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Wavy, glistening green lights in a dark sky above a Norwegian city.

Networking with Climate Experts in the Arctic Circle

Environmental Sustainability Students Travel to Norway’s Annual Arctic Frontiers Conference

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Over 4,000 miles away, inside the Arctic Circle and under the northern lights, Pennie Nichol and Kennedy Dechant experienced the field trip of a lifetime.  

The Environmental Sustainability majors from the University of Northern Colorado’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences spent about a week, from Jan. 28– Feb. 6, in Tromsø, Norway. They were the only two Americans attending the Student Forum at Arctic Frontiers, an annual international conference that brings together scientists, businesses, policymakers and representatives of local and indigenous peoples for holistic discussions about the future of the Arctic region.  

For two students already passionate about the environment, the trip was an exciting opportunity to work side-by-side with Norwegian students and citizens to better understand climate issues in the Arctic, an area of the world where climate change is more pronounced as temperatures are rising at four times the global annual average. 

The field experience was made possible as an extension of Geography Professor Karen Barton’s 2022 Fulbright Hays fellowship to Norway, funded by the Norwegian Fulbright Commission and the U.S. Department of Education, to research the relationship between the government’s expansion of renewable energy plants on land owned by the far northern indigenous Sami community.  Barton planned to return to Norway to finish her research this spring and realized her trip coincided with the annual Arctic Frontiers conference. She seized the opportunity to stretch her Fulbright funding to provide a hands-on learning and travel experience for Nichol and Dechant. 

“When I told the organizers of the Arctic Frontiers conference I was bringing students, they generously offered to include them in the European-Union sponsored Student Forum where Pennie and Kennedy were able to work on problem-based learning activities and participate in the conference with other Scandinavian scholars for the week,” said Barton. 

“It was a very exciting example of how so much of life is about building relationships with partners around the globe and how you can leverage small grants to build a fieldwork program.” 

Nichol and Dechant spent their time in Tromsø attending big picture talks and poster sessions, networking and touring the area. They were also put to work, collaborating with Finnish and Norwegian students to brainstorm and present solutions to issues affecting their daily lives.  

Katie Nord, UNC’s student podcaster for this season’s Bear in Mind podcast, sat down with Nichol and Dechant to learn more about what inspired their love for the environment and what their field experience in Norway taught them. They also discussed the projects they worked on with their Arctic peers — brainstorming solutions to Finland's political divide on climate issues and efforts to protect kelp forests from green sea urchins — and their advice for what anyone can do at home to promote climate health and environmental sustainability. 

Next month, Nichol and Dechant will host a conversation on campus that is open to the public about their work in Norway. Their presentation, "Arctic Frontiers: a Climate Conversation with Pennie Nichol and Kennedy Dechant," is scheduled for Monday, April 8, from 12:15 - 1:15 p.m., in Candelaria Hall, room 2200. For questions about the presentation, contact karen.barton@unco.edu. 

Photos from Norway

All photos courtesy of Pennie Nichol and Dennedy Dechant unless otherwise noted.

Kennedy Dechant and Pennie Nichol

Kennedy Dechant (left) and Pennie Nichol at The Edge Hotel in Tromsø, Norway, the site of the 2024 Arctic Frontiers conference.

Arctic Frontiers sign in event center

The 2024 Arctic Frontiers conference, Actions and Reactions, was held in Tromsø, Norway, Jan. 29 – Feb. 1.

Group of students sitting on the floor in front of Arctic Frontiers sign

Dechant and Nichol with a group of university students from Norway and Finland at the 2024 Arctic Frontiers conference.

Dechant and Nichol sitting in an auditorium surrounded by other people

Dechant and Nichol (on the left) attend "Global Actions — Arctic Reactions," one of the big picture events, at the 2024 Arctic Frontiers conference.

Dechant and Nichol sitting with a group of students in a hotel lobby

Dechant and Nichol, accompanied by others from their Student Forum group, at a Pecha Kucha — an event where people presented their research using 20 photos with 20 seconds per slide

Interior of an events room lit with blue and green lights with people sitting at round tables.

Inside the the main reception of the conference, a large networking event where panelists, students, government officials and more gathered to connect.

A group of four students standing in front of a presentation screen talking

Dechant, accompanied by other students studying in Norway and Finland, presents a portion of her group's project on strategies to promote the active conservation management of kelp forests.

Karen Barton standing in blowing snow in a heavy red coat

Karen Barton stands outside in Tromsø during Storm Ingunn, Norway’s strongest storm in over 30 years. Ingunn hit the area on Jan. 31, bringing Category 4-equivalent hurricane-force winds, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. Look closely, that’s a herd of reindeer in the background!

Photo courtesy of Jessica Salo.

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