I went to Longyearbyen last week – my second (and last) trip up there during my Fulbright time. It was a good and successful journey. Together with my research host at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), Dr. Frank Nilsen, and his graduate student Eli Anne Ersdal, we continued our data analyses and discussions on our measurements of ocean bottom pressure in the west coast of Svalbard using in situ data and those from the satellite system GRACE (see my post #5). Relatively recent post-processing of GRACE data suggest that separation from land (glacier mass loss) and ocean signals in the region may have been successfully achieved, and we are working hard to demonstrate this.
Glaciers in Svalbard, like most other glaciers in the world, have been melting rapidly in recent decades. This is of major concern because the ice that melts from these end up in the ocean, largely contributing to sea level rise. But as an oceanographer, I am very interested in telling apart which are land and which are ocean signals from GRACE, because if successfully separated, we can then use GRACE to investigate ocean circulation variability.
A major feature of the ocean circulation in western Svalbard is the relatively warm, Atlantic-derived water that enters the Arctic through Fram Strait (see my post #3 for a quick review). The maps above are different zooms of my location from google maps during one of the evenings I was there, and a couple of pictures from the waterfront by UNIS. The air temperature was about -18 Celsius, and the wind chill made it feel even colder (I then learned to appreciate how “warm” Tromsø had been these past months, by the way), but the ocean was still not cold enough and thus there was no sea ice, except in the very shallow spots on the cost. The warm Atlantic water keeps the area essentially free of sea ice even during the winter (note that this does not prevent polar bears from visiting -they can be found all over Svalbard. If approaching Longyearbyen however, they are scared away before they could put people in town at risk).
Despite the cold air temperatures, Longyearbyen had very very little snow in the ground. It was also very sunny, but the sun there was only making the scenery even more beautiful than it already is, yet not making it any warmer. Meanwhile, Tromsø was finally starting to receive this year’s share of snow. More about the snow in Tromsø in my next post.
Many thanks to Frank for making this second trip possible, and certainly big thanks to Greg for parenting solo in Tromsø while I was working up north again.