Results from measurements on Zeppelinfjellet in Ny-Ålesund show there is a large difference in the amount of soot in Svalbard based on when the cruise ships go around the archipelago. Therefore, researchers from several countries are now recommending that the Norwegian government initiate a fuel filter requirement for cruise ships traveling in the islands.
"Just as one can mount a particulate filter in diesel cars, you can do this on large ships. This is well-known technology," said Andreas Stohl, a senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), who led the study. A report of the findings is available at forskning.no.
More local emissions
"There are fewer emissions coming up from the continent, but more emissions from increased ship traffic and oil installations in the area," said Wenche Aas, another NILU senior scientist.
So while there has been less soot overall, she said she believes that is not good enough.
"The heavy oil ban will also help a lot, but a filter order will be important in the future since the lack of sea ice is likely to lead to more ships choosing to go to Svalbard," Aas said.
She speculates that increased traffic from both cruise ships and cargo vessels, in addition to planned oil installations, may change the current trend of an overall decrease in soot quantity.
Decline is not good enough
"There is no increase in the proportion of soot on Svalbard the last decades," Aas said. "It is rather the opposite."
She said the reason for this is a reduction in emissions from Europe and Russia, which contributes to much of soot pollution in Svalbard.
A study published in 2010 showed there was a reduction in soot measured at Zeppelinfjellet from 2002 to 2009.
According to Aas, coal mining contributes very little, if anything, to the amount of soot in the area around the Arctic.
Less soot in Antarctica
Unlike the Arctic, researchers found very little soot pollution in Antarctica. It is the big difference between the two polar regions that is now attracting attention.
"We were simply amazed at how little soot we found," Stohl told forskning.no.
The reason for the difference, researchers suspect, is that the Arctic is much closer to emission sources (i.e. continents) than Antarctica, as well as the increasing cruise traffic the Arctic has seen in recent years.
– They can afford this
Stohl said that as long as there is snow and ice in the Arctic, it will be necessary to do something to reduce soot emissions in these areas.
"Only the purest vessels should be allowed in Svalbard, where neither snow nor ice will disappear in the near future," he said.
Stohl said he doesn't know how much the measures will cost, but does suggest it won't be cheap.
"But this should not be a challenge for cruise tourism today. Rich tourists visiting the pristine Arctic areas should not have any trouble with perhaps paying 10 percent more, or the like, to ensure that the sites they visit are not ruined by their visits," said Stohl, adding that he will support the most stringent measures in the event they are required.