Positive outlook: Svalbard’s average temperature for year may be above freezing for first time ever

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It’s not quite as mind blowing as the North Pole being 20 degrees Celsius above normal this fall, but the freakish temperatures that have caused so many problems in Svalbard this year may result an annual average temperature above freezing for the first time in the archipelago’s history, scientists said Friday.

The prediction came on the same day an international report was released stating the Arctic is perched on the edge of fundamental social and environmental change as it faces 19 tipping points ranging from loss of summer sea ice to the slow creep of shrubs and trees across the tundra.

The normal yearly average at Svalbard Airport is minus 6.7 degrees Celsius, said Ketil Isaksen of the Norwegian Meterological Institute. The warmest year until now was 2006, when the average temperature was minus 1.8 degrees, but he predicts this year’s average will be about zero degrees.

“This is a little bit shocking,” Isaksen said in a prepared statement. “If you had asked me five or 10 years ago, I could not have imagined such numbers in 2016.”

“Svalbard is a very good spot to show what’s happening in the Arctic at the moment,” he said, noting that each of the past 73 months has been warmer than average.

Numerous monthly and daily heat and precipitation records were set this year, causing widespread problems for both people and wildlife. There was no sea ice in western Spitsbergen for polar bears to hunt from – which may have resulted in some encounters with humans as the animals were forced to search for food elsewhere. Expeditions hoping to reach the North Pole encountered their most disastrous year ever due to a mixture of politics and ice runways at the base camp that kept cracking.

Erosion and softening permafrost have forced some Longyearbyen residents from their homes, including 30 residents of an apartment on unstable soil permanently evacuated in February and the owner of a coastal cabin who is among several who may be forced to move the structures inland save them. The worst landslides in more than 40 years hit Longyearbyen this fall due to heavy rain beginning in July and a failure of the mountains around town to solidify below the freezing point.

“Daily average temperatures measured at Svalbard Airport over October and November have been between around five and 13 degrees Celsius above the long-term (1981-2010) average,” said Ed Blockley, manager of the Met Office Polar Climate Office, in a statement at the agency’s website. “The daily maximum and minimum temperatures recorded over November have also been higher than normal and have been close to record November highs for about half of the month so far.”

In addition, rising temperatures in the Arctic are affecting permafrost and snow cover as well as the amount of sea ice, which this year was the second-lowest on record. Isaksen said the sea ice is building up much slower than normal as winter approaches.

“There are still huge areas in the Barents Sea and Kara Sea to the east of Svalbard that are free of ice,” he said. “They should normally be ice-covered.”

Scientists assert the loss of sea ice accelerates warming because ice reflects sunlight back into space while the darker surface of the ocean absorbs most of the radiation.

Several studies show the world as a whole is on track for a new heat record this year, with the El Nino weather phenomenon adding to the underlying warming trend.

But for another group of scientists, it’s the long-term effects that are most alarming – and many are probably irreversible.

The report defining 19 climate change tipping points is based on a five-year study compiled by a team of scientists working with the Arctic Council and issued by the Stockholm Environment Institute. It states some of those tipping points – such as the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet or the end of ocean currents that govern Europe’s climate – can likely be avoided if Earth’s overall temperature increases are limited to two degrees Celsius.

But most of the threats are already appearing, according to the report. And some are likely to lead to a new normal, even if countries manage to control climate change.

“The signs of change are everywhere in the Arctic: Temperatures nearly 20 degrees Celsius above the seasonal average are being registered over the Arctic Ocean. Summer sea-ice cover has hit new record lows several times in the past decade. Infrastructure built on permafrost is sinking as the ground thaws underneath,” the institute stated in a press release news accompanying the report.

The report is hailed as the first comprehensive assessment of ecosystems and societies in the Arctic.

“One of the study’s most important findings is that not only are regime shifts occurring, but there is a real risk that one regime shift could trigger others, or simultaneous regime shifts could have unexpected effects,” said SEI Executive Director Johan Kuylenstierna in the press release.

Institute. The warmest year until now was 2006, when the average temperature was minus 1.8 degrees, but he predicts this year’s average will be about zero degrees.

“This is a little bit shocking,” Isaksen said in a prepared statement. “If you had asked me five or 10 years ago, I could not have imagined such numbers in 2016.”

“Svalbard is a very good spot to show what’s happening in the Arctic at the moment,” he said, noting that each of the past 73 months has been warmer than average.

Numerous monthly and daily heat and precipitation records were set this year, causing widespread problems for both people and wildlife. There was no sea ice in western Spitsbergen for polar bears to hunt from – which may have resulted in some encounters with humans and the animals were forced to search for food elsewhere. Expeditions hoping to reach the North Pole encountered their most disastrous year ever due to a mixture of politics and ice runways at the base camp that kept cracking. The worst landslides in more than 40 years hit Longyearbyen this fall due to heavy rain beginning in July and a failure of the mountains around town to solidify below the freezing point.

“Daily average temperatures measured at Svalbard Airport over October and November have been between around five and 13 degrees Celsius above the long-term (1981-2010) average,” said Ed Blockley, manager of the Met Office Polar Climate Office, in a statement at the agency’s website. “The daily maximum and minimum temperatures recorded over November have also been higher than normal and have been close to record November highs for about half of the month so far.”

In addition, rising temperatures in the Arctic are affecting permafrost and snow cover as well as the amount of sea ice, which this year was the second-lowest on record. Isaksen said the sea ice is building up much slower than normal as winter approaches.

“There are still huge areas in the Barents Sea and Kara Sea to the east of Svalbard that are free of ice,” he said. “They should normally be ice-covered.”

Scientists assert the loss of sea ice accelerates warming because ice reflects sunlight back into space while the darker surface of the ocean absorbs most of the radiation.

Several studies show the world as a whole is on track for a new heat record this year, with the El Nino weather phenomenon adding to the underlying warming trend.

But for another group of scientists, it’s the long-term effects that are most alarming – and many are probably irreversible.

The report defining 19 climate change tipping points is based on a five-year study compiled by a team of scientists working with the Arctic Council and issued by the Stockholm Environment Institute. It states some of those tipping points – such as the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet or the end of ocean currents that govern Europe’s climate – can likely be avoided if Earth’s overall temperature increases are limited to two degrees Celsius.

But most of the threats are already appearing, according to the report. And some are likely to lead to a new normal, even if countries manage to control climate change.

“The signs of change are everywhere in the Arctic: Temperatures nearly 20 degrees Celsius above the seasonal average are being registered over the Arctic Ocean. Summer sea-ice cover has hit new record lows several times in the past decade. Infrastructure built on permafrost is sinking as the ground thaws underneath,” the institute stated in a press release news accompanying the report.

The report is hailed as the first comprehensive assessment of ecosystems and societies in the Arctic.

“One of the study’s most important findings is that not only are regime shifts occurring, but there is a real risk that one regime shift could trigger others, or simultaneous regime shifts could have unexpected effects,” said SEI Executive Director Johan Kuylenstierna in the press release.

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