The year has been filled with troubling weather records for both temperature and precipitation, and even now a new record is at hand. The final days of December will need to have an average temperature of minus 40 degrees Celsius for 2016 to avoid being the hottest year since measurements began in 1975.
The average annual temperature at Svalbard Airport is minus 6.7 degrees, and the warmest year recorded was in 2006, when the average temperature was minus 1.7 degrees.
This year, the average temperature is minus 0.34 degrees as of Dec. 18. Which means the final days will need to plunge into a severe deep freeze to avoid the record.
"It is a very special record that is occurring this year when we're talking about more than one degree above the previous record," said Ketil Isaksen, a climate researcher at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute who focuses on northern areas and Svalbard in particular.
High-temperature records were set in May, July, October and November of this year. The average temperature of minus 0.7 degrees in November was 9.6 degrees above normal. It was also the 72nd straight month of above-normal temperatures. The last time the temperature was below normal was in November of 2010.
"Svalbard is one of those places on Earth heating up fastest up now and is certainly a clear signal that things are changing," Isaksen said. "There is no doubt that the Arctic is undergoing strong warming."
There has been sharp rise in temperatures during the past 20 to 30 years.
"The long-term trend is very clear," Isaksen said. "There is now an average temperature about four degrees higher than before 1980."
He said he believes the trend will continue.
"We anticipate that it will continue for many decades to come," he said. "It is important to emphasize that there can be large variations in Svalbard, so it will probably get cold this year as well, but long-term temperatures will in all likelihood continue to rise as in the past few decades."
Isaksen said the trend is worrisome.
"It's really terrifying about the trend continuing at the same strength," he said. "We have not expected the violent temperature jumps we've had, especially this year, but also the temperature increases in the past few years."
A total of 292.5 millimeters of precipitation has fallen at Svalbard Airport so far this year, which is 100 millimeters above normal. It also beats the previous high record of 267.9 millimeters in 2012.
"There is often a clear link between mild weather and rainy years," Isaksen said. "Warmer air, often from the south, will be able to hold more moisture."
Much of the precipitation this year has come in the form of rain.
"It is easier to measure rain than snow, so in that more precipitation has been rain that also means more is detected," he said.
Isaksen said the usual weather has definite consequences.
"The temperature of the sea and air is high, which allows the creation of diminishing ice and further warming," he said.
This year it took an extra long time before the ground froze again in the fall.
"Usually it happens in September, but this year the ground over the permafrost was thawed until November.," Isaksen said. "When the rain came it created new situations with landslides and various forms of debris flows that you usually don't have at this time of year. This is something we have not seen before."
Mild weather episodes during winter also create challenges for wildlife. Reindeer, which rely on digging through the snow to graze, may encounter ice on the ground, which makes their food situation critical.
"In 2012 there was a high mortality rate among reindeer caused by ice and hence the lack of food," Isaksen said.
Two records in November
Total precipitation at Svalbard Airport in November was 58 millimeters. The norm is 15 millimeters. This year's total is the highest ever recorded. It also more than has been recorded at another station that has existed in Longyearbyen since 1911. It is, however, not entirely accurate to compare the airport's readings to the other station since weather conditions are different at each.
July and October also set precipitation records.
On Nov. 8, 41.7 millimeters of precipitation fell. That is the most in one day during November and the second-high single-day total ever, only beaten by one day in August of 1981.