mandag den 16. juni 2008

Arctic Challenges (2)

Sisimiut - formerly known as Holsteinborg - is located just north of the Polarcircle. It is Greenlands second largest city with some 4.500 inhabitants. It is clearly an industrial center - the capital for KNI - the Greenland Home Rule owned Industrial company that runs industry as well as the distribution of goods along the Greeland coast including the Pissifik - shops.

The hotel capacity is somewhat limited and Sisimiut Hotel seems to be the only major hotel, unfortunately not always serving Greenland specialities - probably believing that the Danes that visit the place as temporary workers, fishermen, engineers, are missing their home cooking
The city is named as one of the 4 growth areas in Greenland. Some years ago the home rule decided to abandon a number of the small villages and move the huntersmore or mainly less voluntarily into the bigger cities; there was a need for industrial workers in the fishing industry - which was taken up by women - and for fishers in the fishing fleet. Now as the shrimps are declining, the bigger ships are facing the risc of going out of business. So the challenge is to find new employment opportunities and do it rapidly.
As a side effect of the global warming it has become easier to construct power stations relying on melting water from the glaciers; this has resulted in competitive prices for energy to the degree that Greenland has got an LOI from ALCO to build the next aluminiumfactory in Greenland (Manitsoq). The deal is not done yet - ALCOA wants Greenland to have a stake in the factory and to build another power station to ensure back up. If this deal comes through, Greenland will have an additional income measured in Billions of Danish kroner/year, quickly overshadowing the lump sum paid each year by the Danish Government.

At the same time exploration for minerals of almost any kind is going on in Greenland; areas that were until now covered in snow can be exploited, and it is expected that in 5-6 years time at least 5 new mines would be opened up. This pits a lot of pressure on the training of the Greenland population. They can't get a job in a mine if they don't know enough of the English Language to understand the security training. This of course is only part of the problem - it is also a matter of culture. The income possibilities for the Greenland home rule is enourmous, even if they don't expect taxes from the mining companies. They do get taxes - flat rate, 40% - from the workers independent of nationality - but the growth created by additional services needed, housing, building harbours maintaining distribition systems etc. is tremendous.
Because of the bottlenecks in Greenland this can easily lead to inflation, so it is a potential problem for politicians.

In Sisimiut the Danish Technical University together with Greenland home rule has set up the ARCTEC center which concentrates on developing and deploying the special tecniques that are needed in Greenland. The Innvation Centre in Sisimiut operated by the city's Trade and Industrial center is a fine show case on what type of techniques apply to the arctic: They do use solar panels, but a special sort, so-called Chinese tubes, are able to extract energy from a sun that never sets during summer time.

One of the problems of the global warming is that the layer of permafrost is thawing. As the roads are laid directly on this layer, this will lead to massive disturbances, for which reason a techniques is involving where new roads are placed on a layer with imbeeded tubes. During summer time, (with 3-12 degrees centigrade), the heat in this layer is used to warm the houses and in this way keeping down the temperature of the roads themselves.

Also we visited the language school that has the responsibility to train 1200 potential Greenlander mine workers in the English language. They are using mixed techniques - partly classes, partly distance learning.

Because of a very rigid pricing structure from TeleGreenland (Due to lack of capacity) it has until now been expensive to carry out distance learning using video or heavy audio files. Tele Greenland is this year implementing a sea cable - or rather 2: one from Narsaq to Scotland via Iceland, and another from Nuuk to Halifax. At the same time they are upgrading the radio chain system along the coast and putting in a cable between Narsaq and Nuuk. So in just a year from now we should see a revolution in the application of modern Internet technology.

Another problem is that there has been a lot of focus on making the population real Greenlanders, which means that several years of school teaching without Danish has led to a situation where it is a problem to get a higher education. This almost invariably has to take place outside Greenland - traditionally in Denmark, but US and Canada might also be used.

So we have a backlog of children with no second language skills that simply have to be trained.

Finally the visit to the industrial school in Sisimiut: The school is the sole building construction research and education centre in Greenland. The centre accommodates about 200 students every year and the teaching staff counts around 30 members.

It is encouraging to see the quality of the training again focusing on the specific building skills needed in a harsh environment. Also Sisimiut has an experiemental low energy house which they are happy to exhibit.

Arctic Challenges (1)

In May ministers from the 5 arctic countries surrounding the Northpole met in Ilulissat, Greenland to try to reach agreement on the process needed to determine rights for exploration as well as rights for sailing in the arctic area; as a consequnce of the global warming, it is now evident that explorations for oil and natural resources would be only a matter of few years away, and as the polar cap ice cover will retreat, new lines for freighters and cruising vessels would open up for more traffic. Both activities are bound to have a huge impact on the very fragile environment in the Arctic. (See )

The choice of Ilulissat for this conference is not a coincidence: The glacier at Ilulissat Icefjord is the most productive glacier on the Northern Himesphere producing more than 20.000 million liters of water pr. day corresponding to the City of New York's water consumption in a year.

It is a part of the World Heritage and Denmark/Greenland's 4th landmark on this prestigeous list.

The glacier is running faster and faster - from 20 kilometres pr. year a few years ago to now 40 km/year.

The meeting ended on a positive note, in spite of the fact that US never ratified the UN 1982 Sea Convention, Canada, Russia, Norway, US and denmark/Greenland agreed to use this as a foundation for defining rights of traffic and exploration in the future.

As part of my trip to participate in the IT Council Meeting in Sisimiut on June 11-12th, we first visited Ilulissat, located 250 km. north of the Polar circle. A beautiful city on the brink of the Disco Bay. It is the 3rd largest city in Greenland, but with it's 3.500+ inhabitants, the humans are outnumbered by the sledge dogs. These huge dogs are out of work during the summer period, and they spend the time breeding and changing their fur.

The noice these dogs are capable of producing is unbeleiveable, so they are located just outside of the city - but for vistors probably not far enough. They are definitely NOT pets - each year tourists and children are attacked by these half-wild animals. In this case the procedure is that they are shot immediately. In winter time it is a real tourist pearl to sit on top of a Dogsledge - typically 2-3 meters long and drawn by 8-10 dogs. The leader dog is almost always an old female. A young male dog is tied directly behind her to ensure protection from the old 'rouges'. The strongest and biggest males are tied closest to the sledge beside each other to compete. The first hour or so should be awful sitting on the sledge; only by that time the air has left the dogs' stomachs and then the air feels a lot better !

During our stay in Ilulissat we took a boat to Rodebay, a small village with 50 inhabitants an hours sailing up the Disco Bay. This place - The Red Bay - was originally used by the Dutch whalers, who in 1600 and beginning of 1700 used the bay for extracting the whale oil, by then a very precious thing as it was lightning the houses of Europe. As Denmark started to exploit Greenland, at that time and until May 1. 1979 where the new law on Homerule for Greenland was accepted, a genuine colony with a mixture of nice preachers and rough merchants. One of these, Jacob Severin, manned his vessels, took 5 dutch ships as prison and created the alternative whaling spot Jacobshavn, now adays Ilulissat, in 1741.

Ilulissat has 3 hotels and a youth hostel and is a marvelleous starting point for Arctic ventures. Because of the reputation, the city is now hosting more than 20.000 tourists a year and it is beginning to take it's toll on the route along the Icefjord. (Seee the upper picture). The area holds old graves from the original pre-escimo people, the Saqqaq culture, believed to come from Sibiria. The current population comes from the Aleutian Islands and arrived only around year 800, aproximately at the same time as the Nordic Vikings reached the southern tip of Greenland sailing from Iceland.

Ilulissat does not any longer rely on whaling; A quota of whales are each year allocated to Greenland, but the main catch is shrimps and fish. Because of the content of oxygen in the large icebergs that are melting in the Disco Bay and outside the Icefjord, this gives life to plankton and hence create a very rich environment for a lot of fish - and seals - to thrive. But the global warming is also chaning the pattern of fishing: Some years ago the cod declined sharply, and now the shrimps are declining. This is a potential threat to the economy of the Greenland fishing industry. But more about alternatives in the next blog.

We left Ilulissat on a sunday evening sailing through the sunny polar night to Sisimiut. The traffic between the cities on the east coast relies mainly on this line, the Umiaq line, and the passenger ship arrives twice a week to the towns from Narsaqq in South to Ilulissat in the north.

Also Greenland Air is an important means of transporation, relying mainly on their fleet of Dash 7 - 4 engined monoplans with a very robust landing gear (compared to 'crash 8' )