- Title: A climate-change frontier in the world's northernmost town
- Date: 2nd September 2019
- Summary: WAHLENBERGBREEN, SVALBARD (REUTERS) (RECENT - AUGUST 2019) MELTING ICE IN WATER ICEBERG ROLLING IN WATER AFTER BOTTOM MELTED BY WARMING WATER MELTING ICEBERG GLACIER CREAKING AS IT CALVES MELTING ICE FLOATING VARIOUS OF INTERNATIONAL DIRECTOR OF THE NORWEGIAN POLAR INSTITUTE, KIM HOLMEN, SITTING IN BOAT MELTING ICE (SOUNDBITE) (English) INTERNATIONAL DIRECTOR OF THE NORWEGIAN POLAR INSTITUTE, KIM HOLMEN, SAYING: "We are losing the Svalbard we know. We are losing the arctic as we know it because of climate change. This is a forewarning of all the hardship and problems that will spread around the planet. It is important to stop it as quickly and as soon as possible." VARIOUS OF ICEBERG MELTING (SOUNDBITE) (English) INTERNATIONAL DIRECTOR OF THE NORWEGIAN POLAR INSTITUTE, KIM HOLMEN, SAYING: "The temperature of Svalbard has gone up, the air temperature has risen by almost 10 degrees in the past 30 years, the ocean is warmer. There is no sea ice on the fjords anymore here on the West coast." MELTING ICE HOLMEN AND CAPTAIN ON BOAT SAILING THROUGH MELTING ICE WALRUS SWIMMING LONGYEARBYEN, SVALBARD (RECENT - AUGUST 2019) (REUTERS) AERIAL OF MELTING GLACIER HOUSES IN TOWN REINDEER IN FIELD, ROW OF HOUSES IN BACKGROUND VARIOUS OF BELL RINGING AT SVALBARD CHURCH, NORWEGIAN FLAG FLYING VARIOUS OF INTERIM VICAR - SVALBARD CHURCH, IVAR SMEDSRÃ˜D, MARRYING COUPLE MOUNTAIN SEEN THROUGH STAINED GLASS WINDOWS COUPLE KISSING STUFFED POLAR BEAR SMEDSRÃ˜D WALKING TO GRAVEYARD CROSSES IN GRAVEYARD VARIOUS OF SMEDSRÃ˜D LOOKING AT GRAVES GRAVES FROM LANDSLIDE RUBBLE (SOUNDBITE) (English) INTERIM VICAR - SVALBARD CHURCH, IVAR SMEDSRÃ˜D, SAYING: "As the permafrost thaws, things that are in the ground tend to be pulled up, that is happening more or less all of the time, so we might see that the graves literally come up, the coffins." PAN ACROSS GRAVEYARD (SOUNDBITE) (English) INTERIM VICAR - SVALBARD CHURCH, IVAR SMEDSRÃ˜D, SAYING: "Because of climate change and the difference that makes to the soil and the ground, some of the graves we see behind us might actually end up sliding into the road, the little valley, or the next thing we could see is that they might all be covered in the next big landslide coming down from the hill, as they just escaped one by a couple of feet last time." LANDSLIDE RUBBLE VARIOUS OF CROSSES OF GRAVEYARD HOUSES IN TOWN SMASHED WOODEN FOUNDATION OF HOUSES DESTROYED BY AVALANCHE PAN FROM HOUSES TO WOODEN FOUNDATIONS SMASHED FOUNDATIONS (SOUNDBITE) (English) STUDENT AND LONGYEARBYEN RESIDENT, ERIK HOLMUND, SAYING: "In December of 2015, a man and a child died. There was a whole apartment complex that was caught in an avalanche." / (SOUNDBITE) (English) STUDENT AND LONGYEARBYEN RESIDENT, ANNA BÃ˜GH, SAYING: "It was like 50 apartments getting crushed, but it was the middle of the night and nobody knew what was coming." VARIOUS OF SCATTERED BRICKS (SOUNDBITE) (English) STUDENT AND LONGYEARBYEN RESIDENT, ERIK HOLMUND, SAYING: "This was thought to be an incredibly uncommon event, but two years after in 2017 there was another avalanche just beside it." SUN ABOVE TOWN AND GLACIERS TEMPERATURE MONITOR READING: "+10C" POLAR BEAR SIGN PEOPLE ON HIGH STREET, MOUNTAINS IN BACKGROUND WOODEN FOUNDATIONS FOR A CABIN BY THE FJORD VARIOUS OF LONGYEARBYEN RESIDENT, CHRISTIANE HÃœBNER, WALKING WITH DOG TOWARDS COASTLINE ERODED BANK (SOUNDBITE) (English) LONGYEARBYEN RESIDENT, CHRISTIANE HÃœBNER, SAYING: "This was a very nice slope towards the coast, and one day 13 meters disappeared just in one event, and that is when we decided we had to move the cabin."
- Embargoed: 16th September 2019 21:58
- Keywords: Longyearbyen Most Northern Town Crisis Svalbard Sea Ice Climate Summit Spitsbergen Climate change 10C Husky
- Location: WAHLENBERGBREEN AND LONGYEARBYEN, SVALBARD
- City: WAHLENBERGBREEN AND LONGYEARBYEN, SVALBARD
- Country: Svalbard
- Topics: Environment,Editors' Choice,Climate Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA001AUZVCJR
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: EDIT 0846-CLIMATE-CHANGE/SVALBARD-GRAVEYARD CONTAINS MORE VIDEO ON THE GRAVEYARD STORY WHICH CAN ACCOMPANY THIS EDIT
Icebergs float like doomed islands, as a small boat makes its way through a fjord filled with the slush of a melting glacier.
Occasionally, the bottom of one of the icebergs is dissolved by warming waters, leaving it top-heavy and plunging into a somersault. One of the last playful acts before its eventual death.
For the Wahlenberg glacier above the fjord, calving is a natural process, sheering off chunks from the main ice shelf into the water.
But it is now happening at an increasing rate because of the rising temperatures in ocean waters, says Kim Holmen, the international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute.
Holmen, wearing a woollen hat with a hot-pink pom-pom against the chill of an Arctic summer day, has lived in the northern Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard for three decades. He describes the changes he's seen as "profound, large and rapid."
"We are losing the Svalbard we know. We are losing the arctic as we know it because of climate change," he says amid the constant crackle and trickle of the ice dissolving. "This is a forewarning of all the hardship and problems that will spread around the planet."
Since 1970, average annual temperatures have risen by 4 degrees Celsius in Svalbard, with winter temperatures rising more than 7 degrees, according to a report released by the Norwegian Centre for Climate Services in February.
The "Climate in Svalbard 2100" report also warns that the annual mean air temperature in Svalbard is projected to increase by 7 to 10 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.
Furthermore, since 1979, the Arctic sea ice extent has declined by nearly 12% per decade, with the most pronounced winter reduction in the Svalbard and Barents Sea area.
That is not good news for Svalbard's main town, Longyearbyen. With a population of just over 2,000 people, it is the northernmost town in the world.
It is also the fastest-warming place on the planet.
Rows of simple white wooden crosses cling to a hillside over Longyearbyen, a sparse cemetery that appears vulnerable even under the warm cloak of August sunshine.
Ivar Smedsroed is the summer vicar at Svalbard Church, a red wooden building with white trim and a weathervane-topped bell tower. Inside the Lutheran house of worship, which claims to be the world's northernmost church, stained glass windows add a touch of pastel hue to the snow-topped mountains nearby.
The pastor has only been here for the summer, but in that short time he has already learned of people's fears about the effects of a rapidly changing climate.
One such effect is taking place beneath his feet at the graveyard, which he calls "a place of memories, a place of remembrance."
"As the permafrost thaws, things that are in the ground tend to be pulled up," Smedsroed says matter-of-factly as he sits on the ground near the graves.
"That is happening more or less all of the time, so we might see that the graves literally come up, the coffins."
There has been talk of relocating the graveyard after a landslide missed wiping it out by mere meters in October 2016. Nearly three years later, slabs of rock have formed a slash in the landscape just beyond the graves.
"Because of climate change and the difference that makes to the soil and the ground, some of the graves that we see behind us might end up actually sliding into the road," says Smedsroed, whose gray hair matches the woolen sweater beneath his white collar.
"Or the next thing that we could see is that they might all be covered in the next big landslide coming down the hill."
Thawing permafrost isn't just a problem for the dead: It has also caused problems for those living in Longyearbyen.
Houses in the valley are built on small wooden stilts instead of deep foundations, and are no match for the softening of the ground which can lead to collapses, landslides and avalanches.
On December 19, 2015, an avalanche killed a man and a child in their homes.
"It was the middle of the night, and nobody knew what was coming," Longyearbyen resident Anna Boegh says near the site where the houses once stood.
"This was thought to be an incredibly uncommon event, but two years after, in 2017, there was another avalanche," says her partner, Erik Holmund.
No one died in that avalanche, but several houses were swept away.
Erosion also threatens homes here. Three years ago, as winter approached, 13 meters of coastline fell away overnight, leaving Christiane Huebner's cabin perilously close to the fjord.
Huebner, her family of three and their husky dogs, abandoned the home.
"It was a wake-up call since it happened very quickly," she says. They returned the following spring and had to relocate the cabin 80 meters from the shore.
Many have fallen in love with Svalbard's stunning natural wonders, but the grounds beneath it have proven deadly for some who tried to get too close.
Wieslaw Sawicki's son Michal worked as a geophysicist at the Polish Polar Research Station in Hornsund on the southern side of Svalbard. The Polish scientist, along with meteorologist Anna GÃ³rska, died when they fell from a mountain in May.
Michal, 44, was an experienced mountaineer, scientist and explorer on his fifth stint for the institute in the Arctic. Founded in 1957, it conducts year-round research and is the northernmost permanent Polish scientific institution.
"Unfortunately, there was a huge snow cornice which looked like it was part of the peak of the mountain," says the elder Sawicki, who is visiting Longyearbyen to meet with the governor of the archipelago.
"It collapsed with them; they both fell into the abyss."
In his letters to home, Michal would talk about the "untouched" beauty of Svalbard.
"He would interestingly describe the changes that were happening here, how the glaciers were melting, how during each stay you could see the temperature rising and how the natural environment was changing," Sawicki said, holding back tears.
The spectre of climate change looms large over Audun Salte's dog farm. The Norwegian owns Svalbard Husky with his wife, Mia.
During the summer, with no snow on the ground, the dogs pull sleds along the bumpy gravel road on wheels, rattling past the few cars on the island.
But Salte worries that as temperatures rise, climate change could lead to the extinction of all life on earth. As someone who likes kissing and dancing with his dogs - he has 110 of them - he's most concerned about the nonhumans on the planet.
"If climate change should be the end of humanity, I really don't care, but if climate change is the end of any animal species who hasn't contributed anything towards the speeding up of this process, that's why I am reacting," he says. "It's just unfair to anyone that doesn't have a say in what is happening."
Salte compares climate change to a car crash that we can't help staring at, feeling lucky that we are not the victim.
"On the highway, when people slow down to look at a car crash, climate change is like that because everyone is slowing down to look at the accident but not realizing that we are actually the car crash."
(Production: Alex Fraser)
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