In The Field
Arctic on Fire
Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future by Ed Struzik
In August 2017, a series of wildfires smouldered on the tundra near the town of
Kangerlussuaq in Greenland. The biggest of these fires burned 3,000 acres. It was small by
most wildfire standards, but enormous and unheard-of on a frigid island that is mostly
covered by ice. The following summer, the normally soggy Arctic and sub-Arctic forests of
Sweden, Finland, and Norway burned as they had never done before. At one point, Swedish
authorities appealed to the international firefighting community for help.
Strange and uncommon as these wildfires in the Arctic appear to be, they are part of an alarming trend that has come into play since 2003 when an estimated 27 million acres of taiga burned in Siberia. Fires in Alaska and the Yukon territory the following year were also record breakers. Six percent of Alaska and four percent of the Yukon burned that year.
The list since then has been growing. But the real head spinner was the the Anaktuvuk fire that burned big on the windswept tundra along the north slope of Alaska in 2007. It burned for nearly three months, releasing 2.3 tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The fire accounted for 40 per cent of the area that burned in the state. According to paleoecologist Phil Higuera, this region hadn’t burned in any significant way in 5,000 years.
Like receding sea ice, which waxes and wanes each year along a trajectory that is heading toward a seasonally ice-free summer, Arctic wildfires are increasing in size and severity, albeit erratically. By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, large wildfires in the northern regions increased in size tenfold compared to those that burned in the 1950s and 1960s.
This should be no surprise given the fact the Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth.
The implications, however, are alarming.
As climate continues to play a role in the way fires burn bigger, faster, hotter and more often in the north, it is becoming increasingly clear that the conifers of the boreal forest in the sub-Arctic, the sedge meadows, and lichens of the tundra are not responding well to the changes in hydrology, soil chemistry, permafrost thawing, and slumping that come when severe wildfires join forces with warmer, earlier springs and summers and extended droughts. The frozen landscapes that once favored millions of free-roaming caribou are morphing into shrubbier tundra and aspen-dominated forest that moose, bison, and invasive species such as deer favor.
This is going to make it difficult for the Arctic’s indigenous people who see caribou and reindeer, and many other Arctic animals in much the way southerners see cattle and other form of livestock. Unable to afford the high cost of beef and other meat products that have to be flown in at great expense, they, as well as non-native people in the north, hunt these animals in large numbers to put food on the table.
Food security is not the only issue for indigenous people. Fire is also beginning to threaten their homes.
One out of three of the hundreds of evacuations that took place Canada in the past 30 years has involved indigenous people living in the northern boreal forest. These people comprise less than four per cent of the population of the country.
Most scientists agree that it is going to get much worse as rising temperatures, drier conditions, and an increasing number of lightning strikes trigger more fires. According to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, the extent of area burning in Alaska is projected to double by 2050 and triple by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not brought under control and runaway Arctic warming continues.
How bad can it get?
Like 2003 fire season in Siberia, the 2015 fire season Alaska may be a harbinger of what we can expect
In June of that summer, a slow-moving low-pressure system moved slowly through the state producing little rain but plenty of fireworks. By the time the storms finally petered out after five days, 61,000 bolts of lightning—15,000 in one remarkably electric day—had been unleashed on the boreal forest below. No one had ever seen anything quite like it, not even in the record-breaking season of 2004, when 8,500 lightning strikes were recorded in one day in the midst of the state’s most intense fire season ever.
Lightning from those storms triggered 270 fires. Just over 5 million acres of forest burned. Seventy homes were lost. Mercifully, no one died.
If the rains hadn’t come, according to Scott Rupp, a wildfire ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and university director of the Interior Department’s Alaska Climate Science Center, as much as 10 million acres might have burned. That would have made it the largest runaway wildfire season for a state, province, or territory in modern-day North American history. It would have rivaled the Black Dragon fire that burned along the Siberian/Manchurian border in 1988. That was the biggest fire documented in human history.
Svalbard, 2017: Rachel Tiller and Dorothy Dankel carry out fieldwork © D. Dankel
Rachel Tiller interviews colleague Dorothy Dankel
What is Regimes and what are your roles in this project?
REGIMES is a 3-year research project funded by the Research Council of Norway that
integrates political and social science with ecology and economics. A main objective of the
project is to understand complex future scenarios of the Svalbard archipelago under climate
change. As Project Leader, I am the project leader, and responsible for the overall project management, but I also use my competencies in fisheries management and transdisciplinary research for the work that integrates bio-geo-chemical model results with social, ecological and economic theory and objectives. The overall goal of the REGIMES project is to engage a diverse group of academics with diverse groups of stakeholders in these plausible future scenarios to build a capacity of responsiveness for Norway to adapt to climate change. The specific case we focus on is the archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic, that is under the Kingdom of Norway as its sovereign but that falls under the Svalbard Treaty where all signatories have equal rights still, which complicates things, especially with climate change and the stressors this results in on the local community and the marine area and associated recourses therein.
What were your project team´s impressions about the social capital of the population of Svalbard, especially under climate change?
The main impression on the social capital of the local community of Longyearbyen specifically centered around the fact that this town of about 2000 people has a very transient population: people coming and going for shorter periods of time, making it a town where the collective memories are not as strong as in more stable communities. Another strong impression is how international the community of Longyearbyen is, so much so that there are many "sub-communities" of people of common nationalities. One of these communities that impressed me most was the Thai community, which may be surprising to some. Many Thai citizens reside and work in Longyearbyen and Thais are the fastest growing nationality group in Svalbard. One of the reasons for this seems to be that many Thai people are looking for well-paid work and because of the Svalbard Treaty, are free to come to Svalbard without a work permit (as per the law set up with signatories of the Treaty) as long as they have a job.
Besides the Thai community, I personally have a strong impression of what it would be to have a family in Longyearbyen. When we conducted our fieldwork in Longyearbyen in August 2017 I was over 6 months pregnant with my third child. We learned during this fieldwork and study trip that no one is allowed to give birth in Svalbard. This is due to the lack of full social and medical services in the archipelago. As a consequence of getting pregnant, you must leave your family (if they are not able to travel with you) at around 8 months of gestation to give birth in Tromsø, Norway, the closest city to Longyearbyen on the mainland. I myself could not imagine the thought of being in a place where pregnancies are treated as a risk to society, not to mention having to leave my family to build my family. I personally was glad I had a birth plan in Bergen, where we live, and wasn't forced by the government to plan a birth in a city and hospital far away.
During our interviews with the local population, we furthermore learned more about their fears for climate change induced environmental challenges, specifically related to avalanches. The vulnerability of having a lack of collective memory was also something that many of the interviewees brought up as well, and many also commented on how raw it felt when people just kept moving and you were unable or unwilling to go into deep relationships with people when you knew they would soon move away.
What are the main challenges going forward for the community of Longyearbyen?
In addition to being personally vulnerable, job security is something else that is challenging for the future of this High North Arctic community. Earlier in 2018, Norway decided to stop coal mining in Svalbard, a watershed decision that now puts the most significant business sector for the development of Svalbard in the 20th century firmly in the past. A big challenge for Longyearbyen is how to maintain a strong community without coal and at the same time in face of a warming climate. Literally, the foundations of the infrastructure of the community are softening due to the permafrost thawing which renders structures and buildings unstable. In addition, the avalanche situation has made once safe spaces now lethal areas. One of the newer neighborhoods built in Longyearbyen has recently been declared too unsafe (after several avalanches, some without warnings, and two people dead) and the apartments and houses are all being destroyed and rebuilt in a place deemed safer. Underlying all these challenges is the local governance challenge of having to adapt to new climate scenarios while at the same time planning for a sustainable and robust future for businesses, the environment and the diverse Longyearbyen community.
How will climate change affect the marine areas around this island community?
We hope that our REGIMES project is able to shed light on future sustainable scenarios of the climate-environment-society-geopolitical nexus to make a sustainable future more tangible in the options for the decisions that have to be deliberated now. This is especially important with fish species changing their distribution patterns northwards under warming waters, whereby fish that were previously never caught in the marine zones around Svalbard now are – and more are expected should the status quo of increasing sea surface temperatures continue. This ties into not only geopolitics, with fishers following the fish northwards, but also into how this community can adapt to being coal free with potentially being able to start up a landing site – or even being a hub for ships that in the future are able to use the ice free Arctic ocean to transport goods over large distances.
Dorothy J. Dankel (b. 1979, USA) is a researcher at the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Bergen (UiB). She holds a PhD at UiB in Fisheries Management (2009) and has spent her research at the School of Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts (USA), the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (Austria) and the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities UiB. Dankel is one who "researches research" and uses theories and methods from both humanistic and social subjects to analyze accountability and sustainability in marine research, climate change and biotechnology.
Turning our eyes to women and gender in the Arctic
Women of the Arctic
This past year has witnessed a massive global surge of interest in issues relating to
women and gender, more broadly. More and more women and members of the
LGBTQ2S+ community feel emboldened to raise their voices, to run for political office, and leadership positions of all kinds. All the while, the #MeToo movement continues breaking the silence surrounding a culture of (sexual) harassment and abuse.
Women, men, and gender non-conforming persons continue to march for equal rights and pushing forward issues relating to women and gender into the mainstream discourse.
Nevertheless, in the Arctic, as elsewhere, the roles and contributions of women to northern policy-making, to daily life in community, to art and polar research often remain far from the limelight. This includes a focus on the challenges that women face, the successes they achieve, and the issues that matter to them most.
There have been numerous efforts to better understand the gender issues in the Arctic. These include, among others, the gender-related projects of the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) of the Arctic Council (2004-2006) and two conferences hosted by the Arctic Council, “Taking Wing: Gender Equality and Women in the Arctic” organized during the first Finnish chairmanship in 2002 and “Gender Equality in the Arctic: Current Realities, Future Challenges” which took place in Iceland in 2014. Among more recent initiatives have been the work of Women in Polar Science (WiPS) which hosted the panel “From Entering the Field to Taking the Helm – Perspectives of Women in Polar Science” at the primary joint event of Antarctic and Arctic research communities, Polar 2018; Pride Polar, a network of LGBTQ2S+ and allies in polar research; the Gender in the Arctic Research Network which published a special issue of Polar Geography on “Gender in the Arctic” (2018) including topics like queering indigeneity; and the TUARK Network that brought out a special issue of the Nordic Journal on Law and Societyon “Gender equality in the Arctic and North” (2017).
With a desire to contribute to these efforts, “Women of the Arctic: Bridging Policy, Research and Lived Experience” sought to create a non-academic space where women who work on, live in, or engage with the Arctic could tell their stories and share their experiences. Hosted on September 6thand 7th, 2018, by the University of Helsinki as a side event of the 2018 UArctic Congress, “Women of the Arctic” brought together indigenous and non-indigenous women with various backgrounds from all Arctic states to discuss issues pertaining to women’s representation in northern policy-making, the position and contribution of women to polar research and knowledge production, as well as the somber realities of gender-based violence which disproportionately impacts the lives of northern women and children.
Reaching beyond academia, “Women of the Arctic” collaborated with the Arctic Cycle, a New York-based arts organization who presented Whale Song, a 15-minute one-woman play at the evening reception of the UArctic Congress on September 6th. Whale Song, written by Chantal Bilodeau, told the story of women’s suffering and strength when faced with the adverse effects of climate change and gender-based violence. Furthermore, to maintain a long-term focus on issues of gender and women, “Women of the Arctic” worked together with creative communications collective, “What Took You So Long”,to document the event and interview speakers and participants about their professional and personal stories, to be released in early 2019.
Building on the event in Helsinki, the co-organizers of “Women of the Arctic” partnered with the Icelandic Center for Gender Equality, to host a panel at the 2018 Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik. The highly attended breakout session, titled “Toward an Arctic Women Summit”, was dedicated to the prospect of organizing a large circumpolar women’s assembly, an idea that garnered unanimous interest from both panelists and audience alike. As a part of the discussion, panelists noted that a focus on “women’s issues” must not only be confined to gender-focused events and it should not be trivialized, seeing those are all human issues which most often need to be addressed collectively. Panellists and audience members provided insights on how small-scale changes – for instance providing for caregiving options to balance parenting commitments - can encourage more gender-equal participation across conferences, panels, meetings and boards. The large number of men attending the session and participating in the discussions shown the increasing awareness of gender perspectives and inequalities across the Arctic landscape, with men actively seeking out ways to become part of a solution as advocates and allies.
Lessons from Arctic countries show that fundamental and long-lasting changes are possible when it comes to gender equality. Still, even the most advanced of them that often rank among the top in the world in this regard, have not reached yet full parity, equal representation and pay, showing the need for further continuous effort. Whether speaking of climate change, ensuring sustainable resource management, environmental protection, leading sustainable practices, increasing well-being or enhancing resilience of their communities, women play a critical role at all levels from local through regional to global in addressing all of those issues. “Women of the Arctic” seeks to shine a light on some of these aspects and support broader efforts to create gender equality for all. Because gender should not be plan B in the Arctic.
Women of the Arctic © Gosia Smieszek
About “Women of the Arctic”
“Women of the Arctic” (WoA) is a non-profit association registered in Finland. It aims to raise awareness, support, and maintain a focus on women’s and gender-related issues in the Arctic. Its website www.genderisnotplanb.com serves as a digital storytelling platform, showcasing the personal and professional stories of Arctic women while also highlighting and promoting the inclusion of broader gender perspectives in all aspects of northern life. To learn more about WoA and explore the platform visit www.genderisnotplanb.com and follow along on Twitter and Instagram at @PlanArctic. To contact us please write at: email@example.com.
Gosia Smieszek is a researcher at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland and Tahnee Prior is Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholar and a doctoral candidate at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Together with Leena Rantamaula, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland they are founders of the association “Women of the Arctic”.
Canada’s 137 km Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway—built atop permafrost and traversing a
polar landscape dotted with thousands of lakes and streams—just recently celebrated its
one-year anniversary. In the years leading up to its construction, Canadians debated the
merits of bridging the Arctic coastline to the rest of the country. Former Canadian Prime
Minister Stephen Harper explained the highway in terms of both Arctic sovereignty and as a “road to resources.” The Globe and Mail newspaper described the highway in terms of bringing “new opportunities and new stresses to the North by opening a small, isolated community to the outside world.” And a story from the national broadcaster, the CBC, juxtaposed the aspirations for tourism and economic growth against the downsides of such a project—highlighting, for example, a vodka-smuggling operation busted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the new roadway. More recently, it described the north end of the community of Tuktoyaktuk as the final stop on a summer road trip: “That's where tourists have set up their RVs and tents, and where many will head to dip their toes into the Arctic Ocean, or do a polar plunge.”
As dramatic as these developments might seem, Canadians were long primed for the media narrative of an all-season transport artery to the Arctic Ocean. That’s because the highway follows the same route as the ice roads featured in Ice Road Truckers, the popular reality television show that airs on the History Channel. For well over a decade, Ice Road Truckers and its Discovery Channel reality counterpart Deadliest Catch have represented compelling (and historically successful) productions from the Arctic reality entertainment genre—featuring impossible jobs in remote (and otherwise unknown) geographies. The former highlights long-haul truckers who traverse frozen lakes in the north to deliver cargo and infrastructure to isolated northerly worksites. Deadliest Catch, meanwhile, provides viewers with a first-hand perspective of Alaska crab fishing on the Bering Sea. Emphasizing themes of adventure, conflict, and resources extraction, both programs romanticize and commodify the polar region, transmitting powerful images and frontier narratives into households across North America and internationally.
Their early success was responsible for the overnight growth of a much larger Arctic reality genre featuring survivalists and ice pilots and independent gold prospectors. Some of these productions have come and gone; while others hobble on. Most, however, have been dismissed by critics. In a symbolic blow last February, Emily Fehrenbacher, the Anchorage Daily News columnist dedicated to Alaska reality TV, announced that even she was ending her column. The genre had apparently run its course—a point that not many argued with. But whether they are continued or not, the longevity of Ice Road Truckers and Deadliest Catch points to a loyal fanbase across North America (and internationally) and an enduring interest in the Arctic as a mediated frontier geography. Perhaps ironically, these reality programs have created their own their kind of reality—one that has real implications for public perceptions and even policy for the region. To draw from the media theorist Marshall McLuhan, it is worth understanding not only what is communicated within these programs, but also the contexts—history, geography, economy, technology—in which they are produced, transmitted, and received.
Not that either program should be expected to be around for much longer—mostly due to the economics of the television industry but also, yes, a genre that has seemingly run its course. Another key determining variable is climate change—a recent twist that has been incorporated into the storylines of both shows. Changing weather conditions in the north have hampered the ability of truckers to traverse increasingly risky ice roads. In the case of Deadliest Catch, once-reliable fishing grounds have been rendered unproductive. In this sense, both Ice Road Truckers and Deadliest Catch have provided an important, if counter-intuitive, entry point for larger discussions about the Arctic’s ecological future. At the same time, these shows have secured their place in the mythology of the North American Arctic by helping to create it.
Dalton Highway's Ice Road Trucker © Anita Ritenour
Derek Moscato is an assistant professor in the department of journalism at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. His research interests include environmental media, global strategic communication, and public diplomacy. His research article “The Political Economy of Arctic Reality Television: The Spatial Communication of Ice Road Truckers & Deadliest Catch” was published in the 2017 Arctic Yearbook.
Ny-Ålesund and the ascent of science on Svalbard
Svalbard is currently undergoing a significant socio-economic transition, with coalmining—
once the primary economic activity and raison d'être for all Svalbard settlements—in rapid
decline. Mining proved unprofitable for much of the coal era, while blackening Norway’s
claims of enlightened stewardship of the Svalbard environment and damaging its inter-
national image as a country of progressive climate policies. Mining operations at Sveagruva have now ceased, and Longyearbyen—the first coalmining settlement on Svalbard and locus of Norwegian authority over the archipelago—is striving to boost other sectors such as tourism, education and research, and space services to fill the large gap left by the departure of most miners and other employees of the state-owned mining company Store Norske. The Russian community of Barentsburg, meanwhile, is also transitioning towards tourism and scientific research as coal reserves there continue to ebb.
Located along Kongsfjorden some 110 km northwest of Longyearbyen, outside the Isfjorden system where most mining towns have been established since the beginning of the 20thcentury, Ny-Ålesund kicked the coal habit—albeit under tragic circumstances—and embarked on a markedly different path almost 60 years ago. On November 5th, 1962 a mine shaft explosion took the lives of 21 miners, a tragedy that led to the downfall of Norway’s government and the end of the coalmining era in Ny-Ålesund. Several years after the accident and subsequent evacuation of the town’s inhabitants, the settlement was repurposed for scientific research, initially hosting a telemetry station for the European Space Research Organization and a field station for the Norwegian Polar Institute.
Since the early 1990s, when an array of non-Arctic states sought to expand their scientific presence in the High North in the wake of the founding of the International Arctic Science Committee, Ny-Ålesund has transformed into an international research base for natural science. By 2000, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Italy and France had established research stations there, followed by South Korea, China and India in the years since. The geopolitical dimension of these facilities became apparent in the run-up to the 2013 Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, when additional non-Arctic states were admitted as observers to the Council. All countries represented in Ny-Ålesund placed great emphasis on their research stations when constructing narratives that positioned them as legitimate Arctic stakeholders, and thus entitled to a voice in regional governance despite their geographic location well to the south of the Arctic Circle.
Science is on the ascent across the archipelago, as elaborated in the 2015-2016 Norwegian government white paper on the future of Svalbard, as well as the launch a year ago of the Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System. Norwegian authorities have taken a renewed, more assertive stance on coordinating and to some extent steering international scientific activity, while more explicitly foregrounding Norway’s key role as host, facilitator and provider of infrastructure and logistical support for the research institutes present in Ny-Ålesund in particular. This is indicative of the overarching Norwegian geopolitical imperative on Svalbard: maintaining robust communities and exercising authority under the 1920 Svalbard Treaty, which granted Norway sovereignty and motivated much of the vast expenditure on coal mining over the past century, and today strongly influences policies in the realm of research and education on Svalbard. Local manifestations of Norway’s increasingly firm engagement are the forthcoming (expected March 2019) research strategy for Ny-Ålesund drafted by the Research Council of Norway, and the enhanced leadership role assigned to the Norwegian Polar Institute for implementing the strategy. At the same time, the government white paper calls for a shift away from “national” stations associated with research institutes of particular states, towards thematic facilities, such as the Kings Bay Marine Laboratory and the soon to be inaugurated terrestrial laboratory, that are intended to be shared by all Ny-Ålesund scientists.
Although Ny-Ålesund is explicitly a place for natural science research, several social scientists have in recent years shown interest in human activity as such in the settlement, including social anthropologist Paul Wenzel Geissler and human geographer Minna-Liina Ojala. My own research explores the contemporary history of Ny-Ålesund, and the convergence of science, geopolitics and environmental protection on Svalbard and the wider Arctic. Studying these interconnections inspired me to launch the podcast Polar Geopolitics, which, in the context of global environmental change, takes up these and a range of related issues such as governance, geo-economics, indigenous communities, sustainable development and science diplomacy in the Arctic and Antarctica. Each episode features interviews with experts on particular polar topics. The podcast is available on most major podcast platforms as well as www.polargeopolitics.com. It can be followed on Twitter @polargeopol and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/polargeopolitics/. Feedback and ideas are very welcome—please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ny-Ålesund view from harbor area © Eric Paglia
Eric Paglia is a postdoctoral researcher at the Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. His dissertation is entitled The Northward Course of the Anthropocene: Transformation, Temporality and Telecoupling in a Time of Environmental Crisis (2016).
© Danita Burke
Women in the Arctic and Antarctic
My name is Danita Catherine Burke and I am an international politics and Arctic politics
scholar with over 12 years of experience doing Polar research. I am from Newfoundland,
Canada and I current live in Denmark. I have an undergraduate (honours) degree in Political
Science with a minor in Business and a graduate degree in Political Science from Memorial
University of Newfoundland. I have also completed a PhD in International Politics at the
Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK. I am currently
based at the Center for War Studies, University of Southern Denmark where I was first a Carlsberg Foundation Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow and I am currently a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow. My current project focuses on NGOs in the Arctic region and is supported by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship, but my research covers a range of themes. These themes include diplomacy and cooperation, legitimacy, institutional and organizational practices, evolution of national identity, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), and the role of militaries in the Arctic.
I started the Women in the Arctic and Antarctic (WiAA) initiative in 2018 with the aim of helping to provide tools to promote women pursuing Polar research on the North, Arctic, and Antarctic. All too often avenues for women to promote themselves in their chosen field are limited thereby impacting their career advancement opportunities. The WiAA initiative aims to shine light on the women who pursue Polar research and to help women have opportunities to promote their work and to have access to information that can help them with research and career development.
The initiative presently has two primary tools to help promote women – the Twitter @arctic_in account and the www.womeninthearctic.ca website. Polar research is a global field and for many scholars, limitations such as funding, scheduling restrictions, geography (e.g. distance to events), and family responsibilities impact their ability to attend many traditional networking opportunities, such as conferences and workshops. The result is that the lack of access to traditional networking opportunities can cut women off from chances to develop as a Polar scholar, limited their capacity to introduce themselves to other Polar scholars, and hinder their ability to learn about existing and emerging funding, networking, and research resources.
Through the WiAA @arctic_in Twitter account and the www.womeninthearctic.ca website, you can learn more about funding and research opportunities available for various types of Polar scholarship and samples of publications by women doing Polar research. You can also learn more about networking and fieldwork opportunities and requirements for undertaking Polar scholarship in different parts of the Polar regions. Most importantly, you can read new profiles, written by Polar scholars, introducing themselves in their own words to generate awareness about their work.
With the launch of the WiAA website, WiAA welcomes you to come and learn more about the amazing women doing Polar scholarship. The WiAA website features profiles by scholars such as Aki Tonami, Aviaja Lyberth Hauptmann, Allyson Tessin, Eimear Tynan, Anne Merrild Hansen, Maria Ackrén, Silja Bára Ómarsdóttir, Elizabeth Buchanan, and Ingrid Medby.
Danita Burke grew up in Newfoundland, Canada, where she pursued her undergraduate studies in Political Science and Business and a graduate degree in Political Science at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She also completed a PhD in International Politics at the Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK. Burke is currently based at the Center for War Studies, University of Southern Denmark where I was first a Carlsberg Foundation Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow and she is currently a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow. Her current project focuses on NGOs in the Arctic region and is supported by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship, but her research covers a range of themes. These themes include diplomacy and cooperation, legitimacy, institutional and organizational practices, evolution of national identity, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), and the role of militaries in the Arctic.
The North Water (NOW) between the Thule area and Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic
is an open water area all year - a polynya. Nutrient-rich sea-currents create an ‘oasis’ with
an abundance of prey for hunters, and these rich living resources have formed the basis for
human subsistence for millennia. The future of the hunting community is, however, un-
certain. The sea ice in the fjords and around the polynya is unstable resulting in difficult
access to the marine game and changed sledge routes. Political constrains like fixed quota
on the hunting of certain large game like walrus and narwhal is also affecting the sub-
sistence basis of theinughuit, the native population in Avanersuaq.
The interdisciplinary research of the NOW project is aimed at charting the interaction be-
tween game and humans in the North Water area in a long term perspective. The biggest
and the smallest game, walrus and little auks (the smallest of sea birds that live in huge flocks in the Thule area), both of which are important bulk resources, have been tracked. Using GPS with camera, twenty hunters have mapped their routes and catches during a year, and from these data we have seen how the activities of the different hunting seasons relate to the distribution and stability of the sea ice around the polynya, the distribution of hunted animals as well as new resources like the Greenland halibut, that can generate cash income.
Analyses of historical sources related to the Thule Trading Station from 1910 – 53 have also been included in the research program. Income from trading fox fur and the ‘safety net’ of the station attracted people and this influenced the settlement pattern of the inughuit. Apart from this, the hunting economy was based on a seasonal cycle that provided plenty of walrus and seal meat and blubber, which could be stored for the ‘meagre’ winter season. This storage economy was a precondition for survival in the High Arctic Thule area.
The project’s archaeological investigations included excavations of the Nuulliit settlement site from the 14thcentury AD, when bowhead whales were a prime game for the earliest inuit, who migrated from Alaska via Canada to the North Water area. The meat and blubber from these huge whales as well as walrus, narwhal and seal provided a rich subsistence basis. The Nuulliit settlement consisted of several single family winter houses with turf and stone walls and a single large ‘qassi’, which according to historical and oral sources was a ‘men’s house’ where the strategy for whale hunting was discussed among the hunters of the settlement, led by an ‘umialik’, a whale boat owner and captain. The ‘qassi’ also served as a festival house for the settlement. The excavations show that maintaining hunting equipment and tool-making took place in front of this large house. The site was a link in a long-distance trading network where knives, harpoon blades and needles made of meteoric iron from the Savissivik meteorite was exchanged. This meteorite situated about 150 km from the site was the only natural source of iron in the entire eastern Arctic.
The interdisciplinary project has shown how the hunting community of the North Water area has always been both adaptable and strategic in a world of constantly changing environments, resources and political parameters. This small society possess a resilience and ingenuity that future generations can built on.
The archaeological team of the NOW Project excavated an activity area in front of a ‘qassi’ – a men’s house – at the Nuulliit peninsula. The investigations showed that the site was established by a group of Thule Culture inuit in the early 14th century. (Photo by Bjarne Grønnow, 2016) © B. Grønnow
Bjarne Grønnow is research professor and dr. phil. in Arctic archaeology at the Department of Modern History and World Cultures at the National Museum of Denmark. He has conducted several interdisciplinary research project in Greenland focused on subsistence and hunting strategies, settlement patterns as well as Arctic pioneer societies and migrations in a long term perspective. Read more about the NOW project on the following home page, where also references to the publications of the project can be found: www.now.ku.dk.
A selection of recent publications:
Grønnow, Bjarne; Appelt, Martin; Odgaard, Ulla 2014. In the Light of Blubber: The Earliest Stone Lamps in Greenland and Beyond. – In: Gulløv, Hans Christian (ed.): Northern Worlds. Landscapes, interactions and dynamics. - Publications from the National Museum. Studies in Archaeology and History, Vol. 22: 403-422.
Grønnow, Bjarne 2016. Living at a High Arctic Polynya: Inughuit Settlement and Subsistence around the North Water during the Thule Station Period, 1910–53. – Arctic 69, Suppl. 1: 1 – 15.
Grønnow, Bjarne, 2017. The Frozen Saqqaq Sites of Disko Bay, West Greenland. Qeqertasussuk and Qajaa (2400 – 900 BC). Studies of Saqqaq Material Culture in an Eastern Arctic Perspective. – Meddelelser om Grønland/Monographs on Greenland, Man & Society, Vol. 356: 490.
Hastrup, Kirsten; Grønnow, Bjarne; Mosbech, Anders (eds.) 2018. The North Water: Interdisciplinary studies of a High Arctic polynya under transformation. – Ambio 47 (Supplement 2), Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences & Springer: 159 – 310.
Teaching Arctic Climate Change Humanities with the Sedna Epic Expedition
Kelly Bushnell during Team Sedna’s final dive in Greenland, August 2018. © Amanda Cotton
Across Inuit Nunangat, Sedna is the Goddess of the Sea and the mother of all marine
mammals. The Sedna Epic Expedition is a multi-year project in the High Arctic which brings
together an interdisciplinary team of women ocean professionals focused on scouting,
documenting and recording disappearing sea ice in the Arctic via snorkeling and scuba diving. In parallel, Sedna’s Sea Women run a mentorship program to empower girls and young women to tackle societal and environmental change in the Arctic.
For Team Sedna’s Summer 2018 Expedition we were scheduled to fly from Ottawa, Ontario, to Resolute, Nunavut, then sail eastward through the Northwest Passage, exploring the northeast coast of Baffin Island to the west coast of Greenland. The sea ice had other plans for our us, however, and due to upwards of 90% ice coverage in Resolute Bay on our planned departure date it was decided we would fly to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, instead and sail north along Greenland’s western fjords then cross Davis Strait to Baffin Island and as far into the Northwest Passage as time (and ice) would permit. In the weeks that followed we acquired acoustic marine data and snorkeled and dived on sites which no one has ever seen from below the surface, sometimes in brilliantly clear water and sometimes in glacial sediment so dense we couldn’t see a (thickly gloved!) hand in front of our faces. In Sisimiut, Greenland, and Mittimatalik, Nunavut, Team Sedna facilitated underwater robot-building workshops for Inuit youth. (Since 2014, three Sedna Epic Expeditions have delivered an ocean knowledge sharing and mobilization program to more than 1,000 Inuit youths and Elders in Labrador, Nunavut, and Greenland.)
While high above the Arctic Circle at sea, on the land, and in the communities, I brainstormed with my teammates about how to bring the expedition home to my students at the University of West Florida. (An Arctic summer, for the record, is colder than a Florida winter.) Within weeks of the expedition’s conclusion I was back on campus teaching Introduction to Literature to one hundred twenty freshmen, many of whom have never left the southeastern United States. My theme for the course, as always, was “Literary Ecologies,” but for the bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818-2018) I focused this introductory environmental literature course around the images and ideas of monstrosity and ecological annihilation. I often talk about the importance of an ecofeminist reading of the novel, but this term I also focused on its polar context. Lost in many cinematic adaptations of Frankenstein is its Arctic framing narrative, which became the focus of an entire unit of the course.
Among other Arctic texts, students connected Frankenstein to Kaijutaijuq, a 2014 short film screened at the Toronto International Film Festival starring Team’s Sedna’s advisor Johnny Issaluk. In October Johnny “visited” my class via Skype from Iqaluit, Nunavut,to answer students’ questions about the film, Inuit culture, and Arctic climate change, bringing a human face to the artistic and scientific concerns explored in the course. After Kaijutaijuqwe studied “Rise”, a recent poetic collaboration between Aka Niviana (Greenland) and Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner (Marshall Islands), organized around the ecological trajectory that Niviana’s home is melting and flooding Jetñil-Kijiner’s. The Arctic unit has become a highlight of the course, and a concrete example for students of the necessary cooperation between the humanities and the sciences in communicating the realities of anthropogenic climate change.
Students often reach the same conclusion: utterly struck by the deep unfairness that the people least responsible for climate change, who live closest to the land and have been its stewards for a thousand years, are the first to be affected by it. They also express shock and concern at the dismissive treatment of Arctic Indigenous cosmologies and knowledge systems by non-Indigenous researchers, and I extend this dismay and frustration to well-meaning researchers who pay lip service to “decolonizing” their fields without meaningfully engaging Indigenous epistemologies. (See Sheila Watt-Cloutier, “It’s Time to Listen to the Inuit on Climate Change” and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein’s “Decolonizing Science Reading List”.) Team Sedna’s connections to the Arctic are only possible through our relationships with Arctic-based expedition partners and our Inuit advisors who graciously share their experiences and their homeland with us, and only by respecting and honoring these connections can we meaningfully cultivate a sustainable future together.
What’s next for Team Sedna? In July I’ll welcome the sea women to Seattle for PADI Women’s Dive Day, where we will certify in the operation and maintenance of Diver Propulsion Vehicles (DPVs) which will enable our ultimate goal of completing a snorkel relay of the Northwest Passage to document and raise awareness of the profound ecological change therein caused by anthropogenic climate change. In November 2019 we will host a Women’s Environmental Leadership Forum in Tromsø, Norway, which will bring together Sami, Inuit, and non-Indigenous women from Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, and Australia to discuss the relationship between gender, environment, and leadership. We invite you follow along on our website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
Kelly Patricia Bushnell is a Seattle-based teacher, historian, and literary scholar who specializes in the environmental humanities and ecofeminism, particularly oceanic history and culture. She received her BA from the University of California (San Diego), her MA from Mills College, and her PhD from the University of London (Royal Holloway), and she has taught at the University of London and the University of West Florida. When she’s not teaching, writing, or speaking about the importance of the humanities to our ecological future, you can find her rowing a wooden boat around Puget Sound. Get in touch on Twitter @kpbushnell or at kellypbushnell.com.
Exploring the Arctic - Iceland's volcanic Kerling mountain.
© Allen Pope
The Arctic is a huge natural laboratory offering a surprising diversity of research possibilities in every
branch of science. The International Arctic Science Committee's (IASC) mission is to encourage and
facilitate cooperation in all aspects of Arctic research, in all countries engaged in Arctic research, and
all areas of the Arctic region. For nearly three decades, IASC has worked to transform the conditions for
cooperation in Arctic science by planning and supporting major multinational research initiatives; by
organizing the Arctic Science Summit Week (ASSW) and other meetings each year; and convening and
empowering international scientific working groups.
Working Across Disciplines
IASC's main scientific working bodies are the five Working Groups: Atmosphere (AWG), Cryosphere
Working Groups are set up along disciplinary lines, they have dedicated resources to support interdisciplinary projects proposed by Arctic scientists from IASC member countries. In this way, IASC is committed to fostering interdisciplinary activities, in particular across the natural and social sciences and humanities. IASC is supporting a dozen such projects in the coming year.
Enhancing and Extending Polar Partnerships
With the goal to develop and stimulate shared initiatives that are of high interest to the broader Arctic research community, IASC maintains close partnerships with several other Arctic and Polar organizations. The recent "Arctic Vegetation Archive and Classification" workshop — jointly organized by the Terrestrial Working Group and the Arctic Council's CAFF Flora Group — is an illustrative example. The primary goal of the workshop was to develop an Arctic terrestrial monitoring program and provide a standardized vegetation framework and data enabling each country to assemble its own archive. By developing common protocols, the databases can later be united into a single circum-Arctic Vegetation Archive.
Building Capacity of Early Career Researchers
IASC recognizes that the next generation of Arctic researchers will be faced with increasingly critical Arctic and global challenges. The Committee, therefore, works to support international and interdisciplinary experiences for early career researchers. IASC supported over 150 early career researchers to attend Arctic workshops and conferences in the last year. The Working Groups not only provide travel support for young researchers, they also integrate the IASC Fellowship Program with their activities. A call for applications is released each year in October through the IASC and APECS mailing lists, websites, and Facebook.
IASC has been an Observer to the Arctic Council since its inception in 1996. IASC partners with the Arctic council nations, working groups, and other Observers to contribute to the work of the Council. IASC does this in a variety of ways, including contributing expertise from the IASC community on particular topics (e.g., plastics pollution, black carbon, oil spill remediation, and more), facilitating review of synthesis reports for policymakers, co-sponsoring early career fellows programs, and co-convening conferences and workshops. You can find out more about the Icelandic chairmanship of the Arctic Council here.
IASC continues to support the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC), scheduled to start in autumn 2019. MOSAiC was born out of the Atmosphere Working Group and will be the first year-round expedition into the central Arctic exploring the Arctic climate system. MOSAiC's overall goal is to understand more thoroughly how the coupled Arctic climate system functions, in particular under rapid Arctic climate change that will not only affect the local Arctic climate but might also be affecting hemispheric circulation patterns and global change. Visit the project's IASC websiteand main MOSAiC webpage for more information. IASC is excited to support and foster MOSAiC and aims to incubate other such transformative Arctic science activities.
Want to find out more about how to get involved with IASC, find collaborators, or how IASC supports Arctic science? Email the IASC Secretariat (email@example.com), your national representatives, and/or your Working Group representatives, whose names you will find on the website. To hear more about upcoming IASC activities and opportunities, join the IASC mailing list and Facebook group.
This post is adapted from an original post in ARCUS‘ Witness the Arctic: https://www.arcus.org/witness-the-arctic/2017/2/article/27771.
Allen Pope is the Executive Secretary for the International Arctic Science Committee, Research Scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, and affiliate of the Geosciences Department at Williams College. He received an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Earth & Planetary Science with a citation in French from Harvard College, and a masters and doctorate in Polar Studies from Cambridge University. At IASC, Allen works to bring together Arctic researchers across disciplinary and national boundaries and to advocate for the importance of Arctic science. As a researcher, he studies the Earth's frozen regions with satellite and airborne data, does fieldwork to make sure the satellites have it right, and communicates his science to other audiences.
Black carbon is not cool
Arctic Iceberg. © Carol Devine
Everything is interconnected.
Last minute in the late summer of 2017, I joined an all-female sailing expedition to
circumnavigate Scotland called eXXpedition, with the two Xs to indicate the female
related to our goal to look at toxins including endocrine disruptors in our global
environment that can cause disease, as well as to explore the issue of plastics and
chemicals polluting our oceans and waterways. The tag line is “see the unseen”; that is
the plastics and toxins that ‘break up’ into our life-giving waters.
Recently, I couldn't look at a photo of an iceberg without solarizing it. I had black carbon on the brain and wanted to know the role this tiny vexing particle plays in climate warming, harm to health, and what we can do about it. As our human action alters the state of ice, I also experimented with altering ice and playing with 'negatives' to symbolically show how our actions are changing things dear and essential to us. Rapid and irreversible change of icebergs and glaciers from light to dark (melting away) is a play on how quickly the Arctic and glaciers everywhere are melting – not to mention the summer of 2019 - at our peril. This series is a call to action.
Shipping and dark snow
Black Carbon is like what you might imagine. It's tiny dark particles of pure carbon. I first learned of Black Carbon in Iceland in 2016 at the Arctic Circle Assembly. Panelists were addressing topics from the rapid increase of Arctic shipping due to dwindling sea ice, search and rescue, oil spills, indigenous rights and this ominous thing I hadn't heard of before.
Two thirds of black carbon in the Arctic is traced to use of heavy fuel oil (HFO), which emits black carbon during combustion. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, "HFO is the bottom of the barrel leftovers from the oil refining process. It is incredibly viscous...the consistency of peanut butter. HFO is the preferred fuel for the marine shipping industry because it’s cheap, widely available, and large marine engines are built to handle it."
Black carbon gets into our atmosphere through HFO that many ships use as well as through burning for agriculture, wildfires, wood combustion for heating, and gas flaring.
I immediately wanted to see what it black carbon looked like, a component of fine particulate matter. I found an electron microscope image of black carbon clumps attaching to sulfates.
Black Carbon Particles © Arizona State University/Peter Buseck
These wee particles wreak havoc especially in the Arctic and everywhere south. But that's the last I thought about Black Carbon - until last summer on a sailboat in the Irish Sea.
At the 11th hour I joined and all-female sailing expedition circumnavigating the UK to do a survey of plastics and toxins. In every sample we found visible plastics, and the finer samples we sent to labs and early results showed microplastics, tiny plastics. Evidence grows daily on the potential harm of microplastics on human and marine ecosystem health.
On this expedition I met Dr. Lucy Gilliam, the eXXpedition co-founder, an avid sailor and an inspiring environmental scientist. We got talking about black carbon as she works on clean shipping. Lucy asked me if I'd help seek signatories for and sign a commitment to ban use of HFO in the Arctic for the campaign to phase out the use of heavy fuel oil from Arctic shipping, led by 15 not-for-profit organisations.
Exploring Black Carbon
I needed to know more about black carbon, so I could support this campaign in a more informed way. I found that these particles and the sun are tied together. Black carbon matter absorbs sunlight and give soot it's black hue, creating "dark snow" seen on glaciers from Canada and Greenland to the Himalayas.
Renee Cho of Columbia University's Earth Institute says, "black carbon is the most solar energy-absorbing component of particulate matter and can absorb one million times more energy than CO2...When it falls to earth with precipitation, it darkens the surface of snow and ice, reducing their albedo (the reflecting power of a surface), warming the snow, and hastening melting."
This "fine" matter is a short-lived pollutant that stays in the atmosphere only a few weeks but is a leading contributor to global climate change, possibly second only to CO2.
One night I solarized a few of my iceberg shots from an Arctic cleanup expedition I did. I looked for other digital open-source ice images and solarized them. The new views are beautiful and disturbing: a foreboding altered state – both real and metaphoric.
© Carol Devine
As the sun plays a big role in black carbon contributing to ice melt and input into oceans, I played with reversing the ice's tone. Years ago, I learned that photographer, war correspondent and surrealist Lee Miller inadvertently discovered solarization in her darkroom with Man Ray; she turned on a light before the negatives were developed. Already I was intrigued by the solarization look and technique, and something about negatives and icebergs compelled me.
Black carbon doesn't blacken icebergs completely like these ice in this series Black Carbon Is Not Cool, but it contributes to flipping our icebergs and as such, our planet, on its side.Each year millions of people die prematurely due to air pollution, largely caused by inhalation of particulate matter. Black carbon is a component of this, humans inhale it easily. In 2014 the World Health Organization said that air pollution is the greatest global environmental health risk.
Good news and Keeping our Cool
Cutting black carbon emissions, reducing use of HFO immediately reduces warming, especially in the fragile Arctic that warms faster than all predictions. As a humanitarian and global health activist, I want to share about black carbon's health harms as well as the good news that reducing exposure to black carbon has health co-benefits.
Glaciers are by nature dynamic, but we have changed the dynamics for the worse with our carbon obsession and the way we treat the planet and especially rich countries, pillage and wantonly use natural resources. I'm buoyed and hopeful though that there are many past and current earth stewards, scientists and innovators protecting mother nature and standing for humanity and earth. Technical solutions won’t be the answer without political will.
Action matters and that's the way to go so we have a more just and healthy way of living on this planet for people, species and nature. Atmospheric scientist Mark Jacobson of Stanford University recently said, "controlling black carbon may be the only way of preventing the loss of the Arctic completely."
Let's keep ice snow white and cold and wild things wild for now and future generations.
Carol Devine is a social scientist, writer and artist. She is a community fellow at the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research in Toronto working on climate change and health. In additional to joining eXXPedition’s Round Scotland marine debris research and women in adventure voyage, she participated in Clean Up Svalbard citizen expedition and led the first environmental clean up expedition to the Antarctic with the Russian Antarctic Expedition.
The Black Carbon is not cool series is a mini-exhibit I made to better understand and visualize this harmful particle largely related to heavy fuel oil used in shipping. The Arctic sea ice vanishing is rapidly opening alternate shipping routes, making the routesfrom Asia and ports in Europe and eastern North America potentially more direct and quick – but at a cost to northern communities and health especially if cleaner fuel isn’t adopted by companies. I wanted to share my name with the heavy fuel oil activism and sign the Arctic Commitment (Calling for a phase-out of the use of heavy fuel oil by ships in a timely manner and urge International Maritime Organization Member States and stakeholders to advance this goal), and as such I wanted to see what I was talking about. I thought I could humbly also shine more light on the issue with visual representations of ice under threat.
The winding road of Arctic reality television
The NOW Project:
Living Resources and Human Societies in the North Water of the Thule Area
The Arctic Circle Expansion
© Beate Steinveg
Since its establishment in 2013, with the purpose of including all interested stakeholders
in the dialogue on the future of the Arctic, the Arctic Circle's outreach and scope has
grown impressively. More than 2000 participants from 60 different countries attend the
2019 Assembly. The Arctic Circle organization also continues its global expansion of the
Arctic dialogue through the Forums arranged word-wide twice a year. In 2020, Forums
will be hosted in Berlin and Tokyo, and one is being planned in Paris in 2021.
In this way, former President of Iceland, now Chairman of the Arctic Circle, Ólafur
Ragnar Grímsson brings the global to the Arctic, and the Arctic to the global. In just a few years, the Arctic Circle has become one of, if not the, most important arenas for discussions and collaboration among those engaged in the Arctic. While the conference is an excellent arena to meet likeminded people from all over the world, it should be viewed as more than just a meeting place.
© Beate Steinveg
The Arctic states dominated this year's opening session, with the Prime Ministers of Iceland and Finland, H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, the Premier of Greenland, Kim Kielsen, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Faroe Islands, US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry and the Governor of the Yamal region in Russia.
© Beate Steinveg
At the same time, the Arctic Circle is an arena for non-Arctic states to participate in the Arctic community, to present their interests and priorities in the region. Country Sessions dominated the first Assemblies, including presentations from Britain, France and Japan in 2014, China and Germany in 2015 and Switzerland in 2016. This year's conference continues providing a stage for all interested stakeholder, regardless of geographical position. The EU, China, Singapore, Japan and others are given the opportunity to present their visions for the Arctic.
Issues having characterized international affairs lately also dominated the opening session. Mr. Gao Feng, Special Representative for Arctic Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China was asked whether China would consider rebranding itself after US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, denounced the use of the "near-Arctic state" identity at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Rovaniemi in May earlier this year. The answer was no. Far or close, we all have to take action to combat the effects of climate change. But we are close, he said.
President Donald Trump's recent interest in buying Greenland was also brought up under the question and answer session with Premier Kim Kielsen. He was asked by a US representative from Bloomberg whether he had consulted with his people regarding how much money they would actually receive if Greenland accepted the bid. To which he answered: "You cannot exchange Greenland for money", receiving enthusiastic applause from the audience.
© Beate Steinveg
The "near-Arctic state" controversy and the case of Greenland illustrate how the Arctic is of global interest, and how the Arctic is elevated on the international agenda, through economics and politics. In a world increasingly characterized by great-power tensions, trade wars, military invasions and distrust among powerful players, cooperative arenas for dialogue become are absolutely vital. The Arctic Circle is one such arena.
There are plenty of sobering topics on the agenda at the Arctic Circle, including the impacts of climate change, environmental consequences of glaciers melting, mental wellness challenges. At the same time, the Arctic Circle is importantly an arena for optimism, where organizers of hundreds of sessions engage participants in constructive conversation on issues such as renewable energy, innovative technology, sustainable tourism development, the empowerment of community action. It is a forum where young voices are promoted, and where regional leaders from the US and Russia engage in dialogue.
Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir was clear in her message of the collective responsibility of the international community to keep the Arctic peaceful and stable. In the combat against climate change, individual efforts are necessary but not sufficient. Furthering this line of thinking, Prime Minster of Finland, Antti Rinne, pointed out in his opening remark that the Arctic has attracted global importance and attention, which makes multilateral cooperation important.
Yet, the Arctic Circle's existence is not enough. The 2000 participants need to follow up what is presented at the Assembly, and bring back the knowledge obtained to their work. Hopefully, hearing from those living in the Arctic, especially Indigenous Peoples, leaves an impression with participants that stimulates concrete actions. Because, as repeated from the conference stage, we don't have much time if we are going to prevent the Arctic region from being irreversible changed.
© Beate Steinveg
Beate Steinveg is a PhD-student in political science at the University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway. My research interests are within international relations and Arctic governance include agenda setting, stakeholder salience and regimes. My PhD-project concerns the broader impacts of conferences on the governance system in which they are situated. Specifically, how conferences have an impact on the Arctic governance regime complex, balancing between the interests of sovereign Arctic states, emerging non-Arctic stakeholders, and the operations of cooperative arrangements.
Exploring Arctic Connections
© Luke & Hazel Robertson
A journey millennia old - deeply rooted in nature and connected with the natural cycles
of the seasons. Far above the Arctic Circle, anticipation is building. Struggling to be
heard above the sound of rumbling snowmobiles and clanging bells, human voices
deliver sharp instructions to one another. During a lunch break, where the animals rest,
tactics for the long days ahead are discussed over a crackling fire.
As the northern lights dance playfully overhead, reindeer gather, and eventually herds -
sometimes thousands strong - will start their arduous migration towards the coast. In a
journey fraught with danger, there’s safety in numbers. The Sami reindeer herders know this too; trust and co-operation is required on this journey.
Reindeer herd © Luke & Hazel Robertson
In April this year we spent a month in Sápmi - a region that includes what is now northern Norway - on our Arctic Connections expedition, to better understand the impact that climate breakdown and industrial development of the Arctic is having on people and the environment. Here, at 70oN, we set off on a 250km long-distance ski expedition to make our own personal connection to Sápmi. We were on a journey to document, through a series of filmed interviews, the lives of those who live here and who know it best.
Skiing across Finnsmarkvidda from Alta to Karasjok we crossed the beautiful and huge Iešjávri Lake, glimpsing the mountains on the far side that we would ski past on our return journey to Alta several weeks later. Temperatures plummeted to -20oC overnight on the plateau and we awoke with frost on the inside of our tent where the condensation from our breath had frozen. Descending from the plateau our journey was accompanied with the distinctive call of ptarmigans (or rypein Norwegian); hard to spot as they blended into the snow with their white plumage and only really visible through jolting movement as they scurried between shrubs and stunted birch trees or took to flight as we approached.
We skied the last fifteen kilometres into the village of Karasjok along the meandering Karasjok River, as it wound its way into the town and past the Sámi Parliament. Here, only a couple of days later, we would have the privilege of interviewing the three-term President of the Sámi Parliament of Norway, Ms Aili Keskitalo. We couldn’t have asked for a more fitting arrival.
Left to Right: Hazel Robertson, Aili Keskitalo (President - Sami Parliament of Norway), and Luke Robertson © Luke & Hazel Robertson
For over an hour Ms Keskitalo spoke passionately in English - her third language - with a deep determination about her aim of ensuring that the rights of the indigenous Sámi across Sápmi are represented and respected. She touched on how the mass protests against the building of the Alta Dam in the 1970s and 1980s led to the creation of the Sámi Parliament of Norway and how there is much to be learned from the Sámi people in terms of living in sync with nature and adopting a circular economy approach to using natural resources.
We also spoke to and spent time with three separate young reindeer herders, Jon Mikkel Eira, Juhaen Gaup and Lars Johan Anti, who all talked about how the migration is changing with warmer winters and more challenging snow conditions. This year Jon Mikkel Eira’s herd, along with many others’, had to be transported to the coast in trucks; layers of ice in the snow pack meant the reindeer couldn’t get to their food source - mainly lichen - under the snow. In what was a hugely special moment, we had the honour of accompanying Lars Johan and his father at the beginning of his reindeer herd’s spring migration northwards.
Whilst in Karasjok we also interviewed Inga Utsi, the inspirational young leader of the Karasjok/Kautokeino branch of Sámi youth organisation Noereh, to hear what life is like as a young Sámi woman. Inga touched on a wide range of topics including: the pressures she and many other indigenous people feel to continue their traditional culture, whilst balancing this with studying and dreaming of seeing the world and how today many young Sámi people are inspired by their activist grandparents, who were involved in the Alta conflict.
To offer a balanced approach to our interviews, we discussed one of the most contentious issues in Sápmi at the moment, the development of a controversial copper mine in the Repparfjord area of Sápmi, with the CEO of the company who wants to build it. The mine has brought many in the Sámi community, politicians and environmentalists alike, to question the balance between the true extent of its environmental and societal impact - and the requirement for increasing amounts of copper in the age of electrification as a solution to the climate crisis.
After leaving Karasjok on skis and heading north, we passed Lars Johan’s herd one last time and followed in the hoof-prints of another herd already making their way to the coast. During the return journey, unseasonably warm temperatures arrived, refusing to fall below zero overnight, with rain falling on several of the days we skied. The unmistakable pattering noise on our tent meant it felt more like a mild, wet Scottish winter wild camping trip than the Arctic.
© Luke and Hazel Robertson
Then, as rivers began quickly opening up, crossings became perilous, with a twenty centimetre layer of surface water sitting on top of the frozen lakes. Our final day was memorable, but for the wrong reasons. Akin to water-skiing, our pulks floated and bobbed along behind us as we sloshed through the water and eventually back to Alta.
With the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, the landscape is changing - and millennia-old journeys like the spring reindeer migration, are being forcibly changed too. There is a stubborn resilience to the Sámi, borne out of centuries of persecution and discrimination against them. This is evidenced, both in successfully keeping many ancient traditions alive today and adapting to change, and also in standing up for their rights when pushed too far.
This was the case with the Alta conflict and the Repparfjord copper mine appears to be rekindling an activist approach among many in the Sámi community. As is the case in Sápmi, those in society who are contributing the least to the climate crisis are being affected both by its effects and the attempts of humans to find solutions to it. It is up to all of us to ensure that the just transition to a more sustainable future for all doesn’t leave anyone behind.
Thanks / giitu / takk to everyone in Sápmi that has made 'Arctic Connections' what it is - we are humbled to have met you.
Luke and Hazel Robertson are Explorers in Residence for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and Guides for The Polar Academy. Both are passionate about driving action on climate change and understanding the connection between people and place.
Narrating the Poles
© Henry Páll Wulff
Curiously Polar is a weekly podcast about all things very north and very south. It was
initially kicked off by professional photographer, author and podcast veteran Chris
Marquardt and marine biologist Mario Acquarone after spending time together on a
ship around Svalbard. Initially, the show's main focus was on every day life in the Arctic
and Antarctic regions and on the flora and fauna on land and in the sea. In 2019,
naturalist, film maker and expedition guide Henry Páll Wulff joined the team and
brought his own expertise and interests to the show and helped shape it into its current
The most important driver at Curiously Polar is our very own curiosity. We are educated, but not necessarily part of the academic world. Our interests and backgrounds make us the ideal conduit to bridge the gap between academic field studies, research papers, and interested citizens.
We all constantly hear about the world’s fastest-changing regions, about climate change, declining sea ice, and the threat to the King of the Arctic. And of course, we could rattle off all the usual phrases, share research results on Facebook, or simply be silent in passive agreement.
But everyone who has been to the polar regions, or let alone works there regularly, can witness how quickly, sustainably and at times threateningly fast these regions are changing. Almost no other area on our planet can serve this well as a living classroom. In hardly any other region is it possible to visualize the processes of climate change so clearly, and explain this so easily, that it becomes quickly obvious how geopolitical claims develop with the changing conditions of the Arctic. The Arctic simply makes it easy for almost everyone to understand how fragile this ecosystem is, how closely it is linked to all other ecosystems in the world, how ocean currents correlate and how wildlife behavior and distributions change.
© Henry Páll Wulff & Chris Marquardt
We can see how cultures are under threat to disappear as a result of the change. How dramatically these changes accelerate and how powerless the individuals often appear. But also, with how much vigor the participating protagonists from society, politics, science and research, art and culture and from the business world work, not only to bring the experience of the region itself to the people, but to work on solutions and on ways to change perception about the Arctic and ways to take things into their own hands and to alleviate the feeling of helplessness.
We want to provide a platform for these issues and help the unique beauty of this region to be understood by everyone, no matter how much (or despite the fact that) it is under constant threat. We want to share our impressions and experiences with those who have not yet experienced the Arctic on a personal level. Sometimes we might even see ourselves as ambassadors of the poles of our planet.
© Henry Páll Wulff
Aside from furthering global audience awareness and interest in these regions, one of the most important goals that we pursue with Curiously Polar is to communicate that these changes are anything but local, what they mean to the rest of the world, and how they affect the daily lives of the people in these most distant regions.
Of course, it's not always bitter seriousness on Curiously Polar. We also inject a good amount of humor and want our listeners to have fun with what we do. Aside from climate and geopolitical issues, you will also find interesting historic tidbits, some Arctic lore, sports in the Arctic, and simply very practical every-day issues that people in the polar regions have to deal with.
In the end, we want to make the not always easy to understand scientific world a bit more accessible to everyone in an entertaining way. In an increasingly louder world of "alternative facts", we also hope to be a credible platform for serious research as well as field reports from the regions.
It is our own enthusiasm and curiosity that keeps us searching for and finding new topics. We actively grow and engage our listening community and we always enjoy keeping a dialog with our audience. We constantly work on expanding the list of issues that we tackle and we're building a community around the podcast. The more we can facilitate not just discussion among ourselves but interaction among the community itself, the better.
© Chris Marquardt
Compared to many other podcasts, Curiously Polar covers an important niche – but if there is one thing that our chosen medium is really good at, it's thriving in niches, especially if those gain importance over time.
You will find Curiously Polar everywhere you get your other podcasts, like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, TuneIn or Spreaker. Our weekly show is free to listen to and we're looking forward to welcoming you into our community of curious minds.
Chris Marquardt is a photographer, an author of photography books, a podcast host and producer and a traveler.
Mario Acquarone is a marine biologist and an expedition guide.
Henry Páll Wulff is a professional polar guide, spending most of the year on expedition cruise ships in the Arctic and Antarctic. His career made him also an enthusiastic documentary filmmaker and environmentalist.