On our last full day in Svalbard, Orion and I made a wide arc across the ridges east and south of Longyearbyen yesterday, covering the summits of Sukkertoppen, Gruvefjellet, Trollsteinen, and Lars Hiertafjellet, while arcing across the ridge behind the glacier, Larsbreen.
The skies were the clearest of our week-long visit here, and the views were incomparable, with endless ridges of glaciated peaks and valleys newly tinted green. While our eyes and imagination were drawn to distant horizons, the one constant throughout the day was most often just underfoot — the sound, presence, and often, unfortunately, palpable cold of running water. Everywhere — under the snow, atop the hard ice of the glacier, meandering through swales of fine silty moraine — it was the braiding of these many streams that heralded the warmth of this Arctic summer day.
Melt is, of course, an essential annual event for the Arctic — allowing a few short weeks in which millions of migrating birds, resident reindeer, foxes, and hundreds of species of plants revel in the relative warmth of this briefest and most intense of summers.
One can’t help, though, but place this annual flood in the context of our warming global climate — in which for instance, between June and August 2015, in Svalbard alone, glaciers lost four and a half million metric tons of meltwater every hour, and billions of tons of glacial ice are lost each year to global warming.
Like many aspects of the Arctic, this is nearly impossible to imagine, but being here, seeing both the immutable beauty of the hard blue ice of Larsbreen and Longyearbreen and the power of their melting waters, helps to bring this imagined world into clearer focus.