June 11 2024

Svalbard Research Site – Shedding Light on Pollution Sources and Distribution in the Arctic

Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago located in the High Arctic, characterised by extremely cold temperatures, sparse vegetation and a harsh environment. For the most part, Svalbard is uninhabited wilderness with sweeping glaciers, mountains and Arctic tundra.

Rocky beach in Svalbard with snowy mountains in the horizon.

Unfortunately, even this remote archipelago has not escaped the ever increasing problem of pollution. Moreover, the problem is likely to get worse as the melting of permafrost is releasing frozen locked pollutants to the land and ocean. Additionally, the area is warming up seven times faster than the global average.

Svalbard is warming up seven times faster compared to the rest of the world.

The research activities of the ICEBERG project in Svalbard will focus on natural sciences. During two field study periods in the summers of 2024 and 2025, the researchers will collect data to analyse pollution sources, distribution and impacts on the Arctic ecosystem. Our aim is to deepen the understanding of the problem and provide a scientific knowledge base to help solve it.

Why do we study pollution in Svalbard?

Svalbard as a research location is not unfamiliar to ICEBERG’s researchers. In fact, the project’s activities build on previous projects studying stranded marine litter and frozen locked pollutants in the archipelago.

Svalbard differs from ICEBERG’s other case study locations, namely Southern Greenland and Iceland, in multiple ways. Firstly, it is higher up in the north. This means colder and harsher weather conditions and less vegetation. Due to its location between the Greenland Sea and the Barents Sea and with the Gulf Stream bringing warm water from the south, the archipelago also receives a lot of precipitation that brings contaminants down from the atmosphere.

In addition, the ocean currents make the Arctic a dead end for marine litter and the associated contaminants coming from lower latitudes, and the coast of Svalbard is the first place where they can potentially accumulate.

Our researchers get to study stranded marine litter in a completely remote and uninhabited environment.

Another difference is that the study sites in Svalbard are less directly impacted by human activities. Both Iceland and Greenland have larger local communities and active tourism that contribute to and are also affected by the pollution problem. This is why our research activities in these other locations focus heavily on engaging local communities in research work.

In contrast, in Svalbard’s South Spitsbergen National Park our researchers are able to study the deposition and accumulation of stranded marine litter in a completely remote and uninhabited environment.

“We study marine litter brought to the area by ocean currents and washed ashore by the waves. Our target area is free from other types of litter, because there’s no one living there, or anywhere near there, and tourist traffic is rather limited,” explains co-leader of ICEBERG’s natural sciences work package Barbara Jóźwiak from the Polish forScience Foundation.

A researcher collecting samples on a rocky beach in Svalbard.
Collecting marine litter data along the north-western coast of Sørkappland, Svalbard. Photo: © Barbara Jóźwiak, forScience Foundation.

Where and what are we studying?

ICEBERG’s research activities take place in multiple locations within Svalbard’s biggest island, Spitsbergen, and also venture out into the ocean.

In Ny-Ålesund in Northern Spitsbergen, our team of researchers from ISP-CNR will collect snow, ice and sediment samples from two nearby glaciers and Kongsfjorden to investigate frozen locked pollutants that are being released due to the melting of the cryosphere.

Going all the way to the southern end of the island, our researchers from the forScience Foundation will collect, study and monitor stranded marine litter along the north western coast of Sørkappland, within South Spitsbergen National Park. In addition, they will also investigate heavy metal contamination in soil and freshwater samples collected in the same national park and around Svalbard’s capital Longyearbyen.

The final research location near Svalbard takes the researchers out to the ocean: the researchers will board RV Polarstern to collect samples of micro and nanoplastic particles along a transect in the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard. The aim of our researchers is to characterise plastic-associated microbial communities on these particles and study especially their genetic potential for antibiotic resistance.

A map of Svalbard.
The ICEBERG project does fieldwork in Svalbard in four different locations.

Stay tuned for updates on our fieldwork

ICEBERG’s first fieldwork activities are beginning in Svalbard already in June 2024. During the summer and autumn we will share more information on the topic.

You can already read more about our fieldwork plans in Svalbard here.

To stay tuned, subscribe to our newsletter to get the updates to your own email.

Copyrights of the page top image: © Barbara Jóźwiak, forScience Foundation.

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Contact us

Project Scientific Coordinator

Prof. Thora Herrmann
University of Oulu

Project Manager

Dr Élise Lépy
University of Oulu


Marika Ahonen

Innovative Community Engagement for Building Effective Resilience and Arctic Ocean Pollution-control Governance in the Context of Climate Change

ICEBERG has received funding from the European Union's Horizon Europe Research and innovation funding programme under grant agreement No 101135130

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