Warming climate causing places expected to be permanently frozen to melt

Last winter saw alarmingly warm temperatures stretching from the North Atlantic deep into the Arctic.  I wrote about this at the time, all through the winter the coast of Norway, in North Scotland, in Iceland, and as far west as Sweden or St. Petersburg Russia, the weather was at or above the freezing point.  A spike of warm air stretched all the way to the North Pole, and I recall seeing reports of above-freezing temperatures, at the North Pole, in the dead of winter.   The pattern wasn’t just a rare warm day, but persisted throughout the winter.

One effect of this abnormally warm is a recent report from Svalbard, Norway.   An international treasure is held there, at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.   The treasure is an archive of seeds is being kept in a vault drilled deep into a mountain in an eternally frozen permafrost landscape.  Those seeds are meant to be held in reserve in case of a global crisis threatening plant species on a global scale.  We may need those seeds to survive such a future.  The location had been chosen because of its remoteness — it’s on Spitzbergen Island, 1300+ miles above the Arctic Circle — and eternally cold.  Seeds were to be able to stay refrigerated naturally with no maintenance, permanently.

Notice the temperatures in various places in the 30’s and 40’s (Farenheit).  In Longyearbyen, where the Seed Vault is located, at the time I took this picture it was 16F or well below zero.  The timing of this picture was at 2AM UTC, meaning that area was in the middle of the night.  Think: What was the daytime temperature?

This is what they want us to believe about the seed vault.  That it’s permanently frozen in a permanently wintry landscape.  That the seeds will stay frozen until the end of time, and we can tap on those seeds at any time to reboot the global ecology if required.

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According to a report in The Guardian, this winter was a little different.   Instead of the to-be-expected snow all winter, there was rain, and the permafrost melted.  Meltwater got into the entrance tunnel, and officials described it as like a “glacier”.  The vault itself did not go above the freezing point, since it is buried deep in the mountain.

Conditions, though, are causing a worry whether the seed vault is truly safe for the envisioned time period.  A facility that was supposed to operate unattended is now being monitored 24 hours a day.   Staff at the Seed Vault are working on mitigation measures, moving some heat-producing equipment out of the vault, installing pumps, building drainage systems, and so forth.  An article on Popular Science has information about that.

In a Wired article, they note that the Arctic is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the planet.   It’s not just the seed vault, but the whole Spitsbergen Archipelago, and other areas of the Arctic, that are experiencing abnormal warming.

Isn’t this an example of the changing climate?  We’re told to not look at a specific storm or weather event as proof of climate change, but instead to look at long term broad trends.  In this case we are seeing not just a day or two of abnormally warm weather in the arctic, and not just a whole winter of abnormally warm weather, but two or three winters in a row of abnormally warm winter weather in the arctic.  That’s a clear broad ranging pattern over a long period of time.

Where I live, in the SF Bay Area in California, I have a couple examples that have lasted a few years now.  When I moved here the summer weather was generally mild, so mild nobody thought it was necessary to have air conditioners.  Before moving here I’d read a “Places Rated” book showing information about each city in the USA.  It showed that in the SF Bay Area, only 15% of the houses had air conditioning while in the rest of the country 95% did.  A mild climate will do that, because air conditioners simply weren’t required.  The last couple summers we’ve had properly hot summers much warmer than when I moved here 27 years ago.  The winters have also been abnormally warmer — not that we ever had properly cold winters, but we would routinely see frost on rooftops and so forth.  The last few winters there’s been none of that.

 

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

One Comment

  1. David, good article. I think you put your finger on the problem with the title’s use of the word “expected.” What humans seem to do with regularity is experience a failure of expectations. This is variously due to our hubris, our over-excitability in thinking we can spot patterns and project out, our inability to understand complex systems, and perhaps mostly because we think on a scale of human lifetimes. In the big picture, we’re not very good at this whole “intelligence” thing. Here’s a thought: limit the damage rather than try to correct for the damage.

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