Sunday, July 10, 2016

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Field Notes: July 1st by Evan London and Kasja Lundgren

This article and the images originally appeared on KTH's Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic blog. 

There you can read about the Arctic course taking place in the summer of 2016! The participating students from KTH Royal Institute of Technology together with the students of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are writing about their experiences throughout the course.

July 1st by Evan London and Kajsa Lundgren

Our second day in Tarfala valley began with our long awaited lecture on the cryosphere (consisting of ecosystems with year round frozen water including glaciers, ice sheets, and permafrost ecology), presented by Ninis Rosqvist. We began by discussing what should be included when designating the Arctic region. The Arctic has many overlapping definitions what the cutoff for the Arctic region? Should it strictly be considered regions above the Arctic Circle, excluding southern Greenland and almost all of Iceland? Or perhaps the area of the map above above the 60th parallell, including the cities just north of Stockholm? Or even defined by more natural boundaries such as the tree line and the Arctic Ocean’s convergence zone? There’s no easy answer, but all of these potential definitions are important to consider especially when determining which actors should be able to dictate the outcomes within our planet’s northernmost regions.

After getting a better idea of the icy regions we were considering as ”Arctic”, we started to look at how the polar region has been fluctuating in temperature over time. The human recorded weather data date back to the 1700’s, although records from this era need interpretation due to the differences in measuring practices between our present and the past. Filling in the rest of the long term record requires more scientific inquiry and data collection. The methods include some truly ingenious techniques such as biochemically analyzing trees preserved within peat bogs and even looking at the formation patterns of stalagmites and stalactites within deep caves. With our ability to look at the temperature pattern of the last 10,000 years, we can see that the overall trend has been one of polar cooling, however looking at the last century of the graph is a whole different story. We couldn’t help but think of Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth where similar graphs were shown, and yet even with all this public attention for the past 10 years, it still seems like not enough is being done to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.

To lighten our spirits after contemplating the drastic changes to the polar climate, we began preparing for our hike on Storglaciären. Our kit provided by TRS included: an ice pick-axe, a harness and crampons. With our equipment stowed in our packs, we set forth to the tounge of the glacier ascending on the moraine. Before stepping on the glacier we had our lunch and had good look at the processes in the paraglacial area (the new land revealed by the receding glacier). We could now very clearly see the old 1910 extent of the glacial ice and the moraine of broken up bedrock that the glacier carries with it through the natural motion of ice melt and gravity pulling the mass down the valley floor.

Now acquainted with the periphery of the glacier, we proceeded to ascend to the Automatic Weather Station near the very top. From this vantage point within a bowl of mountain rock we could see across the valley we hiked through the day before last (29/06/16) along with the upper reaches of Kebnekaise, truly a sublime vista!

But what then to make of this Arctic sublimity? To answer this question we needed to return to the lecture hall at Tarfala for Mark Safstrom’s lecture on H.C. Andersen’s The Snow Queen and the Arctic narratives of 19th century romanticism. This romantic period found expression in a desire to make progress through regress, to make a return to our primordial natural state. The lure of the untamed icy expanse for those seeking fame and adventure inspired a multitude of expeditions to both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, some of which ended fatally, but all became part of the larger narrative that the polar regions of the Earth were only meant for those who could muster their masculine might to proclaim themselves masters of the ice. It’s funny to think what these early male explorers would think of our group with our strong women majority who have clambered the icy slopes just as spryly as they did.

After the day’s activities, we’ll have no trouble sleeping, preparing ourselves for what tomorrow brings~

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