Tor Selnes owes his life to a lamp. He miraculously survived an avalanche that could have killed him. Svalbard is a collection of islands located in northern Norway. Svalbard is warming more than any other polar region. People living in this region are also highly vulnerable to climate change. On the morning of December 19, 2015, 54-year-old school watcher Selnes was sleeping at his home in Longyearbyen, the largest settlement in the Norwegian archipelago located midway between mainland Norway and the Arctic.
Two rows of houses were razed by an avalanche from Sukkertoppen, the hill overlooking the village. Selnes' house was dragged 80 meters away. Since the room where Selnes was staying was completely destroyed, he clung to the ceiling to avoid being buried in the snow.
Selnes recalls this experience: “I felt like I was in a washing machine, surrounded by wood, glass, sharp objects, anything you can imagine.”
He had some cuts and bruises on his body. However, he managed to survive. His three children, who were in a different room of the house, escaped unharmed.
His neighbor Atle and a small child, Nikolina, died. Unimaginable in the eyes of the townspeople, the event shocked the town of less than 2.500 residents.
There has been a lot of discussion about climate change since I arrived, but it has been difficult to understand and observe, says novelist and journalist Line Nagell Ylvisaker, who has lived in Longyearbyen since 2005.
We don't notice the glaciers retreat as we live here every day, so she claims it's like watching a child grow up.
Shorter winters, more frequent rains, more and more rain in the form of thawing and thawing permafrost are effects of climate change that increase the risk of avalanches and landslides in Svalbard.
In the days following the disaster, unusual rains also affected the region. After a record-breaking rainfall in the following autumn, another house was destroyed by an avalanche in 2017, but this time there was no loss of life.
“There's been a lot of talk about polar bears before, about new species.
What happens to the nature around us with climate change,” explains Ylvisaker, “The polar bear floating on an ice sheet is a kind of grand symbol”.
The dramatic series of weather events is a clear indication of how it will affect people as well.
After two avalanches, authorities expropriated 144 homes they deemed at risk and about 10 percent of the town's total homes, and installed a massive granite avalanche barrier at the foot of Sukkertoppen.
For Longyearbyen, which owes its existence to fossil fuels, this was an ironic turnaround.
John Munro Longyear, an American businessman who came to this town to collect coal, created this town in 1906. This city of brightly colored wooden huts near the mines has evolved over time.
Almost all of the mines have been closed and the last one is scheduled to be closed in 2019. The town is dominated by a huge tram hangar that looks like something straight out of a science fiction movie. Climate change caused by human activity is now changing the local landscape. Longyearbyen's soil is moving as a result of permafrost melting.
Ketil Isaksen, a researcher at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, said the Svalbard region is "the point on Earth where temperatures have risen the most."
A study by one of its authors, recently published in the journal Nature, shows that temperatures in the northernmost region of the Barents Sea, where the archipelago is located, are rising five to seven times faster than globally.
Why? Why? Scientists explain melting sea ice. It usually acts as an insulating layer, protecting the sea from the sun in summer and preventing water from heating the atmosphere in winter.
Permafrost thaw causes the earth in Longyearbyen to sink. Building foundations need to be strengthened as the ground moves and the lamp posts are tilted. Gutters, which were previously unnecessary in our dry, cold region, are now starting to appear on roofs.
People used to use snowmobiles to cross the aptly named Isfjorden (Ice fjord) on the outskirts of town, which has not been frozen since 2004.
Even the famous Global Seed Vault, built to protect the world's biodiversity from man-made and natural disasters, had to undergo extensive repairs after the entrance tunnel leading into a hillside was unexpectedly flooded.
Borre Haugli, editor-in-chief of the neighborhood newspaper Svalbardposten, sums up the effects of climate change in the region: “We're not talking about it. We differentiate”.