Friday, July 24, 2015

Malmberget, 2nd 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 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.

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