Russian Geographers to Assess the Expansion of Glacial Lakes on Svalbard

Приледниковые озёра Шпицбергена. Фото: Роберт Чернов / отдел гляциологии Института географии РАН

Glaciation on Svalbard has significantly decreased since the beginning of the twentieth century due to the climate warming in the Arctic. Many glacial lakes have appeared in place of glaciers, and most of them have formed in recent decades. Literally before our eyes, a large-scale landscape change is taking place on the archipelago. Russian scientists will assess the current state and give a forecast of an increase in the area of new reservoirs within the framework of a project led by Robert Chernov, a glaciologist at the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“Our project is aimed at studying a large-scale natural process – the expansion of glacial lakes on the Svalbard archipelago. The features of the formation, size, and flow pattern of these lakes are directly related to the type of glaciers and the relief of the glacial valleys of the archipelago. About half of the lakes have already formed, that is, they have lost contact with glaciers and do not have icy shores. Others interact with glaciers and contribute to the melting of their fronts. Most of the lakes are difficult to access; no one has seen them yet," said Robert Chernov.

Now there are about 700 glacial lakes on Svalbard. Dozens of reservoirs have an area of more than 1km2 and together make up a significant part of the water resources of the archipelagos. This is especially important for providing Arctic settlements with water all year round.

“In comparison with similar lakes in the mountainous regions of temperate latitudes, the glacial lakes of Svalbard are poorly studied and are not actually described quantitatively. As a result of the project, their inventory will be carried out, that will include not only a description of the current state of the lakes, but also a prediction of their expansion," Chernov added.


Приледниковые озёра Шпицбергена. Фото: Роберт Чернов / отдел гляциологии Института географии РАН

According to preliminary estimates of the scientists, by the end of this century, Svalbard may lose more than half of its glaciers. This means that there will be even more lakes on the archipelago, especially in its northern part, where the terrain is flatter.

“But it is already clear that we are witnessing climate change. Literally before our eyes, the landscape is changing on Svalbard, birds are already nesting near the lakes that have appeared, and the landscape as a whole is becoming more beautiful and friendlier,” Robert Chernov emphasized.

The project "Glacial Lake Formation on the Svalbard Archipelago in the Conditions of Climate Change" (head R. A. Chernov) is supported by the Russian Science Foundation.