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The Arctic archipelago called Svalbard — which is home to 3,000 people, a number of polar bears, and two "Doomsday vaults" — saw its highest-ever recorded temperature this past weekend, according to a tweet from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute (NMI).
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Arctic 'doomsday vault' town saw its highest temperature
This past weekend broke a 41-year-old record on Sunday, July 26 — once temperatures in the region of a town called Longyearbyen in Svalbard climbed to 71.06°F (21.7°C) that afternoon, reports the NMI. This smashed the previous record by a 0.72°F (0.4°C) difference, set on July 16, 1979.
Svalbard, Longyearbyen is a Norwegian archipelago and is the northernmost permanently-inhabited town — where more than 1,000 people live — in the entire world. In the middle of November, the area plunges into a pitch-black night without sunlight for months, until it rises again, in January.
While this Arctic settlement is familiar with significant seasonal shifts, the new record is a notable first because average summer highs typically fall between 37 and 45°F (3 and 7°C), with average winter highs falling between 12 to 9°F (-11 to -13°C), reports IFL Science.
Arctic climate change may accelerate before 2050
The Arctic is one of the most affected corners of the planet as a consequence of global climate change. The last several decades have seen a significant rise in water and air temperatures, especially along the polar seas where ice is lost and permafrost thaws. If this keeps happening, some models suggest Arctic areas may experience ice-free summers before the year 2050.
Warming in the Arctic is of special concern because it creates a worrying feedback loop: while more and more ice melts, less sunlight reflects from the sea surface, leading to more heat being absorbed into a darker ocean surface and land. This vicious cycle accelerates temperature increases, causing further sea ice loss, without a foreseeable end.
Vicious feedback loop of climate change
The wider Svalbard ecosystem is already feeling the vicious burn of climate change. In 2019, ecologists said at least 200 reindeer had starved to death — the sharpest drop in reindeer numbers since scientists first recorded their population numbers in 1978.
Hundreds of reindeer deaths are correlated with milder winters leading to heavier rainfall, which in turn turns the tundra icy — where vegetation struggles to grow, and (thusly) reindeer fail to eat.
As the rate of climate change begins to wreak havoc with ecosystems around the world, we can be sure the first and most acute effects will happen to animal and human populations around the Arctic area — where life lives in a tenuous balance with its environment.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated the previous record for the highest local temperature was 32.72°F (0.4°C) — this is incorrect. The previous record was 0.4°C lower than the new one, which makes a 0.72°F rise in temperature. Subtracting the difference, the old record was roughly 70.34°F (21.3°C). IE regrets this error.