Journalist and yachtsman John Amtrup talked about his trip to the Svalbard archipelago and how the climate is changing.
This sound was creeping up on us. You think all is quiet as you walk along the beached icebergs in Svalbard. But then you hear it in the Arctic silence: the imperceptible crackling of old ice, which is millions of years old. Every story has a beginning and our story started in Tromsø, Norway.
We were just a tiny white speck against the blue. Behind us, mainland Norway was slowly sinking into the sea. Ahead of us were adventures and the Barents Sea.
We were heading to Svalbard on a 1972 Isbjorn (Swan 48 model). The whole team was literally sweating in T-shirts and shorts. I know weather is not the same as climate. But when you have to wear shorts and apply a huge amount of sunscreen in May at 69 ° north latitude, there is a chance that something is wrong. The climate is changing rapidly, and even faster in the Arctic.
Sea oil monster
About 110 miles south of Bear Island, a monster appears on the horizon. In the midst of flocks of kittywaks, fulmars, whales and other living creatures, a giant structure and multi-ton ships stand out.
This is an oil platform named after a politician who stood on the side of the unfortunate. Johan Kastberg (1862-1926) was a very influential Norwegian politician from the Labor Party. He was very progressive and promoted laws giving legal rights to illegitimate children. Now an environmental advertisement for oil production bears his name. Alas, the future future of legitimate children and illegitimate children is now in jeopardy.
This field is (so far) the northernmost in Norway today. This is because oil companies and many politicians are looking at the melting Arctic as a good way to drill and produce new oil even further north.
Oscar Wisting was another famous Norwegian. Together with Roald Amundsen, he was the first to reach both poles. Now his name has been given to a new oil field. It will be even further north than Castberg.
The danger of oil production in the north
Scientific organizations such as the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Institute for Marine Research have recommended that oil exploration should not be carried out so close to permafrost. All due to the fact that if the accident occurs in winter, the chances of eliminating oil spills are negligible. The weather is too harsh due to ice and extreme cold, and there is no infrastructure to deal with the consequences of such an accident. Moreover, this oil facility is located 150 miles from the mainland.
Permafrost is not something that can or should be controlled by political decisions. Although some leading Norwegian politicians seem to think so.
Meanwhile, our boat continued its journey north. On Bear Island we anchored for the night in Grytvik, a bay in the north of the small island. The south wind blew against the steep cliffs where the Fulmar nested.
You can't swim to the Arctic or anywhere else and not make an effort not to leave a plastic trail behind. Plastic is one of the many dangers that pose to the ocean and life in it.
Nutritional value and phytoplankton
We managed to go fishing while standing near the Bear Island. For dinner that day we had four huge codfish. According to the staff of the station on Bear Island, they do not "fish". In their jargon, catching is called "collecting" fish.
In spring and summer, the waters and hills are teeming with life thanks to phytoplankton. These microorganisms are the basis for all other life in the sea and birds. Algal blooms occur in the spring, where cold and warm waters meet. As the ice edge melts northward with the onset of the warmer months, new areas for algae blooms emerge.
Zooplankton feeds on algae, and zooplankton feeds on fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. Thus, the habitats of many species of sea creatures are shifting further and further north.
If an oil spill occurs in these areas, the consequences can be catastrophic for all life in the ocean and on its surface. So say both experts and environmentalists.
Rich fishing grounds may be left dead for years, and whales and birds that feed on the same fish will suffer as well. The fact that the ice edge is moving north affects all animal life in the Arctic.
For polar bears and seabirds, the journey to the ice edge to feed can become too long. Researchers are already observing that birds such as the Elephant Gull, Kittywake and Lesser Puffin and Razorbill prefer to graze in front of the glaciers in Svalbard. Polar bears left on Svalbard are at risk of starvation.
Sitting at the helm of the Isbjorn after we left Bear Island, I can't stop thinking about human greed. We have the resources and the knowledge to extract more oil from this pristine land. And we do this in order to fuel the ever-increasing consumption of luxury.
We also have knowledge about the effects of burning fossil fuels on our climate. We have known this since the 1980s, but we still believe that we have another planet, an ocean, and an afterlife that will provide a solution to climate change.
The climate change we are seeing
When I first sailed to Svalbard in 2010, Hansbukt had no beach to walk on. The Hansbreen glacier extended in the Hornsund south of Svalbard and was constantly changing.
Twelve years passed, and most of the Hansebryn retreated to land. According to a study by scientists at the Polish station in Hornsund, from 2000 to 2005, Hansbreen retreated 400 meters. This is almost 100 meters per year, and the retreat continues at the same terrible pace.
Now I'm walking on soft black silt on the beach on my way to the front of the glacier. This muddy beach has not been exposed to the midnight sun for thousands of years. Like most other glaciers on Svalbard and around the world, it has shrunk due to rising temperatures. As we move towards the front of the glacier, our boots get dirtier.
The ground is soft, with black, sticky silt. And the black mud that I'm walking on now amplifies the melt even more as the sunlight that years ago bounced off the white surface of the glacier back into the atmosphere is now being absorbed by the now open land and ocean.
Over the past 100 years, this ice has retreated 17 kilometers, according to research conducted by scientists at a station under the sharp peaks of Hornsund. According to their estimates, in 30-40 years the glaciers will disappear, and Svalbard will turn into two islands. It sounds intriguing, but it's actually very depressing. We are slowly changing the Arctic, destroying it.
New research shows that parts of the Arctic are warming very quickly. The northern part of the Barents Sea is warming five to seven times more than the rest of the globe.
Warming in the Barents Sea region is an early sign of what could happen in the rest of the Arctic. The problem is that the Arctic is very far away from most people. Why should it have any meaning for a family living, for example, in China?
According to scientists, warming is expected to cause an increase in extreme weather conditions in North America, Europe and throughout Asia. Meanwhile, in Adventfjorden, seven large cruise ships are anchored off Longyearbyen.
Between cruise ships, a string of dinghys, tenders and motor boats cuts through the waves. At the same time, new cruise superyacht guests are arriving on Longyearbyen Island on charter planes.
These are energy-intensive machines whose generators and engines operate around the clock and seven days a week. They are used to transport people, cool food and drinks, wash bedding and keep hundreds of guests on board at a comfortable temperature.
The paradox is that many cruise lines use marketing slogans such as "Come to the fragile Arctic before it melts." But at the same time, they leave such a carbon footprint that the Arctic is melting even faster. So we sat in the cockpit of the Isbjorn and watched this hectic scene.
We longed for a light breeze that could gently carry us north along the Svalbard coast. We were going to the anchorage, where we could retire, just enjoy the scenery of the high latitudes.
And in the distance, a polar bear lies alone in the distance. Although maybe it's just a small snowdrift of snow that has not yet melted ...
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