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KTH researchers prepare for Antarctica

Argentine-Swedish cultural heritage research expedition to set the sail after Christmas

Published Nov 19, 2019

Most researchers do no not go to Antarctica to study human activities. Yet there is much to study - and that is exactly what a group of KTH researchers is going to do. Just after Christmas, they will embark on a cross-disciplinary expedition, called CHAQ 2020, to the historical remains of the first Swedish Antarctic Expedition 1901-1903 on the Antarctic Peninsula, along with other researchers from Argentina and Sweden. In October, they launched the final intense preparation period, heralded by the visit of Pablo Fontana , the expedition leader from the Argentine Antarctic Institute (IAA) for joint field work in Swedish museums and archival collections on Nordenskjöld’s expedition, and last but not least, a traditional Swedish fika (with an Antarctic touch) in the kitchen of the Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment.

Lize-Marié van der Watt, the leader of the VR project “On the creation of cultural heritage in Antarctica”, and Pablo Fontana, the leader of the joint expedition are looking at the cake line-up for the Antarctic fika at the division. Pablo’s first Swedish fika was well attended by colleagues and cutting the Antarctic continent caused a great deal of excitement among those interested in geopolitics. All pieces tasted good!

KTH’ Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment has a key role in the expedition. Prof Dag Avango  (Luleå Technical University/KTH) is the PI for CHAQ 2020 and responsible for the Swedish team, which includes Dr Kati Lindström  (KTH) as well as two experts from Gothenburg University, Prof Gunnar Almevik and Doc Johnathan Westin (on behalf of the Swedish National Heritage Board). Lize-Marié van der Watt  (KTH) leads the research project " On the creation of cultural heritage in Antarctica ” (funded by the Swedish Research Council) that lends a theoretical framework for the work. The Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, a government agency with a mandate to coordinate and promote Swedish polar research, also endorses the expedition.

CHAQ 2020 expedition will collect data for a research project on the creation of cultural heritage in Antarctic but also, in cooperation with Argentina, contribute to the preservation of these remains in broader public interest. The team will use both traditional methods for documenting the state of the remains but also make extensive use of drone technology, photogrammetry and laser scanning. Further, the team will work on museum exhibitions, VR and 3D representations as well as communicating the impacts of climate change on these sites through film.

Division’s expedition members Dag Avango and Kati Lindström together with Pablo Fontana looking at the collection of photos at Grenna Museum. Detailed study of old photographs is crucial for the successful maintenance of the heritage sites and the documentation of the impact of climate change.

The Swedish expedition of 1901-1903 was led by Otto Nordenskjöld, and while they planned to overwinter only one year, their ship got trapped in the pack-ice and sank. One party, including an Argentinean geologist Jose Sobral, had to spend a second winter in a hut on Snow Hill Island. An Argentinean vessel, the corvette Uruguay, rescued the expedition members in 1903. Sites related to this expedition, of which the hut on Snow Hill is the most well-known, are officially protected under the Antarctic Treaty and form an important part for both Swedish and Argentine polar narratives.

Nordenskjöld’s hut on Snow Hill island is one of the sites where the CHAQ2020 expedition will work. Photo: J.G.Andersson’s collection, KVA.

Cultural heritage issues in Antarctica have been pushed higher on the policy agenda in recent years. There are several reasons for this: the effects on climate change, for example permafrost thaw affecting the stability of buildings, increased pressure from tourism, a drive to update management systems and changes in what these places mean for different groups of people. The expedition will not only contribute to scholarship but also provide input to science-based policy.

Belongs to: Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment
Last changed: Nov 19, 2019