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Svalbard's fjords ice-free

These images show the typically thick ice cover on Kongsfjorden in 2003-04 and the virtually ice-free fjord this winter.

At 79ºN, the fjords of Spitsbergen usually freeze over in winter forming a layer of ice up to one meter thick.  Incredibly, throughout the winter of 2005-06 the fjords were virtually ice-free: a truly exceptional situation.  SAMS scientists Dr Finlo Cottier and Colin Griffiths have just returned from an expedition to the region in an effort to understand why. 

Is this yet more evidence of a warming Arctic or is there a more complex oceanographic explanation? 

To answer this question the scientists need to interpret the continuous records of water temperature in the fjords that are collected by permanently deployed moorings. During the expedition Colin and Finlo recovered the SAMS mooring from Kongsfjorden in NW Spitsbergen and are now analysing the data to discover the cause of the ice-free fjords.

The work is part of the MariClim project, a collaboration with the Norwegian Polar Institute, that aims to link water properties with ecosystem function. The recent research cruise was aboard the Norwegian research vessel “Lance”.

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