CRD in a nutshell

Friday 7. October 2022 | By: Matthias Kokorsch

Last week was pretty packed for the students of the Coastal Communities and Regional Development program (CRD) and me. And the week was somewhat CRD in a nutshell. It all started with two guest lectures that brought the societal impacts of climate change to the group. Rico Kongsager from the University College Copenhagen presented the CliCNord project (Climate Change Resilience in Small Communities in the Nordic Countries) to the students. UW is representing the Icelandic case, focussing on avalanche risk, while Rico's work focusses on storms on the Faroe Islands. This project has been running since 2021 and so far we have had three students that joined the project for their Master's theses.

Deirde Bannan, CMM alumna followed Rico and presented very interesting results of her Master's thesis. She did a fantastic job analysing climate data of the Westfjords for the past seven decades. After that it was time to leave the class room and pay the Icelandic Road Administration a visit.

It was quite impressive to see how much effort it takes to keep the roads in Iceland save not only during winter when avalanche risks add another level of uncertainty. Especially in remote regions road accessibility is crucial. We then continued our day to the towns Súðavík and Flateyri. Both places experienced devastating avalanches and both places are good examples for the conceptual framework we use in CliCNord: place attachment and collective memories.

One local introduced us to Flateyri and for us it was impressive to see which coping mechanisms people develop and it was a good reminder for keeping the locals involved in decision making processes and capacity building.

On Wednesday we continued our field trips and switched from in-class teaching to an altitude of 622 meters, Mt. Bolafjall. Why not use a fantastic view for a lecture while we can – especially when the things you see represent most of the course content? Some students ventured onto the floating platform, the latest attraction in the Westfjords. It was the ideal location to learn about some of the concepts we addressed in class, such as place attachment and remoteness, reasons for migration and location factors.

But we also had a flashback in time when we talked about the history of the Westfjords and Iceland during the cold war. The radar station next to the platform was built by the US-army in the early 1990s, but the history of radar stations in the Westfjords dates back to the 1950s.

Some people refer to the Westfjords as remote, but for some it has been quite central; not only for geopolitics but also for the fishing industry that has some of the best fishing grounds just around the corner. We continued our field trip to the scenic road that once connected Bolungarvík and Ísafjörður. It was replaced by a tunnel in 2010. It’s always fascinating to walk this road not only for seeing how quick nature takes over, but also for understanding and contextualizing the work of the Road Administration.

After those very local insights we now have Magnus Davidson from the University of Highlands and Islands in Scotland taking over the course People and the Sea – Geographical Perspectives. He is at UW for the first time, and we are glad that he shares his experience on rewilding and repeopling, Scottish land reforms, carbon neutrality and just transitions. Unfortunately, we cannot go on a field trip to autumnal Scotland to visit his study sites.

On Saturday we had the opportunity to present the CliCNord project at the European Researchers' Night in Reykjavík – organized by Rannís. This event takes place all over Europe every year and brings together the general public and researchers.

Jóhanna Gísladóttir, from the Agricultural University of Iceland,  and I explained our project to many children who enjoyed our 3D models of the Westfjords, getting a feeling for the mountainous nature and the connected risks. But not only kids stopped at our booth. There were surprisingly many people that once lived in the Westfjords or have relatives there, that stopped and discussed about our research project.

While we had some three posters that summarized the results of our case studies, the main attraction were the 3D models and here comes a huge thank you to Doddi from the FabLab in Ísafjörður. He helped us to print the models and did a fabulous job. Am looking forward to introducing our students to Doddi and this wonderful place for realizing ideas.