Last week, our guest speaker Dave Baker shared stories and photos of his expedition around the Svalbard Archipelago aboard the National Geographic “Explorer”.
The Svalbard Archipelago is a cluster of islands about 1,300 north of Oslo and since the late 1800’s has served as one of the takeoff points for North Pole expeditions. Svalbard has a permanent population of 2,600, mostly Norwegian and Russian people who support the coal, fishing and tourism industries. It is a land where polar bears outnumber humans. Svalbard is also home to the Global Seed Vault, which houses millions of seed varieties in underground vaults.
Although the archipelago is inhabited by a variety of animal species, the real star attraction for visitors is the ice. Mr. Baker’s photos of glaciers and ice formations was nothing short of stunning.
Without getting political, Mr. Baker explained some of the science behind global warming. The Albedo Effect is an expression of the ability of surfaces to reflect sunlight (heat from the sun). Light-colored surfaces return a large part of the sunrays back to the atmosphere (high albedo). Dark surfaces absorb the rays from the sun (low albedo). Ice and snow-covered areas have high albedo, and an ice-covered Arctic reflects solar radiation which otherwise would be absorbed by the oceans and cause the Earth’s surface to heat up. The proportion of the Earth’s surface that is covered by snow and ice has a great deal to say for how much of the incoming solar radiation is reflected or absorbed. Low albedo (dark surfaces) leads to higher uptake of energy and, hence, warming. Moreover, when more ice and snow melt, there will be more dark surfaces. This is therefore a self-reinforcing effect. Climate change in the Arctic is consequently important for the development of climate change globally.