"Dispatches from Europe" Blog Contest

Are you planning on traveleling to the European Union this summer? Submit a post to be featured on our Across the Pond blog and win prizes!

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Blogs

The third Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class traveled to the Arctic Circle in summer 2014. Check out their blog entries from this summer!

Ringing the Bells at the Banner of Peace

Landscape Architecture Doctoral candidate Caroline Wisler reflects on her travels to Bulgaria.

Zach Grotovsky's Summer 2013: 14 Cities, 15 Weeks, One Long Adventure

University of Illinois graduate student in Germanic Literatures and Languages Zach Grotovsky documents his travels throughout Eastern Europe in the summer of 2013.

Polar Bears

The Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class spotted polar bears in Norway!

Peaceful Opposition in Izmir

MAEUS student Levi Armlovich describes his experiences with the protests in Izmir, Turkey.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Field Notes: July 2nd by Saloni Sheth and Laura Schultz

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 2nd by Saloni Sheth and Laura Schultz

Today, we did not struggle. At least, we didn’t struggle as much as we did on Sunday, the day of our canceled flight and carrying too much luggage. After a nice morning consisting of the normal breakfast at 7:30, we had a break until 10, when we went with Pia, one of the station’s research assistants who is also the station’s flower expert. We had a field excursion to the nearby vegetation monitoring area. Here, we identified ten different species of Arctic flora in various stages of blooming. Studying and identifying plants based on their physical attributes is called phenology.

Pia then told us all about how the blooming of several of the species has varied over the past few years, most likely due to how the climate in the area is shifting. In addition, she explained to us that the reindeer that roam the valley like to eat more than just lichen, as many people imagine they eat. During the winter, lichen is pretty much the only vegetation remaining available to them, so that is what they settle for. However, when more plants and greenery are in bloom, the reindeer are happy to eat that instead. We found this particularly interesting because we too had thought that reindeer mainly subsisted on lichen year round.

Pretty much this whole time that we were out, it was quite cool and rainy, so we were happy to head back to the station for lunch. However, the fog that had enveloped the valley did allow for some very nice pictures.

After the fog lifted and we had a nice lunch of fish and potatoes, we met back in the classroom for two final lectures here at Tarfala. The first was given by Ninis about the REXSAC project that she and Dag have recently established. The second was from Mark about public history and Arctic tourism, which we paid careful attention to since our research topic is the impacts of tourism in the Arctic. To wrap it up, we had a really interesting discussion about the day’s reading about a Sámi man named Nils Sarri who was integral in establishing tourism in the Kebnekaise area in the early 20th century.

When the lectures concluded, the rest of our night consisted of dinner and plenty of free time in order to prepare for our departure in the morning. It feels like our time at Tarfala has flown by, and we have learned so much from our field trips. We will be sad to be going, but are excited for the next chapter of our Arctic adventure in Gällivare.
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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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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Field Notes: June 30th by Karl Blomgren and Kathy Limes

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.


June 30th by Karl Blomgren and Kathy Limes


In the morning, we got up and got a lot of breakfast. We also made delicious sandwiches (although we didn’t make enough L). Those sandwiches accompanied us on the lakewards journey that Ninis assigned us. We were told to walk down to the frozen lake, then walk north to the base of the mountain and back to Tarfala. We walked along the river and investigated (and debated) the geologic history of the region.

We saw a few glaciers, and were enchanted by a group of reindeer that we found wandering along the snowfields in the valley. We also found some stone circles, where the brave sandwiches tragically perished in the line of duty. We hiked back to Tarfala along the base of the mountain, trying our best to avoid the patches of snow (or battlefields, as some argued) along the way, and had a couple of really dramatic snowball fights when and as we failed. Kajsa tried to tackle Martin into the snow, but was unsuccessful, much like Katy’s attempts to hit anyone with her snowballs.

After we returned, we had a two hour break. Katy took a nap, Karl stayed on the E rock and mourned the sandwiches.

Then, we had an outdoor lecture on the geologic history of the region from Ninis. She talked about what we had discovered on our hike – how the landscape was shaped by glaciers, how the lake was formed, what kinds of environments were found there, and what it might look like in a hundred years. She also dazzled us with the massive time scale of the valley’s history, and of the ice ages that shaped it.

We then went inside to have a lecture with Mark.

He talked about the Arctic in the enlightenment age, and more specifically, Carl von Linné and his perspectives on the Sàmi. We talked about travel writing in that age – how it was a combination of genuine information and fantastical storytelling, and had a rousing discussion on the assigned reading.

After that, we had beet soup, beans, and bread for dinner, and then the official day was done. Karl went on a hike, and Katy went to sleep. The evening hike was directed towards Kekkonen peak, but also managed to include Tarfalatjårro.

This is a picture of some of the hikers on Kekkonen peak.

Tomorrow, we’re going on a hike up one of Tarfala valley’s glaciers. We can’t wait!

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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Field Notes: June 29th by Martin Alesund and Rachel Gutierrez

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.

June 29th by Martin Alesund and Rachel Gutierrez

Hiking Day

In the early morning, everyone got up on time and we all met up at the bus to head to Nikkaluokta. The weather looked ominous. We were not thrilled to have to hike in the rain. We arrived at the Nikkaluota station and gave our bags to the helicopter, visited the guest station, and started our journey.

Martin befriended a rabbit within with first five minutes of the hike. That was the only form of wildlife we saw today. The cheerful group hiked further and then the rain came out of the sky like a faucet. We were not cheerful anymore. We were soaked. Then, we walked and walked and walked some more in the rain.

The rain stopped and we took of all of our not-so-waterproof raingear. “Idiots” the clouds thought and then the rain started again. We were again bathed in nature. We ate snacks along the way and eventually lunchtime came. By this time, Rachel was feeling light-headed and it had actually not rained for a while so we were slightly happier. We had a beautiful lunch near a beautiful riverside and we were able to see glaciers on the mountain.

Then, we started on the very tough part of the trail. We had to stroll through rivers, stumble through glaciers, balance and climb on rocks, and try not to fall over at every step. By this point we had hiked most of the way and were feeling very exhausted. When we finally say the research station, we cheered! We had made it! Our legs were not going to fall off before we got there! The 24 kilometers / 16 miles was not a cake walk. It was the toughest as scariest thing I have ever done in my life (Rachel).

Then we had a lovely dinner and showered and are now ready to sleep for the next century to recover. Tarfala research station is the coolest place we visited by far and if you already didn’t google it, do it now.
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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Field Notes: June 28th by Enrica Lucca and Ellie McGrew

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.

June 28th by Enrico Lucca and Ellie McGrew

Exciting day with planned visits and unexpected meetings in Kiruna

Personal profiles:

My name is Enrico Lucca and I am 23 years old. I am pursuing the last year of a Double Degree in Environmental Engineering at KTH and at Politecnico of Torino, in Italy.

Ellie McGrew: I’ll be starting my fourth year at the University of Illinois this fall majoring in earth and environmental sciences with a minor in geography. I really enjoy outdoor adventures and a trip to the Swedish Arctic sounded like a great one; plus this trip included different topics which link closely with what I’m interested in studying.

After an energizing breakfast we walked through the town aiming for the base of the “Midnattsolstigen” (Midnight Sun Trail): a 2 hour trail which goes up to the top of the Luossavaara mountain (724 m). Even before starting the trail the idea had been to come back there during the “night” to experience for the first time the Midnight Sun, but the weather forecast was not encouraging.

The Kiruna municipality has installed panels all along the trail giving information about mining, Sami history, reindeer herding, geomorphology and flora and fauna of the Luossavaraa mountain. Once we hiked through the woodland and crossed the tree line, we ended in the low alpine zone from where we had a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. We observed several signs of the so called technological mega-system for Norbotten, which was built in the early 1900’s to support the mining activities: power lines, highway, railway, waste rock terraces, the remains of prospecting activities and old open pits which are now filled with groundwater. These infrastructures and the old pits represent obstacles for the reindeer herding, which has its routes from the winter to the summer grazing fields going in the SW- NE direction.


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Friday, July 1, 2016

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Field Notes: June 27th by Brittany Hancock-Brown and Mark Patterson

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.

June 27th by Brittany Hancock-Brown and Mark Patterson

We have arrived in the Arctic!

Today started bright and early, as all the Illinois students and Enrico got up to catch the 5:12 bus from Universitetet. We then hopped on the train to Arlanda and met up with Dag, Kajsa, Martin, and Karl. We checked our bags, printed our boarding passes, and headed to the gate. As we boarded, we got good news that there were empty seats on the plane and that Enrico, Saloni, and Laura wouldn't have to wait until the afternoon to fly to Kiruna!

We landed in Kiruna, checked into our rooms, and went out for pizza. After lunch, we reconvened with Dag and Mark to start the day's activities. First, we met Dan Lundström from Hjalmar Lundbohmsgården and hopped on to start our bus tour of Kiruna. Our first stop on the bus tour was near the base of Luossavaara, which is where LKAB originally wanted Kiruna to be relocated to. Dan went on to explain that the political leader in office chose not to have Kiruna relocated there, but rather to the east of town. As we took in the views near the base of Luossavaara, Mark pointed out a peak in the distance and identified it as Kebnekaise. We continued on our bus tour and Dan pointed out several different areas and buildings. One of these areas was a former block of houses that had been torn down and replaced with art pieces and a park to preserve the memories of those who lived there. We continued on past the site in which the new city will be located and then looped around back towards town.

We got off of the bus at the Kiruna church. Dan gave a brief history of the church before we entered. He explained that the church was built to be more of a meeting place rather than a church, which is why the church does not contain any religious symbols. The inside of the church was breathtaking. We had a discussion regarding the church's significance to the people of Kiruna and how it may change when it is taken apart and moved.

Our tour of Kiruna continued on to the inside of City Hall. We covered a variety of topics including the art within city hall, the four different deformation zones of Kiruna, Sami mittens, and the demolition of old city hall and construction of the new city hall in 2018.

We continued onward to the Hjalmar Lundbohmsgården where we ate reindeer, salmon, or vegetarian sandwiches with coffee and tea while Dan wrapped up material for the day. Some of the points he made during his conclusion that we found particularly interesting were that the people of Kiruna have more faith in LKAB than the community and that if the mine were to close, one-third of Norbotten's 250,000 inhabitants would be affected in some way or another. He also described his organization and how it acts as a sort of middle-man between LKAB and community leaders.

Our day together concluded with the group eating delicious pasta and talking about the days events. Everyone is exhausted from a long and busy day, but excited for tomorrow starting off with a hike on the Midnight Sun trail!
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