Understanding Resilience and Long-Term Environmental Change in the High Arctic: Narrative-Based Analyses from Svalbard (SVALUR)

We will capture detailed understanding of environmental change experienced by people living, working and/or exploring different parts of Svalbard through e.g. in-depth interviews, story-telling, document analysis and web-based story mapping, to generate holistic insights to the benefit of people living in and visiting the Arctic.

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Project type

  • field work
  • long-term monitoring
  • data management
  • sios


  • social sciences
  • other

Project Keywords

  • biosphere / terrestrial ecosystems / alpine/tundra
  • human dimensions / environmental impacts / environmental assessments
  • climate indicators / cryospheric indicators / snow cover

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The Arctic is the world’s most rapidly warming biome. Therefore, many countries put in a lot of time, money and effort into programmes that monitor arctic environments, to learn to understand and where possible reduce undesired effects of climate change. Although really valuable, such environmental monitoring programmes tend to measure highly specific aspects rather than the natural environment as a whole. The high costs of monitoring in remote environments mean that this can only be done in a few places, and often for relatively short time periods. In this research programme we ask how can learn from people of all walks of life who know parts of the Arctic well, and combine their knowledge and observations with formal environmental monitoring, so that we do not miss the most important changes in these remote, but to the world important, environments. People who live, work or travel in the Arctic experience environmental changes in many different ways, and not as specific sets of ‘monitoring measurements’ but more ‘as environment wholes’ and in connection to their lives. What’s more, people’s so-called experiential, local, or indigenous knowledge often concerns much large areas than ever can be covered by monitoring programmes. Yet, such experiential knowledge is still rarely captured, and never integrated with formal environmental monitoring programmes. This is a missed opportunity and currently prevents us from getting a sufficiently complete picture of environmental change in a rapidly warming Arctic. We have developed a project, named ‘Understanding Resilience and Long-Term Environmental Change in the High Arctic: Narrative-Based Analyses from Svalbard’, or SVALUR for short, to develop ways to learn from others and combine such experiences with knowledge from environmental monitoring’ world. Because such combined knowledge should connect better to people’s lives than knowledge from scientific monitoring alone, our approach ought to help with making decisions how to handle changes in the local environments when and where they become visible. We have chosen to focusses on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean, as here most people live and work only for short periods of time (1-4 years) before going back to their respective home countries. Therefore, it is even more important to developing ways to bring together local knowledge and combine it with environmental monitoring, so that an ’environmental memory’ can develop and be used for making decisions how to best manage environmental change locally and beyond. What SVALUR we will do is to bring together detailed knowledge and experiences of people living, working and exploring different parts of Svalbard, using in-depth interviews, document analysis and web-based story mapping. This information will then be compared with data from environmental monitoring and brought together through new research methods. The shared knowledge will be creatively communicated to inhabitants and visitors to Svalbard, through interactive workshops, a stakeholder conference, participatory web-based story mapping, digital diaries, video accounts and holistic knowledge libraries/systems for locals and for tourist guides. Our project findings will not only document and give valuable, holistic insights into long-term environmental change, but also identify how current monitoring programs can be made more relevant to people living in and visiting the Arctic. Increasing levels of short-term occupancy throughout the region mean that developing ways in which story-based understanding can complement scientific knowledge is more important than ever.

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