UNLUCKY SEVEN: A new study takes Longyearbyen’s ‘warming faster than anywhere’ claim to yet another level – twice the Arctic average and seven times the Earth’s


Chart showing number of days under -10C in Longyearbyen since 1910 by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

It’s starting to resemble a bidding war.

For a while Longyearbyen was warming twice as fast as Earth, a couple years ago it was three times, late last year all of Svalbard earned a six times claim, and now Longyearbyen has reclaimed the high spot with a new study relying in part on lost documents literally found deep underground that show warming is happening seven times faster.

Furthermore, now that “twice as fast” designation now applies to Longyearbyen compared to the rest of the Arctic, according to the study.

The new figures are from a study headed by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute published Saturday examining, among other data, temperatures at the airport from 1898–2018. It states “the most pronounced changes in the 120-year record occur during the last three decades.”

“Since 1991, the rate of warming at Svalbard Airport is 1.7 °C/decade, which is more than twice the Arctic average (0.8 °C/decade, north of 66 °N) and about seven times the global average for the same period,” an abstract of the study states.

But the team of researchers also relied on another data source that resulted in surprising “new” findings: documents underground among the 150 million in the National Archives in Oslo, from the late 1800s that show that the number of cold days in Svalbard has halved in the last 20 years, according to NRK. The “missing link” documents show daily weather and temperature data in Svalbard.

“I was quite surprised when we discovered that in 120 years of data, the temperature in Svalbard has risen three to four times as fast as globally,” Øyvind Nordli, a climate scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute who spent six years searching for documents, told the news agency.

Studies within the past couple of years have shown Svalbard has lost two months of winter weather during the past 50 years and will lose another two months as soon as 2070 under a no-action scenario. The previous studies also assert Svalbard could warm another seven to 10 degrees by then, with some areas in the north possibly experiencing twice that during the winter months.

The study released this week largely support those claims based on historical data. Among the main findings are there have been an average of 67 “cold days” during the past decade, compared to 131 between 1961-1990.

The number of days above zero degrees Celsius has increased 21 percent during that time and the number of days warmer than five degrees by 59 percent compared to the 1961-1990 “standard normal” – a baseline researchers widely agree is obsolete and will be replaced next year by the average from 1991-2020. At the other end of the scale, the number of days colder than minus 10 degrees has decreased by 32 percent and minus 20 degrees by 62 percent.

For skeptics arguing changes in climate are cyclical over long periods of time, the study agrees – to a certain extent.

“During the entire time span of the series, the western Spitsbergen climate has gone through stepwise changes, alternating between cold and warm regimes: 1899–1929 was cold, 1930–1961 warm, 1962–1998 cold and 1999–2018 warm,” the study notes. “The latest cold regime was 1.0 °C warmer than the first cold one, and the latest warm regime was 1.7 °C warmer than the previous warm one. For the whole series the linear trend for annual means amounts to 0.32°C/decade, which is about 3.5 times the increase of the global mean temperature for the same period.”

The study was published shortly after a heat wave resulting in record temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Siberia got widespread global headlines. Norway also announced it is taking advantage of improving access to Arctic waters (and a desire to boost the oil industry and revenues due to the COVID-19 crisis) to open a vast section of new territory in the Barents Sea, including areas surrounding the Svalbard protection zone where drilling in prohibited.