Spitsbergen Triangle: Ground Zero for Climate Mysteries

Credit to Dr. Bernaerts for his writings on this subject, excerpts of which appear below.

The Island Nexus for Ocean Currents

From the Dutch: spits – pointed, bergen – mountains

The largest and only permanently populated island of the Svalbard archipelago in northern Norway. Constituting the westernmost bulk of the archipelago, it borders the Arctic Ocean, the Norwegian Sea, and the Greenland Sea. Spitsbergen covers an area of 39,044 km2 (15,075 sq mi), making it the largest island in Norway and the 36th-largest in the world.

The fact is that the winter temperatures made a jump of more than eight degrees Celsius at the gate of the Arctic Basin, after 1918. Nowadays, one century later, the event is still regarded as “one of the most puzzling climate anomalies of the 20th century”.

Dr. Bernaerts:

The overriding aspect of the location is the sea; the sea around Spitsbergen, the sea between particularly the Norwegian, the Greenland, and the Barents Seas (Nordic Sea). The Norwegian Sea is a huge, 3000 metres deep basin. This huge water mass stores a great amount of energy, which can transfer warmth into the atmosphere for a long time. In contrast the Barents Sea, in the southeast of Spitsbergen has an average depth of just around 230 metres. In- and outflow are so high that the whole water body is completely renewed in less than 5 years. However, both sea areas are strongly influenced by the water masses coming from the South. The most important element is a separate branch of the North Atlantic Gulf Current, which brings very warm and very salty water into the Norwegian Sea and into the Spitsbergen region. Water temperature and degree of saltiness play a decisive role in the internal dynamics of the sea body. And what might be the role of the huge basin of the Arctic Ocean, 3000 meters depth and a size of about 15 million square kilometers?

The difference towards the other seas mentioned is tremendous. The Arctic Ocean used to be widely ice covered in the first half of the 20th Century, the other seas only partly on a seasonal basis. Only between the open sea and the atmosphere an intensive heat transfer is permanently taking place. Compact sea ice reduces this transfer about 90% and more, broken or floating ice may change the proportion marginally. In this respect an ice covered Arctic Ocean has not an oceanic but ‘continental’ impact on the climate.

The Arctic Ocean is permanently supplied with new water from the Gulf Current, which enters the sea close at the surface near Spitsbergen. This current is called the West Spitsbergen current. The arriving water is relatively warm (6 to 8°C) and salty (35.1 to 35.3%) and has a mean speed of ca. 30 cm/sec-1. The warm Atlantic water represents almost 90% of all water masses the Arctic receives. The other ~10% comes via the Bering Strait or rivers. Due to the fact that the warm Atlantic water reaches usually the edge of the Arctic Ocean at Spitsbergen in open water, the cooling process starts well before entering the Polar Sea.

A further highly significant climate aspect of global dimension is the water masses the Arctic releases back to oceans. Actually, the outflow occurs mainly via the Fram Strait between Northeast Greenland and Spitsbergen, and together with very cold water from the Norwegian Sea basin the deep water spreads below the permanent thermocline into the three oceans.


The Spitsbergen Event 1918-1919

Beginning around 1850 the Little Ice Age ended and the climate began warming. Before that, at least since 1650 marked the first climatic minimum after a Medieval warm period, the Little Ice Age brought bitterly cold winters to many parts of the world, most thoroughly documented in the Northern Hemisphere in Europe and North America. The decreased solar activity and the increased volcanic activity are considered as causes. However, the temperature increase was remote and once again effected by the last major volcanic eruption of the Krakatoa in 1883. Up to the 1910s the warming of the world was modest.

Suddenly that changed. In the Arctic the temperatures literally exploded in winter 1918/19. The extraordinary event lasted from 1918 to 1939 is clearly demonstrated in the graph showing the ‘Arctic Annual Mean Temperature Anomalies 1880 – 2004’. But this extraordinary event has a number of facets, which could have been researched and explained. Meanwhile almost a full century has passed, and what do we know about this event today? Very little!

Studies considering the causation of the warming offer sketchy rather than well founded ideas. Here are a few examples:
• Natural variability is the most likely cause (Bengtsson, 2004);
• We theorize that the Arctic warming in the 1920s/1930s was due to natural fluctuations internal to the climate system (Johannessen, 2004).
• The low Arctic temperatures before 1920 had been caused by volcanic aerosol loading and solar radiation, but since 1920 increasing greenhouse gas concentration dominated the temperatures (Overpeck, 1997).
• The earlier warming shows large region-to-region, month-to-month, and year-to-year variability, which suggests that these composite temperature anomalies are due primarily to natural variability in weather systems (Overland, 2004).
• A combination of a global warming signal and fortuitous phasing of intrinsic climate patterns (Overland, 2008).

Arctic Regime Change

These explanations (and others such as CO2 or the AMOC) do not come to grips with how extreme and abrupt was this event. In the Spring of 1917, sea ice reached all the way to Spitsbergen, the only time in a century.

And the next year, temperatures rocketed upward, as shown by the weather station there:

A look at the SST history shows clearly an event as dramatic as a super El Nino causing a regime change. But this is the Atlantic, not the Pacific. Cooling followed, but temperatures stayed at a higher level than before.


The warming at Spitsbergen is one of the most outstanding climatic events since the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa, in 1883. The dramatic warming at Spitsbergen may hold key aspects for understanding how climate ticks. The following elaboration intends to approach the matter from different angles, but on a straight line of thoughts, namely:

  • WHERE: the warming was caused and sustained by the northern part of the Nordic Sea in the sea area of West Spitsbergen the pass way of the Spitsbergen Current.
  • WHEN: The date of the commencement of warming can be established with high precision of few months, and which was definitely in place by January 1919.
  • WHY: the sudden and significant temperature deviation around the winter of 1918/19 was with considerable probability caused, at least partly, by a devastating naval war which took place around  the British Isles, between 1914 and 1918.

There is much more evidence and analysis supporting Dr. Bernaerts’ conclusions here:


Conclusion:  Unless your theory of climate change can make sense of the Spitsbergen Event, then it cannot inspire confidence. You may not be entirely convinced by Dr. Bernaerts’ explanation, but he at least has one–nobody else  has even tried.


  1. Pingback: The Warming In The North | NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT
  2. rhymeafterrhyme · June 9, 2015

    The answer is simple!
    “Mother Nature taunts man,
    She tricks and she teases;
    Man tries to control her,
    But she does what she pleases!”

    From: “Mother Nature is Laughing” http://wp.me/p3KQlH-8d


  3. nsu1603e · June 9, 2015

    Very interesting. Did WW2 affect the weather? I believe there were some very cold winters 1945/6. What about the wars in the Middle East now? Perhaps something that needs evaluating.


    • Ron Clutz · June 9, 2015

      nsu, that is very much Dr. Bernaerts’ point. Here WWI naval warfare was extensive in this very sensitive region. He postulates that the stirring action from all this activity warmed the air temperatures. WWII had a similar effect, followed later by cooler N. Atlantic sea temperatures during the 50’s and 60’s.

      More here on WWI: http://climate-ocean.com/arctic-book/chapter_8.html
      On WWII: http://www.2030climate.com/a2005/02_11-Dateien/02_11.html


    • Ron Clutz · June 9, 2015

      nsu, this is a more specific response to your first question:
      “One cannot seriously discuss “climatic changes” as long as the reasons for the icy winter 1939/40 have not been discussed and explained. Nothing had happened on earth prior to 1 September 1939, respectively January 1940, that could have caused or been linked to the sudden arrival of this extraordinary cold winter, except that the Second World War had started.

      It was the coldest winter for more than 100 years for some countries or parts thereof, e.g. Sweden , Germany and Holland . The centre of the “cold pole” in winter the 1939/40 could be located within the triangle Rotterdam – Hamburg – Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad – Riga – Budapest [1].

      This work aims to prove that the war at sea caused this weather anomaly. Naval aspects during the initial war period of a couple of months are given in the three papers. (A) These analyses are also part of the wider investigation to prove that the five years’ war at sea during WWII caused the biggest man-made global climatic disaster in the last century, starting with the first war winter of 1939/40 and lasting for four decades. (B).”



      • Ben Vorlich · June 9, 2015

        I would have said that WW2 had far more activity and for longer than WW1. The tonnage of merchant shipping in WW1 sunk was just over 3 million tons, In WW2 the total was 14 million tons and 6 million tons in 1942 alone. Convoys were instigated at the onset of WW2. The area covered was far greater in WW2, including the East Coast of the USA, A large toll in Oil Tankers, the pickings were very easy for the U-Boats off America in 1942 causing one commander to report in verse.

        The new moon night is black as ink,
        Off Hatteras the Tankers sink,
        While sadly Roosevelt counts score –
        Some fifty thousand tons – by MOHR!

        Then there’s the Arctic Convoys which actually sailed through the area in question. Also there were naval actions in northern waters with major warships being sunk

        Capital ships Hood, Glorious, Scharnhorst , Tripitz and lesser vessels including cruisers of around 10,000 tons such as Edinburgh, Trinidad.

        In WW1 the High Seas Fleet rarely left port and never ventured out of the North Sea; They never ventured more than a days sailing from Wilhelmshaven for most of the war. Admiral Graf Spee did try and return with is Far East Squadron but was sunk near the Falklands after defeating a British force at Coronel.

        Whilst not discounting the theory of warfare causing changes I do wonder about the naval element.


      • Ron Clutz · June 9, 2015

        Thanks for commenting. Not being a naval historian, I rely on others more knowledgable, such as yourself and Dr. Bernaerts. He attributes a significant cooling effect to the WWII activity, which as you say was much more intense.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ben Vorlich · June 9, 2015

        Probably the number of depth charges dropped on U-Boats would be potentially significant. I’m not an expert on submarine warfare, but 150lbs of high explosive going off at depths of up to 300 metres (or more) in patterns of 4+ would do a significant amount of stirring. Depth charge attacks could last many hours and involve several ships and hundreds of charges. According to Wiki the Royal Navy fired 16,451 depth charges during WW2. The USN and Canadian Navies must have fired a similar number, As a point of interest the Canadian Navy was the 3rd largest in the world at the end of WW2 – mainly escorts for anti-submarine warfare. So including torpedoes 50,000 under water explosions each of 150 lbs of HE wouldn’t be far off the mar for WW2.


    • smamarver · June 9, 2015

      Yes, both World Wars really affected the weather. Especially the naval war…… The subject is very interesting and generous, I think it’s important that it was brought into discussion, since we have a lot to learn from the past.


      • ArndB · June 9, 2015

        RE Ben Vorlich;
        Between naval war in WWI and WWII the mechanism to influence weather and climate were very different. Here is WWI the agenda and already than naval activities massive, as a book excerpt from Chapter 8 (here; http://www.arctic-heats-up.com/pdf/chapter_8.pdf ) explains

        QUOTE: Timing and ship losses.
        Although WWI started in August 1914, naval war began in earnest only two years later, when a series of new weapons were put in use sea mines, depth charges, new sub-marines, and airplanes. By then naval warfare had reached a destruction stage to which no one might have thought of only two years earlier. The situation became dramatic when U-boats destroyed more ships than Britain could build in early 1917. In April 1917, the same total rate of the previous annual rate of 1916, ca. 850,000 tons, was destroyed by U-boats. In April 1917, Britain together with the Allies lost 10 vessels every day. During the year of 1917, U-boats alone sank 6,200,000 tons, which means more than 3000 ships, and, during the war months of 1918, another 2,500,000 ship tonnage. …..cont.//

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ben Vorlich · June 9, 2015

        I’m not a expert on either war, but do have an interest in ships.
        I did mix lb with kg, the weight of charge would be 150kg of HE.
        The U-Boat losses in WW1 202 vessels, WW2 were approx 850 vessels, .
        Merchant losses were 12.8 million tonnes in WW1 and 3,500 allied merchant vessels totalling over 14.5 million tonnes in WW2, so original figures were off for WW1. The relatively high losses in WW1 probably due to the late introduction of the convoy system, a mistake repeated by the USN in WW2. The higher U-Boat losses in WW2, probably due to improvements in anti-submarine warfare more than the convoy system. The loss versus replacement problem also existed in WW2, losses exceeding replacements at various times.

        I’m still unsure that warfare in itself causes changes in climate, As the increase in in shipping across the Atlantic in WW2 must have been matched in the post war years, Large numbers of Victory and Liberty ships served into the 1960s. The number of surface actions in the Atlantic was relatively small in both wars. In WW1 the German Command wanted to keep a fleet in being and didn’t want to risk an action against the British Grand Fleet, In WW2 they had a limited number of capital ships (basically 7 vessels). Equally in WW1 the Grand Fleet was vulnerable to U-Boat attack and so wasn’t put at risk very often. It took attacks by the German Navy on East Coast towns for ships to be moved south from Scapa Flow to Rosyth.

        As I said in a previous post letting off a large number of under water explosions would do a fair bit of mixing but would it be enough to cause measurable changes?

        Four years of Trench Warfare in WW1 seems more likely to have weather impacts and then climate. Are there any estimates of how much dust (soil) was placed in the atmosphere on the Western Front.


      • ArndB · June 9, 2015

        Ben Vorlich • 7 Minutes Ago „I’m not a expert …..“

        To understand how human activities at sea influence weather and climate a step by step approach is advisable, explained by a recent post, 09.April HERE: https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/understanding-how-oceans-have-driven-climate-change/ kindly noting in particularly the following excerpt:
        ___”160 years shipping and other ocean uses may have significantly contributed to global warming since 1850 (for example over the nighttime and winter seasons).”
        ___ “As very little (at best) is known about these processes, the two major climatic changes provide helpful clues.”
        ___ “A.The three extreme war winters in Europe (1939/40, 1940/41 & 1941/42) were the coldest for one hundred years. See my latest book (2012) http://www.seaclimate.com/ I discuss this event over about 175 pages (from a total of 220 pages), as each winter has specific features, as well with regard to naval activities. Europe’s sea areas (including the North and Baltic Sea) have stored a maximum heat by the end of August, which is usually released until end of March. Stirring hot coffee will cool it down; so will 1000 naval ships and other war activities at sea.”
        Naval war in Europe, North Atlantic and West-Pacific, covered many activities, e,g. air surveillance and bombing, and mine laying and sweeping-

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Joan Gibson · June 9, 2015

    I would put that somewhat differently: “Do not be deceived–God cannot be mocked.” (Gal. 5:6, NIV)


  5. ArndB · June 9, 2015

    Thanks a lot for pointing on the unresolved Arctic warming question. „Ground Zero for Climate Mysteries“ points well to a serious problem in this respect: competence in climate research, which is illustrated when Johannessen, 2004 (cited above) speaks about “natural fluctuations internal to the climate system”. The matter offers plenty data to consider the physics triggering the change. Here a brief excerpt from: http://www.arctic-heats-up.com/chapter_1.html

    On the 2nd of November 1922, The Washington Post published the following story: Arctic Ocean Getting Warm; Seals Vanish and Icebergs Melt”. The corresponding report in the Monthly Weather Review of November 1922 had also stated that the ice conditions in the Northern North Atlantic were exceptional; in fact, so little ice has never before been noted[4]. Only 16 year later the meteorologist C.E.P. Books thought it necessary to explain the situation more complex:
    “In recent years attention is being directed more and more towards a problem which may possibly prove of great significance in human affairs, the rise of temperature in the northern hemisphere, and especially in the Arctic regions. “ (Brooks, 1938)
    The Conclusion expresses it well: Understanding the Spitsbergen Event would inspire confidence.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ron Clutz · June 9, 2015

    Arnd, thanks for stopping by. I find this this to be a good summary by you:

    ►1900 to 1918: A generally moderate warming trend that started around 1880 and lasted until 1918.

    ►1919 to 1939: At the end of WWI a severe warming occurred at Spitsbergen. The pre-1918 trend increased. A massive naval warfare had taken place in close proximity. Water from battlefields from around Britain traveled northwards and reached the seas at Spitsbergen after a few months time. The severe warming influenced the climate of the Northern North Atlantic and initiated a warming process in Europe, which lasted two decades.

    The Severe Warming at Spitsbergen was the first of two outstanding climate changes during the last century.

    ►1940 to 1942: Northern Europe experienced three winters with Little Ice Age characteristics. The winters were ‘war-made’ (see above). They were climatically relevant in so far as they are significant milestones in the statistics. They are significant climatic events due to their lengths (each about four winter months) and severity. However, as their appearance and impact was largely confined to Northern Europe, one could also categorise these three winters as major weather-modifying events.

    Whether these three war winters would have had a long-lasting impact if the war had ended before Pearl Harbor is impossible to prove, not even in the most general terms.

    The war winter of 1939/40 marks the second outstanding climate change during the last century, which lasted for four decades until the end of the 1970s and includes the following period from 1942-1945.

    Whether there still remains the lasting impact of WWII is not only a theoretical probability. As the oceans are capable of storing heat for an unlimited period of time and retain it over long time periods, it is quite possible that some of the heat forced into lower ocean water levels during WWII half a century ago, has resurfaced since the 1980s.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Roger Cole · June 9, 2015

    I’m afraid that anyone imagining for a moment that any naval war not involving a mass nuclear exchange could affect the climate even for days, let alone a year or two afterward, is entirely lacking a sense of proportion. I have been rubbing my eyes at some of the nonsense posted here and can only hope that most of it has been written with tongues firmly in cheeks.


    • Ron Clutz · June 10, 2015

      Do you have an explanation for the abrupt warming in 1919 and abrupt cooling in 1939?


    • Ben Vorlich · June 10, 2015

      Ron Clutz
      !939/40 was in a period known as the Phony War, the only previous conflict was a few days of conflict in Poland. I can’t see a connection personally. The war in Western Europe lasted a few weeks ending in June/July 1940. The only activity there after was an air war, which turn into the London Blitz and attacks on British cities. To this lay person the early part of WW2 June 1940 – May 1941 (according Wiki) for major aerial attacks on the UK mainland. When in June 1941 the Germans turned their attention east there may be a tenuous link to the effect of the bombing campaign on the UK to the cold winters the Germans endured in Russia, but the First Gulf war suggests possibly one cold winter might follow.

      Naval warfare should increase the albedo of the sea surface, ship wakes and detonations being the prime causes.

      It appears to me that Europeans in the 20th century had a talent for starting wars at climatically inopportune moments.


      • Ron Clutz · June 10, 2015

        From a comment on a previous post, I am persuaded that surface wakes are not a major factor. The potential to affect ocean dynamics over several years lies in the disturbance of the water column, disrupting currents and forcing warmer water downward. This is my takeaway from Dr. Bernaerts.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ArndB · June 11, 2015

        RE : Ben Vorlich •
        When calling “1939/40 was in a period known as the Phony War”, does that answers Ron Clutz question (above) “Do you have an explanation for the abrupt cooling in 1939?”

        The reason was huge naval activity since World War Ii commenced on 1st September 1939 as outlined over 7 pages HERE: http://www.seaclimate.com/c/c3/c3.html , which caused/contributed to the arrival of the coldest winter in Europe since about 1820 within four months, well demonstrated in a temperature map concerning the winter 1939/40 http://www.seaclimate.com/c/c1/images/buch/big/C1_6.png


  8. Ben Vorlich · June 11, 2015

    ArndB ·
    I’m not disputing the cold, but I’m still puzzled by the timeline, the late 1930s were the warmest decade of the 20th century, particularly in North America. The climb out of the Little Ice Age has been a series of warming and cooling phases. With an overall warming of around 1’C in the last 150 years. The 1939-45 war started in September 1939, meaning that the winter of 1939-45 war couldn’t have affected the winter of 39/40. The British and her allies (not the USA at this point) did not have time to increase sea traffic before the winter after the outbreak of war,

    These factors taken into account suggests that the early 1940s were a naturally cooling period in the northern hemisphere at least.

    Had you said the cooling was a result of the Great Depression which lasted from 1929 until the outbreak of war (effectively 1939) then there might have been a little mileage in that, but I see no mention of it.


    • ArndB · June 11, 2015

      RE: Ben Vorlich •
      __The first paragraph is unclear. Kindly read the given reference, respectively the Chapter 1 to 9 about the winter 1939/40 (p.43 to p.101) at: http://www.seaclimate.com/

      _The second paragraph refers to “naturally cooling”, which explains nothing, as such thing does not exist in the weather sphere, which is driven by the law of physics.

      __Concerning the third paragraph I definitely never have said “cooling was a result of the Great Depression”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ben Vorlich · June 12, 2015

        I’m quite happy with the hypothesis of the sea in all its facets influencing climate.

        Naturally cooling as in Minoan Optimum. Roman Optimum, Little Ice Age and Younger Dryas presumably within the law of physics.

        I know you didn’t mention the great depression. You said earlier, “The reason was huge naval activity since World War Ii commenced on 1st September 1939 as outlined over 7 pages HERE” My issue with that is, The Great Depression had a major effect on shipping and much of the UK Merchant tonnage spent the decade laid up. See the Kylsant Affair for just how bad it was. Doesn’t this fit in with the shipping hypothesis and cold winters?

        This is why I find the 1939/40 winter difficult with the concept that The Great War (1914-18) influenced events from 1919 and the 1939-45 (or 1941-45 for some nations) influenced a series of winters from 1939/40. Unless I have misunderstood the hypotheses proposed? This is very possible,


      • ArndB · June 12, 2015

        Most has already been briefly explained here: https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/understanding-how-oceans-have-driven-climate-change/

        For example (2 excerpts) + an Additional explanation concerning Europe
        —–Warming Period 1918/19-1939
        Arctic Warming at the end of First World War is discussed in a book 2009 (p.106) at http://www.arctic-heats-up.com/ Winter temperatures exploded at Svalbard, and subsequently in the Atlantic sector of the Arctic Ocean, warming the Northern Hemisphere until WWII (USA until about 1933, Europe until 1939).The cause was likely a significant shift in the water structure (before and behind the Fram Strait), due to enormous naval activities around Great Britain that changed the heat and salinity structure of water masses from west of GB to the North Sea that all flows north. Naval war is the likely main contributor of this warming.

        —–Global cooling 1939/40 to mid-1970s has two principle dimensions:
        A.The three extreme war winters in Europe were the coldest for one hundred years. See my latest book (2012) http://www.seaclimate.com/
        B. The North Atlantic and the West-Pacific became a major naval battle ground after Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Operations penetrated the sea surface layer down to depths of 200 meters, not to mention ships, and airplanes sunk, and the many million shells fired.

        Additional explanation:
        __Concerning (A) Coastal water (incl. North- and Baltic Sea) can increase the move of maritime air eastwards, or blog it. The colder they are the easier continental condition establish over Western Europe. That happened in the three WWII war-winters due to extreme high naval activities in autumn and winter. The opposite was last winter, which allowed warm Atlantic air to move to Siberia, which presumably helped to set the “Siberian Express” in motion, contributing significantly to the extreme winter condition in the U.S.A. east of the Mississippi river.
        For details see HERE: http://climate-ocean.com/2015/K.html
        titled : “Offshore Wind-parks and mild Winters.Contribution from Ships, Fishery, Wind-parks etc.”


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