‘No other place in the world is warming up faster than Svalbard’: March will be 100th straight month of above-average Svalbard temperatures, weather service says

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The cold made things interesting by taking the lead during the first half of March, but ultimately was overcome and now will suffer its 100th straight defeat as Svalbard is about to surpass its 100th straight month of above-average temperatures, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

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A decade-by-decade chart shows temperatures in Svalbard have risen far more since 1961 than the rest of the world, with officials declaring this month the rate of increase is the fastest anywhere on Earth. Chart by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

The streak that began more than eight years ago will pass the century mark based on forecast temperatures for the rest of the month, the weather service announced Sunday. Temperatures were below normal almost every day during the first 16 days of March, but since have been above – often far above – normal and the last week of the month of likely to see temperatures of minus four degrees to minus 13 degrees –no were near enough to drop below the monthly average of minus 15.7 degrees.

“No other place in the world is warming up faster than Svalbard,” the weather service noted. “Since 1961, the temperature increase has been about three times higher than in Oslo and six times higher than the global temperature increase.”

Observations at Svalbard Airport show the average temperature has risen by 5.6 degrees since 1961. By comparison, the temperature of Blindern in Oslo has increased by two degrees during the same period. The global increase has been 0.9 degrees.

“Some months the temperature in the area around Longyearbyen has been 12 to 14 degrees above normal,” said Ketil Isaksen, a climate scientist for the institute.

“The normal period we compare with is 1961 to 1990. If global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase as of today, the annual average temperature on Svalbard will pass zero degrees by the end of the century.”

A report released earlier this year states Longyearbyen has already lost two months of winter every year, and will lose another two months and warm up to five degrees Celsius more as soon as 2070 without drastic action to reduce climate impacts.

Among the climate change impacts most felt by local residents is the increased risk of avalanches that has resulted in two major snowslides that destroyed property and lives, and is resulting in the demolition of 240 homes and dorms in at-risk areas of Longyearbyen starting late this spring. Landslides are also an increasing risk because of the active layer of soil above the permafrost is no longer reliably refreezing after thawing every summer, thus making the permafrost itself vulnerable and unstable.

“The sharp rise in temperature we now see in Svalbard increases the depth of the active layer,” Isaksen said. “Together with higher temperatures in the permafrost itself, this leads to greater instability in the mountain slopes in and around Longyearbyen. It is therefore very important to monitor the temperature of the permafrost.”

The weather service cites several other “new normal” aspects of Svalbard in the wake of warming:

• Permafrost, which once provided a stable foundation for building houses and roads, is warming up and has begun to thaw, and helps to degrade vulnerable buildings and infrastructure. New houses must be built differently.

• Heavy rainfall during winter months is becoming more common as “winter rain” that previously came as snow.

• Isfjorden no longer lives up to its name anymore, with several ice-free winters during the last ten years.

• The coast is eroding, and both cabins and burial sites that were previously at a safe distance to the sea must be moved to be rescued from bodies of water.

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