The views from Zeppelinfjellet are formidable. Inward points to rugged mountains against the sky, outward toward Kongsfjorden reflecting islets and broad fronts in the water. About 475 meters downward lies the research community of Ny-Ålesund.
"It is unique on a world scale. There are no stations located so unaffected and yet so close to infrastructure," said Ove Hermansen, a senior researcher for the Norwegian
Institute for Air Research (NILU). The station is located above the inversion layer, while at the same time Ny-Ålesund is only minutes away.
Up here are some of the most precise measuring instruments for long-range gases. And some short travelers. The measurements are extremely precise, literally speaking. During the ongoing work on the roof at the research station some time ago, the scientists inside the station could generate smiles by suddenly having an effect on the methane.
"A mechanic had let air out the back door," Hermansen explained, further underlining the sensitivity by noting how ordinary amalgam compounds are affected. When Svalbardposten was at the station, craftsmen from LNSS were starting to repair the roof. The gas burner they were using provided a powerful effect on the screen.
"When the air comes up from Russia or Europe we see obvious changes," said Hermansen, who is responsible for the science technology at the Zeppelin observatory. "But for large parts of the year it is clean, Arctic air."
More than 100 different gases and components such as lead, PCBs and dioxins are monitored, and many are transported up to the Arctic through so-called grassshopping, in that the moves are step-by-step through evaporation and cooling.
"We are finding remnants in the air up here DDT, which they used in the southern states on cotton fields," Hermansen said.
When the climate summit with representatives from around the world gathered in Ny-Ålesund this week, it was with the goal of making progress towards a summit in Paris in 2015, when the extended Kyoto Protocol is scheduled to be replaced by a new agreement. Ny-Ålesund Symposium Chairman Knut Ore was not alone in stressing the urgency of solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"I think many here are going to meet in Bonn in June, New York in September and Lima in December, before Paris next year," said Tine Sundhoft, a Conservative Party member who is Norway's minister of climate and environment.
"Some of the thought about being here is also certainly to see how climate change now is causing changes. The bay that until a few years ago had ice until the summer is now free of ice."
Similar views were expressed by Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
"I do not know if we will see something from here in Paris, but I hope people will use the knowledge available from research on climate change," said Pachauri, who was visiting Svalbard for the third time. "So I hope Paris will be a success."
Greenhouse gas paradox
Meanwhile at 475 meters above sea level, they were noticing a change in the measurements. When the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987, work began in earnest to reduce the use of ozone-depleting substances. Today, approximately 98 percent of ozone-depleting substances have been phased out, including DDT.
The problem, according to the researchers, is that the heirs also have harmful effects on the environment, which are marked well at the Zeppelin observatory that is part of a network of monitoring station which compare the measured results.
"The new components are not harmful to the ozone layer, but they are in fact greenhouse gases," Hermansen said. Many of the substances also end up in the endocrines of species in the food chain, which can have effects going beyond fertility and cognitive abilities.
The Ny-Ålesund station reports the lowest impacts due to its location, but surveys nevertheless show an increase of long-transport gases. Since 2001, the increase has been 300 percent.
Data from Zeppelinfjellet is open to all, and the recently released report from the IPCC contains much of the data from the Zeppelin observatory on Zeppelinfjellet, one kilometer away from the world's northernmost settlement.