Norway stopped coal mining operations in the Arctic back in 2017 and now they’re cancelling the last mine, piece by piece, with the end goal to transform the entire area into a national park that will be twice the size of Wyoming’s Grand Teton.
They want to make the Svalbard Archipelago, particularly the Van Mijenfjord, a wilderness that will be optimally managed. They want polar bears, seals, and numerous other Arctic species to thrive there.
Experts claim this will be one of the most resilient areas under the climate change threat.
Coal Mining Has a Long History on the Svalbard Archipelago
Seeds aren’t the sole thing that’s under the ground on Svalbard; the mining of coal was done under a state monopoly for a century. Despite the pressure throughout the 21st century caused by climate change, it wasn’t until 2016 that a moratorium was announced.
2/3 of the 23,500 square mile archipelago of islands, fjords, glaciers, and mountains contain seven national parks, 15 bird sanctuaries, one geo-park, and six reserves.
Moreover, 3000 polar bears live in the area and during the late summer, more than 20 million birds of 80 species nest on Svalbard after migration.
Svalbard’s land is crucial for conservation and biodiversity.
In 2020, on July 25th, the hottest temperature was recorded there when it reached 21.7 degrees C whereas over the last 50 years, the average temperature there increased around 3 degrees C.
The Impeding Problem: Ice Is Melting on the Arctic
Common across most of the Arctic, the hypothesis is that the lack of sea ice cover causes dark water exposure, faster absorption of solar energy, and speeds up the melting of the ice.
However, Van Mijenfjord keeps its sea ice most of the year and emphasizes the need for biodiversity and local climate.
With ice throughout the whole year, it’s a crucial hunting ground for bears.
Svea Mine had coal ships loaded for generations, but they’re now being dismembered instead of abandoned, to ensure the area goes back into its pristine natural state.
The Norwegian government announced that they will expand the current Nordenskiold Land National Park to encompass the fjord and thus add 1,125 square miles of wilderness which will be known as the Van Mijenfjorden National Park.
For minister Sveinung Rotevatn, the goal for Svalbard is to make it one of the best-managed wildernesses in the world which will require measures against climate change and the pressure caused by higher traffic.