Massive retreat observed on Svalbard glacier | Polarjournal
Kongsbreen (King’s Glacier) is a two-part ice tongue at the far end of Kongsfjorden in western Svalbard. Further west lies Svalbard’s northernmost settlement, Ny Ålesund on the southern side of the fjord and the tourist-popular island of Blomstrandhalvøya on the northern side. The red square marks the location of the retreat. Map: Screenshot Topo Svalbard Norsk Polarinstitutt

Recent research shows that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world. This also has a massive impact on the glaciers in Svalbard, which continue to retreat. In most cases, this can be seen primarily on satellite images taken over a long period of time. But now one of the big glaciers on the west coast of Svalbard has taken a giant leap backwards.

The northern arm of Kongsbreen receded about 800 meters between July 5 and August 23, 2022, according to the Norwegian Ice Service of the National Meteorological Institute. The experts reported this retreat on social media. Kongsbreen is located at the far end of the fjord of the same name on the west coast of Svalbard. In the same fjord lies the northernmost settlement of the archipelago, Ny Ålesund. Kongsbreen is one of the largest glaciers in the region and is connected in the back to the Holtedahlfonna ice sheet.

On the Instagram post of the Norwegian Ice Service, the glacier edge can be seen on July 5 and the one on August 22. The drop is between 600 and 800 meters and extends over two-thirds of the 2-kilometer-long glacier edge.

The ice service experts were able to document the massive retreat of the glacier edge with the help of satellite data. “The satellite imagery is quite striking and shows a significant retreat over a relatively short period of time,” they wrote in their Instagram post. The glacier edge of Kongsbreen is about 2 kilometers wide at this point, more than two-thirds of which broke off within six weeks. Kongsbrebukta, where the glacier pours into, is filled with ice, as can be seen in the satellite images.

In itself, the retreat of the Kongsbreen has been observed for some time. However, if one compares the satellite image with the glacier edges of the past weeks, it can be noted how much the glacier has retreated in the past six weeks. In recent years, glaciologists have observed massive calving events and strong retreats of glacier edges within a short period of time in many places around the world. The glaciers on Svalbard are also retreating. But few such large and rapid detreats have been reported to date. An inquiry with glaciologists about the possible reasons for the rapid and massive retreat of the glacier was launched, but no response was received at the time of article publication.

When glaciers calve on Svalbard, large icebergs are rarely formed. Most of the time there are huge amounts of ice chunks of different sizes floating in the fjord. Some of them are large enough to also provide a resting place for bearded seals or numerous seabirds. For ships, the parts are more dangerous. (Photo: Dr Michael Wenger)

Calving has resulted in a large amount of drift ice in Kongsfjord, which not only means an enormous freshwater input into the fjord, which is nearly 30 cubic kilometers in size. For the ships, too, the numerous ice chunks of various sizes are a real obstacle and danger, despite the ice-strengthened hulls. That is why the Norwegian Ice Service warns against trips in the Kongsfjord and calls for extreme caution when traveling in the fjord, which is popular with tourists and scientists. Although the main part of the tourist season on Svalbard is over. But there are still a few small expedition ships in the archipelago. “Iceberg chunks and growlers (chunks of ice just under water) continue to pour into Kongsfjord and pose a hazard to vessels in the area,” the service wrote in its Instagram post.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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