Svalbard: The remote Arctic island warming seven times faster than the global average

ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn reports from Svalbard, off the coast of Norway, where he explores how warming in the polar regions leads to extreme weather across the planet.

There is less sea ice on the planet than at any time since records began.

Summer in Antarctica has seen the ice retreat further than ever before, while winter in the Arctic has not been cold enough to produce the ice that once filled the seas around Svalbard.

The polar regions act as air-conditioning units for the planet. Reduce their size and inevitably the earth gets warmer. 

Svalbard is approximately 650 miles from the North Pole. In the main town Longyearbyen the sun still hasn’t risen above the horizon.

It’s -12 degrees outside but by historic standards on this archipelago it’s too warm, especially in the sea.

Isfjorden translates as the Ice Fjord and there’s little or no ice in it. Science is only just starting to understand why.

Even with decades of data learning about the impact of Atlantic waters on the spread of sea ice is still in its infancy.  

It’s called the ‘Atlantification’ of the Arctic. Warmer, saltier water from the south pushing its way north.

Despite temperatures being -12 degrees, experts say this is too warm. Credit: ITV News

It was first studied in 2006 when scientists observed a lack of sea ice, even though freezing winter temperatures ought to have created more.

Atlantification may be driving the reduction in sea ice faster than previously thought.

Add that to the fact that a dark ocean without ice absorbs solar radiation more than a snowy ice covered sea and it’s easy to understand why Svalbard is warming seven times faster than the global average.

Rising ocean temperatures have an impact on land too.

Heading into the interior of these islands is a chance to see the story of this winter’s snow and rain.

For those studying snow it’s what they find beneath the surface that exemplifies a changing climate. Instead of simply snow there are layers of snow and ice.

The ice acts as a barrier both for vegetation to grow when spring comes but also for the animals that need it for food. Reindeer struggle to scratch through ice to feed. Changes In this fragile ecosystem impact their population and the survival of other arctic animals. 

A reduction in sea ice touches us all. Warming in the polar regions leads to extreme weather across the planet.

With carbon still being pumped into the atmosphere, every indication is the seas will continue to warm and with it the planet too.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...