These past few weeks have been busy in Tromsø with the 10th annual Arctic Frontiers conference. This conference brought together over 1300 participants from around the world including politicians, businesspersons, scientists, students, volunteers, artists, and the press, all focused on one common theme: the state of the Arctic.
Arctic Frontiers began with fanfare at the Fram Centre on Sunday, January 24th. The opening night featured presentations about recent polar expeditions. My favorite presentation was by Johanne Jerijærvi, a 14-year old from Kirkenes, Norway who is the youngest girl to have skied to the North Pole. Johanne was one of four “Nansen kids” selected for a Norwegian TV-program called Oppdrag Nansen (Mission Nansen). Mission Nansen documents the journey of four Norwegian 13-year-olds during their cross-country trek to the pole. Norway: where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average (and ski to the North Pole).
At the Arctic Frontiers opening night we also heard from Professor Yngve Kristoffersen, a renowned researcher from the University of Bergen, about his Arctic exploration with a polar hovercraft he built himself. In 2015, Kristoffersen put his hovercraft to the test during an ambitious expedition to an unexplored (and dangerous) region of ice pack. This mission yielded several new discoveries including the documentation of a fish species not previously known to be present in Arctic waters.
Another impressive talk was given by Jan-Gunnar Winther and Harald Steen with results from the Norwegian Winter Research Expedition to the Arctic Ocean (N-ICE). To deal with harsh winter conditions, researchers locked the N-ICE vessel in an ice cap and drifted for over five months during winter 2015. Scientists collected physical, chemical, and biological data round-the-clock to create a comprehensive picture of winter dynamics in the Arctic. The N-ICE expedition received worldwide attention and made the cover of the National Geographic magazine. And they deserve the fame. Can’t say I would want to be locked in the ice for half a year…
These three presentations served as an exciting sneak peek to kick off the weeklong conference. On Monday, the conference began with a “Policy Section” with dialogue between Arctic leaders including the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, chair of the Arctic Council, and president of the Sami Parliament.
As the week progressed, topics of the conference ranged from the law of the sea to rights of indigenous people to ecosystem dynamics. During the “Science Section” of the conference I got to present my Fulbright research. I was really nervous but it was a great experience!
Immediately following the conference, 20 early career scientists and I embarked on a 6-day workshop to the Lofoten islands in the Norwegian sea. This PhD workshop through the ARCTOS research network brought together students from 14 different countries for a course on writing research proposals. Our areas of research spanned political science, marine biology, sociology, geophysics, glaciology, anthropology, chemistry, civil engineering, ecology business, and economics, but we all had a common interest in the Arctic.
The trip started on board the Hurtigruten coastal steamer. While participating in the workshop, we cruised from Tromsø down the coast of Norway towards the Lofoten islands. What a view! We enjoyed interesting lectures with varied topics including Arctic diplomacy and the Lofoten fishing industry. One of my favorite speakers was the artist Scott Thoe, who, among many other things, has painted stunning murals in Lofoten to breathe new life into rundown buildings. Below is some of the artwork by Scott Thoe. To see more here is a link to Scott’s website.
The goal of the workshop was help us think “outside the box” when writing grant proposals rather than to stay confined within the limits of our niche research area. As part of our final assessment, we worked in groups to write multidisciplinary research proposals and present them before the “research council” (our workshop leaders).
While in Lofoten, we were also lucky to have time to enjoy the beautiful nature of northern Norway. We toured the Lofotaquarium, Lofotmuseum, and Gallery Espolin. I especially enjoyed the Lofotmuseum devoted to the traditional lifestyles of fisherman in the region. Gallery Espolin was an impressive collection of work by the artist Kaare Espolin Johnson whose paintings depict various aspects of life on this remote Norwegian archipelago.
To sum it up, the ARCTOS PhD workshop was a refreshing blend of group work, nature hikes, and discussions with the professors leading the trip. On board the MS Nordlys coastal steamer on the way home, we were lucky to see a spectacular show of northern lights. Out on the open ocean, they were the best I’ve ever seen! Although my camera is not able to capture them, the talented photographer (and researcher) Mikhail Varentsov was along with us as a workshop participant. Enjoy some of Mike’s photos from our cruise back to Tromsø 🙂