Arctic climate: 2016 warmest year ever in Svalbard

Photo: Hylgeriak / Wikimedia Commons
Panorama of Longyearbyen, Svalbard administrative center, in the summer of 2011. Though summer temperatures are usually above freezing, it’s the winter temperatures that have warmed dramatically, with average winter temperatures over three celcius degrees higher in the period from 1981-2010 than in the 30-year period before that. In 2016, even those higher averages were surpassed—from October to December daytime highs were above freezing, compared to normal highs a few degrees below.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

In its August 12, 2016, issue, this newspaper reported that July 2016 was the warmest month ever on Svalbard since the keeping of meteorological records began there in 1911. That record now has been surpassed. As reported in the January 3 edition of Aftenposten (Further reading), 2016 was the warmest year ever registered on Svalbard. For 75 consecutive months, temperatures on Svalbard have been higher than long-term averages, confirming that climate change now is a cause for alarm.

Meteorologist Stein Kristiansen of the Division for Climate Services of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute describes the trend as “worrisome for all of us working in the climate sciences.” Recent weather figures confirm that concern. In October through December last year, daytime temperatures were well above freezing, compared to the long-term averages of being many degrees below. In October, roads in Longyearbyen were buried by landslides triggered by melting permafrost. In the course of the year, temperatures in Longyearbyen were below freezing for less than 200 days, another new record.

Photo: Ole Magnus Rapp / Aftenposten
Boat on Kongsfjord near Ny-Ålesund, viewed through melt-sculptured floating ice. The waters of the archipelago’s fjords have warmed by about two degrees over their long-term averages, leading to increased melting of the sea ice.

Svalbard is at the northern end of the Gulf Stream, so climate change has warmed its waters. The normally frozen surfaces of the Kongsfjord and the Isfjord have been ice-free for the past ten years. The waters of the fjords are about 2°C (3.6°F) warmer than their long-term averages. The warmer waters have attracted mackerel, herring, and capelin, fish species normally not found in the high Arctic. The warmth was far-reaching; in December, temperatures above freezing were recorded at the North Pole.

The warmer climate of Svalbard has created problems for local authorities who now struggle to maintain the town’s infrastructure, including its 45 km (28 miles) of roads. Town planners must now find new locations for housing, out of the paths of landslides and snow avalanches. These efforts are being monitored by experts on the mainland. As meteorologist Stein Kristiansen remarks, the extremes observed on Svalbard are signs of weather to come on mainland Norway to the south.

Further reading:
“2016 ble det varmeste året som noen gang er registrert på Svalbard. Men med varmen kommer ekstremværet” (2016 became the warmest year ever registered on Svalbard. But with the heat comes extreme weather), by Ole Magnus Rapp, online version of the printed Aftenposten of Tuesday, January 3, 2017, link at: (in Norwegian only).

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.