Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tarfala, June 26

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 Eleanor Althoff and Lisa Bysell

Because summer here is really one long day, we will begin recounting our days experience with yesterday nights’ hike to Tarfalatjårro. We learned several things on this excursion: 1) Wet rocks are slippery 2) The journey up takes around three hours (not two) and 3) James can get snap chats on the mountain. The hike up was very taxing, but the view at the peak was well worth the journey. Although it was cloudy, the deep valleys and high mountain peaks were clearly visible. At the top we took a few moments to take in the view, snap a couple picture, and record a video for a friend’s wedding before heading back down. We arrived back slightly before 23.00 and after notifying those in charge, we headed for bed.

The next morning started with a blue sky. This was a considerable change from the rain and clouds we were greeted with earlier in the week. What was more exciting though was the Sami representative that spoke to us later on in the morning. He informed us about the annual reindeer herding migration, the consequences of climate change on these activities, as well as describing the ICR (International Center for Reindeer Herding).  He made a very compelling presentation, which demonstrated how adversely affected the Sami people are by activities such as prospecting, mining, municipality planning, wind power, and military presence. We were all very grateful he could take the time to speak to us and join us on the hike scheduled for the early afternoon.

After the lecture it finally time for our hike to the glacier called Storglaciären. This glacier, which is located in the Tarfala Valley, has been studied for about 70 years and is the most monitored glacier in the region. We were equipped with harnesses and snow shoes before hiking up to the glaciers. Gunhild Rosquist, Ninis, held short lectures about glaciology, Storglaciären, and the surrounding areas along the way. For example, we learned that Storglaciären is 3,2 km2 and that the ice is as deep as 280 m in some areas. We also learned that glaciers behave differently due to regional climate. It is the summer temperature (melting the ice sheet) rather than the amount of snow fall that determines the mass balance of the glacier.  A warmer climate will result in longer summer periods and may contribute even more to the shrinking of the glaciers despite heavy snow fall in the winters.

Storglaciären is located just below Kebnekaise, which is the highest peak in Sweden. This will probably change soon as the peak has a glacial top that is likely to melt within a few years. The northern summit that is currently the second highest will then be the new highest Swedish peak. We look forward to learning more about the glaciers during the many hikes to come in the next few days!

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