Warmer winters in the Arctic


Posted at Mar 15 2016 07:28 PM | Updated as of Mar 16 2016 09:19 AM

Norway, a country more than 6,000 miles away from the Philippines, is most known for its long, dark winters.

But this has recently been changing.

Dr. Jan-Gunner Winther, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), shared that snow typically comes in Norway in October or November; albeit more recently, this has shifted to January.

Animals such as polar bears, walruses, and seals, which are dependent on ice, tend to be hungrier and have seen the need to move towards the northern parts of Norway, Winther added.

He noted that killer whales have also migrated in large quantities in their oceans, which he described as a “new phenomenon.”

The NPI director attributed these changes to global warming.

“The changes are dramatic and no region in the world changes so fast as the arctic,” Winther said, adding further that the rate at which the climate in Norway changes is at least two times the global warming average.

“It’s not only the atmosphere. When the ocean warms, it can melt from below,” he added. This leads to the rise in sea level in other areas.

But the warmer oceans result in short-term benefits for certain areas, like Norway, said Winther.

“When it comes to production of food, especially fish, Norway exports US$10 billion a year. Two-thirds of that is from fish farming in the ocean. This is expected to increase because higher temperatures make it easier (for the fisherfolk to catch),” he said.

Like the Philippines, Norway has a long coastline and its coastal areas are about seven times bigger than its terrestrial areas. Because of this, most Norwegians live less than 10 kilometers from the sea.

“Generally, however, there are more losers than winners,” Winther stressed. “What happens in the arctic doesn’t stay in the arctic.”

“We didn’t know that 10 years ago. Then, we thought that arctic climate change was a regional issue. But now, we learned more that we have these teleconnections,” said Winther, referring to the interconnectedness of one country to another.

According to research conducted by the NPI, the general direction of warmer oceans is “towards the south and southwest.”

Winther also admitted that it is difficult to convince people to act on the threat of global warming because the public tends to easily forget the disasters brought by extreme weather conditions, such as the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005 and the Super Typhoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda) in the Philippines in 2013.

“We want to forget. It's easier to forget. And it seems to be a kind of characteristic of human beings that we hope so strongly that things will be back to normal, that they will be better, they will improve,” he said.

“We build our buildings in the same place where it was destroyed last year… But it’s not responsible, and it's not smart,” he added. “Not tackling the problem is really a bad option.”

Likewise, Ambassador Else-Berit Eikeland stressed the “interconnection” among countries.

“The melting of the ice in the arctic will affect the rising of sea level in the Philippines, in Mindanao, in Cebu,” said Eikeland, who has previously served as Norwegian ambassador to the Philippines.

“(Addressing the issue of climate change) is not an issue of them against us. It's not Norway against the Philippines. The weather system is interconnected as well as the way we live. So maybe climate change and the international action (that goes with it) can really lead us together more than it can separate us,” she said.