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Avalanche danger increases with heavy rainfall

Landslide: Between 2,000 and 3,000 cubic meters of mass were carried into the drinking water source at Steintippdalen on the night of July 13 due to heavy precipitation. FOTO: Einar Olsen

Avalanche danger increases with heavy rainfall

Record rainfall and high temperatures were set in July. Experts say warmer and wetter weather is still to come. The consequences may be floods, thawing of permafrost, milder winters and less ice.

Those are the conclusions of a new report by the Norwegian Climate Service (NCCS). The report was submitted in June and contains observed and expected changes in Svalbard's climate. It also describes the impacts of climate change.

More precipitation

When the temperature is high, there is more moisture in the air resulting in precipitation. July's rainfall set a record for the month with 51.7 millimeters, compared to an average of 18 millimeters, with heavy storms at times.

"That is 182 percent more than the normal level, a significant increase," said Stein Kristiansen, a lead consultant for the Norwegian Meteorological Institute's climate department in Oslo. He said they constantly assess precipitation records, especially quantitatively, and how temperatures play a role in them.

Torrential trigger
The NCCS report – a collaboration between the meteorological institute, Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate, and UNI Research – states annual precipitation in Longyearbyen has increased 20 to 30 percent since 1900. The authors expect the increase to continue, perhaps up to 50 percent toward the end of the century.

Heavy rainfall can trigger for landslides and floods, incidents of which have been featured in Svalbardposten.

On the night of July 13, a total of 15.1 millimeters of rain fell – nearly an entire month's worth, according to the historical average. That resulted in a torrent of 2,000 to 3,000 cubicmeters of land mass being deposited into the drinking water source in Steintippdalen.


Svalbard also experienced record-high temperatures, with Longyearbyen's average of nine degrees Celsius a total of 3.1 degrees higher than the average since records have been kept. In Ny-Ålesund, the average of 6.9 degrees was 2.0 degrees above normal.

The report states the annual mean temperature at Svalbard Airport has increased by about three degrees since 1900. The temperature is also expected to increase further during this century. The Arctic is expected to have a greater temperature increases than most other parts of the globe, with a three- to ten-degree incline from 2010 to 2099. In particular, winter temperatures are expected to increase.


Kim Holmén, international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, said he believes a whole month with higher temperatures is a fairly robust signal.

"The fact that the monthly average is higher than normal is a greater signal than that it is particularly hot day," he said. "This falls into a pattern where the Arctic is warming."

As for the precipitation record, Holmén said he also expects that trend to continue.

"It is difficult to interpret rainfall records, at least extreme episodes," he said. "Nevertheless, it is a result of climate change that is coming due to increased emissions of greenhouse gases."

Ice is melting

The report from the Norwegian climate agency states the glacial area in Svalbard has decreased by about seven percent during the past 30 years. There is also a shrinking amount of thick multiyear ice in the Barents Sea and the Arctic.

Trond Robertsen, a Norwegian sea ice analyst, confirms there is less sea ice this year than ever. There is still considerable ice against Siberia in the Northeast Passage, but little throughout the Barents Sea region.

"It was an ice-free year early," Robertsen said. "The ice is thinner and melts faster."


Holmén said the ice is melting faster than scientists predicted. The ocean is warmer, the air is warmer and glaciers are retreating. The overall picture of climate change is most evident around Svalbard and therefore the international interest in what is happening here is also great.

Less ice also has consequences for Arctic species such as polar bears, ringed seals, little auk and others who depend on the ice as their habitat. New species from further south are also making their way north.

"When climate changes and the sea ice is becoming less prevalent it also changes the conditions for the High Arctic ecosystem," Holmén said. "An example is in Hopen where there is no ice, where they see no polar bears."

"The ice and glaciers are melting faster than our calculation models," he said. "The research is about understanding and being able to judge better how this is happening."

Se bildet større

Steintippdalen is generally used as Longyearbyen's drinking water source during the summer because the filtering process is less demanding than for Isdammen, which is filled with lots of glacial sediments. The concrete dam is about two meters deep. FOTO: Einar Olsen

Se bildet større

This year there is less sea ice in the Barents Sea than ever. FOTO: Illustration: Norwegian Meteorological Institute/Sea Ice Center

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