February 23rd 2015

Investigating climate change on Jan Mayen


Jan Mayen, which is Norwegian, has an exotic, non-Norwegian landscape. Photo: Eiliv Larsen
Over the next four years, NGU scientists will be investigating variations in the climate and glaciers on Jan Mayen. This climate research is being funded by the Research Council of Norway, which awarded the application full marks and described it as "exceptional".

“We are happy and proud that the application for 3.8 million NOK was successful. We began fieldwork on Jan Mayen already last summer,” Eiliv Larsen and Astrid Lyså, two researchers at the Geological Survey of Norway (NGU), point out.

Sensitive area

The grant was awarded from the programme for "independent climate research". The application was evaluated by an international panel of experts. Only nine of the 79 project applications were successful and received funding. The two scientists from NGU were the only applicants to be awarded the top mark of 7 in the overall evaluation, which characterised it as "a project on the highest international level".

“We carried out a pilot study on the island in 2014. That was when we realised the great research potential and the possibility of applying for research funding,” says Astrid Lyså, who is heading the project.

The scientists will investigate climate and glacier variations on Jan Mayen since the maximum extent of the ice during the last Ice Age about 15 000 years ago. Jan Mayen is on the border between cold and warm water bodies flowing out of and into the Arctic Ocean, and is very sensitive to changes in climate.

Eiliv Larsen on Jan Mayen in 2014. Photo: Astrid Lyså

Effect on the climate

“We will examine the causes of the changes and how these affect the climate on the island, in part by studying the sediments in the only real lake on the island, Nordlaguna. We have excellent international partners who are experts on climate research and dating methods,” says Eiliv Larsen about the project they have called ClimJaM.

Jan Mayen is 377 square kilometres in area, partly glaciated, and is located at 70°59′ N. Beerenberg, towering 2277 metres above sea level in the northern part of the island, is the northernmost active volcano in the world.

Practically the whole of this Norwegian island, which is managed by the Governor of Nordland, is protected as a nature reserve. The island has no permanent residents, but 18 people from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Norwegian Armed Forces are always stationed in Olonkinbyen.

The geology is poorly known

“The geology of Jan Mayen has been very little studied. We hope eventually to be able to prepare a map of the Quaternary geology of the island, too, in part so that the island can be well managed as a nature reserve. There are also good opportunities for research on climate and Quaternary geology, as well as the bedrock and volcanology,” Lyså and Larsen point out.

A post-doctoral student from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim will also be involved in the ClimJaM project, which begins this year. In addition, a Swedish partner is applying to the Research Council of Sweden for funding for a post-doctoral student to take part in the project.

Morten Smelror, the managing director at NGU, points out that it is important that geologists investigate Jan Mayen better. “The island is ideally located for research on climate change. The project, which has now received a research council grant, is very exciting and holds very high scientific quality,” he says.

"We carried out a pilot study here on the island in 2014,” says Astrid Lyså. Photo: Eiliv Larsen​