TWICE AS ICE: Since Svalbard is warming 7X faster than the global average, scientists studying long-term patterns say – big shock – glacier melt rate speeding up and may double by 2100


Yeah, it’s yet another climate study predicting a hellishly gloomy Svalbard by 2100. But instead of triggering heartburn by focusing on impacts such as dead polar bears this study warning about the doubling of local glacier melting invokes cool back-to-the-future concepts such as “space-for-time substitution.”

Or, as the scientists explain more simply, “they studied development patterns of hundreds of glaciers over relatively short periods of time rather than a single glacier over a very long period of time. The method is useful because the glaciers exist in a very wide variety of climates.”

“Right now our predictions of future glacier change are not very grounded in all of the data that we already have from what’s happened in the last century,” Emily C. Geyman, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology and lead author of the study, told The New York Times.

The study published last Wednesday in the journal Nature comparing photos from those areas between the 1930s and 2010 show the region has been warming at a rate of 1.7 degrees Celsius per decade since 1991. That’s consistent with other recent findings – which have declared Svalbard is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth – and far in excess of the United Nations’ stated goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to stave of the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Svalbard ice caps have lost an average of 1.1 feet a year since 1936, according to the study.

The researchers – whose other members came from the Norwegian Polar Institute, Uppsala University and Princeton University – used more than 5,500 aerial images from Norwegian mapping project in 1936 and 1938 that now belong to the polar institute. Next they made 3D digital models used fixed points on the landscape seen from different angles in the photos – 70,000 such points in all – resulting in a model of about 1,500 glaciers in Svalbard.

From those models, and analysis of melt patterns and climate change since/predicted, the study estimates Svalbard’s glaciers will shrink 2.2 to 3 feet a year before 2100 depending on the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.