IX. Gateway to the Arctic Workshop

9th Gateway to the Arctic Workshop

The 9th Workshop Gateway to the Arctic Workshop, which was hosted at the partner university Paris Versailles / Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ) this year, was held from 13 to 17 February 2023. Under the motto “The Arctic in a changing world – a transdisciplinary approach”, doctoral candidates and master’s students gathered to exchange notes on various aspects of the changes at work in the Arctic, and in particular, to acquaint themselves with perspectives and backgrounds from not only the natural sciences, but also the humanities.

After a welcome address by UVSQ Director Dr Valérie Ciarletti, Junior Professor Joanna Kodzik gave an introductory speech on the importance and use of Arctic objects and artefacts. In this regard, three Working Groups from the UVSQ master’s degree programme Arctic Studies had prepared presentations based on archival material from the Moravian Church in the region of Görlitz, Saxony, which sent brothers to do missionary work in Greenland, Alaska and Labrador, who kept detailed records on the earlier settlement structures. These documents were supplemented by a presentation from Alexandre Delangle, a UVSQ doctoral candidate at the PACCSS graduate school, who reported on the research he conducted on the Stefansson Collection (Arctic researcher Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 1879-1962) and his work for its online image archive. In addition, Prof Ulrike Spring and colleagues from the University of Oslo (Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History) took part in the workshop series as external guests. Using a range of examples, they discussed the concept of “Arctic objects,” what types belong in the category, and their potential value in museum collections.

The second half of the opening day focused on the natural sciences perspective. Here, Prof Ulrich Kamp from the University of Michigan (USA), a geomorphologist and expert on inland glaciers, gave an online presentation and impressively showed glacier retreat and its effects on people living in Mongolia and the Peruvian Andes. Glacier melting as a source of water is the basis for survival in the high mountains; its decline by up to 40% in the past 15 years shows the dramatic impacts of climate change on affected populaces.

The final talk was given by Nicolas Stoll (AWI), who introduced the audience to the importance of ice cores from Greenland as climate archives and their processing. Stoll, who had submitted his dissertation on ice cores from Greenland just weeks earlier, immersed the workshop participants in the world of ice core sciences with the aid of striking photographs and graphics.

The first day was rounded out by Dr Claudia Hanfland (AWI), who, as coordinator of the AWI’s POLMAR graduate school and drawing on her own CV, addressed the rocky road of career planning, the importance of having a Plan B, and considering careers outside academia early on as a recipe for success. Her conclusions: “success is a matter of perspective” and “ambition plus opportunity equals a real chance”. These insights were then passed on to three Working Groups, which were meant to focus on specific questions concerning career advancement and the further development of the graduate school. Their findings were presented on the last day of the workshop.

Dr Martin Werner, a climate researcher at the AWI, opened day two. His talk concerned the importance of proxy data and isotope thermometers as the basis for reconstructing temperatures under past climatic conditions. Only an exact understanding of natural climate variations, their causes, and their regional and global effects can pave the way for precise forecasts and assessments of anthropogenic climate change and its potential development.

This talk was followed by a contrasting depiction of climate development based on travelogues and presented by Prof Jan Borm (UVSQ). Borm discussed the importance of historians, descriptions of the Arctic in literature, indigenous knowledge, and the role of explorers, missionaries, researchers and travellers as part of Arctic historiography. The rest of the day involved a visit to France’s national museum of non-European art “Musée Quai Brandly”, which was opened by Jacques Chirac in 2006. The museum brings together works of art, objects and documents of anthropological relevance. Here, the workshop participants received a special tour of the Arctic collection.

Day three opened with an introduction to the life and works of Johann August Miertsching (1817 – 1875), a Sorbian missionary and interpreter. Mechtild and Wolfgang Opel, two travel book authors, have intensively investigated Miertsching for years, conducting research in various archives in the process. Due to his language skills, which he had honed during his time as a missionary in Greenland, Miertsching was contacted by the British admiralty to serve as an interpreter in connection with the search for survivors of Franklin’s lost expedition to the Northwest Passage. The authors portray Miertsching’s life in their book “Weil ich ein Inuk bin. Johann August Miertsching. Ein Lebensbild.”. (German only, roughly translates to: “Because I am an Inuit. Johann August Miertsching. A portrait.” (ISBN: 9783867324113)

Afterwards, the participants had the opportunity to tour LATMOS (the Laboratory for Atmospheres, Environments, Space Observations) on the university campus. At LATMOS, instruments for ESA satellite missions are developed and data, atmospheric and environmental observations are analysed. The tour illustrated the broad range of research conducted at Paris Versailles and its importance for French climate and environmental research.

Toward the end of the workshop, Prof Rolf Teigler from the SRH University in Berlin and the young filmmaker Ipek Sertöz presented the plans for the latest short film to be made in collaboration with REKLIM. The creation of short films as a medium of climate communication and knowledge transfer has been part of REKLIM since 2014. The first script for the new film had previously been part of a lively discussion with students at the 8th Gateway Workshop in Potsdam and further developed on the basis of the results.

The workshop, which ended with a joint dinner including traditional French fondue, gave all participants a better grasp of the diversity of Arctic research. Interdisciplinary exchanges and being exposed to other fields of knowledge beyond your own are important building blocks to understanding Arctic climate change and how it affects local populaces. In this regard, openness and pooling the resources of all disciplines are key aspects of how the collaboration partners and the PACCSS graduate school are preparing young investigators for the challenges of tomorrow.

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