Thursday, July 23, 2015

Malmberget, 1st of July

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 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).


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