Climate change, the Arctic is losing its memory

Ice melting caused by global warming is rapidly deteriorating the climate signal contained in Svalbard Island glaciers. This is the finding of an international research team coordinated by the Cnr Institute of Polar Sciences and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice


All over the world, glaciers are retreating at an unprecedented rate, and this results in the loss of information regarding the history of climate and the environment contained in them. Also losing their memories are the glaciers of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Circle: this is shown for the first time by an international study published in the journal The Cryosphere, led by researchers from the Institute of Polar Sciences of the Italian National Research Council (Cnr-Isp) and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

“We need to think of ice sheets as pages of an ancient manuscript that scientists are able to interpret. Even if evidence of atmospheric warming is still preserved in the ice, the seasonal climate signal has been lost,” explains Andrea Spolaor, a researcher at Cnr-Isp. “Glaciers at these altitudes — with the current rate of warming and increased melting in summer — are at risk of losing the climate information recorded within them, compromising the reconstruction of climate change faced by the Earth over time.”

From 2012 to 2019, the research team studied the evolution of the Holtedahlfonna glacier, one of the highest in the Svalbard archipelago, finding that the climate signal, which was visible in 2012, had completely disappeared by 2019. “The Svalbard archipelago is particularly sensitive to climate change because of the relatively low altitude of its main ice sheets,” explains Carlo Barbante, director of Cnr-Isp and professor at Ca’ Foscari University. “In addition, the geographic location emphasizes the phenomenon of Arctic amplification, which means that the temperatures in the Arctic region are increasing more rapidly than the global average, and this is caused by processes such as the reduction of sea ice and albedo, which is the refractive capacity of the sun’s rays. The latter, which is typical of clear surfaces, helps keep temperatures lower.”

To save these archives, researchers involved in the Ice Memory and Sentinel projects completed a complex drilling campaign on the Holthedalfonna Glacier in 2023, succeeding in extracting three deep ice cores. It is the hope of the scientific community that these samples still contain climate information representative of the region. “By highlighting the threat posed by the effects of climate change, the results of this research underscore the need to preserve glacial archives and related climate information, now at risk due to global warming,” concludes Jacopo Gabrieli, researcher at Cnr-Isp.


For more information
Andrea Spolaor, Cnr-Isp email:
Jacopo Gabrieli, Cnr-Isp, email:
Jessica Marzaro, Cnr-Isp, email:




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