Svalbard is an "edge-of-the-world" hot spot for environmental change, political discourse, tourism, resource extraction and scientific research. As more eyes turn to the Arctic, Svalbard is a key hub of the modern Arctic that embodies many questions facing the region as a whole. Although Svalbard is famed for its high ratio of polar bears to people, shrinking glaciers, the futuristic Svalbard Global Seed Vault and perhaps for being the setting to psychological thriller series Fortitude, beneath this exotic surface lie complex, everyday issues.
Communities in Svalbard are having to adapt rapidly to changes in the physical and economic environment. The permafrost is melting, making beloved homes no longer safe to live in. The coal mining foundations of the local economy are also crumbling, with distant governments no longer willing to subsidise an industry that cannot turn a profit. Previous research revealed that key groups in Svalbard value common aspects of society here. The wilderness and the Arctic landscape and climate, cultural heritage and Arctic history, and the multi-cultural society are all important. However, there are tensions as to how best to measure, protect, manage, and develop these values within a rapidly changing socio-natural environment. What matters most? What should be prioritised? How should such decisions be made, by whom and using what kind of knowledge? How do emotions and sense of place factor in these decisions? Such questions are all linked to valuation processes and practices. Political, economic and social factors are central to researching these issues. This project aims to extend these findings by exploring the most recent developments, including avalanches and home evacuations in Longyearbyen and the closure of the largest coal mine, from residents’ and key stakeholders’ perspectives. It also hopes to increase understanding of how the present day situation has emerged. How questions of sustaining a community in this location have been addressed in the past can offer important insights to the present day situation. In providing the time, training and opportunities to build networks, the fellowship will allow this research to fulfil its potential by publishing original research findings in a range of formats. Feedback to Svalbard communities is important so that they can respond to and benefit from this knowledge. Hosting a seminar and discussion event and curating a local exhibition of the work will enable opportunities for local input. The exhibition will be able to travel to other locations, increasing awareness and engagement with the everyday realities of climate change in Arctic societies. So that decision makers can utilise this knowledge, a lessons -learned report series for policy makers will be produced. Accessible and engaging multi-media web stories summarising key research findings will be produced and offer learning resources to a public and education sector audience. Academic publications and presentations will also ensure that researchers working in similar fields can benefit and learn from the research. The findings from the Svalbard Futures project are not only relevant to local Svalbard communities, but will be useful in the Arctic region and beyond. Many communities across the world are also faced with the need to adapt to environmental change and the forces of globalization. This research can offer valuable insights as to how adaptation can occur and how we might be able to improve on our responses to change in the future.