Sept. 17, 2012
French photographer Samuel Blanc has been leading tours to Svalbard, Norway's archipelago in the Arctic, since 2007. This year the reduced sea ice extent allowed his expedition aboard the 12-passenger Polaris to circumnavigate the northern islands in early July rather than mid-August. Climate change is having a direct impact on the unique ecosystem isolated on these islands more than 400 miles north of Europe. In the following photos, Blanc gives us a tour of life on the archipelago's largest island, Spitsbergen. You can see more of his work at www.sblanc.com.
In west Spitsbergen, Little Auks, such as those pictured here, and other birds aren't safe on the cliffs. Hungry polar bears have learned to climb the steep gradients in search of food.
Polar Bears and Bleeding Glaciers
The dissolved iron seen in this glacier may help fight climate change. As the iron washes into the northern seas, it can help fertilize phytoplankton blooms that draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
As global warming melts permafrost in the arctic, more carbon is released into the atmosphere. Meanwhile areas of tundra are also seeing a rise in fires.
The vast stretch of open water due to thinning of the Arctic sea ice is forcing walruses to often crowd together on beaches.
This bearded seal has found a safe spot away from polar bears and sharks. Many seals however also snooze in the water, where they are at risk of becoming of meal for the Greenland shark, the world's slowest shark.
Only three percent of the total population of arctic fox are called "Blue fox" and unlike the rest of the population, these blue critters don't turn white in the winter.
These foxes are showing their summer colors.
Santa’s reindeer must be trained to fly through severe weather around the North Pole.
Approximately 1,900 cyclones per year whirl across the Arctic, churning the ocean and potentially contributing to the loss of sea ice. The Arctic System Reanalysis (ASR) research group recently counted the Arctic twisters and found approximately 40 percent more than expected.
“We now know there were more cyclones than previously thought, simply because we’ve gotten better at detecting them,” said ASR study leader David Bromwich, professor of geography at Ohio State University, in a press release.
“We can’t yet tell if the number of cyclones is increasing or decreasing, because that would take a multidecade view. We do know that, since 2000, there have been a lot of rapid changes in the Arctic — Greenland ice melting, tundra thawing — so we can say that we’re capturing a good view of what’s happening in the Arctic during the current time of rapid changes.”
Many of the cyclones were small and lasted only a short time. The storms often raged over unpopulated areas so the only way to observe them was with satellite imagery, weather balloons, buoys and weather stations on the ground. A supercomputer at Ohio State crunched that weather data to detect previously unseen cyclones. The data ranged from 2000-2010.
Although unseen, the storms may play apart in the record reductions in sea ice in the Arctic. As the storms trouble the waters of the Arctic Ocean, they pull up warmer, deeper water. When the warmer water mixes with the surface water, it may speed the disappearance of the ice.
The ASR team presented their research at the American Geophysical Union meeting on December 12.
IMAGE: An unusually strong storm formed off the coast of Alaska on Aug. 5, 2012 and tracked into the center of the Arctic Ocean, where it slowly dissipated. (NASA, Wikimedia Commons)