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Warmer – wetter – wilder

Warm: It was zero degrees Celsius and there was no snow on the ground in Longyearbyen on Oct. 30, a fitting end for the warmest October ever. FOTO: Ole Magnus Rapp

Warmer – wetter – wilder

This October was the mildest and wettest since meteorological records have been kept in Svalbard.

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At this time of year it should be consistently cold with snow on the ground. Instead, Longyearbyen is experiencing landslides, record rainfall and temperature seven to eight degrees Celsius above normal.

"All indications show record temperatures both in October, but also for the whole year of 2016," said Jostein Mamen, a climate scientist for the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. Only an abnormal spell of severe cold in November and December will prevent 2016 from being the warmest year ever since measurements began in the north.

Above normal
The metering station at Svalbard Airport has recording above-normal mean temperatures for the past 71 months. The streak is unprecedented.

"Longyearbyen, Bjørnøya, Ny-Ålesund, Hopen and Jan Mayen all set heat records," Mamen said. "In several places there have been continuous measurements since the 1920s."

Svalbard Church Priest Leif Magne Helgesen, whose work includes Masses, a book and music recordings related to climate change, said the trend is alarming.

"I am experiencing it physically in my body that the climate is changing," he told yr.no. Helgesen said he believes Svalbard has become a miniature Bergen, and people around him are using rain gear and umbrellas to cope with the climate.

Lots of rain
Yr.no states Svalbard will have fewer than 200 days with frost in 2016, also a record. In October there has also been four times the normal amount of precipitation.

High temperatures late into October and heavy precipitation also left their mark on glaciers. Jack Kohler, a glacier researcher at the Norwegian Polar Institute, said it's been at least 5,000 years since Svalbard's glaciers were as small as they are now..

While Isfjord and Kongsfjord historically always had solid ice in winter, the situation now has changed. During the past decade the fjords have been largely ice-free, allowing both small and large boats to operate year-round.

Temperatures
The average temperature in February of this year was 5.6 degrees below zero, far above the normal average of minus 16.2 degrees. The temperature at Akseløya on Sept. 17 was 13.6 degrees. Such figures turn heads – if the trend continues the area will soon experience ideal swimming temperatures.

Prof. Philipp Fischer at the Alfred Wegener Institute is conducting climate research in Kongsfjorden. A measurement gauge at 11 meters of depth shows dramatic results. In July, a temperature of 8.3 degrees Celsius was measured in the water, something that until recently was considered impossible. Water temperatures have remained above normal in the fjord during the fall.

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