FRAM – High North Research Center for Climate and Environment

Digital edition 2023

Teaching cold climate engineering in Greenland

In Sisimiut, a town of 5600 people and 1000 sled dogs, on the western coast of Greenland, 75 km north of the Arctic Circle, a campus of the Technical University of Denmark hosts an Arctic master semester in engineering. The courses attract thirty students from around the world every year.

By: Kristine B Pedersen // Akvaplan-niva, Gunvor M Kirkelund and Pernille E Jensen // The Technical University of Denmark

Master student Hadi handling wastewater as part of his master thesis. Photo: Pernille E Jensen

Athough the students mainly arrive from Denmark, students from Asia, North America, Europe and even as far away as Australia have joined the Arctic semester. The study programme consists of intensive engineering courses with a structure much like the one offered at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). Each course runs three or nine weeks, the length depending on ECTS points, and students can take either a half or a full semester. The Arctic semester is also part of the Nordic Master in Cold Climate Engineering and the MSc in Arctic Mineral Resources. Both these MSc programs are offered in collaboration between Nordic universities. One of the Arctic semester courses is related to environmental engineering in cold climates with focus on the management of waste, water, wastewater, and contaminated sites in Arctic regions.

The blue building at the top of the hill: Arctic DTU Sisimiut – Ilinniarfeqarfik Sisimiut. Photo: Technical University of Denmark

Facing challenges

Sisimiut is the second largest town in Greenland and the primary industry in the town is fisheries. Like other towns in the Arctic, Sisimiut is facing challenges due to climate change and other environmental challenges related to human activities. One example is sewage, which is directly discharged into the fjords. (Sisimut locals refer to one of these points of discharge as “the chocolate factory”.)

Finding solutions for the future disposal of waste in remote locations is another issue exemplified in Sisimiut. American and Danish military bases in Greenland are one of the main sources of major pollution in Greenland. These are examples of case studies included in the course.

Although many of the case studies are from Greenland, the issues are not isolated to Greenland, as they are also experienced in other Arctic countries.

Students constructing an igloo to stay in for the night. Photo: Akvaplan-niva

Key players

Through the Arctic semester, students are introduced to key players in local management of water and waste to promote cooperation between local stakeholders and the university campus. Students are accommodated along with Greenlandic students of Arctic Civil Engineering and Fishery Technology (also offered in Sisimiut)to further promote interactions between the international and Greenlandic students.

the students have a strong interest in climate change and hope to make an impact in the Arctic with their engineering education. Since most of the students arrive from countries with warmer climates, the semester in Sisimiut is a cold one for them, but also a cool one, when they get to practice snow camping, Arctic survival, and skiing. Some of the first-time skiers are even brave enough to participate in the Arctic Circle Race, a three-day 160-kilometre cross-country skiing event.

Master student Frederikke Brandt Feldthus enjoying the cool atmosphere and surroundings whilst attempting to find the wastewater outlet. Photo: Naomi Fleurine Sørensen

Some students have continued working on environmental issues in the Arctic in their master and PhD theses. For instance, a master thesis in 2019 was related to the environmental site investigations in Svea, Svalbard, prior to the mine’s closure. This was a consultancy project led and supervised by Akvaplan-niva. The thesis included sampling and analysis of soil from Svea as well as evaluating the potential for phytoremediation of PFAS polluted soil. Currently a MSc thesis is investigating the levels of micro- and macro-plastic contamination originating from untreated wastewater in Greenland, and another is mapping and tracking sources of hydrocarbon contamination in drinking water, also in Greenland. In addition, a PhD thesis on how the water supply systems influence public health in Greenland has just been handed in for defence.

The students who have attended the Arctic semester in Greenland are eager to continue studying and working in the Arctic, which opens for more collaboration in the circumpolar area.

Students are preparing to participate at a hearing on submarine mine tailings disposal. Each student group represents different stakeholders. Photo: Akvaplan-niva

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