In April 2007, science magazines around the world reported findings of a prehistoric skull in the remote archipelago of Svalbard. The remains were said to belong to an aquatic dinosaur “with teeth larger than cucumbers,” “Large enough to pick up a small car in its jaws,” one of the scientists was reported saying. So large that “T. rex was a kitten compared with this monster.” It was named Predator X and touted “one of the most significant Jurassic discoveries ever made.”
The modern-day predators of Svalbard are relatively smaller, but still quite fierce—they have to be, to survive the extreme weather in the Arctic. Svalbard is a cluster of islands spread over 61,000 square kilometres between Norway and the North Pole. Save for a few islands, this is a landscape of water and ice, dotted with pale, blue glaciers and ice floes as large as city blocks. It is also a landscape that is melting, a little more every year.
The effects of climate change on Svalbard are varied. In the town of Longyearbin—the only human settlement in the region—architects are reconsidering building techniques as foundation can no longer be built into the ice. In the wild, walrus and polar bears are having to change their feeding patterns: With sea ice shrinking, these predators have fewer perches to rest on long hunts, some of which last for days. Land masses are fewer and farther between, so they are now seeking food sources closer to the coast.
Less surface ice also means more light penetrating the water beneath, which comes with its own changes to the marine habitat (more algae for instance). But most significant of all—at least to us humans—is that the water levels are rising, and valuable freshwater reserves that have been trapped in glaciers for thousands of years, are melting and mixing with seawater.
To understand how climate will impact this ecosystem, it is important to first understand the habitat and its varied inhabitants. To this end, wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee spent ten days exploring Svalbard’s islands, fjords, and waters. More specifically, it’s underwater residents.