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The world's northernmost town is fighting climate change
Posted on 11/03/2020

CultureNorway

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Longyearbyen, a small town in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, has been suffering from avalanches, forcing it to relocate big parts of its borough.

Extreme conditions

Extreme conditions
© Adrian Wojcik / 123rf

At 78 degrees north, Longyearbyen is the northernmost town in the world, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, which creates some extreme climatic phenomenons.

From October 5 every year, its 2,300 inhabitants do not see the sun for another 155 days, as the town is immersed in complete darkness until March 8.

It is however a popular place for tourists who want to see the Northern Lights, and the "King of the Arctic" - the polar bear, being only 1,050km from the North Pole.

But with increased temperatures from climate change, the town is in danger - there is more rain and snowfall, which have led to unprecedented avalanches since 2014.

Climate scientist Ketil Isaksen said that we "are witnessing violent changes", which confirm researchers' prediction for climate change to start in the Arctic and spread south.

Indeed, Longyearbyen is now the fastest-warming town in the world, going five times higher than the global average since 1961.

"The 2,300 inhabitants here form a well-functioning family community... our position in the world gives us challenges but also great opportunities," said the mayor of Longyearbyen, Arild Olsen.

Since 2018, the Norwegian government has invested 500 million Norwegian krone (about £41 million) in housing and protective measures, after avalanches killed two people and destroyed 11 houses in 2015, and destroyed six houses in 2017.

The 60 new houses that were built are in a safer part of the town, in the north-east, but 142 homes will be demolished, as they are considered to be "hazardous areas".

These changes are important, as many inhabitants are scared to stay in their homes during the winter. This will be the largest house-building programme ever in the region.