Longyearbyen is a small town in Norway that is located 800 miles from the North Pole, which makes it the northernmost town in the world. However, it’s also the town heating up the fastest in terms of global temperature.
Since it is so cold there naturally, the town was constructed on permanently frozen ground called permafrost. This is as hard as a base of concrete, but as the temperatures in the region have begun to rise, the permafrost is melting.
This is resulting in the destruction of buildings in the area that are sinking into the softened ground.
The Town is At Risk
Unlike most towns that are threatened by weather changes caused by climate change, Longyearbyen is seeing the dangers right now. The melting of the permafrost has put most structures in the town at risk. Many of the houses are supported on wooden pillars that are now sinking into the softening ground.
Houses located by the sea are seeing some of the worst of it. Now that the permafrost is melting, the sea is able to erode the land. Houses located close to the sea need to be relocated more inland or they will face serious danger as the tides continue to rise.
Not only has this affected the ground of the town, but it has increased the likelihood of an avalanche occurring. In both 2015 and 2017 massive avalanches struck the town with one resulting in the deaths of a man and his two-year-old daughter.
New Construction Measures Are Being Used
To compensate for the changes to the environment, builders will replace wooden poles with steel poles that go through the permafrost and hit bedrock. This will ensure that houses are not in danger as the grounds continue to soften. This will cost the town more money, but it is necessary for the residents.
Longyearbyen has often been nicknamed the “doomsday vault” because the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located in the town. This vault houses over 1 million seeds from around the globe to ensure that if a species of plants die off or a catastrophic event occurs (war, meteor impact, climate change, etc.), the seeds can be used to bring the plants back.
This includes common seeds of plants like wheat and rice. It also includes rare species of plants that are finding it challenging to live in the changing environment. However, now the vault is at risk as the town continues to change.
The vault is located inside of a mountain. Due to heavy rainfall, the main tunnel started to flood in 2016. Although the flooding did not reach the vault, action was needed. The vault needed to be redesigned to include a waterproof concrete tunnel. This was previously unnecessary because the water would have frozen, but that isn’t the case anymore.
Hard Times Ahead
Not only are the residents in trouble, but also wildlife. With less snow and more rain, animals are running into food shortages due to the water freezing. This includes polar bears, reindeers, and more. The changes from global warming are in full display in this town and even skeptics can’t deny them.