Arie Altena

BJ Nilsen: ORE

Arie Altena / BJ Nilsen


ORE, by the Swedish sound artist, field recordist, and composer BJ Nilsen, is an audio exploration of the sounds of mining. The composition is based primarily on recordings he made over four years at locations connected to the extraction of iron ore and coal. BJ Nilsen asked me to prepare a text about ORE for the forthcoming release of an LP with his finished sound composition. I interviewed him, and he gave me access to the interviews he had done during his research. This was the source material for a text, structured as a mosaic in two or three columns, using also text fragments representing his (as well as my) investigations into iron ore, its mining, its impact on society, and its cultural relevance. Actually there are four layers to the text. If I remember well I made several iterations, depending on the amount of space available on the LP-sleeve or insert. The longest version was published in the Sonic Acts book HEREAFTER (2019), (alas in a standard layout). A more concise version can be found on the LP released by De Player.

Beginnings and inspiration

‘I became interested in mining and iron ore during the first Dark Ecology trip in 2014. Dark Ecology was a commissioning and research project organised by Sonic Acts in Amsterdam together with the Kirkenes-based curator Hilde Methi. In total there were three research journeys to where Norway borders Russia. It’s a very interesting region; it’s remote, there’s a lot of heavy industry, mines, problems with pollution, as well as remarkable sub-Arctic nature. The effects of climate change are far more noticeable in daily life. The idea of Dark Ecology was for artists, curators, and others to visit this region and develop new works that somehow reflect the changes and issues that we all face: rethinking our entanglements with nature, heavy industry, the landscape, and also pollution. I have always been attracted to the otherworldliness of heavy industries and industrial areas. These landscapes are quite mysterious because you generally don’t really know what is going on there.’

‘All mines are magical, and always have been. The guts of the earth are teeming with elves, kobolds (cobalt!), nixies (nickel!), who can be generous and let you find treasure under the head of your pickaxe, or deceive you, dazzle you, making modest pyrite shine like gold, or disguising zinc in tin’s clothing; and in fact the names of many minerals contain roots meaning “trick, fraud, dazzle.”’
Primo Levi, Il sistema periodico, 1975, English translation (amended), The Periodic System, 1984.

‘During the first Dark Ecology research journey, I signed up for an excursion into the Sydvaranger iron ore mine in Kirkenes. The excursion started in the Kirkenes plant’s main factory hall, where they process the iron ore, and then descended into the “black hole”, down into the mountain. It was a 45-minute walk down into the tunnels, getting closer and closer to the point where they use machines to mine the ore. There is suspense down there. You hear all these low-frequency sounds. They drill and hack the ore from the mountain and bring it on a conveyor belt up to the machine hall, where the stones are ground into a fine dust by big machines with rotating with metal boulders inside. The sounds in the factory are impressive. It is visually breathtaking too. There are so many layers of visual information – dust everywhere, footprints on the floor – and hardly any colour, just different monochromatic tones of grey and black.’

‘The iron ore is refined and filtered to obtain the pure magnetite. Only a small percentage of the ore is iron, the rest is slag and waste. This process relates to my artistic process. I’m always processing and refining my field recordings. I apply filters, use electronics. It’s a kind of sound alchemy. All to get to the desired result: the gold!’

‘The waste comes at a pretty big cost. You still need to drill, mine, blast, and so on. You don’t get much money for the waste. The ratio of ore to waste needs to be sound.’
Interview with Ylva Ståhl and Kristoffer Johansson from the Sydvaranger mine in Kirkenes, by Benny Nilsen, Hilde Methi, and Annette Wolfsberger, March 2018.

‘The degree of creativity in mining is limited. There are a lot of constraints. You have to be creative by operating within the constraints set by mining laws, environmental laws, technical issues, rock strengths, equipment limitations, costs. But that is exactly what I like about mining.’
Interview with Marco Keersemaker, CITG, Technical University Delft, by Benny Nilsen, 2018.

‘In mining, there are two types of waste. One is the waste you make to get to the ore. If you have a gold mine and the gold layer sits 50 metres below the surface, you have to remove 50 metres of waste. The ore layer contains only a certain amount of the mineral that will bring you revenue. The ore goes to a processing plant, and there you take out the tailings, which is the waste of your process. It can be slurry, it may contain chemicals or poisonous materials, and so you have to contain it and treat and store it properly. Sometimes this can go horribly wrong. It’s important for companies to manage this. More waste means more costs.’
Interview with Marco Keersemaker, CITG, Technical University Delft, by Benny Nilsen, 2018.

‘The guided tour in 2014 was tightly managed. The plant was fully operational, with people working everywhere, and there were certain areas we couldn’t enter. I made a lot of recordings during that visit, not knowing what I was looking for. I was with filmmaker Karl Lemieux to gather ideas and inspiration for what would become unearthed (2015), a collaborative audiovisual work. Walking around in the factory and the tunnels, listening actively to all the sounds, gave me the idea for a new series of works focusing on mining.’

‘Mining is a good thing as long as you take your responsibility, not only for the surrounding environment but also for the minerals that you take out. People are tempted to excavate the ore and leave a lot of waste, which means that future mining activity may not be possible in that area. You have to treat the ore with respect.’
Interview with Ylva Ståhl and Kristoffer Johansson from the Sydvaranger mine in Kirkenes, by Benny Nilsen, Hilde Methi, and Annette Wolfsberger, March 2018.

‘Sydvaranger produces a high-quality product, with very few waste materials. The good quality provides significant environmental and cost advantages in relation to hematite raw materials, such as the increased capacity of blast furnaces, reduced energy requirements for pellet production, waste reduction, and lower CO2 emissions.’

Chemical structure of the product from the Sydvaranger mine
Fe – 68%
SiO2 – 5.00
Al2O3 – 0.30
S – 0.08
P – 0.01
Mn – 0.05
Na2O – 0.01
K2O – 0.03
CaO – 0.35
MgO – 0.45
H2O – 8.00

Size of the product
over 0.15mm: less than 0.2%
0.053mm – 0.15mm: less than 20%
under 0.053mm: up to 80%

‘Another important inspiration from that same trip was visiting Nikel, a Russian border town. It’s also a mining town with a large nickel smelter. The whole town depends on it, directly or indirectly. You can hear and see the plants from almost anywhere in Nikel and Kirkenes. The smelter in Nikel and the iron ore plant in Kirkenes are like cathedrals overlooking the towns, with light shining from them day and night. I wasn’t able to record inside the Nikel smelter because I didn’t get a permit.’

‘This mining work is directly tied to the computer age, itself an alchemic expression of man’s ingenious use of the earth. Modernity is made by the manipulation and transmutation of organic and synthetic materials through design and research. Without tantalum and niobium, there are no micro-capacitors; without gallium, no photovoltaics.’

Mineral commodities used in mobile devices
Gallium (from bauxite),
Germanium (from sphalerite)
Indium (from sphalerite)
Lithium (from amblygonite, petalite, lepidolite, spodumene)
Potassium (from langbeinite, sylvite, and sylvinite)
Rare-earth elements (bastnäsite, loparite, monazite, xenotime)
Silicon (from quartz)
Silver (from argentite and tetrahedrite)
Tantalum (from columbite and tantalite)
Tin (from cassiterite)
Tungsten (from scheelite and wolframite)

The sound of a community that depends on mining

‘When I visited Kirkenes in 2014, the plant was fully operational. It was running 24/7. It never stopped, not even for a minute. If nothing is broken, there’s no reason to stop the plant. It’s about economics. You have to keep on accumulating money. You could hear its rumbling in every part of town. Of course, it affects the people living there.’

‘The sound of the mine was always present. There was a vacuum after it closed. When the mill was fully operational, the only time we woke up in the night was when the train dit not run. We lived quite close to the railway, so if the train didn’t run, we instantly knew something had happened, either in the mine or the mill.’
Interview with Ylva Ståhl and Kristoffer Johansson from the Sydvaranger mine in Kirkenes, by Benny Nilsen, Hilde Methi, and Annette Wolfsberger, March 2018.

‘I started thinking about the significance of the sounds in 2015 when the mine was closed and the processing plant was shut down. The bankruptcy of the mine had a big effect on Kirkenes. The whole community depended on mining. 450 people lost their job, which is a lot for a small community. It reveals the fragility of a community that is based on something very hard – iron ore. Without the mine, Kirkenes would have been a tiny remote fishing village.’

‘In mining, the price determines what you can mine. A deposit has a certain grade, it is Mother Nature. You may have to leave it in the ground because the cost of mining is exceeding the revenue. Many iron ore mines are now being reopened because they became profitable again. Since 2004, demand from China has raised prices. Iron ore was almost a dead industry in the 1980s.’
Interview with Marco Keersemaker, CITG, Technical University Delft, by Benny Nilsen, 2018.

‘Mining for gold has always had a life of its own. Mining for iron and copper is mainly driven by Chinese urbanisation. The market prices for zinc and nickel fluctuate. Then there are all the new materials associated with electronics, rare-earths like tantalum, neodymium and so on. Many of these are almost only found in China. China controls the price, which leaves other countries vulnerable.’
Interview with Marco Keersemaker, CITG, Technical University Delft, by Benny Nilsen, 2018.

‘During the third Dark Ecology journey in 2016, we got the opportunity to walk around in the Kirkenes plant again, but this time nobody was working there. It was deserted. There were no machines were running, so everything was still. It was as if the workers had just left yesterday. It was totally silent. You could hear the city sounds blending into the plant. It was the reverse of the first visit: a huge factory hall permeated with the sounds of the city instead of a city dominated by the sound of a factory.’

‘I had recorded inside and outside the plant, both the sounds of the mine underground and the sounds above ground. I started thinking in sonic terms about the impact and meaning of mining. What is the relation of the sounds of the mine to the community that is structured around it? I was thinking about borders: where does the effect of mining start and where does it stop? How does it resonate? How much influence does it have on a community?’

‘Sound is everywhere, and it is more valuable than you think. We use it to navigate in the world, to know where we are. In some respects, it is perhaps more important than using the eye. There is still a lot that we need to learn about sound and how it affects us, and how we sound ourselves.’

‘Then I looked into other sounds that are connected to the mining industry: transport, for example. I went to Murmansk, which has a huge harbour where nickel and coal arrive by rail from Siberia and are then shipped down to Europe. I recorded the sounds of the freight trains and the harbour, which is a substantial part of the Murmansk soundscape.’

‘You cannot talk about mining in the far-northern reaches of Europe without considering what it means for the landscape, for the people and the animals living there, for the communities, and the relations between all of these things. In a sense, it is impossible not to consider these relations: how society depends on and is affected by mining.’

‘We trace out all the veins of the earth, and yet, living upon it, undermined as it is beneath our feet, are astonished that it should occasionally cleave asunder or tremble: as though, forsooth, these signs could be any other than expressions of the indignation felt by our sacred parent!’
Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, book XXXIII, 77,

‘It is what is concealed from our view, what is sunk far beneath her surface, objects, in fact, of no rapid formation, that urge us to our ruin, that send us to the very depths of hell. As the mind ranges in vague speculation, let us only consider, proceeding through all ages, as these operations are, when will be the end of thus exhausting the earth, and to what point will avarice finally penetrate! How innocent, how happy, how truly delightful even would life be, if we were to desire nothing but what is to be found upon the face of the earth; in a word, nothing but what is provided ready to our hands!’
Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, book XXXIII, 77,

‘The strongest argument of the detractors is that the fields are devastated by mining operations, for which reason formerly Italians were warned by law that no one should dig the earth for metals and so injure their very fertile fields, their vineyards, and their olive groves. Also, they argue that the woods and groves are cut down, for there is need of endless amount of wood for timbers, machines, and the smelting of metals. And when the woods and groves are felled, there are exterminated the beasts and birds, very many of which furnish pleasant and agreeable food for man. Further, when the ores are washed, the water which has been used poisons the brooks and streams, and either destroys the fish or drives them away. Therefore the inhabitants of these regions, on account of the devastation of their fields, woods, groves, brooks, and rivers, find great difficulty in procuring the necessaries of life, and by reason of the destruction of the timber they are forced to a greater expense in erecting buildings.’
Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica, 1556.

Sound sources for ORE

‘In Ore, different layers of time are overlap, from deep geological time to the superfast time of our current economy and our future. For this project, I used recordings from the iron ore processing plant in Kirkenes, both while the plant was working and when it was not. While it was idle, I mapped out the building by recording it. You hear the room tones, pigeons flying around, doors flapping, and the sound of the town seeping through. I used recordings from Pasvik, south of Kirkenes, where the rock is at least 2.9 billion years old. Northern Norway is one of the oldest rock formations in the world. This area doesn’t relate directly to mining, but including it extends the project to include geology, deep time, and stone. These recordings symbolise the stasis of time. The mountain just sits there. The sounds are environmental. I made field recordings in the winter, in which you hear ice crystals cracking because there was a layer of ice on the snow. I also went to Näätämö/Neiden and just across the border into Finland because it is land of the Sámi. I wanted to include this because the Sámi have a lot of respect for nature. Throughout the landscape, there are sacred stones that are very important to them. I also worked with stone as an instrument, striking and recording it. I did the same with coal. I recorded the sound of striking coal at the house of Hilde Methi, a curator who lives in Kirkenes. She stores coal in a small outhouse (called a kullbingen). There are recordings from Murmansk harbour with coal trains arriving from Kuzbass in southwestern Siberia. Recordings from inside the Tata Steel factories in Wijk aan Zee, 30 kilometres from Amsterdam, represent the next phase in the processing of iron.  I also went to Most in the Czech Republic to visit a huge operational open pit mine there. They don’t mine iron ore but lignite, or braunkohle. Despite being a massive scar in the landscape it is a truly mind-blowing place. The recordings I made in the former mining region of the Netherlands are again more environmental – the mine near Heerlen is now transformed into a park and nature area. I’m very interested in the hidden layers and history of the landscape. That’s why I wanted to have a storyline about the regeneration of mining areas. I think it’s important to explore the changes that the surrounding landscape and the mining site itself are undergoing, from active to closed, from contaminated landscape to re-vegetation. Radio emissions from space and a recording of data from the probe that landed on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko represent the future. And then there are sounds used for seismic interferometry: the decoding of ambient seismic noise, micro-earthquakes and also surface-bound sounds. What I like about these recordings is that they’ve already been processed through the rock and soil and transposed into human hearing range.’

‘With what reverence did I behold for the first time in my life, on the sixteenth of March, more than five-and-forty years ago, the king of metals in small, delicate leaves between the fissures of the rocks! It seemed as if, having been doomed here to close captivity, it glittered kindly towards, the miner, who with so many dangers and labors breaks a way to it through its strong prison-walls, that he may remove it to the light of day, and exalt it to the honor of royal crowns, vessels, and holy relics, and to dominion over the world in the shape of genuine coin, adorned with emblems, cherished by all.’
Novalis, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, 1800/1802, English translation Henry von Ofterdingen, 1842.

‘“Sir,” said the old man, as he turned his gaze upon Henry, and wiped some tears from his eyes, “it must be that mining is blessed by God; for there is no art, which renders those who are occupied in it happier and nobler, which awakens a deeper faith in divine wisdom and guidance, or which preserves the innocence and childlike simplicity of the heart more freshly. Poor is the miner born, and poor he departs again. He is satisfied with knowing where metallic riches are found, and with bringing them to light; but their dazzling glare has no power over his simple heart. Untouched by the perilous delirium, he is more pleased in examining their wonderful formation, and the peculiarities of their origin and primitive situation, than in calling himself their possessor. When changed into property, they have no longer any charm for him, and he prefers to seek them amid a thousand dangers and travails, in the fastnesses of the earth, rather than to follow their vocation in the world, or aspire after them on the earth's surface, with cunning and deceitful arts. These severe labors keep his heart fresh and his mind strong; he enjoys his scanty pay with inward thankfulness, and comes forth every day from the dark tombs of his calling, with new-born enjoyment of life. ”’
Novalis, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, 1800/1802, English translation Henry von Ofterdingen, 1842.

‘If, as Novalis and many of his friends believed, stones, metals, and rock strata amount to transcriptions of the earth’s history, what better place to study that history than in the mines and caverns of the earth, where the entire record is preserved and exposed? At this point the ancient conception of mines and mountain caverns as places of lapidary activity encounters a second folkloristic notion—that in the interior of mountains time stands still.’
Theodore Ziolkowski, German Romanticism and Its Institutions, 1990, p.34.

‘Starting with deep time, the composition follows a more or less linear path. It just turned out that way, perhaps because that’s how we generally tend to structure material. But the chronology is interrupted a couple of times, and the different time planes are cut up; they interact and overlap because I mix sound recordings that were made at different times. In this way, I present different layers of time, from slowly unfolding sounds that represent deep geological time, to sounds of transport, to the kinds of sounds we associate with science fiction that denote the future. The work creates a third space that belongs to the individual listener and which arises from the interaction between the original space and imaginary space, created through the composition and sound processing.’

‘The recordings bring out specificities of the sound of materials. They give a voice to what does not have a voice itself. I was also inspired by the work of the Soviet composer Alexander Mosolov. His work Zavod [Iron Foundry, 1926–27] brought the sounds of industry into music. Initially, it was meant to be part of a larger work, the ballet Stal [Steel], and was praised as a mighty hymn to machine work.’

‘The Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung wrote: “The composer seeks to describe the sublime pathos of human energy subduing nature”. Zavod is built, like a conveyor production line, of small elements used in ostinato technique, and layered to produce a complex orchestral web. At the climax, a great number of separate sonic micro-events are combined. Glorifying the machine and the brave new world.’
Larry Sitsky, Music of the Repressed Russian Avant-garde, 1900–1929, 1994.

‘There’s a little homage to GRM and Pierre Schaeffer on the Ore record. For me, it relates directly to iron ore, insofar that the type of musique concrète and tape music developed at GRM was made possible by magnetic tape. I mixed part of the recording at the GRM studios in Paris, where I was working on another acousmatic piece. Magnetic tape was the medium of my youth. I had hundreds of cassette tapes, mostly TDK. Working on this project reminded me again how close we are to the source of ore, and how iron ore shaped my development as an artist.’

Deep time and the sounds of the earth

‘Far down in the earth, the rock is actually moving. Workers hear the rock talk, it crackles, it makes sounds, spits slivers. These sounds can be an indicator that something is about to happen; they say something about the stability of the rock. Listening underground is like reading the environment. Geologists read the stone, but they also listen to it. By physically interacting with the stone, you can determine what material it is. Different types of stone give different frequency readings. Geologists use seismic soundings to map out the resources in the earth. They put geophones in an array and record the blast of an underground detonation generating an image, a bit similar to sonar. It’s mostly really low-frequency sounds that you have to be transposed up to put them within human hearing range. In practice, it’s quite mathematical, but it is still part of the sound world. Geologists are able to map what is underground using sound waves.’

‘At times beyond 1 sec, events in the passive image lose their spatial coherence and cannot be identified unambiguously with reflections in the active image. Thus, as we would expect, it seems harder to extract deeper reflections because of the larger geometric spreading of body wave. Having longer records of the ambient seismic noise (days, weeks) might solve this problem because potentially we would record waves from more sub-surface sources and consequently improve the stacking power and illumination of the ambient-noise data.’
Deyan Draganov, Xander Campman, Jan Thorbecke, Arie Verdel, and Kees Wapenaar, ‘Reflection images from ambient seismic noise’. In Geophysics, vol 74, No.5 September-October 2009, p. A66.

‘In Kirkenes they have a well-kept archive of data, starting from 1910, from over a thousand drill holes. They can just continue from where they left off because the data are so well preserved.’

‘We have records from all 1285 drill holes. We miss some data from 1906 to 1908, but apart from that, we have everything. The resource here is well mapped and defined. It forms the basis for all mining activity. Without the record of the drill holes, you wouldn’t be able to do anything. […] When you do a model you want to use as much data as you possibly can. […] We actually use data from 1910 to make models today. The more data you have, the better the geostatistics you get.’
Interview with Ylva Ståhl and Kristoffer Johansson from the Sydvaranger mine in Kirkenes, by Benny Nilsen, Hilde Methi, and Annette Wolfsberger, March 2018.

‘We dig deep into the earth to get to layers of deep time, extract it, and use the ancient material, in the case of coal, for electricity, for heating the house, commodities, to type a message on a phone. It’s absurd when you start thinking about it. So much time is compressed in this material, and it’s burnt up in minutes. It’s not like the wind or the sun, which give you immediate energy, it’s millions of years compressed into hard materials that are either incinerated, such as coal, or painstakingly refined to yield useful metals.

‘The miner’s notion of value, like the financier’s, tends to be a purely abstract and quantitative one. Does the defect arise out of the fact that every other type of primitive environment contains food, something that may be immediately translated into life – game, berries, mushrooms, maple-sap, nuts, sheep, corn, fish – while the miner’s environment alone is – salt and saccharin aside – not only completely inorganic but completely inedible? The miner works, not for love or for nourishment, but to ‘make his pile.’ The classic curse of Midas became perhaps the dominant characteristic of the modern machine: whatever it touched was turned to gold and iron, and the machine was permitted to exist only where gold and iron could serve as foundation.’
Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, New York, 1934, p. 77.

‘This unfathomable void of deep time fascinates me: the time compressed in iron ore, the coal that started billions of years ago as organic material, the gold-flecked asteroid far away in space, or the more recent slambanken in Kirkenes, a man-made landscape of unusable slag that might be mined in the future.’

‘The slambanken is a totally artificial, man-made landscape that has formed because they used to flush the waste and iron concentrate from the iron ore processing into the fjord. It is a base of hard rock under the water with different layers of material. It is a playground for sedimentologists because you can see how land and deltas form. We did a study to identify how thick the layer was in different areas. We took samples and ran them through the laboratory to identify how many tons of final concentrate we would be able to get out of the slambanken. In the past they flushed everything out into the slambanken when they were cleaning the old silos,. This was part of a test production of around 30,000 tons. We can see layers of hematite. It was not enough to make a mine plan but enough to generate a small cash flow. You have to take a boat to get there, but Sydvaranger has a tunnel that leads there.’
Interview with Ylva Ståhl and Kristoffer Johansson from the Sydvaranger mine in Kirkenes, by Benny Nilsen, Hilde Methi, and Annette Wolfsberger, March 2018.

The future of mining

‘In 2018, I visited the mine in Bjørnevatn, near Kirkenes. It was winter, and it felt really otherworldly. There was a lot of snow and ice, which made it interesting sound wise. It was very silent.The visit gave me the feeling that time had stopped and made me consider the future of mining. The harsh climate makes mining in the Arctic difficult. But climate change is driving developments. Rosatom recently started building a new seaport in Novaya Zemlya to facilitate mining there. It will be the northernmost mine in the world, with an expected output of 220 thousand tons of zinc, 50 thousand tons of lead, and 16 tons of silver. Production is due to start in 2023. There are also people who are speculating on asteroid mining. This reminds me of the USCSS Nostromo from the Alien films, a commercial haulier, transporting automated ore and oil refineries between the outer colonies and Earth. Asteroid mining sounds like science fiction, but in 2017, Luxembourg passed an asteroid mining law that gives companies ownership of what they extract from celestial bodies. The idea is that you find an asteroid, which is rich in some kind of rare metal that we really need, and then claim it.’

‘Mining is quite a conservative business. But information technology and data analysis brought about a revolution, and now we see things change through the use of robotics and AI. The mines in Kiruna, Sweden, are very advanced. Everything is operated remotely, and nobody is working underground. We will see more automation, especially in places where labour is costly, such as Australia.’
Interview with Marco Keersemaker, CITG, Technical University Delft, by Benny Nilsen, 2018.

‘Space mining will provide raw materials from the space environment to be used in space. Large quantities of raw material at relatively low cost can make current satellites more capable and less expensive, helping the current satellite operators improve the services they are able to deliver to their customers on Earth. Once a supply chain of materials is established in orbit, it will encourage new applications and new business models as entrepreneurs attempt to introduce even more services that people on Earth find useful. The possibilities are truly endless. Space mining could open up a wealth of new resources and opportunity to build economies beyond what we have on Earth today, and allow humans to become an interplanetary species.’
Source: faq of Space Resources, Luxembourg,

‘The list of resources that can be mined is long: aluminum, cobalt, iron, manganese, nickel and titanium can be used in construction. Water, nitrogen and oxygen can be used to sustain space travelers and to grow plants. Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are useful rocket propellants. Rare Earth Elements, used in everything from catalytic converters to smartphones, could be brought back to Earth. They include iridium, platinum, silver, osmium, palladium, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium and tungsten.’
Source: faq of Space Resources, Luxembourg,

‘As a sonic explorer, I am drawn to the Arctic because of its relative remoteness. The landscape is fairly untouched, hardly populated, desolate. The sounds of nature are rarely interrupted by other sounds, except for the mining, but that’s also why I find mining in the Arctic especially interesting. In the Arctic, nature constantly reminds you that you are a human being and that you are not really supposed to be there because the harshness of the environment can kill you. It’s good for the human psyche to be reminded of that. You can only survive there if you work with nature: if you work against it, it will kill you. The people in the Arctic have a lot of respect for nature, it forms them.’

‘The Arctic is changing quickly. If temperatures keep rising, the ice will open up, and it won't be so desolate anymore. That’s quite scary. Will it mean that other places will become desolate and uninhabitable instead? What shifts will we see? What shifts happened in the past? Why did people in the past settle in an environment like this? Were they forced north by circumstances? These questions really haunt me.’

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Arie Altena / BJ Nilsen