Home North pole ice Laura Tobin reports on the devastating impact of climate change

Laura Tobin reports on the devastating impact of climate change


We visited Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, halfway between Norway and the North Pole.

It is a landscape of jagged mountains, fjords, glaciers… and polar bears, but it is changing rapidly.

The Norwegian Polar Institute says that due to rapidly rising temperatures, within 20 to 40 years the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer, which means you could travel by boat to the pole. North. The ice will melt much earlier in the spring and frost will occur later in the fall.

This will have devastating consequences for the people of Svalbard; the animals here, including the polar bear, reindeer, and marine life, will also have an impact on the rest of the world.

I am really passionate about the weather, nature and our climate and it is important for me to share what I know with as many people as possible. That’s why I wanted to visit Svalbard, to see firsthand the impacts of climate change. Before I left I felt like I knew so much about the science and what it means to the world and to us in the UK, but nothing could prepare me for the real reality, it was revealing, enlightening and alarming. I learned (from the amazing Kim Holmén of the Norwegian Polar Institute – more on him later) that we can live happy and fulfilled lives by adapting to climate change, we shouldn’t see it as a sacrifice. What is being sacrificed right now is our planet and that has to change.

The Earth is overheating. Last year has been one of the hottest on record, the past decade has been the hottest decade on record, and 19 of the 20 hottest years on record in the world have occurred since 2000.

The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the world, but in Svalbard, in the High Arctic, it is warming at least 5 times faster.

New figures given to us exclusively on Good Morning Britain by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute show that over the past 50 years the average winter temperature has risen by 7.7 degrees from -15.9 ° C. at -8.2 ° C and the average summer temperature rose 2.5 degrees from about +3.8 to about +6.3.

Over the past 50 years, the Earth has warmed by 0.88 ° C. The UK warmed by 1.24 ° C, but Svalbard warmed by 4.9 ° C.

Nowhere on Earth heats up so quickly.

The Arctic is one of the main drivers of weather in the UK, which means warming here will change our weather.

We were hosted in Svalbard by the Norwegian Polar Institute with Dr Kim Holmén sharing his amazing knowledge and personal experiences of climate change he has witnessed over the past 30 years. He was very calming and when he spoke we wanted to listen to every word. I thought I knew so much, but it opened my eyes and mind to so much more, not just the science but the impacts and consequences.

Dr Kim Holmén took us to the Breinosa Glacier and he showed us the dramatic changes over the past 100 years.

As the Earth warms, glaciers melt, there has been a sustained long-term decline, and glaciers are at their lowest level in 2,000 years. The last decade has lost more mass than any other in observed history. Since the glaciers of the 1980s lost more than they accumulated, this is equivalent to cutting 24 meters from the top of an average glacier.

The Arctic lost 6,000 gigga tonnes of ice from 1993 to 2019, causing global average sea level rise of 17 mm.

Melting glaciers have been one of the biggest contributors to sea level rise – 40% of sea level rise over the past 100 years

More warming means the setback will only get worse. Current projections indicate that we could lose 50% of the glaciers by 2100. This will have a real impact on us in the UK. If all of Earth’s glaciers melted, the average sea level in the world would be half a meter. It might not seem like much, but it’s enough to put parts of the Humber, large parts of Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, parts of Kent, parts of the Bristol Channel under water.

The first glacier we visited (and also streamed live on day one – still can’t believe we streamed live from a high arctic glacier) was Longyear Glacier with guide Arne Kristoffersen. He arrived in 1980 as a coal miner, the year before I was born and showed me how much that has changed. He had retreated about half a mile, but it wasn’t just his retreat, the vertical expanse that had been lost up to 40 yards in places. Think about it, a huge volume of ice, half a kilometer long and 40 meters high, disappeared into the sea, causing it to rise, all in just 40 years.

The third glacier we visited, which we broadcast live on on day two, was Borebreen Glacier. A huge wall of ice as high as a 10 story building, the colors were beautiful, white initially, but sometimes yellow and pink when the sun was shining on it, then areas of blue revealing new calving (as the ice absorbs red wavelength of light and reveals blue) While we were there we witnessed an “ice calving” – huge chunks of ice were breaking in the fjord. It’s a natural process, but it’s happening more because of climate change.

The retreat we have witnessed firsthand is not just happening across Svalbard, it is happening all over the world.

Melting sea ice is also a problem for many reasons. The Norwegian Polar Institute says that due to rapidly rising temperatures, within 20 to 40 years the Arctic Ocean may be ice-free in summer, ice will melt much earlier in spring, and freezing will occur. later in the fall, which means you could travel by boat to the North Pole!

Ice is important because it helps cool our planet, not because it is cold because it is reflective, ice reflects the sun’s rays back into space. Think back to school, it’s called the Albedo. As the Earth warms up, the ice melts more, less heat is reflected back to space, and it also exposes more dark sea or dark land which then absorbs the sun’s rays (rather than reflecting it back). ) causing warming which leads to more melting – this is called a positive feedback vicious cycle.

The trend is significant, there has been a 40 year decline in arctic sea ice and it has been declining in every month, the last decade of the past 40 years, sea ice is 25% smaller than the first decade. The 14 lowest areas of summer arctic sea ice on record in the past 14 years

We arrived at Isfjorden, which means Ice-Fjord, but due to warming it has not frozen in winter for 11 YEARS. Svalbard is literally melting. Pack ice is important to Arctic wildlife and ecosystems.

The melting of sea ice, glaciers and ice caps has different effects on sea level rise. Sea ice is like an ice cube floating in a full glass. It occupies the same area when it melts, which means that melting sea ice does not cause sea level to rise. Glaciers are large masses of ice whose movement is influenced by gravity, as it melts it goes into the sea and that leads to a rise in sea level (half a meter if all the glaciers melt) But the ice caps are a huge mass of ice on land. If the Greenland ice sheet melted, global sea level would rise by 7.2 meters. If the Antarctic ice sheet melts, it would cause the sea level to rise by 70 meters, mainly in the N hemisphere. These are high impact and low probability events, but irreversible over the course of our life.

Even if we reduce all emissions tomorrow, the melting will continue, the sea level will continue to rise and the environment will suffer. If we can limit the warming, we are still committed to sea level rise of 2-3 meters over the next 2,000 years. BUT if we warmed up by 5 ° C it would cause the sea level to rise by 19 to 22 meters.

Another cause of sea level rise is simply that the sea is warmer and warmer water, resulting in sea level rise, the emissions that we have put in means that we are already engaged in future warming and greater thermal expansion. We can’t stop it, but we can change how catastrophic the outcome could be.

Another problem in the arctic and antarctic-permafrost, the ground that is permanently frozen is thawing, contains dead animals, plants and organic matter that has not rotted and has been frozen for Thousands of years ago, when it melts, it begins to decompose and then releases methane into the atmosphere and carbon dioxide, which causes the temperature to rise. Scientists have no way of knowing how much methane and CO2 are trapped in permafrost, but it’s very worrying because it heats up automatically. The other impacts are more coastal erosion, the permafrost soil is hard, when it thaws it softens and this leads to more coastal erosion. It also impacts local infrastructure like buildings and pipelines as the ground becomes swampy, it moves and can cause pipelines and homes to collapse.

The impact we have witnessed here is a glimpse of our future, but it doesn’t have to be our reality.

Why is the Arctic so important to us in the UK? It is the main driver of weather in the UK. It controls atmospheric circulation for the northern hemisphere and the Jet stream, the high conveyor belt in the atmosphere that brings us our weather, wet and wind, hot and cold. The temperature difference between the cold Arctic and the warm equator creates a jet stream, the strong temperature gradient creates a powerful jet stream. As the Arctic warms, the temperature gradient decreases. This then has an impact on the Jet stream. There is research that shows that it could weaken the jet stream and become more curvy, or blocked as we call it, which means the weather is more likely to be “blocked”. This can lead to extreme temperatures, more humid (think floods in Germany), hotter (think forest fires in Greece).

I wanted to come and tell the story but it’s not a story, it’s reality.

What was impossible is not possible and becomes more likely.