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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Rich local knowledge despite high transience in an Arctic community experiencing rapid environmental change

Van Der Wal, René; Zhang, Jasmine; et al.


Environmental monitoring and long-term research produce detailed understanding, but its collective effort does not add up to ‘the environment’ and therefore may be difficult to relate to. Local knowledge, by contrast, is multifaceted and relational and therefore can help ground and complement scientific knowledge to reach a more complete and holistic understanding of the environment and changes therein. Today’s societies, however, are increasingly fleeting, with mobility potentially undermining the opportunity to generate rich community knowledge. Here we perform a case study of High Arctic Svalbard, a climate change and environmental science hotspot, using a range of community science methods, including a Maptionnaire survey, focus groups, interviews and cognitive mapping. We show that rich local knowledge on Svalbard could indeed be gathered through community science methods, despite a high level of transience of the local population. These insights complement environmental monitoring and enhance its local relevance. Complex understanding of Svalbard’s ecosystems by the transient local community arose because of strong place attachment, enabling environmental knowledge generation during work and play. We conclude that transience does not necessarily prevent the generation of valuable local knowledge that can enrich and provide connection to scientific understanding of the environment.

Published in

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications
2023, Volume: 10, article number: 782
Publisher: Springer Science and Business Media {LLC}