dinsdag 2 juli 2013

Exploring the Arctic’s change at Blomstrand glacier

30 June 2013

Captain Wojtek 
© Bas Bolman
For Martine, Ruben and Bas this is the last day at Ny-Ålesund, whereas Ariadna and Ben are staying for another five weeks for their research on bioindicators and ballast water. Luckily we finally got the chance to go offshore with a large Zodiac. We had less luck with the weather: continuous rain and heavy clouds. But that certainly didn’t influence our enthusiasm for the day.

Mr Wojtek from the Norwegian Polar Institute was our experienced captain and Maarten Loonen from the Dutch Arctic Station of the Netherlands joined us as our guide. First he took us to the marble cave on Blomstrandhalvøya, an island north of Ny-Ålesund. This area has been exploited in the past for marble mining. Subsequently Maarten showed us the Blomstrand glacier. Just as most glaciers on Svalbard, the Blomstrand glacier is retreating. In 1991, after the glacier’s retreat for several hundreds of metres, it became clear that Blomstrandhalvøya is actually an island instead of a peninsula.

At 200 metres from the glacier, captain Wojtek turned off the engine of the boat. With the glacier so close to us, surrounded by smaller and larger icebergs, we could do nothing but watch the beauty of the area and listen to the soft sounds of the rain touching the mirror of the water surface and the gentle crackling of the ice. It seemed that the Arctic was telling us its own story of its slowly changing magnificent scenery.

From left to right: Ruben, Martine, Maarten and Bas
© Bas Bolman
And then our guide Maarten started to tell his story of a changing Arctic. Increasing temperatures of approximately 2ºC over the last decades might not give the impression of an enormous change. But in the Arctic, it’s the difference between snow and rain. In other words, it shouldn’t rain at Svalbard. Maarten’s research on Arctic bird populations is certainly relevant here. The Barnacle geese, Eider ducks and Arctic terns population are reduced this year; does it relate to the change in the Arctic? Or is it a natural fluctuation over the years and will populations recover over the next years? To understand the Arctic’s change it is important to do thorough research of its species and habitats. It is time for stakeholders to sit together and make plans on the interactions between humans and the Arctic in the future. 

Martine from IMARES explained about the Arctic Programme of TripleP@Sea, an investment programme of Wageningen UR to build up an Arctic knowledge base to facilitate the sustainable development of the Arctic by developing tools, guidelines and standards. These knowledge products are crucial input for a much larger stakeholder debate on the future of the Arctic. Where can we exploit activities? Which areas should be closed due to high ecosystem values? Under what conditions can activities be allowed in the Arctic Region? How can we effectively map and reduce environmental pressures of e.g. oil & gas activities?

Touched by the magical blue ice of the glacier and its ever increasing calving Maarten concluded that maybe it is time for humans to reconsider their role in the Arctic.

The next stop was at a huge green cliff, east of the Blomstrand glacier. On this cliff literally thousands of Kittiwakes and Guillemots are nesting in order to have their offspring soon and provide for a new generation. The noise of the screaming birds was again overwhelming. On the way back we passed impressive ice bergs, large blue crystals floating in the water in an endless variety of shapes. Petrols flying on both sides of the boat guided us back towards Ny-Ålesund.

Amazed of our experiences we shared our stories late in the evening with an ice cold beer. In the meantime a polar bear silently crossed the village… 

Iceberg in Kongsfjorden
© Bas Bolman

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