over the period 1981-2010, which he says is “statistically unlikely.”
  • “Only climate change can explain this,” he said by email.

The context: Unlike glaciers that end in floating ice shelves, most Svalbard glaciers do not melt at the base, but rather from top to bottom. An early snowmelt this year has helped prepare ice surfaces for melting, Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado Boulder told Axios in an email.

According to Scambos, temperatures in Svalbard have been around 2-3°C above average since May, which is an unusually long period.

  • “May washed away much of the fresh snow, exposing glacier ice and older snow to warm air and seasonal sunlight more readily than usual,” Scambos said. This in turn allowed for faster ice loss.
  • Fettweis pointed to suspended sediment in waters near Svalbard seen in satellite photos as an indication that melting is now occurring at the base of glaciers.
  • “This could increase the discharge of icebergs in the next few years, accelerating mass loss from Svalbard due to global warming,” Fettweis said.

Yes, but: While the melting of the Greenland ice sheet is the biggest annual contributor to sea level rise, the melting seen in Svalbard this year is another harbinger of the consequences of rapid global warming.

  • Although this does not cause an immediate and obvious rise in sea level, any additional contribution of fresh water to the ocean from Svalbard or other land ice contributes to the increasing damage caused by sea level rise. of the sea.
  • This includes the phenomenon of increasingly frequent tidal flooding, also known as “sunny day“, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said was a growing phenomenon along the U.S. coast on Tuesday.

Teresa H. Sadler