6 June 2024

This is the world’s northernmost research station, located in Ny-Alesund, a tiny town high above the Arctic circle on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. It is also the fastest-warming place on Earth.

Here, scientists are racing to collect data to understand how the climate is changing and what those changes could mean for the planet’s future. Scientists have been collecting meteorological data at the Ny-Alesund research station for over 40 years. But nowadays, researchers hoping to harvest ice cores are finding glaciers inundated by water.

Expedition leader Andrea Spolaor is part of the team with the Italian National Research Council. They planned to drill 125 meters down into the ice, hoping to collect two ice cores on the Dovrebreen glacier.

“Drilling an ice core in this region is important because first of all we must do it now because we might not have time in the future to do it again,” said Spolaor.

But at only 25 meters deep, the drill sloshed into a massive pool of water. The team was shocked.

“We did not expect so huge water flux coming out from the glacier. This is a clear sign of what’s happening in this region. The temperatures are rising, the glaciers are suffering.”

The Arctic is warming about four times faster than the rest of the world. Svalbard’s temperatures are climbing even faster — up to seven times the global average.

Earlier springtime thaws are turning the winter snow to slush, keeping scientists from reaching glaciers for research. And polar bears are left hungrier as their hunting ground, the sea ice, melts. They are increasingly seen roaming near the research station.

For Ny-Alesund, summer 2022 was the hottest on record. Established as a mining settlement in 1916, the town became a hotspot for international researchers in the 1960s. It has only about 35 residents year-round. In summer, that number swells to more than 100 as scientists fly in across the world.

Because Svalbard is warming faster than almost anywhere else in the Arctic, Ny-Alesund’s data record is crucial for scientists trying to understand how climate change will impact the polar region, and the entire planet. But as permafrost continues to thaw there, even Ny-Alesund itself is unstable.

“We were really shocked because we could not expect so much water here at such altitude. This is one of the highest glaciers in Svalbard and we are close to the North Pole because we are 79° North. You can really touch with your hand what’s going on with the climate. The fact of the climate change,” said Glaciologist Jacopo Gabrieli.

By Reuters