University of Greenland and Greenland Institute of Natural Resources in Nuuk. Photo: Lars Maltha Rasmussen


The Climate and Society programme links Ilisimatusarfik/University of Greenland and the Greenland Climate Research Centre (GCRC) and focuses on issues of pressing contemporary concern for society and environment in Greenland. Our research and teaching is at the intersection of social science, climate science and public policy. An important aspect of our work is concern with understanding climate change within the context of other changes and societal and economic transformations in Greenland, including resource development and extractive industries. Rapid social, economic and demographic change, resource management and resource development, anti-hunting campaigns, trade barriers and conservation policies all have significant implications for human security and sustainable livelihoods in the Arctic. In many cases, climate change magnifies existing societal, political, economic, legal, institutional and environmental challenges that people experience and negotiate in their everyday lives.

We aim to ensure our research is of critical interest to and relevance for communities, government, and industry. Our research projects nurture new knowledge about human-environment relations, economic activities, environment and climate change in Greenland in both historical and contemporary perspective, and contribute to social scientific approaches to climate change more generally.

The Climate and Society programme is a foundation for formal educational links between GCRC and Ilisimatusarfik. We organize research training workshops and teaching and research seminars as part of student training and capacity-building at Ilisimatusarfik. We are engaged in collaborative working relationships with researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada. Student mobility between Nuuk and Edmonton is an important part of our activities.

Our work currently clusters around six main projects, based on collaborative in-depth ethnographic research with communities, institutions and organizations:

Inuit Pinngortitarlu—Nuuk Fjord Monitoring and Mapping Project

This project is mapping historical and contemporary use of the Nuuk Fjord complex. We are exploring human-environment relations and local knowledge to outline local and regional impacts and experiences of climate change, the dynamics, socio-economics, and political ecology of resource use, non-renewable resource development and the adaptive capacities of local communities. Inuit Pinngortitarlu may be translated simply as ‘People and Nature’, yet pinngortitaq can be understood literally to mean ‘to come into being’. The word pinngorpoq refers to a continuous process of ‘becoming’, ‘to come into existence,’ indicating the unfolding of possibility and opportunity in the world and illustrating the difficulty of seeing a separation of nature and society in the Greenlandic worldview. We seek to understand the Nuuk Fjord area as a human world in which people engage in a complexity of rich and intricate social relations with animals and the environment, and we are researching local knowledge and perceptions of weather, climate and environment, the use of living marine and terrestrial resources, the growing importance of tourism and leisure, and the political, social and environmental aspects of extractive industries. Part of our work involves analysis of historical accounts, contemporary accounts and place names, and mapping travel routes. We are examining settlement patterns and both historic and contemporary movement throughout the Nuuk Fjord region. A further aspect of this project is to place more recent changes in archaeological and historical context. To understand the impact of changes on historic Inuit and Norse cultures we are focusing on adaptation strategies in relation to changes in sea ice, climate and the environment.

Climate Change and Extractive Industries

This project considers climate change and resource development, in particular how Greenland is being positioned as a resource frontier and source of raw materials and hydrocarbons for the global economy within the contexts of a changing climate and a political quest for greater autonomy. Beginning with an exploration of emergent forms, imaginings, and narratives at the intersection of politics and corporate transnationalism, we consider the political discourse surrounding resource development, public responses to it, and the nature of extractive industries. Looking at social impact assessment, environmental impact assessment and public participation, the project examines how public disquiet over lack of appropriate consultation (and criticism over the absence of information about planned megaprojects) is leading to a situation where demands for legitimate public engagement in democratic and transparent discussion and debate over extractive industries are increasing, and how this challenges both the representations and governance of resource development. We are concerned with an examination of local, political and industry understandings of sub-surface resources and are interested in community-industry relations, migrant workers and environmental health.  One PhD project (carried out by Samo Nielsen) is examining decision-making processes in relation to extractive industries, while affiliated PhD student Anna-Sofie Olsen is looking at social impact assessments and current practices of public participation as part of a joint PhD between Ilisimatusarfik and Aalborg University.

Kalaalimernit: Greenlandic Foods, Cultural Identity and Climate Change

This PhD project (carried out by Natuk Lund Olsen) is concerned in particular with how and to what extent climate change, and other social, economic and political changes, affect kalaalimernit (Greenlandic foods) in modern Greenlandic society, in terms of the production (i.e. hunting, fishing, and preparing) and consumption and celebration of kalaalimernit. This is also placed in historical context in order to add depth to the contemporary understanding of hunting and fishing and the consumption of Greenlandic foods. Furthermore, the research examines kalaalimernit as fundamental to the sustainability of Greenlandic food production within conditions of greater self-government and economic independence. How, for instance, will climate change affect Greenland’s aspirations to produce its own food in the future? The aim is to look at Greenlandic foods within broader ideas of social, cultural and political identity and the study will make an important contribution to methodological and theoretical approaches to combining historical and contemporary perspectives on daily life within a context of climate changes affecting Greenlandic society, economy and culture.

A Millennium of Changing Environment in the Kangersuneq and the Kapisillit Fjord System, West Greenland

This PhD project (Ann Eileen Lennert) is an interdisciplinary study drawing on both natural and social sciences to improve our understanding of long-term climate variability in Greenland. It explores the links between variations in past and present sea ice, climate conditions, changing environments and human societies. The Godthåbsfjord region has been the most densely populated part of Greenland, both in the past and present. Climatic and environmental variations in this area are significant, resulting in different patterns of human habitation and settlement (past and present Inuit cultures, or medieval Norse farmers). In the past, links between variations in sea ice, climate, and changing environments had significance for the dynamics of human societies. Each of these cultures were dependent on the natural setting in their own specific way and therefore likely responded to climatic and environmental change in equally particular ways. Their uniqueness was their adaptation to cold winters with snow and ice, but also summers with vegetation and a diversity of animals and plants gathered and hunted. Their cultural heritage and belief systems also influenced resource use, as well as flexibility and mobility in responding to changing environmental conditions. This project aims to understand such changing human-environment relations in the Kangersuneq and Kapisillit fjord system, particularly in relation to perceptions of resources and the environment and with reference to movement and settlement. It also has relevance for understanding climate change within the context of social and cultural change, changing settlement patterns and mobility, transformations in resource use, and local concerns over the development of large-scale industries. 

Video about fieldwork and future projects in the Godthåbsfjord, Greenland 

Greenlandic Communities, Ice and Living Resources

Throughout Greenland, many people in small, often remote communities, as well as those living in larger towns, maintain a strong connection to the environment through customary activities of hunting and fishing, which provide the basis for livelihoods and food production. This project aims to understand the present impact of changes in sea ice, environment and socio-economic conditions on people’s livelihoods in communities in northwest Greenland and to investigate how past changes affected those communities and their adaptive capacities and survival strategies. What kinds of flexibility in technology and social organization do people need to cope with climate change, allowing them to respond both to its associated risks and to seize its opportunities?  How are we to understand cultural and ecological diversity within a context of innovation, flexibility and resilient coping strategies during periods of extreme change?  The project is also developing ethnographic and theoretical approaches to understanding anticipation as a fundamental part of daily life. Within a context of climate change, we are investigating how anticipation is about perceiving the world, relating to it, moving around in it, making sense of it, and thinking about what to expect from it. The project is linked to ICE-ARC (Ice, Climate and Economics – Arctic Research on Change), an EU-funded project looking into the current and futures changes in Arctic sea ice – both from changing atmospheric and oceanic conditions – and the social and economic consequences of these changes. ICE-ARC:

Climate Change, Policy and Governance

The extent of societal vulnerability and resilience to climate change, and the nature of anticipatory knowledge, not only depends on social and cultural aspects and ecosystem diversity, but on the political, legal and institutional rules and institutions which govern resource use, social-economic systems and social-ecological systems. In this project we are examining the management of resources and the effectiveness of governance institutions and whether they can create additional opportunities to increase resilience, flexibility and the ability to deal with change. How can, for example, new governance mechanisms developed in Greenland help people to negotiate and manage the impacts of climate change? Are political and management systems already in place that could assess the impacts of climate change, allowing local and regional authorities to act on policy recommendations to deal with the consequences, and improve the chances for local communities to deal successfully with climate change?  How can an assessment and evaluation of past climate change – and the social, economic and political responses to it (e.g. in the early 20th century) help in understanding contemporary perspectives and policy responses? The answer to these questions will depend on a range of factors, including the importance of understanding the nature of the relationships between people, communities and institutions if effective policy responses are to be developed. 

Climate and Society Research Group

Mark Nuttall, Professor of Climate and Society, Ilisimatusarfik and GCRC/Henry Marshall Tory Professor of Anthropology, University of Alberta, Canada

Lene Kielsen Holm, Research Scientist and Project Leader, GCRC

Natuk Lund Olsen, PhD student, Ilisimatusarfik and GCRC

Ann Eileen Lennert, PhD student, Ilisimatusarfik and GCRC

Samo Nielsen, PhD student, Ilisimatusarfik and GCRC

Rikke Jakobsen, Researcher, Aalborg University and GCRC

Anna-Sofie Olsen, PhD Fellow, Ilisimatusarfik and Aalborg University. 

Updated 02.18.2014