NGI does not have a simple solution to the climate problem, but together with NVE, MET and UNIS, experts from NGI have contributed with new knowledge about how climate change will affect the avalanche and landslide danger in Svalbard.

Domino effect

Meteorological conditions are important and are often triggering factors for landslides. In general, we can say that in recent years we have experienced more "extreme weather". When it comes precipitation in the form of snow or rain, it now comes more often in a short time. This increases the likelihood of avalanches, landslides, both of soil, rock, and mud in the years to come. Heavy snowfall or heavy rain on snow is a basic recipe for avalanche risk. In such cases, we can expect an increase in avalanches and slush flows.

Thawing of permafrost

Svalbard is an area of land characterized by permafrost. Permafrost is soil masses and bedrock where the temperature during two consecutive years does not exceed zero degrees. The water in the ground is always frozen This is found in higher-lying areas and polar regions, such as Svalbard.

Measurements show that the temperature in Svalbard has already increased by 3-5 degrees between 1971 and 2017, ie the last 46 years. This increases the depth of the active layer in the permafrost, ie the layer that thaws and freezes each year. Heating of permafrost will increase the risk associated with soil slides and rockslip. The reason is that the ground thaws and loses the bonds that have kept the soil masses stable for such a long time.

Svalbard Longyearbyen 2 2017 10 600

Larger variations

Mountainous and lower elevation land areas in Svalbard have, of course, been exposed to natural fluctuations in temperature, but climate change extends the span between the extremes.

Increased depth of the active layer leads to more active slope processes. This means significantly greater instability in the steeper mountainsides. Combined with the frequency of episodes of heavy precipitation in sloping terrain and higher temperatures, the likelihood of landslides increases.

Want to know more about how climate change affects the reason we live? Read the full report.

Climate profile for Longyearbyen can be downloaded here.

This report was commissioned by the Norwegian Environment Agency. Forty-eight authors from eleven institutions and two research centres have contributed. The numbers below identify the affiliations given in the list of authors:

  1. Norwegian Meteorological Institute (MET Norway)
  2. Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE)
  3. Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE)
  4. University of Bergen (UiB)
  5. Institute of Marine Research (IMR)
  6. The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS)
  7. Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI)
  8. Nansen Center (NERSC)
  9. Norwegian Mapping Authority (Kartverket)
  10. Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI)
  11. University of Oslo (UiO)
  12. Norwegian Centre for Climate Services (NCCS)
  13. Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research (BCCR)

The Norwegian Environment Agency is the principal source of funding for the report. The above mentioned institutions have, however, contributed with considerable in-kind.

Editor was var NCCS, The Norwegian Centre for Climate Services, which is a cooperation between Norwegian Meteorological Institute (Met), the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE), Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE) and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research. The Bjerknes Centre is a cooperation between the University of Bergen, NORCE, the Nansen Center and the Institute of Marine Research (IMR).