What’s Svalbard worth?

Samantha Saville

Samantha Saville

13 May 2014

Aberystwyth University postgraduate researcher Samantha Saville is embarking on a two month visit to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard to learn more about the community’s decision making processes.

Funded by Economic and Social Research Council UK, Samantha from the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences will be collecting the views of residents and visitors to help her develop a picture of Svalbard that goes beyond glaciers and polar bears.

Svalbard is a group of islands governed by Norway within the Arctic circle. Coal mining has operated there for the last century and has traditionally been the focus to both Norwegian and Russian communities there. Now tourism, research and education are also key industries for the 2500 strong multi-national population.

Speaking ahead of her visit, Samantha said; “Svalbard is clearly an important place: politically, economically and as a home to humans, other species and the landscapes it supports. This research will investigate the relationships between these factors, asking what is valued in Svalbard, how is it valued and what does this mean for those living here and in a wider context?

“Increasingly we are having to make difficult choices, priorities for funding, development, weighing up current impacts with those of the future and justify these decisions. We often turn to systems of measuring and comparing the value of outcomes to make these choices, but we rarely question the criteria and assumptions such measurements are based on. Research into value systems is therefore receiving more and more attention and support from a wide range of funding bodies, so this is a critical time to address such questions.”

Svalbard is a unique and ideal case to examine given the array of different activities and geographical features in tension here from coal mining to tourism, environmental protection, state of the art scientific research, a changing arctic climate and improving the quality of life and facilities.

It is hoped this research will not only help to broaden public knowledge about social life in Svalbard, but also further understandings of how we deal with such tensions and potentially how the processes of valuation in Svalbard and beyond could be improved upon.

Last summer Samantha visited Svalbard for the first time and began research in Longyearbyen, Barentsburg and Pyramiden. This year she hopes to build on this work, returning to all three towns during the course of the two month field work stay.

Samantha added; “Svalbard is an intensely interesting place from a social point of view. There’s a lot going on here for such a remote and small population, which can get lost in all the masses of great scientific work that goes on here. I’m really looking forward to working with residents and fellow visitors there to explore the most pressing issues to life in Svalbard”.

Follow Samantha’s project blog on http://samsaville.weebly.com/