Monday, August 17, 2009 7:41:42 AM
First a few words about Kongsfjorden (I have been told that this fjord was originally named Kings Bay, later translated into Norwegian). Kongsfjorden leads to Ny-Ålesund, one of the four permanent settlements on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago. Ny-Ålesund is one of the world's northernmost settlements at 78°55′N 11°56′E, and is the world's northernmost functional public settlement. At the bottom of the fjord you see three spectacular mountain peaks, known as “Tre Kronor” which means three crowns. They were named by a Swedish expedition after the three Royal Crowns in the Swedish coat of arms. The peaks are individually called Svea, Nora and Dana (symbolising the royal crowns or kingdoms of respectively Sweden, Norway and Denmark).
Kongsfjorden is situated far from any pollution source and where Atlantic waters via the West Spitsbergen Current meet the Arctic waters. A project called the Alkekonge Project has been set up to study the impact of climate warming on Arctic zooplankton communities, Little Auks (Alle alle) and their physical environment. The goal is to obtain data on water circulation, heat and salt transport by the West Spitsbergen Current, fjords hydrology and fjords - deep sea exchanges, optical parameters concerning the phyto- and zooplankton living conditions, plankton communities and local Little Auk population parameters, breeding and feeding ecology and behaviour. Little auks breeding in Spitsbergen, feed mainly on the large copepod Calanus glacialis, so tend to restrict their foraging activity to Arctic Water and avoid Atlantic Water, which contains mainly smaller copepod, Calanus finmarchicus. Parallel to the changes in zooplankton community structure a change in vital population dynamical rates of Little Auks is expected. In the areas where the Little Auks can reliably forage, the reproductive output, corrected for predation, should be higher than in colonies where Little Auks have to either fly far or utilize scattered patches of large zooplankton. Clear, natural system environment-zooplankton-seabirds seems to be a perfect tool for envisaging into future climate changes.
Alkekonge means in fact Little Aulk. As the bird is on the top of the food chain it is an excellent indicator of what happens further down the chain. Sign of a changing situation is also that until 2002 the fjord was filled with cold water and ice. In 2006, however, warm atlantic water flew into the fjord. Since then we have seen three consecutive practically ice free winters in the fjord, while the ice used to be a metre thick in the winter months.
Flotsam is another indicator. This year saw a new record in flotsam (delivered by the Gulf Stream) on the Svalbard coasts. You may not be able to read Norwegian, but the view alone of the image on top of this (Norwegian) page should be enough to tell you that the situation is grave.
Well, as you know temperatures change. 5000- 8000 years ago the water temperature here was 2°C warmer than until 2005, so a comparison with past climates is also possible. In another project sediments from the bottom of the Kongsfjorden is being sampled and studied.