May 8, 2009

Former Coal Mine Now Source Of Climate Change Observations

What was once a large source of coal in the Arctic mountains of Norway is now home to international climate scientists.

Operated by Kings Bay, the Ny-Aalesund Arctic Research Infrastructure facility brings in scientists from around the globe to gauge the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

The facility was once a mining site for fossil fuels, but mining operations were ended after a firedamp explosion killed 21 men on the site in 1962.

Now the settlement is inhabited by only a few dozen researchers.

"It's good to be far away to measure trends" in carbon dioxide emissions, Swedish researcher Johan Stroem told AFP from the Zeppelin atmospheric measuring station.

"When you're in the middle of it, you don't see it. Exactly like when you're in the middle of the forest, you can see a few trees but not the whole thing," he said.

Researchers are offered free travel and access to the facility in Svalbard, Norway in order to conduct arctic environmental research including marine and terrestrial biology, climate research in the troposphere and stratosphere, surface phenomena and air quality.

Researchers are carried to the facility by a cable car, where they work to gauge particles from forest fires in North America carried to the region by air currents.

"It's not so much the high level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that worries me. Humankind will always adapt and change its lifestyle. We won't go on vacation to the Maldives anymore. But it's the rate at which the concentrations increase which is worrying," said Stroem.

"Over the past 20 years, we've seen a jump of CO2 concentrations at a speed which has never been observed before," he said.

Each year the Svalbard archipelago loses 13 cubic kilometers (3.11 cubic miles) of its ice cap.

"From one year to the next, I can see them retreat with my own eyes," said Stroem, who has been working at the facility since 1999.

"In 50 to 100 years from now these glaciers will be shadows of themselves. The larger ones will still be here but the smaller ones will be gone," Jack Kohler, a US glaciologist at the Norwegian Polar Institute, told AFP.


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