Southeastern Spitsbergen landscape-seascape and biodiversity dynamics
under current climate warming


The study area consists of the glacial isthmus between Sørkapp Land and the rest of Spitsbergen, and the adjacent southeastern Spitsbergen coast ca. 30 km long. It is an extremely interesting area from a geographical point of view due to a dramatic transformation of its environment and landscape since the beginning of the 20th century, i.e. after the Little Ice Age.

The isthmus is built of glacial ice on bedrock and separates two fjords: Hornsund (in the west, Greenland Sea) and Hambergbukta (in the east, Barents Sea). There are the fronts of two glaciers, Hornbreen and Hambergbreen, at the heads of these fjords. There is an environmental-landscape contrast between the eastern and western Spitsbergen coasts due to their climatic differentiation, under the cold sea current from the central Arctic in the east and warm Atlantic water in the west.


The map  of Spitsbergen (on left) was elaborated based on map from Norwegian Polar Institute (2014).

Kartdata Svalbard 1:100 000 (S100 Kartdata). Norwegian Polar Institute

The glacial isthmus has been narrowed from 28 km in 1899-1900 to 5.6 km in 2016 and lowered by 60-200 m during this period. Two isthmus' glaciers will have melted, given the current temperature conditions, by 2030-2035 (Ziaja & Ostafin 2015). Hence, Sørkapp Land will become a new big island separated by a new strait (which will origin due a to final connection of the Hornsund and Hambergbukta fjords which are being more and more longer) because the glaciers' bottom is below the sea level.

The disappearance of such a huge glacial ice mass will lead to a great transformation of the landscape and ecosystem. The landscape is just becoming more diversified with development of the new deposits and landforms, water bodies, biotic elements. Glacial recession and lengthening the season free of sea ice has changed the coastline, both its contour and type. Particularly rapid was the retreat of the Hambergbreen's ice cliff since the 1980s. Hence, a slightly curved bay which did not exist a century ago, Hambergbukta, transformed into a fjord. New coastal plains were formed on its southern shore. The coast south of Hambergbukta changed due to recession of smaller glaciers which had reached the sea in the 1930s yet. More to the south, the coastline receded, mostly on the section of the former Davislaguna lake which disappeared.

As usual in Spitsbergen, animals concentrate on the coast. Climate warming and glacial recession, and the environmental changes following them, were conductive to the processes of plant succession and animal colonization. Nowhere else on Spitsbergen has the transformation of the environment and landscape been progressing faster since 1900. Certainly, the isthmus with its eastern surroundings is the most important indicative area for Spitsbergen landscape-seascape dynamics.

The project benefits from the support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation

This document was produced with the financial assistance of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of Jagiellonian University in Krakow and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation

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