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

The main project's aim is to investigate the transformation of the Sørkapp Land peninsula into an island, by comparison of the study area landscape (glacial isthmus between Sørkapp Land and the rest of Spitsbergen with adjacent eastern coast) in 2005-2016. The project benefits from support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation

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Project type

  • field work
  • remote sensing
  • long-term monitoring


  • terrestrial biology
  • cryosphere
  • geology
  • other

Project Keywords

  • cryosphere / glaciers/ice sheets / glaciers
  • biosphere / terrestrial ecosystems / alpine/tundra
  • land surface / geomorphology / coastal landforms/processes
  • land surface / topography / terrain elevation
  • land surface / geomorphology / glacial landforms/processes
  • land surface / topography / landforms
  • biosphere / vegetation / vegetation species
  • land surface / topography / topographical relief
  • land surface / land use/land cover / land cover
  • land surface / landscape / landscape ecology

Fieldwork information

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The study area includes the glacial isthmus between Sørkapp Land and the rest of Spitsbergen, and the adjacent eastern coast (Hambergbukta and vicinity). Environment and landscape of this area undergo a dramatic transformation since 1899-1900, i.e. after the Little Ice Age. The isthmus is built of glacial ice and separates two fjords: Hornsund (west, Greenland Sea) and Hambergbukta (east, Barents Sea). The fronts of the Hornbreen and Hambergbreen glaciers are at the heads of the fjords. The study area was far less explored than other parts of Spitsbergen. Until the 1980s, the southeastern coast was blocked by pack ice even in summer, what conditioned its difficult accessibility. Hence, old geographical studies on the area are of much lower precision. Vasiliev's works during the Russian-Swedish expedition, became basic for studies of landscape dynamics: he mapped the glaciers' extent at 1:200,000 scale in 1899-1900. A further changes of the area were documented in Norsk Polarinstitutt's air photos: oblique ones in 1936, vertical ones in 1960-1961 and 1970-1971, and the digital ones in 2010-2011. Remote satellite sensing has begun in the 1970s. The satellite images are useful for landscape research under conditions of scant cloudiness, lack of fog, scant sea-ice cover, lack of snow on the land at the moment of scanning. Such conditions occur very rarely (0-4 times a year). In the 1990s, the geology (Dallmann et al. 1993, 1994) and glaciers’ extent (Lefauconnier & Hagen 1991) were recognized there. A series of research works on ice thickness in the isthmus were made (Koryakin 1975, Drewry et al. 1980, Macheret & Zhuravlev 1985, Pälli et al. 2003, Sharov 2006). Their authors discussed if the bottom of the isthmus' glaciers (on bedrock) is below or above the sea level. These discussions were analyzed by Ziaja and Ostafin (2015) who carried out their field investigations there in 2005. In 2014, a radar survey was made by two Polish researchers, Grabiec and Ignatiuk (information in a Polish newspaper). They evidenced that bedrock of both isthmus' glaciers is below the sea level, what means that Sørkapp Land may become an island. The main aim of the project is to investigate the transformation of the Sørkapp Land peninsula into a big island (ca. 1300 km2). This process, with forming a new strait, is just being in its course. Results of our fieldwork from 2005 (Ziaja et al. 2007, 2009) let us to recognize the beginning of this transformation. This create a good base of research on a quick environmental and landscape development of the area in 2005-2016, and prognosis for future. Our field survey in 2016 will be completed by modern GIS techniques. The isthmus narrowed from 28 km in 1900 to 6 km in 2014. Its two glaciers will have to melt, given the current climate conditions. Hence, Sørkapp Land will be a new island separated by a new strait (after a final connection of both fjords which are being more and more longer). This will lead to a great transformation of the landscape and ecosystem. They are just becoming more diversified with development of the new deposits and landforms, water bodies, plant succession, animal colonization and soil formation. The retreat of the Hambergbreen's ice cliff was very rapid since the 1980s. Hence Hambergbukta, which did not exist a century ago (being filled with the huge glacier), transformed into a fjord. The project will be realized by the methods: - field landscape mapping (1:25,000) to determine landscape changes since 1899-1900, and especially since 2005 (our expedition) - identification of plant and animal species and their spatial distribution - meteorological observations - analysis of the isthmus' dynamics on the basis of the fields results, GPS and altimeter measurements, - analysis of the aforementioned maps, air photos, satellite images, etc. - using close range photogrammetry. The project benefits from support of the Prrince Albert II of Monaco Foundation

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