Field notes 2018
Day 1 - 25th of June
By Marie Déchelle-Marquet
We were picked up at our hostel at 9AM and driven to the Kiruna mine for a three-hour long visit. After entering the mine area, we soon entered a tunnel to reach the tour at 540m depth. The mine opened in 1898 and kept expanding since to extend today 1045m depth. With a daily production of enough iron to build 6 Eiffel Towers, the mine is the biggest underground iron mine worldwide and represent 1.5% of the world iron supply. Besides, the extracted ore is 70% composed of pure magnetite iron. This way, the mine keeps expanding and is expected to attain a depth of 1365m in the few decades. Finally, relocation of some part of the city is planned and should be achieved by 2035. With a recent annual profit of 6 billions SEK, LKAB handles this house moving.
The LKAB representative provided answers to most of our questions. She was, however, somewhat more vague about the environmental impacts of the mining operations, which seem limited to dust emissions, and the consequences of the mining operations for the Sami communities at Kiruna.
After a sunny lunch break, we headed for the Sami Parliament where we were given a lecture about Sami history and culture within the Kiruna area. The Sami Parliament is composed of 31 members elected every 4 years. However, it was underlined that it had very limited power and appears as a solution to a problem which Swedish governments have yet to solve. In this way, it cannot vote on any laws, and neither stop any mining projects for instance. Its main role seems thus to promote Sami culture and language through its councils. To this purpose, the Sami Parliament broadens its horizon and develops international perspectives, working inter alia with the UN and supporting other indigenous peoples struggles.
As a matter of fact, this promotion had positive outcomes. The Sami school in Kiruna which only counted 12 pupils some decades ago is going to welcome 60 ones next September. Whereas it used to be seen as a shame, to be Sami appears today to young people as a pride. Finally, the Sami flag was introduced in 1986.
Day 2 - Kiruna, 26th of June
By Niklas Loason
It has happened a lot today. It was an early start with a lesson at 8 in the morning. Åsa Persson from the authority Bergsstaten held a lecture for us, see picture below. She explained Bergsstatens role and how they work with permits and mining concessions in the Swedish mining industry. She described a dilemma: Should Sweden import the critical minerals and metals from elsewhere, or should it try to exploit the existing minerals inside the country? According to Åsa this is a tricky question, for instance if Sweden imports minerals from countries like Congo where the working conditions for employees are different from those in Sweden.
She described the impact of mining and showed us a picture of waste from the mine which looked grey and dark. But she also said that if you turn your head to the other direction, you will have a great view over the mountains – what you see depends on the perspective you take. Åsa also mentioned other essential actors who control the industry in Sweden: The Work Environment Act, The County Administrative Board, CAB, Länsstyrelsen in Swedish, The Land and Environment Court (Mark och Miljödomstolen) and The Municipality, (kommunen). Åsa Persson also explained the different steps to get a permission to prospect and start a mine in Sweden.
After the lecture, we grabbed a quick breakfast and prepared our lunch for the Midnight Sun Trail. Dag Avango was our guide, he described the impacts from the mine industry and also gave us a city tour through Kiruna.
The city will move because of the growing mine, and we saw a lot of houses and buildings that will be either destroyed or moved. For example, we visited the place where the LKAB founder Hjalmar Lundbohm lived in the early 20th century. His house has now moved because of the mine. We also visited the old city hall of Kiruna. The new one has been built a bit away. It was a strange feeling to be inside when you know that it will be gone soon. From outside the town hall doesn’t look that nice but from inside it was looking good. The mine in Kiruna must be profitable since LKAB invests a lot in this movement of the city. Dag described the dilemma that Kiruna is facing: for the mining to continue, the town has to move – but without the mine, Kiruna’s population has to ask itself what other economic and employment options could replace the mining sector. It’s complicated I think. We finished the day tour at the church in Kiruna which will also be moved.
Day 3-4 - A journey to Tarfala and First Impressions, 27th-28th of June
by Deniz Demirer Demir
As we said our goodbyes to Kiruna on Wednesday, June 27th, a new chapter of the field trip has started. We have been excited about the 24km hike up to the remote Tarfala station even before we started this course. Yet little we knew about how challenging this was going to be, and certainly were not sure if we would be able to make it until the very end! A few days ago we had received the news that the weather in Tarfala has gone wild with hurricane-level winds and heavy snowfall. Dag has been in contact with the Tarfala research station to follow up the latest situation as our hiking day got closer. It was evident that we needed a Plan B in case the weather does not permit us to safely hike up all the way up to Tarfala. So the Plan B was going to be staying in the Kebnekaise station which is around the 20th km of our hike, so we started hiking without knowing our exact target! (We were already around the 13th km when we got the confirmation to continue all the way to Tarfala.) To start the hike, we first drove to Nikkaluokta from Kiruna with our minibuses where we locked away some of our luggage, and kept the ones that we would need during the next few days as well as some food and lots of water in our backpacks. The hike from Nikkaluokta started with some ups and downs in the terrain, and ended with steeper climbs as well as cold winds and rain in the last 5 kms.
It was one of the biggest physical challenges I have had so far. But hiking with a group helped, and Camilla was always following us and watching our backs, which made us feel supported. When we finally arrived, we were welcomed with a hot and delicious quinoa stew, cooked by Albin (the chef in Tarfala research station) and it was just what we needed. Since we were all very tired, we took our showers and went straight to bed in our cabin. But of course not before learning about the safety in Tarfala station - we had to follow guidelines and rely on each other in this remote location.
The view from our cabin
After spending our first night in the station, the weather got calmer and we saw the amazing view. We started the next day in the lecture room where we received more detailed guidelines on safety and an introduction lecture to Tarfala. Pia, who works as a research engineer at the research station, told us more about what kind of research is being conducted in the region. This ranges from studying the mass balance in the glaciers to monitoring the plants in the area. She showed us some of the plants she is looking for in the region – this spring, she had been able to find 5 out of the 10 that she was looking for. Then we all went out for hunting for those plants.
Ultimately, we could find the ones she had already found and even a few she had been looking for.
We later hiked further to see the landscape and different glaciers, and some of us hiked even further to see a beautiful lake nearby. There was a discussion on how the lake is formed and the rising water levels with the melting glaciers. Tomorrow we will hike up the large glacier (Storglaciären). I can see that the wind is blowing the snow on top of it, and it seems like it is going to be another steep climb from where I am standing!
Day 5 - The Hike to the glacier Storglaciären in Tarfala, 29th June 2018
By Maryam Kafashtehrani
The day started with preparing breakfast for the group in Tarfala. The breakfast consisted of oatmeal with lingonberry jam and crisp bread with butter and cheese, to give the group energy for an exciting adventure in our lifetime and a new portion of our life. The station’s superintendent Torbjörn Karlin arranged a pre-lecture for the students. Since we planned to hike up to Storglaciären, Torbjörn gave us some safety instructions and talked about the glaciers in the Tarfala valley. Four glaciers are located in the valley, which is a typical sub-arctic high alpine valley with an altitudinal range between 800 and 2099. Torbjörn also told us not to leave the tracks and informed us about we needed for the glacier hike: sunglasses to protect the eyes, safety harnesses and supplementary warm clothes.
After the introduction and safety instructions, Torbjörn and Ninis Rosqvist, professor of physical geography at Stockholm University and director of the Tarfala research station, lead the group up to the glacier. Moreover, some staff of SMHI (Sweden’s Meteorological and Hydrological Institute) joined us on the glacier hike.
We started the journey at around 9:30 o’clock from the lecture building. The weather was cold but tolerable. While we hiked up, we made some stops and Ninis told us about the surrounding we were in. She elaborated on the ice ages, glacier melting, and the moraines (moraines are crescent-shaped ridges extending towards the glacial valley). As we continued the trail to large glacier, the weather and landscape changed considerably.
The change of the natural surrounding after just walking a few steps was beyond our conception, strong gusts of wind and snowfall, real winter conditions and a real Arctic feeling appeared. Due to the wind, we did not hike up as far as we planned beforehand, but Torbjörn explained us how the ice mass of the glacier is measured using measuring poles. We then hiked down and returned to our cabins. It was not a long hike, but one the most exciting of our trip that helped to make us aware of Arctic conditions in a way that we would not have been otherwise.
Then we had dinner, delicious Thai food some of our group helped to prepare. During dinner, we discussed various issues with our teachers Dag and Corinna. It was our last day at the Tarfala research station and on the next day, we would leave for Nikkaluokta. When we went to sleep, we looked forward to our remote destination about 24 kilometers away.
Day 6 and 7: The Hike to Nikkaluokta and Field Work, 30th June - 1st of July
By Tabassom Hashemi Farzad
On June 30th, we hiked back the 24 kilometers from Tarfala to Nikkaluokta in very nice and sunny weather.
On the next day, it was time to conduct our field work. We did this in three groups and planned it differently based on the research questions we chose to examine. Let’s take a look at each group’s activities done in the 7th day of our trip.
Meryem and I are looking into the social and environmental consequences of mining in Malmberget by LKAB and its surroundings with a focus on city transformation. Dag gave us a ride to the tourist center in Gällivare where we could conduct interviews with its staff. Afterwards, we continued to the church where we interviewed a priest and a former chief police officer. To be closer to the actual situation, we continued to Malmberget, a town which has been exposed to significant challenges because of the mining activities. An old church which is supposed to be relocated to Gällivare was our next stop. Allhelgon church dates back to 1944 and was replacing the former mine chapel. In 1974 the church was moved to its present location. Then we stopped by Kåkstan, the old part of Malmberget, which used to have a shopping street and one of the first residential areas in the mining town of Malmberget. Once the mine was developed, more workers moved to city which led to a higher demand for housing. This forced workers to build their own homes with simple timbered shanties called later Kåkstan (shed town). We could interview some former residents in Malmberget who have moved to either Luleå or Gällivare. It was super interesting to visit such a historical place and to meet such wonderful people who shared their concerns in a very friendly chat.
Deniz, Maria and Niclas are taking a look into the social and environmental impacts of hydropower operations in Messaure and Harsprånget. So they started their field activities by visiting the old residence areas around these stations. These were small towns built for the former communities with a population around 2000 people. They aimed to provide housing for the workers during the construction of hydropower stations. However, once the construction of the stations was completed, there was no need for such a workforce because operating the hydropower station is mostly automated. That’s why these towns were taken down by 1980s, and now the nature has taken over these areas again. All that has been left are some old street signs from these former towns.
Angeliki and Marie hiked up to Nautanen with the purpose of looking at social and environmental consequences of Bolidens mining operations there. Nautanen is a historic mining area located about 7 km east of Koskullskulle and about 15 km northwest of the Aitik mine. Mining took place here for six years in the early 20th century.
This chapter was closed with completing our field work activity at 7th day of our journey. Let’s get ready for next day and its exciting plan.
Day 8 - Jokkmokk – 2nd July
by María Fernanda Salazar
The day started with an early departure from our nice cabins at Dundret towards Jokkmokk. When we arrived, we had time to visit the church and enjoy the shop of the Ájtte Museum of Sami Culture before our guided tour. The tour was guided by a Sami who explained to us all the different topics of the museum concerning Sami culture and history, from traditional costumes and believes to modern society. The tour started in a tent like the ones Sami reindeer herders used to build when they moved from one place to another with the reindeers. It was really nice to get to see and experience all we had learned in the past weeks about Sami society.
After the museum some of us went to Jokkmokks Kommun for an interview with Robert Bernhardsson and discussed with him the impacts of hydropower stations in the municipality. He was really nice and answered most of our questions. He gave us his point of view and explained the importance of new business investments for the economy in small communities.
We had lunch at different places in Jokkmokk’s center and afterwards we went back to the Ájtte Museum where we had a lecture with Victoria Harnesk about Slow Food Sápmi. She explained to us how by getting together and cooking she and other Sami realized the culture and richness of traditions they had in food and decided to write a cook book called “Taste of Sápmi”, which ended up winning many prices. She also told us about the different parts of the reindeer that could be used to make different dishes, but many of those parts are usually thrown away in the slaughter houses. This makes it very important to write down the old recipes and share them with the world.
Then we walked around in the town and got to go to different stores that sold Sami handicraft. The first one was a store of traditional things and the second one was more modern everyday use things with Sami designs. It was really nice because we got the opportunity to talk to the people and hear the story behind the producers of the products and the owners of the stores. I really enjoyed having time to talk with Victoria and learn about her experiences in the society.
On our way back to Dundret we stopped for a short visit to the Akkats hydro power station to see the Sami artwork done on the gates and buildings of the power plant. The paintings are known as the “Gates to the West” and symbolize the Sami way of life and culture. The paintings have raised different opinions due to the fact that the hydro power had an impact on the river and the grazing land for reindeer herders and it is supposed to represent the Sami culture, making it a little controversial.
Day 9 - Aitik and Porjus, 3rd July
by Angeliki Filippou
Our last field work day began with a visit at Boliden’s mine Aitik. The tour started with a presentation from our tour guide about Boliden’s activities in the area and some more interesting details about the characteristics of the Aitik mine and the operations taking place. Aitik is a huge open pit copper mine of 7000 ha located in Gällivare municipality. The ore deposit was first found in 1932, and by 1968 the production reached 2 million tons. Nowadays, the production is 36 million tons of copper annually, and the plan is to reach 45 million tons by 2020. According to our guide, the content of copper in the deposit is very low (around 0.2%), however the company still believes it is profitable to mine it since the deposit covers a really large area, is easily accessible and the technology and its advances have made it very efficient.
The estimated lifespan of the mine from today onwards is 27 years. For the time afterwards, there is a remediation plan of letting the open pit fill with the groundwater which today is being pumped off and finally transforming it into a lake. Different procedures will be followed for the waste rock piles that may possibly be covered with appropriate materials and will be turned into green fields.
We had also the chance to go into the open pit area and witness ourselves the extent of the mine, which was truly impressive! According to our guide, the company is constantly monitoring the impacts of mining in the surrounding area, the only complains they get from the citizens are about the dust, especially when it is very windy. Luckily for us, when we visited the open pit, it wasn’t windy at all.
Our next stop was the hydropower plant in Porjus, but we decided to take a little detour first and visit Messaure. An old community that was once built near the homonymous dam. Nowadays, none of the houses are left there but some signs remind that once in that area, a small village was in place. It was very touching though, because when we arrived there, we came across some people, who have come for their annual meeting in memory of what used to be their community in this place.
Finally, we arrived at Porjus and our tour at the old hydropower station started with an introduction from our tour guide of Vattenfall’s activities in the area and its future plans. A flashback of the construction of the Porjus dam was presented to us. The construction of the dam started in 1910 mainly because of the need for the electricity of the mining railway. There were no roads to transfer the building materials, hence people had to carry them on their backs for a distance of 40-50 km. The dam was finally completed in 1915 and had a max power of 145 MW. Nowadays, the produced power is 408 MW and around 25-30 people are employed in the new station.
When we asked about the impacts of hydropower, the answer we got was that the local impacts are mostly on the wildlife, the landscape of the area and Sami activities such as fishing and reindeer herding. However, if we consider it on a global scale, the guide said that the impacts are minimal.
The old hydropower station used to have 9 units operating, but today only 2 are still being used and mainly for research purposes.