Svalbard peaks 100,000 years older than thought

The mountains of north west Svalbard are hundreds of thousands of years older than previously thought, a new study has found, throwing doubt over the way mountains' ages are estimated.

Svalbard peaks 100,000 years older than thought
The mountains of north west Svalbard. Photo: Norwegian Foreign Ministry/Flickr

The mountains of Svalbard are sharp and pointy, which geologists would typically cite as evidence that they are relatively young, as older mountains become rounded off and eroded by glaciers during ice ages.

However, a study led by Endre Før Gjermundsen, from the Department of Arctic Geology at The University Centre in Svalbard, showed that, although the Svalbard mountains had been covered in ice for long periods, they had not been eroded.

“The goal of our project was to find out how thick the ice had been during the last ice age,” he told Norway's state broadcaster NRK. “We found that these mountains had been covered by ice for a very long time, but erosion had been very small.”

Gjermundsen and his seven co-authors collected rock samples from the peaks of the mountains, and measured how much cosmic light they had been subjected to, using this to approximate the mountains' ages.

To their surprise, the steep peaks of Svalbard were very old, but had not been eroded.

Their results were published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Gjermundsen proposes that ice froze hard to the peaks, creating a protective armour which prevented erosion for at least a million years, dating the mountain range to the early Quaternary period.

The findings may have implications for other mountain ranges in the world which may also be older than geologists have previously believed.

“That is the big open question now,” Gjermundsen told NRK.


Norway digitally freezes national treasures and stores them in Arctic archive

Norway’s National Museum has preserved some of the country’s most treasured artefacts digitally and stored them in a former mine on Arctic archipelago Svalbard.

Norway digitally freezes national treasures and stores them in Arctic archive
Photo: Bartek Luks on Unsplash

The Arctic World Archive was originally constructed in 2017 to “protect the world’s most important cultural relics”, the National Museum said on its website.

The data preservation facility is located on the island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard archipelago, not far from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

The National Museum has now placed its entire collection of around 400,000 items as digital copies on plastic film rolls, which are to be stored at the Longyearbyen site.

“The dry, cold and low-oxygen air gives optimal conditions for storing digital archives and the film rolls will have a lifetime of around 1,000 years in the archive,” the museum writes. Emissions emitted by the archive are low due to its low energy consumption.

Offline storage of the archives also insures them against cyber attacks, the museum said.

In addition to all data from the National Museum collection database, high-resolution digital images of works by selected artists are included in the archive.

Works to be stored include ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch, ‘Winter Night in the Mountains’ by Harald Sohlberg, the Baldishol Tapestry and Queen Maud’s ball dress.

“At the National Museum we have works from antiquity until today. We work with the same perspective on the future. The collection is not only ours, but also belongs to the generations after us,” National Museum director Karin Hindsbo said via the museum’s website.

“By storing a copy of the entire collection in the Arctic World Archive, we are making sure the art will be safe for many centuries,” Hindsbo added.

In addition to the Norwegian artefacts, organisations from 15 other countries are represented in the archive, including national museums in Mexico, Brazil and India; the Vatican library, Sweden’s Moderna Museet and Unicef.

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