The Northern Vantage Point

Arctic Changes - Current & Future Outlook

The pace at which changes in the Arctic are occurring is quickening, placing a great deal of stress not only on the ecosystems but also on the people of the region. Six featured keynotes speakers will outline some of the most significant changes and challenges that are impacting the Arctic, followed by a roundtable discussion session with distinguished experts and researchers and stimulating discussion on the future outlook for the circumpolar region.

Following the forum, the Norwegian Embassy will open “On Thin Ice” – an exhibition by the Norwegian Polar Institute – with a reception.

Session 1

Opening address from the Rector of the University of Akureyri, Eyjólfur Guðmundsson

Consequences of Arctic Sea Ice Loss

Harald Steen - Senior Scientist, Norwegian Polar Institute, Leader of the Centre for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems


The past decades have seen rapid change in the Arctic sea ice pack. The ice has become thinner and younger, and the older multi-year ice has largely been replaced by ice that is younger than 2 years old. Our models and hence our ability to predict the future of the Arctic sea ice and its effect on climate and ecosystem is at large based on thick multi-year ice and may be at best inaccurate. To fill the knowledge gaps the Norwegian Polar Institute launched the Norwegian Young Sea Ice campaign in 2015. We let our boat freeze into the drift ice north of Svalbard and studied the drift ice system for almost six months starting mid-winter. We saw new ice forming in the leads of the existing year old ice and studied how the two was affected by weather and oceanic currents. Storms is becoming more frequent and they bring snow. The snow insulates and limit ice growth despite an average temperature of about -30°C. The same storms set ice in motion and the thin ice deforms easily into pressure ridges creating weak spots. Drifting ice also causes vertical mixing in the water column, warmer Atlantic water is brought to the underside of the sea ice, and the already thin ice melts from below. The thin ice also cracks easier and leads are being formed after storms. During winter, leads are refrozen and in spring the leads facilitates an early phytoplankton spring bloom that may alter the ecosystem through mismatch in prey availability and demand. This may in turn alter the ecosystem function.

Harald Steen 

leads the ICE-centre at the Norwegian Polar Institute. He led the N-ICE project where the RV Lance was frozen into the pack ice for five and a half month to study the now prevalent young and thin sea ice is affected by the ocean, winds, temperature and sun compared to the older sea ice. Numerous of airplane and satellite based measurements was ground-truthed too. Currently he leads a project that will gather knowledge to the development of a marine protected area on the coast of Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica.


Climate Change and Tourism

Auður Ingólfsdóttir - Researcher at the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre (ITRC)


Tourism is a rapidly growing sector in the Arctic. With the migration crisis in southern Europe and threats associated with terrorism, the Arctic is viewed as a safe destination in a politically stable region. The melting of the Arctic icecap opens new routes for tour operators and creates opportunities for “last chance” tourism, i.e. selling tours exploring natural phenomena that may soon disappear. The links between tourism and climate change, however, are more complex than at first sight. The harsh climate has always made traveling in the Arctic a challenge, but climate change is disrupting natural patterns, making it more difficult to rely on local knowledge to avoid dangers. Tourism in the Arctic also contributes to climate change, especially through international flights, further intensifying the climate crisis.

Auður H Ingólfsdóttir 

is a researcher at the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre (ITRC). Her research interests are in the field of sustainable tourism and include topics such as climate change and tourism, nature based tourism and CSR within the tourist sector. Dr. Ingólfsdóttir holds a BA and Master degree in international studies and a joint PhD degree in international relations and gender studies. She was an Assistant Professor at Bifröst University for seven years (2010-2017) and before entering academia, she worked as a journalist (1995-97), as a special advisor in the Ministry for the Environment (2002-2003) and as an independent consultant on environmental policy (2003-2007). She also spent some time in Sri Lanka as a cease fire monitor (2006) and worked for one year as a gender advisor for UNIFEM (now UN Women) in the Balkans (2007-2008).


Changes in Fish Distribution and Climate Change in the North Atlantic

Hreiðar Þór Valtýsson - Assistant professor in Fisheries Sciences at the University of Akureyri


Climate change is poised to play a key role in species dispersal and the (re)distribution of fish stocks in the coming decades. Current projections indicate a general trend for the eventual displacement of numerous fish species towards the Arctic Regions but a net gain in most northern fisheries. The purpose of this talk is to review the most recent effects of climate on marine stocks in the north Atlantic. Since the late 1990s, temperature and salinity levels have for example increased in Icelandic waters, and subsequently, changes have been recorded in several marine stocks, some quite dramatic. Similar changes have been observed in the Barent Sea. However, some changes attributed to rising temperature have been reversed despite persistently elevated temperatures. This especially applies to some southern stocks that initially grew quite rapidly but have since declined again to close to previous levels. This was unexpected, and the reasons are not well known.

Hreiðar Þór Valtýsson 

is an assistant professor in fisheries sciences at the University of Akureyri. Previously he led the fisheries sciences programme at the university and was a branch manager at the Marine Research Institute Akureyri. His main field of research is in the field of marine ecosystem and the utilization of marine resources in the north, especially in the light of climate change. He has been involved in several outreach programs lately, programs that have the main purpose of informing the public on the importance of fisheries and on the wonders of the ocean.


Small Communities and Subsistence Resources

Amy Wiita - Subsistence Resource Specialist, Alaska Department of Fish & Game and Senior Interdisciplinary Research Scientist, Cinza Research LLC


The mission of the Division of Subsistence is to scientifically gather, quantify, evaluate, and report information about customary and traditional uses of Alaska's fish and wildlife resources. The Division has used harvest survey data for over 30 years to estimate quantities of subsistence foods that contribute to Alaskans’ health, culture, and well-being. Subsistence foods make a tremendous contribution to Alaskan communities. Subsistence harvests include diverse resources including fish, birds and eggs, shellfish, marine and land mammals, and plants. Changes in vegetation, ice conditions, precipitation rates, water levels, animal migration routes, reproductive schedules and animal health have all affected harvest patterns as humans adjust to habitat loss and other changes that impact access. This presentation will discuss the climate change research the Division has done, how it varies by region, and present local community observations of the impacts of climate change on subsistence resource harvests.

Amy Wiita

is an interdisciplinary scientist who is a Subsistence Resource Specialist with the State of Alaska Division of Subsistence and the owner and Senior Interdisciplinary Research Scientist of Cinza Research.  She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Forestry and a doctoral degree in Cultural Anthropology.  Dr. Wiita has over twenty years’ experience doing social, natural, and public health science research and natural resource management throughout Alaska.  She specializes in interdisciplinary, ethnographic, and phenomenological community-based research focused on human dimensions of natural resource use, perceptions of place, connections between cultural expression and the environment, and the culture of climate change. 


Arctic Youth and Sustainable Futures

Jón Haukur Ingimundarson - Senior Scientist, Stefansson Arctic Institute, and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Arctic Studies, University of Akureyri


The Arctic Youth and Sustainable Futures project (2016-2019) is a circumpolar project that seeks to fill a gap in knowledge on the needs, experiences, views and aspirations of young people (ages 18-28) in the Arctic. The premise of the research is that the future of the Arctic will be determined to a great extent by today’s youth, as they make choices around the opportunities and challenges they face, their priorities in terms of culture and identities, where to study and where to live, and what occupations and lifestyles to pursue, as well as on factors affecting their social and physical environment. A general focus is what young people define as the most pressing issues facing them or affecting their lives in the Arctic today, as well as their hopes and aspirations for the future. An extensive data set based on numerous focus group interviews has enabled the project to capture a variety of perspectives, challenges, opportunities, living conditions and circumstances among young people in the North. I will describe the project Arctic Youth and Sustainable Futures in terms of its rationale and methodologies and discuss a number of significant findings from across the Arctic region in the context of the following domains of human development: education, material wellbeing, health and wellbeing, cultural wellbeing, closeness to nature, and fate control.

Jón Haukur Ingimundarson

is Senior Scientist at the Stefansson Arctic Institute and Associate Professor of anthropology and Arctic studies at the University of Akureyri. His research interests include the political ecology of medieval Iceland, as well as present-day Arctic human development, agriculture, food security and impacts of globalization and climate change. He is co-leader of the project Arctic Youth and Sustainable Futures, research partner in the REXSAC Nordic Centre of Excellence and the EU-Horizon 2020 project NUNATARYUK, and Co-PI of the project Reflections of Change: The Natural World in Literary and Historical Sources from Iceland ca. AD 800 to 1800.


Tensions Between Energy, Economic, and Environmental Security

Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv - Professor of Critical Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Tromsø and currently Nansen Professor at University of Akureyri


Much is said about the importance of protecting the Arctic environment, that the changes – in particular the threats of climate change on the environment – in the Arctic have global implications and repercussions, and that Arctic cooperation on environmental and human well-being issues are themselves instrumental to an Arctic Exceptionalism of peace and security. Given the focus on environmental protection and concern that is shared across Arctic states, how are these concerns reconciled with the continued extraction and exploitation of fossil fuel resources that have been directly linked to climate change? Oil prices fluctuated significantly since the 2008 global economic crisis, and in 2014 prices were so low that many oil companies were on the verge of bankruptcy. At the time, predictions were that the hey-day of oil was now gone, and that there was no future in the petroleum industry. However prices have since been on the rise, and exploitation of potential petroleum fields continues, as noted in the most recent distribution of sites for petroleum exploration and extraction in the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea. The significant focus on environmental issues in Arctic politics represents the prioritization of environmental values – whereby the protection and the preservation of the environment are paramount and are linked to future survival of both human and non-human species. The continued petroleum extraction activity represents the value placed on the economic and energy security importance of this industry to Arctic states. Can these competing security perspectives be reconciled? If not, what are the consequences of these tensions between environmental, energy, and economic security in the Arctic?

Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv

is Professor of Critical Peace and Conflict Studies with a specialization in Security Studies and International Relations at the University of Tromsø- The Arctic University of Norway, and currently Nansen Professor at University of Iceland, Akureryi, Iceland. Hoogensen Gjørv’s focus has been on the interactions and tensions between perceptions of state and human security in a variety of contexts, from civil-military conflicts to the Arctic. She is particularly concerned with representations and performances of civilian agency, drawing upon intersectional approaches to better understand agency, “everyday” security, and possibilities for peace.

Featuring a Musical Performance Presented by the U.S. Embassy

Byron Nicholai – State Department Arts Envoy musician and a former Youth Ambassador from the Yu’Pik community in Alaska

Session 2 - Roundtable

  • Bård Ivar Svendsen, Ambassador, Senior Arctic Official, Norway
  • Eiríkur Björn Björgvinsson, Former Mayor of Akureyri
  • Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv, University of Tromsø
  • Larry Hinzman, International Arctic Science Committee and University of Alaska Fairbanks, US
  • Rachael Lorna Johnstone, University of Akureyri and University of Greenland, Iceland
  • Joan Nymand Larsen, Stefansson Arctic Institute and University of Akureyri, Iceland