Snowmobiles cause severe pollution on Svalbard

Snowmobiles on Svalbard

The extensive use of snowmobiles in the town of Longyearbyen on the Arctic archipelago Svalbard causes air pollution that approaches levels seen in larger European towns.


The journal Environmental Science & Technology has published a study on pollution in the Arctic town of Longyearbyen on Svalbard, Norway. After analyzing air samples collected in the period from mid-April to mid-June, 2007, the scientists conclude that springtime use of snowmobiles bring the level of air pollution to levels 100 times higher than during the summer when only cars and large coal trucks are used in the remote area, web site Environmental Health News writes.

Longyearbyen, Norway, is a remote community in the Arctic Circle. It has a population of around 2,200 residents, which modestly swells to about 3,000 during the tourist season. The area’s main economic activities are tourism, coal mining and scientific research.

Guided snowmobile tours are one of the prime tourist activities in the spring. In addition, locals use snow machines for recreation and to travel from town to town. In 2007, 1.802 snowmobiles were registered on Svalbard.

The pollution from snowmobiles mostly consists of aromatic hydrocarbons, which are a class of chemicals that result from incomplete burning of oil, gas, wood, tobacco, garbage and other organic sources. The chemicals are of concern because they can affect health. The pollutants are linked to heart disease and cancer.

In the study, the scientists estimate that snowmobiles contribute close to 90 percent of the total aromatic hydrocarbons produced by vehicles in Longyearbyen each year.

The peak levels of aromatic hydrocarbons in Longyearbyen in the spring are so high that they are close to levels of the same pollutants in Zurich, Switzerland – a major city with close to 400.000 people.