A visit to Kiruna, the city beyond the Arctic Circle

A visit to Kiruna, the city beyond the Arctic Circle
Why is the entire city of Kiruna being moved? What is the Esrange Space Centre? And what do the Northern Lights really look like? NFLG member Agys Badruzzaman found out on the SI trip up north.

The members of the Network for Future Global Leaders (NFGL) were up in the northernmost town in Sweden to get a sneak peek of life beyond the Arctic Circle. The Swedish Institute invited 18 representatives from the NFGL to explore the Kiruna Municipality from 7-8 November. We got to learn the LKAB mine operation and its relation to the moving of Kiruna City Center, visit the Esrange Space Center, and hunt the infamous northern lights during our time there. I am happy to share my experiences and hope you get something out of it.

LKAB mine and the moving of Kiruna City Center

The City of Kiruna is being moved. It didn’t make sense to me. Why would you want to move the city and how are you going to do that?

That was the case up until I learned about the issue from Moa Strålberg, the Communications Officer of Kiruna Municipality at the charming building of Kiruna City Hall. Moa explained that the city has to be moved due to the LKAB mine’s operation.

The LKAB is a state-owned firm, operating on one-of-a kind-mine. The mine contains the largest and purest underground iron ore in the world. The unique features of the mine and its special relationship with the Kiruna City are what make this issue interesting.

The very presence of Kiruna is because the LKAB Mine. The city was originally built to accommodate the people working at the mine. The operation itself continuously shapes the life and landscapes of Kiruna, including the moving of the City Center. I was amazed by the magnitude of LKAB operation during our visit to the LKAB Visitor Center.

We were 500 meters underground and about 1.5 km deep into the mountain when listening to the guided tour of LKAB operation. The deepest iron ore deposit known depth to be until 1500 meters underground and the undetected deposit still go deeper. It will sustain the operation until the next 100-150 years. The Swedish government can benefit strategically from this mine as it is the market size of 70% of Europe’s iron ore market. Its daily production is sufficient to build six Eiffel towers!

The problem is, the iron ore deposit cuts diagonally through the foundation of Kiruna City Center. The operation may cause the earth to sink the foundation of Kiruna City center and swallow the building there. The government decide to keep the operation and the citizen of Kiruna agreed to move their home to a safer location.

Keep in mind that the hardest part of moving the city is not about the technicalities or the cost. The LKAB bear all the cost of the moving, and new buildings can easily built in the new City Center. The hardest part is the memories between the people and the city, their home. The mothers could not show their kids the place that they got married. The fathers could not show the home they were raised in. There are a lot of emotional connections between the people and the city and I could feel it in the air as the voice of Moa trembled a bit.

It was amazing that the Kiruna people are coping with this tremendous amount of change very well. They collect memorabilia from all over the city and bring them to the new city center.

“You see a beautiful handle carved by the Sami people at the entrance? Of course we are going to take that with us to the new city center,” said Moa.

Lots of artists document the life at Kiruna now in paintings, books, and photographs.  The people of Kiruna could look back and reminisce about their moments on the old city through these memorabilia.

The Esrange Space Center

A visit to the Esrange Space Center (ESC) was like a journey back to my childhood fantasy about space. ESC is the frontier of advanced space services for scientific activities. Their objective, which is to benefit earth from space, reflects on their activities. They push the boundaries of advanced research on climate research, urban planning, and scientific experiments forward.

The ESC base itself is really unique considering its geographical location. It has this vast inhabited land above the Arctic Circle as their working space. This unique geographical condition sets them apart from the other space center. Other space center usually has to recover the payload from the sea. On the other hand, ESC is more likely to recover their payload that has been sent to the stratosphere from the ground.

“Recovering payload from the ground is less risky because you don’t need to worry about the corrosion caused by the salt water,” said Marko Kohberg, our guide from the Swedish Space Corporation.

Taking advantage of the geographical situation, ESC thrives in their offering on scientific experiments through stratospheric balloon, drop test for civil aircraft, and satellite management services. At the end of our tour, we got to enter the ESC base.

We were surprised by the fact that the balloon pad spans about 45 soccer fields wide. It was a mind opening experience to actually see a space facility and understand the benefit they can give to the earth, from space.

The hunt for Aurora Borealis

A visit to the Arctic Circle would not be complete before one attempt to catch the infamous beauty, Aurora Borealis. We had the opportunity to go to Torne River during the temperature of -20° C, which is freezing cold for the people coming from the Equatorial like me. It was an unforgettable moment.

We sat around the fireplace at the wooden hut, while the guide told us stories about the northern lights and the Sami people. We enjoyed each other’s companion as much as the reindeer meat for our dinner. We finish dinner with cloudberries dessert, berries that are unique to the northern part of the world.

We then waited outside for the light show in the sky. As we got colder we perform the Aurora Dance, partly to call the Aurora and partly to keep our body warm. It was an unforgettable experience for me as we stand by the lake, taking all the peaceful darkness and silent all in.

We didn’t get to see Aurora that night, but the memories we shared were warmly carved in my mind.