Field notes 2015

Here you can read about the Arctic course taking place in the summer of 2015!

Malmberget - Kiruna - Stockholm 4th of July

The course came to an end at the 4th of July. We have seen so much, visited various places and driven to many places in rain, walked up the mountains surrounding Tarfala in the midnights sun. But it was time to go south. In the morning we packed our things and had a final discussion regarding the course. Thereafter we headed back towards Kiruna, to fly back to Stockholm. We have learned so much, had so many interesting discussions thanks to everyone who was a part of this course! 

Malmberget, 3rd of July

By: Jessica Malmberg and James Buckland

Early in the morning we pile in the car and drive from Dundret to Jokkmokk, just a half hour south. A few minutes in, the car comes to a screeching halt - four or five reindeer are on the road, trotting nervously back and forth, coats molting and hooves clattering on the thin concrete stretch of road.

Reindeer are free-roaming - they are herded, loosely, by region, but they are not fenced in - and these were free-roaming down the road. Our tour guide at the Laponia Naturum yesterday mentioned that they are sometimes hit by cars and then not reported. Instead, we sit and wait for them to cross the road. Then we drive on, a little slower and a little more aware.

Close to Jokkmokk, we drove over a bridge, crossing  Lule river, and suddenly we see colorful paintings. There is a small dam sitting across the river, but the roar of the waters is nothing compared to the brilliant paintings done across their floodgates. In the 1970s, when the dam was constructed, local Sami artists designed their facades - bold red and yellow swathes with symbols and glyphs strewn across them. It is beautiful and very, very strange. The control building above the dam has is colored, as are the concrete buttresses holding up the wall. It doesn’t look like art, but it doesn’t look like a dam either. I think it’s quite beautiful. There is a bitter story behind the dam and the artwork, though. When the plan of the dam was presented, the people of Jokkmokk and especially the Sami people started protesting, since the dam would have a big impact on the Sami village and the surrounding Jokkmokk area.

In Jokkmokk we went to the  Sami cultural museum, Ájtte. It is a phenomenally well-designed and engaging museum, with beautiful art and artifacts, reconstructions and reproductions, informative text and interactive exhibits alike. Our tour guide, a very patient young Sami woman, takes us through some of the main exhibits and talks with us at length about the history of the Sami people - their daily life, their customs and costumes, and the reindeer-husbandry lifestyle. A large portion of the museum follows reindeer husbandry across a yearly cycle, tracking eight seasons for eight stages of the animal’s reproductive cycle. As the reindeer move across Norrbotten, so do the individual Sami families who own them - as they have done for hundreds of years. It is a very beautiful and very engaging museum - we could have spent eight hours there and not seen it all, it was so much.

After having lunch outside the museum we head back north towards Porjus where we are going to have a guide tour in the old hydropower station. Porjus is the first great hydropower station build in Sweden in 1910. It was mainly built to provide the mines and the communities around the mines with electrical power. Porjus is today the 4th greatest hydropower dam in the Lule river, producing 480 MW/year. When arriving in Porjus we are met by a big brick building and a quite big powerplant. Today is the dam’s machinery room underground in the rock so you can’t see so much of the hydropower dam. Just the empty river and the earth dam.

Coming into the reception we are greeted by our guide, Ida. She shows us around the old building, which was the station house at the time of the opening of the hydropower plant. We get to see the old control room with lots of buttons and sticks. In the center of the room is a table placed with two really old telephones, which was how the staff was communicating during the beginning of 1900. Thereafter we took the elevator down 50 meters underground to see the first turbine and generator that was built 1910, at that time only producing 17 MW/year.

At the reception we see that the two Sami girls that we had as guides at Naturrum the day before also guides at Porjus hydropower plant. We would think that Sami people that is reindeer herders wouldn’t want to work part time at a place that have affected their environment tremendously. But this shows the complicated relation between the Sami people and the industrialisation of the Norrbotten area.  

After the visit at Porjus we went back to Dundret, Gällivare, to start packing our things for the travel back to Stockholm the next day.      

Malmberget, 2nd of July

By: Tina Cheng and Nathalie Pekleh

Our first activity of the day was travelling to New Boliden's mine -  Aitik - in Gällivare. It is the biggest copper mine in Sweden with an area of 7000 hectares. Our guide for the day was Olle Baltzari and he told us a little about his background and his way from a job as a mechanic to a job in the mine. To extract the copper from the waste rocks they use explosives every week and place it in certain areas in the pit and detonates it. The copper ore are then transported to a nearby milling plant to be crushed into smaller pieces. They are able to extract 1 kg of concentrate of copper out of one ton of waste rock. Additionally, small amounts of silver and gold can be extracted.

We learned that the price of copper has dropped. New Boliden is trying to make their operation more efficient by reducing overtime of administrative personnel. However, they are continuing the production with the same capacity as before. We were then introduced to Sofia Lindmark Burck, one of two environmental coordinators working at New Boliden. She told us about her work there and what she was doing at Boliden. Her work involved planning, gathering and analysing data pertaining to New Boliden’s amount of pollution in the nearby environment. She emphasized Boliden’s attempt in lessening its environmental impact by conducting regular tests in nearby water for traces of toxic metals. They are also gathering and analysing data pertaining to dust and noise to make sure the mining activity is not affecting the health of neighbouring communities too much. Even though New Boliden is not required by the Swedish law to conduct some of these procedures, they choose to do it anyway to make sure that the nearby surrounding is out of harm from pollution.

After we received information from the environmental coordinator, Olle Baltzari guided us around the mine in a tour bus. We were (at least I was) amazed by the size of the open pit; it was 1 km across to the other side of the pit. He later took us to the milling plant and showed us the giant mill that grounds the waste rock into smaller pieces. Despite that, we were not able to see the actual crushing; everything was operated in containers sealed shut. On the way back to the entrance of the mine we saw a green healthy looking hill, very much in contrast to the otherwise gray dull looking landscape. Surprisingly, we found out later that it was the place where they brought the sewage waste from Stockholm. The tour ended with a group photo-op at the big shovel machine called 994 and we had a lunch break in the lunch room of New Boliden.

We remembered Olle telling us that most of people working in New Boliden Aitik live within 50 km radius from the pit, and a majority of them have grown up in Gällivare and Malmberget. We wondered if working in an ore mine would be the future for any of us after the ending of this course.

Following lunch, the group traveled to Laponia, a Swedish national park. The area was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 for its outstanding universal values in terms of nature and culture. Due to both of these values being present, it is referred to as a combined or mixed heritage site. Laponia’s environmental attributes include a visible documentation of Earth’s evolutionary history, ongoing and past biological and geological processes, a variety of natural beauty, and biological diversity. It is also a site of cultural heritage, as evidenced in the extraordinary remains pertaining to Sami culture.

Within the national park, we visited the Naturum; it’s name (“nature” and “room”) emphasized Laponia’s emphasis on both environment and society. We watched a short movie regarding the park, and were then given a guided tour of the exhibition. The exhibition detailed many aspects about Sami culture, especially their reindeer husbandry practices. Around Laponia, there are many unspoiled human remains from Sami in the past, including bark stripping and circular arrays of stones that were utilized for fire pits. The group was lucky enough to have Sami tour guides that engaged in reindeer husbandry themselves, and we were able to ask many specific questions regarding their culture.

After that, we made a quick detour to a waterfall that was visible from the Naturum. It was a wonderful example of the majestic beauty that Laponia has to offer. This sublime ending tied into our understanding of the national park as an area with extraordinary environmental and cultural values. We witnessed the cultural importance and transhumance of the site through our time at the Naturum exhibition, and caught a glimpse of Laponia’s natural beauty by the waterfall. Unfortunately, Laponia is facing threats of exploitation from mining and processing companies that want to use the land for national economic interests, and it is important to consider how this would affect the values of and attributes of the land.

Malmberget, 1st of July

by: Victoria Wallace and Pontus Wallin

This was the first day of fieldwork in Gällivare, and we’ve started to see why this municipality calls itself the mining capital of Europe. The focus of today’s study was Malmberget, a small mining town situated just ten minutes away from central Gällivare.

In 2010, LKAB mapped out the extent of the iron ore bodies that lie beneath Malmberget and announced that they would continue mining, which meant that the entire community would eventually need to be relocated. As we walked by the fence that separates the community from the gaping mouth of the open-pit mine, we were struck by the reality that every home we passed would soon be claimed by the ever-expanding mine. But, paradoxically, if the mine were to close, many of these homes would be probably be abandoned as well. Scattered across the town are mätplintar: instruments installed by LKAB to measure the ground deformation caused by the mine.

With the shaky future of Malmberget on our minds, we next began to study in more detail the history of the small town. The day continued with a guided tour by a local resident in a reconstructed shantytown near the pit. The little wooden shacks were built as a tourist attraction to demonstrate how the mining community may have looked at the end of the 19th century, and the guide spoke about the everyday life of the miners and their families.

Beyond the shantytown was the tall green Kaptensspelet, rising above the pit. While looking over the 800 meter-deep pit, we listened to the guide speak about the current phase of the move to Gällivare. The municipality has ambitions of constructing “world class arctic town” for the dislocated citizens, despite concerns regarding the growing tailing pond from the Boliden Aitik mine. If an accident were to occur with the tailing pond, the area could potentially be flooded by waste from the mine. This raises some serious questions, not least of which is whether Malmberget’s history of short-term city planning is repeating itself. Like in Kiruna, LKAB is very involved in city planning, and is even contributing funds to a local project to create a comprehensive model of the city of Malmberget as it stood around the year 1960. 

It was a good day to draw comparisons, between Kiruna and Malmberget, between the past and future, and between the perspectives that were represented (LKAB, some local residents) and those that were not (notably Sami, youth, and women).

Kiruna, 30th of June

By: Daniel Klen and Jessica Sellin

​Today was our first full day back from the Tarfala Research Station! It was sad to leave its majestic landscape and all the hiking it provided, but we’re excited to move onto a new landscape and the adventures it holds.

In the morning, we visited the Hjalmar Lundbohms museum. The museum was Hjalmar Lundbohm's house, the founder of LKAB, and shows the history of the mining industry in Kiruna. The pictures in the museum depicted the miners and their families that lived and worked in the Kiruna area during the early 1900s. We were able to get an idea of life in Kiruna for early miners and their families from the perspective of the miners and settlers of the area. The museum also focused on Lundbohm himself and the national value of Kiruna through pictures, where the royalty inaugurated railway stations, schools, and other significant buildings or institutions. Borg Mesch, who was a legendary photographer in the area of Lappland, took all of the photos. He settled down in Kiruna when the town was first starting, and hence he photographed everything from the time of Kiruna’s birth, i.e., the mining, buildings, railways, settlers, and Sami people. The museum also contained an exhibition that aimed to present the city move from different perspectives, independent from LKAB and the municipality. It covered reasons, background, difficulties, and opportunities through comprehensive time lines, illustrations, and maps.

In the afternoon, we visited the Sami cultural center in Kiruna, which showed the Sami history and culture from a Sami perspective. In comparison to the Sami exhibit at the Nordiska Museum, which portrayed the Sami culture from an outsider’s perspective, the Sami cultural center portrayed the Sami culture from a Sami-centered organization. In addition to traditional Sami tools and clothing, there were exhibits showing different facets of Sami life. There was also a story told in which you could sense the anger and frustration among the Sami people towards the settlers and the state of Sweden. The Sami cultural center gave us additional insight into what role the traditional tools and clothing showcased in the Nordisk Museum played in Sami culture.

After our museum visits, we drove to Gällivare and Dundret, where we will spend the rest of the course. Along the way, we stopped at Svappavaara to view a Swedish cultural site. In total, our day was spent engaging with many cultural heritage sites and the narratives they tell about Sweden and its people.

Tarfala to Nikkaloukta, 29th of June

By: Klara Bergman and Skylar Lipman

On Monday we had to leave Tarfala to head back to civilization in Kiruna. It was a sad moment for most people, at least for us, even though all of us probably longed for pizza and water toilettes. In the morning we were greeted by sun and blue skies, promising for a hiking day! We were fortunate enough to be able to walk on the snow without snowshoes since the night had been cold enough to keep the top layer crisp. After eating a strengthening breakfast consisting of porridge and saying our farewells to the crew at Tarfala research station we headed out. 24 km of hiking waited until we would reach the Nikkaluokta mountain station and some well deserved rest.

The hike started out well with some downhill walking in beautiful terrain with patches of snow and water. We followed the Dárfaljohka river and were sometimes overwhelmed by the beauty around us. Flowers, waterfalls and small mountain birches were just some of the natural features surrounding us.

For lunch we had crisp bread (for the last time in a long time probably), snacking on Freja’s trail mix throughout the day along with whatever else we scavenged back at the station. As our hiking paces varied greatly throughout the day, we experienced travel with shifting complexes of our peers. While phasing in and out of these various hiking groups proved interesting, hiking on ones own can lead to new discoveries, discoveries having less to do with humans and more to do with the rapidly changing landscapes.

Indeed, on your own you can move slowly, not feeling guilty to turn and stand in one place, photograph extensively, halt to examine undersides of leaves. While hiking on our own for a decent leg of the trip, one of us spotted one reindeer. In the relative silence of fewer pairs of feet, I heard surprisingly rhythmic, quick-paced plodding in the shrubs along the path. It took some time before the white fur and short, velvety antlers appeared from the dense clouds of mountain birth and willow, or “vide”, which currently sports equally velvety budding leaves.

During our hike we saw:

78.7 lemmings

1 mouse

1 toad

27 seagulls

1 reindeer

1,893 mosquitoes

Back in Kiruna we all enjoyed the benefits of being back in the city and had a good night’s sleep in real beds. THANK YOU to all the people at Tarfala research station who made our stay so amazing! From the highest peaks to the living glaciers, the smallest budding flowers and ancient lichen, we will not soon forget our experiences in Tarfala. Truly our sincerest gratitude!

Tarfala, 28th of June

By: Corinna Röver

A warming climate causes glaciers to melt over time – but how do you actually measure the speed of glacier retreat? Today, we set out to learn more about a method used to answer this question. When a glacier recedes, it leaves behind glacial moraines – that is, soil and rock material transported and deposited by the glacier. These moraines, now exposed to sunlight, become hospitable to vegetation and lichens (consisting of a symbiosis of fungi and algae) start to grow on its rocks. Our field task was to measure the extent of these lichens, in order to calculate the time at which the glacier retreated and its moraines became exposed. Lichens grow approximately 0,2mm per year, and the bigger the lichen, the ‘older’ the moraine. We followed in the footsteps of researchers of the 1970s and used rulers to measure the diameters of lichens. Although this method is nowadays replaced by rock isotope measurements that offer more precise results, it is literally a good hands-on method to specify the age of the glacier-moraines. Our field task subjects were the Rhizocarpon geographicum lichens on two neighboring moraine ridges of the Storglaciären.

As we ploughed our way to the ridges through the slushy snow - our snowshoes had become a natural extension of our feet at this point - we were accompanied by two students from Stockholm University who came to Tarfala for their studies. They explained they use infrared measuring methods to investigate climate change, biodiversity and altitudes of micro climates in high alpine vegetation areas above 1200 meters above sea level. As this work has not been carried out before in this region, their research results will create a baseline that further research can build upon.

After the two had disappeared behind some slopes, we took our measurements, defined the aspects of the lichens (which direction they faced) and compared our results from the two ridges: while the lichen-diameters of Ridge number 1 extended from 5 up to 8 centimeters, the lichens on Ridge number 2 were considerably smaller, ranging from 1-3 centimeters in diameter. With some help from Pia and Hanna, we came up with the following conclusions: Ridge no. 1 is older and its rocks have been exposed since the 19th century or longer, while Ridge no. 2 might have become exposed in the 1910s – however, it still remains very difficult to date the moraine ridges through our method of lichen measuring.

We then treated ourselves to some knäckebörd-sandwiches and were free to explore the area on our own in the afternoon. Most of us hiked (in groups or individually) up to some nearby mountains surrounding the valley. Needless to say, the hiking in the stunning, sunny Tarfala valley area had become a favorite part of our stay at the research station.

Tarfala, June 26

By: Eleanor Althoff and Lisa Bysell

Because summer here is really one long day, we will begin recounting our days experience with yesterday nights’ hike to Tarfalatjårro. We learned several things on this excursion: 1) Wet rocks are slippery 2) The journey up takes around three hours (not two) and 3) James can get snap chats on the mountain. The hike up was very taxing, but the view at the peak was well worth the journey. Although it was cloudy, the deep valleys and high mountain peaks were clearly visible. At the top we took a few moments to take in the view, snap a couple picture, and record a video for a friend’s wedding before heading back down. We arrived back slightly before 23.00 and after notifying those in charge, we headed for bed.

The next morning started with a blue sky. This was a considerable change from the rain and clouds we were greeted with earlier in the week. What was more exciting though was the Sami representative that spoke to us later on in the morning. He informed us about the annual reindeer herding migration, the consequences of climate change on these activities, as well as describing the ICR (International Center for Reindeer Herding).  He made a very compelling presentation, which demonstrated how adversely affected the Sami people are by activities such as prospecting, mining, municipality planning, wind power, and military presence. We were all very grateful he could take the time to speak to us and join us on the hike scheduled for the early afternoon. 

After the lecture it finally time for our hike to the glacier called Storglaciären. This glacier, which is located in the Tarfala Valley, has been studied for about 70 years and is the most monitored glacier in the region. We were equipped with harnesses and snow shoes before hiking up to the glaciers. Gunhild Rosquist, Ninis, held short lectures about glaciology, Storglaciären, and the surrounding areas along the way. For example, we learned that Storglaciären is 3,2 km2 and that the ice is as deep as 280 m in some areas. We also learned that glaciers behave differently due to regional climate. It is the summer temperature (melting the ice sheet) rather than the amount of snow fall that determines the mass balance of the glacier.  A warmer climate will result in longer summer periods and may contribute even more to the shrinking of the glaciers despite heavy snow fall in the winters.

Storglaciären is located just below Kebnekaise, which is the highest peak in Sweden. This will probably change soon as the peak has a glacial top that is likely to melt within a few years. The northern summit that is currently the second highest will then be the new highest Swedish peak. We look forward to learning more about the glaciers during the many hikes to come in the next few days!

Tarfala, June 25

By: Lucia Dunderman and Jessica Malmberg             

Our first full day at the Tarfala Research Station! Unfortunately, the weather was not in our favor today. There were showers throughout the morning resulting in a few hours to work on our essays and enjoy the various buildings of the station and the view of the surrounding mountains.  Before lunch, we all congregated to the lecture hall in order to present our research questions and theses of our essays to the staff of the Tarfala Research Station. This allowed the staff and our program leaders to give us feedback and further information regarding our topics and research plans. This was a great learning experience on how to present our topics and incorporate new information and ideas from a group.

During lunch with the staff, we discussed our plans for the afternoon due to the change of weather. Luckily, the weather cleared up and we were able to go for a hike in the afternoon down Tarfala Valley to study the vegetation there. We first went to the research station’s test square, a plot of land that the staff constantly monitor for ten different plants. This information is published on a website which gathers seasonal change in vegetation around Sweden. The Tarfala test square was still deep in snow due to the lingering cold weather in the Swedish Arctic.

Facing opposite of the test square was the outermost edge of the 1910 moraine of Storglaciären. This moraine was decorated with large rocks, most likely resulting from a rock slide on the surface of the glacier that slowly moved to the end moraine. This moraine formation is different from the other glaciers in Tarfala Valley which are defined with more till. This glacier has been monitored since 1946, thanks to Walter Skytt who started the research on the glacier since it was reasonably safe to work on.

We travelled to exposed land in the valley to spot certain plants there. We were able to find most of the plants except a few since the weather has been cold and the rock has not been exposed for long. The vegetation was much more diverse than expected, it is just a case of looking closer. There were also various animal droppings including reindeer, Arctic hare, and lemmings. Reindeer mainly eat lichens, mushrooms in Autumn, grass, and small bushes. With climate change, these bushes would actually be increasing in numbers in the Arctic if it wasn’t for the grazing reindeer.

To finish our hike, we went to an outlook to take a current picture of Storglaciären. This outlook has been used to document the change in the glacier since the early twentieth century. Being at this outlook was a way to be a part of continual glacial research since we helped document this change through photography. This hike was a great introduction to the valley and the vegetation of the area.

Kiruna to Tarfala, 24th of June

By: Jessica Malmberg & James Buckland

We woke up this morning an hour earlier than normal - today is the day that we are going to the Tarfala Research Station high up in the Swedish mountains. We wake and pack and board the bus to Nikkaluokta, the frontier of civilization in Norrbotten. There is a small outpost, with a store, a cafe, bathrooms, and a few camps. It used to be Sami territory, and there is a small traditional church up on a hill nearby.

The church is beautiful, with wooden sculptures and modest stained glass and a small organ. The hill overlooks a valley leading up to Kebnekaise, although it is yet too foggy to see the peak. Over the next three hours, as we wait for the helicopter to carry us into the mountains, the fog clears and the mountain reveals itself to us below. We hike a bit, but it's soggy and droll. The church and the cafe hold more interesting things than the mud.

One of the reasons it is soggy, we are told, is that this is an especially long winter, with snow late into the year, only now melting into giant snowbanks and creating a generally humid atmosphere. We see more of this up at Tarfala.

Around about 12:30, we make our way to the helipad, where the helicopter company operates twice-daily flights to Tarfala, to carry food and remove refuse. We partition ourselves into three small groups, divvying up luggage and weight across three separate nine-minute flights into the mountains. The helicopter pilot seems unfased by our photography and exclamations of delight - he must see this sort of thing a lot.

The valley below parts its fog, and we see the untouched wilderness - even the trail that we would have hiked in drier conditions is impossible to discern among the short trees and brush that populates the landscape.

We turn corner after corner through the mountains, until Tarfala Valley finally reveals itself - a small v situated between two shallow mountains, with higher mountains further out in all directions.

In between the shallow mountains are three named glaciers, each known since at least the 18th century and photographed regularly since the 19th. Storglaciären, the "Large Glacier", is the largest glacier (no surprise) in Sweden. It looms massive above the camp, a sparkling blue amongst the white snow and black rock beneath. Storglaciären extends from Kebnekaise downwards, and is slowly retreating from year to year, as the winter's snow fails to replenish the summer's melt.

When the helicopter flies closer the camp, we see the Tarfala research station. It stands a dull red against the snow, seven or eight small cabins sprinkled across the valley, with a central mess hall among the northernmost of the buildings, along with the sauna and the lecture hall. The dormitories, guys' and girls', are nearer to the south. We carry our luggage into the dorms, but are quickly whisked away to the mess hall, where we are given a mission briefing.

We meet the staff - the head researcher and technician who stay year-round; the newly-minted chef; the three interns here for only a few months. A safety briefing follows, and then the distribution of snowshoes.

The weather is quite good today - it is not supposed to be, tomorrow - so we set off immediately on a short hike up the valley, towards the dead end that is a u-shaped wall of mountains at the northwest end. Snowshoes are difficult at first, and they require you to walk like a cowboy - the straps are tricky, and the balance is totally alien from normal walking. After a while it merely feels like a second skin - not least because of the cold. By the end, it's almost hard to take them off - the feet feel weightless without them.

At the end of the valley, there is a semicircular foundation of rocks, opening in towards the valley. We try to guess at its purpose - is it indigenous? Do the archaeologists study it? But it is far more modern - a foundation for the tents of hikers from the last decade or so, made possible only by the retreating glacier. Up close, the mountains loom huge - we can see cracks in the snow banks and even a small avalanche up at the top, discernible only as a flurry of white smoke hovering and a small boom in the distance.

Circling back up on a stone ridge (termed 'Moraine'), out of the snow, we begin to see signs of life - the rocks are covered in moss and lichens, and flowers bud from the soft soil. A few birds and lemmings make themselves seen, but keep their distance. We can see Isfallsglaciären (The ice-falls glacier) up above, and are treated to a wonderful dissertation on the relatively young ages of these glaciers, and their fast retreats in the last hundred years or so. At one point, possibly as late as 1910, the very ridge on which we stand was the edge of the glacier. Now it is hundreds of meters above us.

Glacier melt and climate change in particular are not a clear-cut subject - the temperature of the arctic changes decade by decade in response to a number of environmental cues - famine and disease reduce human activity, sunspots dictate solar energy, and volcanoes block out the sun. The glaciers at Tarfala can be measured over time to react to these events, and as such serve as an excellent indicator of world temperature and heuristic ecosystem health. These lessons will undoubtedly continue in the next few days.

On the way back, we slip and slide down a short hill too steep to walk. We look like baby deer on skiis, and there is lots of falling and yelling.

Back at the research station, we visit the sauna and are treated to a lovely, authentic Swedish dinner courtesy of the station chef. There is, of course, fika.

Tune in tomorrow for more updates!

Kiruna, 23 June

By: Tina Cheng and Natalie Pekleh

The day started with a bus from LKAB driving to pick us up at the hostel. We were then driven inside the mine of LKAB stopping at the visitor centre, which is located 540 meters below the surface. We were shown a movie about iron ore extraction in LKAB, how it all started, where it is now, and where it is heading. LKAB introduced their new innovation of green pellets, which have lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Our guide talked about how demand for iron ore has risen in the last 10 years, mostly due to the rising demand in East Asia. At the same time, the price for iron ore has dropped because of competitors from Australia and South America. However, LKAB has decided to expand their operations by cutting down personnel and making their iron ore extraction more effective, but they will not dig any further down into the mountain because it would be too costly. We asked the guide whether this market condition has caused their profitability to decline, and currently LKAB has approximately zero net profit.

The tour guide also talked about the move of the town Kiruna to another location, and how they have had to consider different interests before the move can take place. Although LKAB wanted to separate and move the city further the decision ultimately fell on the municipality, who wanted to keep the city into one unit. The guide talked about the possibility of having to move the town again, perhaps in a 100 years from now, because LKAB plans to continue extracting iron ore in the area, which can potentially reach the relocated Kiruna.

During the tour we were allowed to ask questions to the guide. We had many questions and the guide tried to answer our questions the best he could. The tour ended with a Swedish “fika” before we were driven back to the surface and we thanked our guide for the tour.

After lunch, the group started the afternoon by walking to the Kiruna tourist center. We spent half an hour exploring the center, specifically the large exhibition by LKAB detailing information regarding their mining operations, their sustainable practices, and the move of the town. The model of Kiruna, pictured below, was particularly interesting; under it, one was able to view the size of the iron ore deposit in relation to the town. The reason Kiruna is moving is because of the sheer magnitude and profitability of this deposit, as well as the significance that the iron ore mining industry has on the town.

After visiting the tourist center, the group headed to Kiruna’s city hall, where Clara Nystrom and Therese Olsson, two employees of the town’s municipality, gave us a delightful and informative presentation about Kiruna’s relocation. The developmental design was described as a symbol of the new Kiruna, and “a place to be proud of”. The town currently has many areas of national interest related to mining, heritage, reindeer herding, nature and mountains, and transportation. However, the mining and economic interests take precedence over the others. They identified the key-actors involved in the planning of the new city including the political leadership, developers, investors, residents, LKAB, the county and transportation administration boards, and the architectural firm involved in designing the new Kiruna. We were also shown illustrations of what to expect from the new city, and were able to ask many questions related to the relocation.

Later in the day, our group reconvened to debrief and analyze the two days we spent here in Kiruna. Our main topic of discussion was the way in which the landscapes, the current and planned built environment, and the promotional and information materials of Kiruna expressed the city’s identity and cultural heritage. One of the points that came up was the idea of “industrial nature”, and how the town’s industrial and natural landscapes are meshed together. Another was whether or not the Romanticist idea of the “sublime Arctic” could be applied to Kiruna.

The relocation is Kiruna is a very fascinating concept that is getting worldwide attention due to it being the first of its kind. In this class, we’ve established that the LKAB mine is a very important part of Kiruna’s economy and cultural identity, which is the primary reason for the town’s relocation. LKAB has also taken the majority of the fiscal responsibility for the move. However, Clara Nystrom posed a very important question during her presentation: how will they move the sorrows, feelings, and history associated with this town?

Kiruna, 22 June

By: Pontus Wallin and Victoria Wallace

This was the first day on our field trip in northern Sweden and it started with a town walk. The theme for the day was townscapes and the landscapes of mining.

Before lunch we walked around in Kiruna to look at parts of the town which will be removed as a consequence of the growing mine. Our timing was ideal, since they had started tear down buildings just a couple of weeks ago. At a destruction site we noticed a protective wall where(under the leading of LKAB and the municipality) kids from a local school had painted future visions of the town.

The situation in Kiruna is complex. During the move one has to decide what parts of that town that should be preserved. We later went past the town hall (the fate of which has not yet been decided) and Dag taught us about different levels of protection that could be granted to a building.

LKAB had an information poster on the same wall which spoke about sustainability and responsibility during the move of Kiruna. Later we visited the Kiruna church and looked at interesting architecture from the 1960’s.

Hjalmar Lundbohm has a prominent role in Kirunas history (he is considered the founder of the city) and many street names have names relating to him or mining activity.

After a tour of the town itself, we gathered at the base of the Midnight Sun Trail to observe the surrounding landscape. Once above the tree line, we were enchanted by stunning, panoramic views. In the north, gently rolling bluish hills gradually gave way to snowy mountains in the west. To the south and southeast were Kiruna and the immense footprint of its mining operations. From the top of Luossavaara, we were afforded an entirely different vantage point, and were able to appreciate more fully the immense footprint of the pit, the enormity of the waste rock piles, and the vast expanse of the tailing pond in the distance.

In fact, all along the Midnight Sun Trail, we observed signs of industrial activity burrowed into the striking Arctic landscape: a wind power plant, another mine in the northeast, the remains of old prospecting investigations waste rock terraces, artificial ponds, power lines, and an abandoned ski lift.

At the end of the day, we are left with the impression that mining and industry are omnipresent in the physical and social environments of Kiruna. From its very beginning, the town has been built in congruence with the mine—by the mining company and for the miners. And other industries have emerged, such as wind energy and tourism, that have left lasting impacts on the environment that lend even more character to this distinctive town.

The Third Week at KTH; 15–19 June

By: Jessica Sellin and Dan Klen

                      For our third week, we discussed Sami culture, screened several films about Sami history and identity, and visited the Nordiska Museet. Anna Westerstahl-Stenport, Associate Professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led the discussions and film screenings. During the lectures with Anna Westerstahl-Stenport, we learned about Sami culture. This certainly provided a good basis for our understanding of the Sami before the movie screening and visit to the Sami exhibition at the Nordiska Museet.

We learned about the Sami language and how it is verb mobilized rather than noun mobilized, and how this somewhat reflects the Sami lifestyle that emphasizes movement rather than objects. We learned about the pan Sami flag that was introduced in 1986, which has vivid colours influenced by Sami garments (gáhkti) and handicraft as well as the circle in the center representing the circular philosophy of life.

We watched a movie from the Sami webpage, which was supposed to give an introduction to the Sami people. We had a subsequent discussion regarding gender and stereotypes, in which we were critical of the way gender stereotypes perpetuated the male role of reindeer herding. In addition to that, we were concerned about the stereotypical ways in which Sami people are represented, particularly as reindeer herders. We agreed the movie from the Sami website was more similar to an advertisement than a documentary movie aimed for conveying objective information about Sami people and livelihood.

Another film we watched was Sami Nieida Jojk (Sami Daughter yoik), a documentary by Liselotte Wajstedt. The documentary is about a young woman with Sami ancestors; her parents decided not to teach their Sami traditions or language to their daughter. Now she wants to discover the Sami way of living and try to be a part of the Sami community through learning to speak the Sami language, use traditional clothing, and visit Sami festivals. Through camera techniques that made the history viable and personal, Wajstedt displayed her hopes and beliefs on the one hand, and the despairs and lack of faith on the other hand. The documentary rose questions regarding what it means to be a Sami.

At the Nordiska Museet, we focused on the Sápmi exhibition. The exhibition is a mix of media: objects, videos, photography, and text and audio descriptions of the displays. The Museet aims to bring these different media together to give a viewer a holistic story of what it means to be Sami. Clothing, drums, and other objects from Sami cultural history were displayed, and their importance in Sami life communicated through text and audio guides. The exhibition gave us a closer look at the culture we’ve been studying in lectures and how that culture is represented in a cultural institution. Learning more about the Sami prepares us to engage with them in person and become more knowledgeable about their perspectives and values, which is particularly important because we will be heading to Kiruna in less than a week to begin our fieldwork. We ended our tour of the exhibition with a discussion about how the Sami are represented and left the Museet with much to think about as the class goes forward.

The Second Week at KTH; 8-12 June

By: Klara Bergman and Skylar Lipman

The start of our second week was packed with interesting lectures and seminars, preparing us for our trip to the Arctic. On Monday Dag Avango talked about Sweden in the Arctic, with a focus on colonization and industrialization. It felt incredibly important to get an overview of the history of the Swedish Arctic - even for the Swedes! The afternoon continued with a lecture by Mark Safstrom from University of Illinois about Arctic narratives. We had read “The Norse Myths” and “The Vinland Sagas” and discussed them in class. It is nice to look at the Arctic from all perspectives: culture, science and history. The course is becoming richer and we are learning so much.

                             On Tuesday we started out with a lecture by Rebecca Lawrence from University of Stockholm. She discussed the treatment of indigenous peoples in Sápmi and Australia, in connection to natural resource extraction. She had also prepared a role-play exercise for us where we were divided in two groups; one group representing a mining company wanting to open a mine and one group representing a Sámi community living near the mine site. The discussions that followed were heated, to say the least. This certainly made us think about how resource extraction is a tricky matter and how important it is to include and listen to indigenous groups that are affected by the industry. Later in the afternoon we had a lecture with Annika Nilsson from SEI (Stockholm Environment Institute) regarding governance in the Arctic. This showed how very complex the matter of governance is in an area like the Arctic.  

The second half of the week was filled with more lectures as well as a few outings. Dag Avango discussed the actor-network theory, which helps to thoughtfully organize resources required to reach goals. These actor networks include a handful of key components, including network builders (those who organize the network itself), actors (participants who can represent/speak for themselves), and actants (resources, including people, who are represented by someone else). We learned more about this theory by applying it to a few case studies, such as the current situations in Malmberget, Kiruna, and Aitik. We are excited to experience these places first-hand very soon! Interesting “food for thought” that developed through this conversation is the idea that the environment may be considered a structure (more of a static resource) or/and an actor, as the environment certainly responds to happenings such as mines, fishing, et cetera.

The lectures later in the week also discussed the applications of heritage sites. For instance, retired and abandoned mines, whaling stations, and a great many more examples which may be used as heritage sites to legitimize state sovereignty claims, further historical and archaeological research, and attract tourism. We also read Carl von Linné’s “Tour in Lapland” and continued our discussions with Mark about narratives and depictions of nature and people.

The students and professors got to know each other a bit better this week. Students got together to barbeque, get lunch, celebrate a birthday, and travel to Uppsala. Thanks to the many people we’ve encountered for a wonderful week!

The First Week at KTH; 3-5 June

By Lucia Dunderman and David Seith

                      This week was the start of our integrated study program, Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic. Our first day of lectures on Wednesday was an introduction to the program, class, and professors involved with our lectures and in the Arctic trip. The afternoon lecture included a more in depth look at the lecture schedule, along with what our class will specifically do in the Arctic region of Sweden. We also had the chance to be introduced to our essay and blog assignments for the class.

                      On Thursday was our first full day of lectures. This day was focused on the human geography in a historical perspective in the Arctic and Norrland region. These lectures were lead by Dag Avango, one of the principle professors in the program. The lectures focused on how humans first came to the Arctic and the Norrland regions and how they survived. From these lectures we learned about how these early human societies in the Arctic prospered, or failed, and how they changed over time. This lecture looked at different historical perspectives of Arctic history, specifically a traditional, processual, and post-processual theoretical take on the perspectives. Seeing how different eras viewed Arctic history, such as in a diffusion of ideas, migration, environmental deterministic, and cultural way, enabled us to better understand how the Arctic came to be, but also how to interpret data from archeologists and historians.

                      On Friday, we had the honor of listening to the Tarfala Research Station director, Gunhild Rosqvist, a professor from Stockholm University. She gave a lecture to our class which discussed the Arctic climate and environment. She gave a background about different climatic changes the Arctic has faced throughout the years since the ice age, and how humans recently have been impacting this climate. She also tied in how humans have affected the Arctic by focusing on changes in the environment, urbanization of the Arctic, the ecology, and the indigenous people who have lived in these areas for thousands of years. Furthermore, she went into detail about the political involvement surrounding the Arctic in a national and international scope. A major topic were recent reports about the Arctic, such as the ACIA (Arctic Climate Impact Assessment) and SWIPA (Snow, Water, Ice, Permafrost in the Arctic), along with the committees involved with these reports; Arctic Council, Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, International Arctic Science Committee, and Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna. We learned how these committees have provided research to this region and how they are trying to change policies to aid the Arctic. Finally, she focused on the Sami people who have lived in Northern Scandanavia for thousands of years. Their culture and homes are being affected by not only the climate, but also the mining community who are interfering with reindeer herding and the environment. We were able to take away a different look at the Arctic and what needs to be done on a political scale thanks to Professor Rosqvist.

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