Challenges of the northernmost city in the world

Hammerfest municipality is located in western part of the county of Finnmark at 70⁰N. Hammerfest is an important port for fisheries and the liquefied natural gas (LNG) landing and production facility at Melkøya constitute the most important industries.

The Problem


Hammerfest faces several climate related challenges. In terms of the challenges related to the fisheries, local fishers are concerned that they do not have quotas for species such as mackerel, whose abundance, due to warmer ocean temperatures, is increasing in their fishing areas. New species have also been observed, although this may be attributed to wider marine ecosystem imbalance, rather than ocean temperature change (West and Hovelsrud 2010). Fish buyers, landing facilities and fish processors are all affected by the dynamics of sea temperature and species composition, abundance and distribution. A number of social factors affect fishers and fish buyers/processors’ exposure-sensitivity and adaptive capacity for dealing with climate variability and change. A fishing regulatory framework that is perceived and described by our local partners as being bureaucratic and unpredictable may limit fishers’ flexibility and mobility to respond to climate change impacts on fish, while cultural values and individual preferences may affect the choice of fishing technology and species fished, either facilitating or hindering adaptation.

Extreme weather

Polar lows occur more frequently in Hammerfest due to the particular atmospheric and ocean interactions in the Barents Sea. Small fishing vessels engaging in recreational fishing for tourists have expressed concern about the increased storm activities. Storms present major challenges for such boat captains, in terms of safety, comfort, tourists’ experience and evaluation, insurance, income and regulations. Icing conditions are a current exposure-sensitivity noted by many, and the combination of wind, temperature and moisture represent hazardous conditions which until recently were not commonly forecasted. Instead the fishers rely solely on their own experience and knowledge for assessing the conditions.

Power companies are always on the alert for forecast of icy conditions, which may lead to accumulation of ice on power lines and potential power failure. In 2006, an offshore winter storm caused a major power failure in Hammerfest, revealing a high degree of sensitivity to storms of this nature.

Hammerfest has only one major road serving the municipality and is therefore highly dependent upon proper road maintenance and open roads for access and supplies. In Finnmark County in particular, many major roads cross mountain passes that are prone to severe snow and wind, and it is quite common for such roads to be closed or passable only with an official escort vehicle.

Another concern in Hammerfest is rain on frozen ground, leading to river flooding as the ground cannot absorb excess rainwater. Lack of sufficient municipal drainage capacity, due to inadequate pipe dimensions, may lead to flooding within Hammerfest city. The local municipal partners in Hammerfest have also expressed deep concern about extreme precipitation in both winter and summer which increases the run-off into the harbour. This runoff is likely highly contaminated by sediments from closed polluted ship yards and fish processing industrial sites. This can be characterized as a current exposure sensitivity and the current adaptive strategy involves monitoring the pollutant levels on the harbour sea floor to assess the rate at which pollutants trapped in the sediment seep out into the sound. The municipality is also looking into ways of securing the sediments, by studying how the problem has been dealt with elsewhere.

Warmer winters

Avalanches are a major concern in, and can be characterized as a current exposure-sensitivity. In both places the major towns are nestled against steep hills, which are prone to both snow avalanches and rock fall, and an important adaptive strategy for the municipalities is to reduce vulnerability by building and maintaining avalanche protection. The combined effects of increased precipitation, warmer winter temperatures and wind, increases the risk of avalanches in winter (Hanssen-Bauer et al. 2009).

Three municipal departments in Hammerfest, dealing with housing, the airport and harbours respectively, are concerned with how the prevailing wind direction and snow load should determine the orientation of new houses, and the location of the new airport and harbour. Careful consideration of the siting of these developments constitutes an acknowledgement of the need to adapt planning specifications in the light of new climatic challenges.

Capacity challenges

Several studies of municipalities and adaptation in Norway have concluded that few municipalities have prioritized a systematic approach for confronting the challenges of climate change (e.g. Amundsen et al. 2010; Næss et al. 2005; Vevatne and Westskog 2007). A major challenge for Hammerfest has been a lack of adequate human capacity and finances to plan and prepare for new and different conditions despite their efforts to seek expertise and funding. There are simply not enough human or financial resources available to carry out the different tasks required to maintain municipal services and at the same time increase expertise and knowledge in relation to potential climate change risks and opportunities. A common result is that the municipal human resources become exhausted. And in spite of the fact that Hammerfest municipality has had a substantial increase in revenue in connection with the establishment of the LNG facility, increasing the general adaptive capacity of the municipality, municipality officials have noted that they simply do not know how and where to find the relevant information about the specific consequences of climate change, how to develop adaptive strategies and how to inform the public. With a poor information flow from the national to local level, the municipalities are dependent upon individual engagement and ability to seek knowledge. 

Type(s) of the problem: 
Extreme wheather events
Agriculture, local economy

The Solution

All the municipal partners in the NORDADAPT-project emphasized that they had developed adaptive strategies based on their experience in dealing with weather and climate over the years. Not surprisingly, municipal officials were highly knowledgeable and had much expertise concerning local environmental conditions and how best to deal with them, although this might not pertain to climate change per se. Thus, a general conclusion in the NORADAPT-project was that there are four significant drivers that contributed to adding climate change adaptation to the municipal agenda. (1) Engaged officials: individuals that consider the topic important enough to warrant a change to the municipality’s agenda. (2) Focusing events: recent extreme weather events opening a window of opportunity for addressing adaptation. (3) Real-world indicators: municipal officials reacting to changes in a desired state or condition on infrastructure or services that are the responsibility of the municipality. (4) Interaction with researchers: through research projects on adaptation. The project concluded that the interaction of several drivers must be in place for adaption to reach the municipal agenda.

The steps to finding solutions in the Hammerfest case could be described as a three stage process (although these are not unique to the Hammerfest case):

  • Recognizing the need to adapt to climate change in some sectors and some adaptation measures identified.
  • Qualitative vulnerability assessments and adaptation measures identified in plans.
  • Quantitative vulnerability assessments and adaptation measures identified in plans and implemented in regulations.

Hammerfest municipality considers itself to be exposed and sensitive to avalanches and has undertaken extensive adaptation measures to reduce its vulnerability. Hammerfest town, being located between a steep hill and the sea, has a limited area for housing development, and the pressure on the municipality is high for approving new buildings. In terms of infrastructure challenges, an adaptive measure in Hammerfest was focusing on building a tunnel, funded by the national government, for the main road into town, avoiding road closure and securing an uninterrupted connection. The adaptive strategies also include a careful monitoring of the conditions and weather forecasts, proper maintenance of equipment and a sufficient workforce.

Furthermore, Hammerfest has been quite active in increasing knowledge and expertise about avalanches by developing and updating risk maps (in collaboration with the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, NGI), prioritizing areas to protect, restricting new construction, and securing expert assistance and financial assistance from the Norwegian Water resources and Energy Directorate. With national financial support, slide protection has been built to protect more than 530 buildings located in the municipality, and a priority list for further protection infrastructure has been developed. In addition, the municipality participates in an inter-municipal agreement for avalanche early warning, reducing the costs for such services. Different conditions cause avalanches in different areas, and for Hammerfest wind from the southwest is a determining factor. By being in close contact with the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and avalanche experts the municipality is able to anticipate and prepare for potentially dangerous events.

Concurrently, the energy company, in the planning stages of a regional supply line, sought better projections for future wind and snow load conditions in order to better adapt to extreme events. The adaptive strategies against such storms by companies such as Statoil and Hammerfest Energy include a call for changing the national standards for acceptable weather, and seeking knowledge of future weather and climate projections.

The municipality has developed wind maps for all potential development areas, and has for some years, required that new housing developments take climate change into consideration both in terms of where and how to build. Through its collaboration with the Norwegian State Housing Bank Hammerfest municipality has developed climate adapted housing. With the introduction of the new national planning and building legislation, more legislative focus is placed on climate related requirements for new housing construction, although direct reference to climate change adaptation is omitted.

Type(s) of the solution: 
Market/Management-based solution

The Lessons

The main lesson learnt form the Hammerfest case, is that integrating technology-based and people-based approaches can be an important key to the formalizing and structuring of adaptation efforts. In the Hammerfest case, the technology-based aspects could be described as a ‘software’ approach, where the increased knowledge supplied by cooperating with outside experts has been pivotal. Closely connected to this is the local building of social capital and awareness that ensued. As such, Hammerfest’s approach to adaptation should have a wide transfer value across local, regional and national contexts.  


Nordland Research Institute