In the Arctic, a terrible weather setback for a mining city – 06/22/2022 23:27 pm

Dor Cellnes (AFP / Jonathan Knoxstrand), a 2015 avalanche survivor, was found on a new avalanche wall in Longyearbyen, May 9, 2022 on the Svalbard Islands in northern Norway.

Dor Cellnes (AFP / Jonathan Knoxstrand), a 2015 avalanche survivor, was found on a new avalanche wall in Longyearbyen, May 9, 2022 on the Svalbard Islands in northern Norway.

In his life, he is indebted to a lamp: Tor Selnes is a miracle of an avalanche that Svalbard sadly brought to light the impact of climate change, which is the fastest warming in the world in an Arctic region.

This Saturday, December 19, 2015, just a week before Christmas, the 54-year-old education assistant is sleeping at his home in Longyearbyen, the capital of the Norwegian archipelago, between Norway’s mainland and the North Pole.

Suddenly two hailstones pounded the side of Mount Sukertopen, which was facing the city.

Tor Selnes moved 80 meters and his bedroom was completely crushed.

To avoid getting caught in the snow, he grabs a light bulb from the ceiling for a few seconds.

“It was like I was in a washing machine, with boards, glass, sharp objects, everything you could imagine,” he says.

Survived with cuts. In another section of the house, his three children are unharmed.

But two neighbors, Atlee, who played poker the day before, and their two-year-old daughter, Nicole, died there.

Tor Selnes shows a photograph of a lamp that saved his life during an avalanche on December 19, 2015 in Longyearbyen (AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND) on the Norwegian island of Spitzberg.

Tor Selnes shows a photograph of a lamp that saved his life during an avalanche on December 19, 2015 in Longyearbyen (AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND) on the Norwegian island of Spitzberg.

In this community of less than 2,500 souls, the play, which was considered unimaginable until then, had the effect of an electric shock.

Line Nagell Ylvisåker, a writer and journalist based in Longyearbyen since 2005, says: “There has been a lot of talk about climate change since I arrived (…).

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“When you live here, it’s like watching a baby grow: you don’t see the glaciers receding,” he says.

– Mining past –

In Svalbard, climate change means shorter winters, yo-yo temperatures, stronger and more intense rainfall and the melting of permanent frosts.

AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND (AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND) on May 6, 2022 at Longyearbyen on Spitzbergen Island in the Svalbard Islands

AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND (AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND) on May 6, 2022 at Longyearbyen on Spitzbergen Island in the Svalbard Islands

Many conditions suitable for avalanches and landslides …

In the days following the tragedy, inappropriate rain fell on the city during the Christmas season.

In 2017, there was record rainfall the following fall, and in 2017 another avalanche dragged another house without causing any casualties.

“Before, we talked a lot about polar bears, new species, what’s going to happen in nature,” Line Nagel Yilwiseker continues.

Maps showing the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and Barentsberg, Longyerbine and Nye-Alessund (AFP /)

Maps showing the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and Barentsberg, Longyerbine and Nye-Alessund (AFP /)

“The polar bear floating on an ice symbolized it, but (chain of weather accidents, author’s note) it opened my eyes to how it affects us humans as well,” he adds.

After two avalanches, authorities condemned 144 homes that were considered vulnerable. It accounts for about 10% of the city’s building stock, which has now been replaced by a giant avalanche barrier made of large granite blocks.

A terrible setback for Longyearbyen, which has a history closely related to fossil fuels.

The city was founded in 1906 by an American businessman, John Monroe Longier, who came to extract coal.

AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND (AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND) on May 6, 2022 at Longyearbyen on Spitzbergen Island in the Svalbard Islands

AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND (AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND) on May 6, 2022 at Longyearbyen on Spitzbergen Island in the Svalbard Islands

If almost all the mines are closed today – at last, generally, should be next year -, a huge shed for mining trucks stands at the height of the city, a testament to the mine’s past.

Coal is (almost) stored in the museum, which is now climate change shaping the urban landscape.

– Sharing –

According to Kettle Issachan, a researcher at the Norwegian Meteorological Center, the Svalbard region is “the hottest place on earth.”

In the northern part of the Barents Sea that bathes the archipelago, warming is seven times faster than on the planet, a study he co-authored with nature shows.

AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND (May 2, 2022), Alf / Jonathan NACKSTRAND warns of roadside polar bears near Longyearbyen, Svalbard Islands

AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND (May 2, 2022), Alf / Jonathan NACKSTRAND warns of roadside polar bears near Longyearbyen, Svalbard Islands

Decrease the declining sea ice, which usually acts as a shield to prevent the atmosphere from warming in the winter and protecting the ocean from the summer sun.

In Longyearbyen, permafrost melting weakens the soil, illuminates lampposts and forces the foundations of houses to be redone. Until then, in this cold and dry climate, drains will appear on the roofs …

On the outskirts of the city, now mistakenly named Isfjorden (“Ice Fjord”), you can pass by a snowmobile in the winter before, and since 2004 have not seen any real snow formation on its surface.

Even the world-famous World Seed Reserve, which protects plant biodiversity from human habitation and natural disasters, had to do great work after an unexpected water intrusion into the tunnel that controlled its entry into the mountain gut.

In the offices of the Svalbardposten newspaper, editor-in-chief Børre Haugli summarizes the situation with a shocking formula. Climate change? Today, “We did not discuss it, we see it”.

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