Snow and Avalanche Center 2017 Avalanche News

Climate change: the people in Norway living in fear of avalanches

Residents in Longyearbyen, midway between Norway and the North Pole, are living with a new danger - avalanches.

When there is trouble it usually happens far away, deep in the remote terrain of the Svalbard archipelago.

But climate change is increasing the risk of avalanches threatening Longyearbyen's near 2,000 inhabitants.

In December 2015 two people were killed when an avalanche consumed several people's homes.

Earlier this year an avalanche destroyed several houses and caused 200 people to evacuate. An avalanche killed two people in Longyearbyen in 2015.

"This was the apartment where we picked out the two kids," Nils Lorentsen says of the 2015 avalanche.

Mr Lorentsen describes how he heard a bang as the avalanche raced down the mountainside and smashed into his house.

"That is a bedroom so if somebody was in that room they would be dead now," he says of a neighbouring house.

Mr Lorentsen explains how he heard a woman crying for help from inside her home.

Her mother was trapped in a room while her children were forced to leave the house shoeless - their belongings buried under the snow.

"You get scared because in your own home you should be safe," Mr Lorentsen says.

Longyearbyen has experienced small avalanches before but they never reached houses.

Climate change has brought warmer air and and more snow that can accumulate on mountainsides, causing avalanches.

Scientists are still working hard to try and predict when and where avalanches are most likely to occur.

Different storms coming in can produce different types of snow, researchers explain.

The problem is where soft layers of snow fall on top of harder layers, but do not solidify into each other.

Where the connection between the two layers is weak, an avalanche can be released.

Lasers are now being used to map the depth of snow fallen on a mountain after a storm.

With the laser scanner it is possible to see how much fresh snow has accumulated on mountainsides and where the problematic areas are.

This information can then be relayed back to Longyearbyen so those areas of danger can be avoided.

It will take time for the town's residents to get used to the new risks that surround them. But as the climate changes, so must they.

We have news from the two Longyearbyen avalanches plus another across the fjord in our archives, including two maps and a google satellite photo:

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