Sunday, July 19, 2015

Kiruna, 22 June

This series of posts shares field notes from the study abroad course "Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic." The course begins at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and then students from the University of Illinois and KTH travel north to conduct research in the Arctic. This blog was originally posted on KTH's Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic webpage.

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.


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