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SvalHydro (freshwater runoff & water balance in Svalbard)

SvalHydro is the initiative collecting everyone performing long-term hydrological monitoring in Svalbard. 

There are not many of us as you can see on the picture, and we focus on different areas of the island.

1. Arctic Geology, The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) is undertaking monitoring in Adventdalen and Longyeardalen catchments

2. Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) is monitoring Bayelva, Londonelva and DeGeerdalen

3. Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) is monitoring catchments around Grønfjorden

4. Polish Academy of Sciences (IGP-PAS) is monitoring Fuglebekken catchment in Hornsund 

5. Centre for Polar Studies Uniwersytet Slaski, is monitoring Werenskiold catchment 

6. Polar Geo-Lab, Masaryk University is monitoring catchments in Petuniabukta


All long-term hydrological monitoring is performed on the west coast of Svalbard due to location of research stations, proximity to points of transport and ease of access to sites. 

In the report we look at the current state of knowledge on the water balance in Svalbard. We discuss every component of the water cycle from precipitation, through condensation, evaporation, glacier mass balance, surface discharge to groundwater.

We also point out considerable knowledge gaps that preclude us from delivering freshwater budget for Svalbard.


The situation is dire, as our hydrological knowledge relies on very few monitoring sites and outdated components and definitions that do not reflect the current state of climate any more. 


In the report we also give a special attention to the surface hydrology, and we uncover hydrological changes in glacierized catchments during the last 50 years.


Analysing long-term hydrological datasets from all monitoring stations in Svalbard allowed us to have a unique overview on freshwater discharge in glacierized and deglaciated catchments of various sizes.

We discovered that our understanding of how much freshwater is delivered to polar fjords every year is not entirely correct.

Data collected in-situ show that contrary to recent findings of modeling community, not all glacierised catchments in Svalbard produce increasing amount of freshwater.


Catchments with smaller glaciers have already been delivering decreasing amounts of freshwater for one or more decades! 

This is because significant glacier recession can no longer sustain freshwater production. Furthermore, permafrost thaw that we have been observing in Svalbard provides new possibilities for water storage. 

Catchments that still produce increasing amount of freshwater are those with either very large glaciers, non-glacierized catchments that rely solely on increasing precipitation as a water source, or combination of both.  

Our report shows that warming climate in Svalbard had and continues to have a devastating effect upon the water cycle.


Unfortunately, our outdated hydrological knowledge, lack of funding for long-term monitoring projects, as well as westward bias in research, mean that we are painfully  unaware of the hydrological changes that have been occurring on our island for many years. 

Thanks to the changing climate we have a new environment and we need to learn it again. 

Much more on this fascinating topic can be found in the SvalHydro report.

Nowak, A., Hodgkins,R., Nikulina,A., Osuch, M., Wawrzyniak, T., Kavan, J., Lepkowska E., Majerska, M., Romashova, K., Vasilevich, I., Sobota, I., Rachlewicz, G., 2021 From Land to Fjords: The review of Svalbard hydrology from 1970 to 2019 (SvalHydro), Chapter ,7 In: Moreno-Ibáñez et al (eds) SESS report 2020, Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System, Longyearbyen,

Summary for stakeholders

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