2003 Expedition Blog - Day 10
Wednesday, 4 June 2003, 16:25
Geography in Longyearbyen
There are many aspects of the geography of Longyearbyen that can be mentioned, but possibly the most relevant to climate change and how we can affect our local climate is to look at Permafrost. This is the deeply frozen ground that exists practically anywhere in the arctic apart from the areas below glaciers.
People who live in these climate zones have to make special provision not to affect the ground below their buildings. In the summer months there is sufficient melting of the top layer of permafrost to allow rivers to flow and erosion take place in a normal fluvial (river) way. This shows in hillsides having gullies and small V shaped valleys.
In Longyearbyen the town is built upon the permafrost. All of the buildings have been adapted to prevent melting the ground. This is done in a number of ways, the most common by building houses on stilts with a clearance of up to 1 metre below. They still have to put side panels on the buildings so that snow or animals do not creep in. Other ways include using gabions or wire cages full of rocks to lift buildings off the ground whilst still allowing the air to flow underneath. New methods are being tested like using heat exchanges to refrigerate the ground beneath.
In Longyearbyen they use coal to fuel the power station, and from this they feed insulated pipes full of hot water to heat all the houses and public buildings. Many houses have very large windows to allow the summer sunshine (all 24 hours of it) to naturally warm the buildings. Roads show the effects of permafrost with the cracks that cross them and edges crumbling away. Most roads are built much wider than normal so that heat is dissipated. The pipes heating the town run above the ground to avoid thawing the permafrost.