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"Friends Of Syria" To Meet, Morsi Trial Delayed, 50 (States) Below Zero

Temperatures drop below zero all over the U.S.
Temperatures drop below zero all over the U.S.

Foreign Ministers of the group of 11 countries dubbed “Friends of Syria,” including the U.S., UK and France, will meet with the opposition group Syrian National Coalition on Sunday in Paris, AFP quotes an official source as saying. On the battleground, opposition fighters are still fighting amongst themselves. According to al Arabiya, several rebel brigades have seized the headquarters of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant organization, in Aleppo.

Here is a Syria Deeply/Worldcrunch article on Damascus’ strategy in stepping up attacks in Aleppo.

The trial of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has been delayed to Feb. 1, state media announced, after bad weather prevented him from being transported from the Alexandria prison where he is being held to the Cairo court where he was due to appear today. Read more from the BBC.

At least 17 people died in clashes opposing two tribes in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, police officials said. The violence is also causing thousands to flee their homes, as the tribes, Karbi and Rengma Naga, are fighting to grab more land. Read the full story from AFP.

Sixteen police chiefs in Turkey were dismissed overnight, including the deputy head of the national police department, in the latest developments of the ongoing corruption scandal that has engulfed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government, Hurriyet reports.

As Abu Dhabi’s newspaper The Nationalreports details of an alleged meeting between the Prime Minister’s son and al-Qaeda financier Yasin Al Qadi, we offer this Hurriyet/Worldcrunch piece: Why Turkey's Bribery Probe Stopped Short Of Erdogan's Son

Polar vortex sets new records in the U.S. as temperatures in every single one of the 50 states drop below freezing.


Tradition is on the menu today in China.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is set to publish a new book, in which he offers a harsh assessment of President Obama’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan.

Venezuela has been gripped by a shocking highway robbery during which former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear was killed. President Nicolas Maduro blamed it on “capitalism”.

FIFA’s general secretary Jérôme Valcke announced that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar would probably not take place during the summer as is customary but instead “between Nov. 25 and Jan. 15 at the latest.” Though no official decision has yet been made, such a move was already rumored, as the scorching temperatures during the summer in Qatar make it difficult for players to perform at top level.

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Longyearbyen Postcard: World's Northernmost Town Facing Climate Change — And Russia

The melting of the sea ice in the Far North has accelerated in recent years. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard has become the focal point of the environmental drama gripping the Arctic as well as the geopolitical tensions it is causing there, with Russia in particular.

A statue of a coal miner stands in the center of the photos with houses surronding it, draped around their shoudler is a Ukrainian flag. The environment is snowy and the sky is white from clouds.

A Ukraine flag placed on a statue of a coal miner in the center of Longyearbyen

Steffen Trumpf/dpa/ZUMA
Laura Berny

LONGYEARBYEN — The Longyearbreen glacier, which once unfurled to the sea, is now a shadow of its former self. Only the name of Longyearbyen’s Isfjorden now conveys the idea of something frozen.

“Last January, during the polar winter, the temperature was between 0 and 5 °C. When I went for a walk by the fjord, I could hear the waves. This was not the case before at this time of year,” says Heidi Sevestre. The French glaciologist fell in love with Svalbard as a student, so much so that she now lives here for part of the year.

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Compared to Siberia, Canada’s and Greenland’s High North – the Arctic archipelago, located just over a thousand kilometers from the North Pole – has historically benefited from a slightly more benign climate despite its extreme latitude. Temperatures here range between 5 °C and 15 °C in summer and usually not below -30 °C in the coldest of winter. This relatively “mild" weather has its origin in the Gulf Stream — the marine current which rises up from the Caribbean and runs along the west coast of Svalbard.

But the situation has now changed.

“There has been a lot of talk about the rise in atmospheric temperature for at least 20 years. But in the past three years, ocean temperatures have also risen significantly. This is what is causing the increasingly rapid retreat of the ice pack,” explains Jean-Charles Gallet, a glaciologist who has worked at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) since 2010.

“The sea ice acts like an air conditioner for the ocean, so the more it decreases, the more the ocean warms up. This causes a chain reaction which ends up accelerating the warming process,” adds Eero Rinne, a Finnish specialist on the topic and a researcher at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). Rinne is working on the CRISTAL sea ice satellite mission, slated to go live in 2028 as part of the European Space Agency’s Copernicus program.

Beyond the alarming disappearance of glaciers and ice packs and the threat to polar bears (of which there are still around 300 in the archipelago), global warming is also causing cracks in the infrastructure of the territory, which is covered by permafrost. Landslides are increasingly frequent, and all recently constructed buildings in the region are on stilts.

“It used to rain very little in Svalbard, but now it is getting wetter and wetter, which is weakening the soil,” explains Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, a Danish-Norwegian scientist and specialist on permafrost at UNIS.

Norwegians kept a low profile about Svalbard's growing crisis, until 2017. That was the year when the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was flooded, less than 10 years after its foundation. The facility, dug near a mine in Longyearbyen, the capital of the archipelago, was built to preserve more than a million seeds from a possible cataclysm. The disaster didn’t affect the seeds but left a scar in people’s minds. Even this close to the pole, permafrost is thawing.

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