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  • Writer's pictureAndy Opel

Tromsø - In Search of Climate Witnesses

In the last week of September 2019, I decided to travel to Tromsø, Norway in search of climate witnesses. This was inspired in part by fellow Fulbright grantee Ellen Dymit who was working on changes in arctic fox populations. She introduced me electronically to a group of people researching a range of climate related topics, all working at COAT, the Climate-ecological Observatory for Arctic Tundra. I also reached out to Peter Crawford, Professor of Visual Anthropology at the University of Tromsø. Peter was quick to respond to my call and put me in contact with Julie Cleve, a recent graduate of his Master's program. Julie agreed to work with me as a production assistant and her help was invaluable, meeting me at my hotel and helping me navigate the bus system and arrive on-time at our first meeting with Peter.

Traveling to new places with lots of production equipment is always a challenge. On my flight to Tromsø, this trip got off to a good start when a flight attendant for Wideroo - a local low cost airline - noticed my height and told me to sit in the exit row. After a brief stop in Bodø and an amazing sunset as we crossed north of the Arctic circle, I landed in Tromsø about 10pm. I had called the rental car to make sure they would still be open when I arrived but sure enough, the desk as dark and no one answered the phone for after-hours service. So I took cab to my hotel and was met with a locked door and a dark reception desk. I saw a small faded note with a phone number to call for late check-ins. I called, they picked up, and directed me to a hotel 1km away where I could pick up a key to my room. So, I pushed my oversized bag full of heavy camera bag through the frozen streets of Tromsø, picked up my key and of course, had to push by gear back - no cab for me!.

After this bumpy entrance, things quickly improved and the people of Tromsø opened up, immediately seemed to get what I was doing, and gave me access to their time and knowledge. Peter Crawford introduced me to Bror Olsen, an Anthropologist and fisherman who was fascinated by the Arctic Char.

I then went over to COAT and met with Leif Einar Støven, the outreach coordinator for the Observatory. Leif quickly and efficiently introduced me to a team of researchers and within an hour, I had appointments with three scientists all working on different impacts of climate change in the Arctic.

The COAT researchers all made time for sit down interviews where they provided succinct summaries of their research projects. I learned a lot about lemmings, ptarmigans, and the spread of birch moths. Leif Einar then set up an online box where he shared photos and images that could be used to bring these interviews to life in a visual format.

This journey to Tromsø produced the foundation for the first 4 climate witness stories. To view these stories, go to the "witness" page.

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