SESS Report 2021 The State of Environmental Science in Svalbard - an annual report

Roland.Neuber [ at ]


Executive Summary The State of Environmental Science in Svalbard (SESS) report 2021 together with its predecessors contributes to the documentation of the state of the Arctic environment in and around Svalbard, and highlights research conducted within the Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System (SIOS). Climate change is a global problem, but many of its impacts are being felt most strongly in the Arctic. Given its remote but accessible location, Svalbard constitutes an ideal place to study the Arctic environment in general, including, more specifically, the causes and consequences of climate change. The Arctic Climate Change Update (2021) emphasised the severity of global climate change for ecosystems across the Arctic. They are undergoing radical changes regarding their structure and functioning, affecting flora, fauna and livelihoods of Arctic communities. Oceanic ecosystems and food webs are directly and indirectly altered by the warming and freshening of the Arctic Ocean. A prolonged open water period and the expansion of open water areas caused by declining sea ice affect under-ice productivity and diversity. These changes have cascading effects through ecosystems and impact the distribution, abundance and seasonality of a variety of marine species. Svalbard is located at one of the key oceanic gateways to the Arctic. This land–ice–ocean transition zone is a system particularly vulnerable to environmental changes. Svalbard’s environment is influenced by maritime processes; thus extensive observation of the ocean system is nowadays necessary. The chapter on the iMOP project reports seawater temperature and salinity variability over the last decades and indicates changes of Svalbard fjord seawater properties. The chapter highlights the role of a collaborative and supportive network of observatory operators and encourages joint planning and maintenance of future marine observatories. Arctic vegetation plays a key role in land–atmosphere interactions. Alterations can lead to ecosystem–climate feedbacks and exacerbate climate change. Extreme precipitation events are already becoming more frequent. Together with an increasing rain-to-snow ratio they impact the structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. Dynamics in Arctic tundra ecosystems are expected to undergo fundamental changes with increasing temperatures as predicted by climate models. To detect, document, understand and predict those changes, COAT Svalbard provides a long-term and real-time operational observation system through ecosystem-based terrestrial monitoring. The observation system consists of six modules comprising food web pathways as well as one climate-monitoring module and focuses on two contrasting regions in Svalbard to allow for intercomparison. To date, the project has done an initial assessment of tundra ecosystems in Norway and will now begin with the long-term ecosystembased monitoring. For remote regions such as the Svalbard archipelago, terrestrial photography is a crucial addition to satellite imagery, because land-based cameras offer high temporal resolution and insensitivity towards varying weather conditions. PASSES provides an overview of cameras operating in Svalbard managed by research institutions and private companies. The survey revealed difficulties and knowledge gaps preventing the full potential of the terrestrial photography network in Svalbard from being used. Therefore, PASSES recommends the creation of a Svalbard camera system network. The effects of climate change contributed to a specific anomaly of the springtime Arctic atmosphere, namely a pronounced depletion of stratospheric ozone during March and April 2020, which can be called an Arctic ozone hole. In Svalbard, the amount of ozone loss was recorded by ground-based dedicated spectroscopic instruments measuring the total ozone column as well as the UV irradiance (EXAODEP-2020, an update of UV Ozone). The latter is important for effects on the biota. Corresponding erythemal daily doses for spring 2020 show a doubling compared to previous years with less or no ozone depletion. While the correspondence between ozone loss and increase in UV doses follows a well-known relationship, the possible later consequences of the observed springtime increase of UV doses on Svalbard’s environment need to be further studied. A particular method to observe the Svalbard environment, which has seen a very strong increase in usage during recent years, is the application of unmanned airborne or marine vehicles. The update on recent publications using these devices (UAV Svalbard) reveals that especially conventional remotely operated aerial vehicles (drones) with camera equipment are now widely used. It is recommended to SIOS to foster interdisciplinary communication among the multitude of drone users to establish exchange of information and data. New EU regulations for drone operations are being put in place from 2022 onwards also in Svalbard. Climate services are receiving more and more attention from Arctic countries, because they translate data into relevant and timely information, thereby supporting governments, societies and industries in planning and decision-making processes. SIOS contributes to climate services by providing research infrastructure with an overarching goal to develop and maintain a regional observational system for long-term measurements in and around Svalbard. The SIOS Core Data (SCD) consists of a list of essential Earth System Science variables relevant to determine environmental change in the Arctic. SCD is developed to improve the relevance and availability of scientific information addressing ESS topics for decision-making. SIOS Core Data providers have committed to maintain the observations for at least five years, to make the data publicly available, and to follow advanced principles of scientific data management and stewardship. Arctic climate change is posing risks to the safety, health and well-being of Arctic communities and ecosystems. Still, there remain gaps in our understanding of physical processes and societal implications. The authors of the SESS chapters have highlighted some unanswered questions and suggested concrete actions that should be taken to address them. The editors would like to thank the authors for their valuable contributions to the SESS Report 2021. These chapters illustrate how SIOS projects contribute to ensure the future vitality and resilience of Arctic peoples, communities and ecosystems.

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Feldner, J. , Hübner, C. , Lihavainen, H. and Neuber, R. (2022): SESS Report 2021 The State of Environmental Science in Svalbard - an annual report / J. Feldner , C. Hübner , H. Lihavainen and R. Neuber ORCID: (editors) , Longyearbyen, Norway, Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System (SIOS), 96 p., ISBN: 978-82-93871-03-3 .

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