The Gulf Stream
Though Norway shares the same latitude with Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia, its climate is relatively mild due in large part to its coastal location and the North Atlantic current, part of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is a warm and powerful ocean current that begins off the southern tip of Florida, continues north along the eastern coast of the United States and Canada, and travels across the Atlantic to northern Europe, ultimately flowing into the Arctic Ocean.
The Gulf Stream has a big influence on the Lofoten Islands and the coastal regions that the Earthducation team will be visiting. Almost all of Norway’s coast, including the coast north of the Arctic Circle, remains ice-free all winter due in part to the Gulf Stream.
Røst & Værøy, the two southernmost islands in the Lofoten chain, are the most northern locations in world with average temperatures above freezing all winter, which is one reason they’re prime spots for drying cod and producing stockfish. You can read more about stockfish production on the “Fishing Industry” page of this site.
Other Climate Influences
Other influences on climate in northern Norway include the prevalence of high mountain ranges, along with the seasonal variances in daylight. From about mid-May through the end of July, this region experiences the midnight sun, enjoying 24 hours of daylight. During the winter months, however, there is a stretch of time from mid-November through the end of January when the region is enveloped in 24 hours of darkness.
Precipitation in Norway is abundant. The greatest amount of participation falls in the southern coastal regions of the country, which see some of the highest precipitation averages in all of Europe.
The Arctic is particularly sensitive to climate change, and has seen monumental effects from climate change over the past decade. What concerns most scientists are melting sea ice, ocean acidification, and the introduction of toxic pollutants into the environment and the food chain.
Sea ice in the Arctic has been melting at a record pace, and is melting much faster than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast that it would in its last report, published in 2007. This is a concern because “as snow and ice diminish, the Earth’s surface reflectivity is reduced and more solar radiation is absorbed, accelerating global warming” (“Melting Snow and Ice: A Call for Action,” 2009). Arctic sea ice influences not only the Arctic ecosystem, but climate around the world. Its increased melting pace should be a concern to us all.
Melting ice can also impact the seasonal availability of freshwater and the biodiversity of life in the Arctic, and contribute to rising sea levels as well. Rising sea levels could have particularly negative impacts on coastal regions, and Norway has one of the longest coastlines in the world.
The melting sea ice is also opening new shipping routes in the north, potentially leading to further strain on ecosystems and species in this area, as well as to risks of, for example, oil spills impacting the region. Increased shipping activity in this region could also exacerbate climate change by introducing additional greenhouse gases and carbon particles into the region.
Ocean acidification refers to changing water chemistry, which affects such things as the formation of calcium, which organisms with shells rely on. Acidification could have a major impact on coral reefs, in particular. The deepest cold water coral reef in the world is found off the coast of Røst in the Lofotens.
Toxic pollutants are chemicals in the air, water, or soil that are known to cause serious health issues, such as cancer. One of the effects of climate change in the Arctic has been the growing abundance of these pollutants in the environment. Some of these pollutants are migrating north from more populous and industrialized regions, and some are being released as the ice in the Arctic melts.
These pollutants often make their way through the food chain, impacting the health of a wide range of species, including humans. One example of how these pollutants are impacting people in northern Norway has to do with seagull eggs, which are a popular delicacy there. Gulls’ eggs contain high levels of these environmental toxins, and the government is now warning people, especially women who are trying to get pregnant, against consuming these eggs, due to documented health concerns stemming from their consumption.
Fram Centre and the Polaria in Tromsø. Photo: Andrea Taurisano / Norwegian Polar InstituteThe Norwegian Polar Institute is one of the leading research organizations in the world studying climate, biodiversity, and environmental issues in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The Earthducation team will be meeting with scientists there during their time in Tromsø, which is where the institute is headquartered. Their offices are located in Fram Centre, a groundbreaking center that houses 19 research organizations focused on issues of environment and climate in the north.