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106 The Impact of Covid-19 on Polar Research

11 . 08 . 2020

Notes

Video version of this episode

As COVID-19 sweeps the planet, measure to contain the virus are affecting research programs on both, the Arctic and Antarctic. While in the Arctic, travel restrictions of countries like Norway, Greenland, Canada and the US restricts resupply of existing projects on the Greenlandic icecap as well as in the Arctic Ocean, the far south is even more affected. Medical care in Antarctica being limited, most research programs have been put on halt and are going to have to take a gap year. And even though no project is being cancelled, no activities are being cancelled, it's all just being postponed, there are only a few years left to make some very significant changes to avoid the worst of climate change consequences, and science can’t afford to wait an entire year.

105 New islands in the Arctic

28 . 07 . 2020

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Video version of this episode

While the Arctic warms up to six times faster than the rest of the world according to the latest findings, the melting of glaciers leads to the discovery and/or formation of new islands. In 2019, Norwegian researchers discovered on satellite images that with the melting of the Bragebreen and Gimlebreen glaciers the previous Brageneset headland on the southwestern tip of Nordaustlandet has turned out to be an island of approximately 10km2. Similar cases emerged already in the Russian High Arctic where research vessels of the Russian Navy discovered new islands in the archipelagos Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land. The largest of the five new islands is 54,500 km2. In 2015-2018, more than 30 new islands, bays, capes and straits were found. And that is not the end of the story. Polish researchers have discovered changes to the map of Norway, which could result in the country’s largest Arctic island splitting in two. Radar soundings by Polish researchers show that Spitsbergen could split in two as the Hornbreen and Hambergbreen glaciers on the island retreat every year. This would create a new channel of water between the seas on either side of the island – effectively splitting the island. “The conclusion coming from the surveys is that the glacier bed is below sea level and no obstacles have been identified that might prevent connection of the Barents Sea and the Greenland Sea when glaciers have retreated,” Polish researcher Mariusz Grabiec says.The northern parts of the Barents Sea and Spitsbergen are among the places with the fastest temperature rise on our planet. Svalbard, the fastest-heating place on earth, is a live laboratory for everyone studying the dramatic effects of the climate crisis. While world leaders travel to New York on September 23 for the UN Climate Action Summit to find ways to limit the global temperature to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, temperatures on Svalbard have already risen by 4 °C. At Spitsbergen, the largest island on the archipelago, both permafrost and glacier are melting in a speed nobody could predict a few years ago. It will likely be not the last new islands to appear in the Arctic.

104 100 Years of Svalbard Treaty

14 . 07 . 2020

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most remarkable international treaties - The Spitsbergen Treaty. Signed in times of tremendous turmoil right after World War I the 14 countries recognises the sovereignty of Norway over the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, at the time called Spitsbergen. Over the years, more than 40 states have ratified the treaty grant numerous rights to the signatory countries, such as access to Svalbard including the right to fish, hunt or undertake any kind of maritime, industrial, mining or trade activity. But the times of the celebrations are overshadowed by threats and gestures from parties who interpret the contract differently. And so it remains exciting to see where the next 100 years of the contract will lead, that taught lessons of territorial temptation and regulates the handling of the northernmost part of Europe.

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