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Climate Change on Display in Remote Arctic Island Chain

Hidden in the remote north Arctic are the Svalbard Islands, an archipelago that is part of the Kingdom of Norway, and which contains the northernmost permanently inhabited settlements in the world. Though not heavily visited, the islands receive some tourists to view reindeer, seal, walrus, polar bears and according to Wikitravel “to experience Arctic nature at its rawest and most powerful.” In 2006, tourists spent approximately 70,000 nights in the islands.

Recently, the island chain has been working to attract tourists for a different reason – to showcase the effects of global warming in hopes that visitors will influence politicians to take action when they return home. According to Norwegian Environment Minister, Helen Bjoernov, “Svalbard is an important meeting place….You clearly see the melting of the ice, problems for polar bears, for birds, which are damaged by global warming and environmental pollutants.”

The archipelago has one of the longest-term high-latitude meteorological records on earth and, according to Reuters, “U.N. scientists say warming is happening twice as fast as on the rest of the planet” in Svalbard.

Questions remain on the environmental impacts of encouraging more visitors to travel to these remote islands; however, local authorities claim these visits are less harmful than other Arctic tours. According to Run Bergstrom, environmental expert at the governor’s office “Svalbard is probably the best place to see change, and the easiest place to reach in the high Arctic.”

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