Exploring the impact of extractive industries and tourism on socio-ecological dynamics in the Arctic

The growth and expansion of resource extraction and tourism industries create ripple environmental effects by changing spatial land use, harvest and the socio-ecological dynamics in the Arctic. Recent studies suggest that the environmental effects may differ substantially between regions depending on socioeconomic conditions and remoteness. These regional disparities are crucial to understand, as the rapid melting of sea-ice in the Arctic Ocean will change the accessibility and the prospects of resource development and tourism.

 RConnected expands the geographic scope of CONNECT, by including socio-economic data and metadata retrieved from literature review and management reports also from the Nordic regions (Greenland, Iceland, and northern Finland and Sweden). The large contrast between the more developed communities in the Nordic countries and highly remote subsistence communities in North America and Russia is important for investigating the volatility of socio-ecological systems and the importance of connectedness for sustainability outcomes.



Global connectedness (or telecoupling) refers to the increase in interdependence and interconnectivities among distal regions. The concept recognizes that positive or negative environmental spillovers could be caused by events and decisions made elsewhere and which subsequently ties in to the local socio-ecological dynamics. For instance, the expansion and growth of global industries in the Arctic could create environmental spillovers related to the changing patterns of trade and migration and the transfer of technology, knowledge and values which goes beyond the direct environmental effects resulting from new transport corridors, mines and oil and gas fields.

 Globalization occurring because of industrial development and their effects on human wellbeing of arctic residents has been assessed in the recent Arctic Human Development Report II, but the environmental impacts induced by such spillovers have been less studied. Indirect effects on communities by changing infrastructures, markets, migration and technologies could substantially change the local use of land and resources, biological diversity and ecosystem services. The impacts are particularly large in remote and sparsely settled areas that are distant to major markets. This development entails infrastructures that lower transport costs of food, equipment, and gasoline for ATVs/snowmachines, thereby changing the lifestyles, land use and harvest of fish and wildlife. Proximity to markets and influx of tourists may also provide new sales and distribution opportunities, which is the case for reindeer meat in Scandinavia and Russia.



The environmental impacts of globalization processes may be contingent on multiple causes such as the past legacy of industrial exploitation, climate-induced impacts, technology change, and increased demand due to population increase or commercialization. For example, results from the western Arctic (Alaska, Canada and Greenland) show that food import and commercialization are key conditions explaining the local use of harvestable fish – and wildlife resources.

While wage labor and urbanization appear to reduce the harvest of fish and wildlife in North-America and Greenland, preliminary results using remote sensing indicate that local land-use increase with an increased access to wage labor. These results show that there are still unresolved puzzles regarding the potential ripple environmental effects of socioeconomic changes in the Arctic.

The main harvest in the different regions of Arctic Alaska and Canada. The question here, is how socio-ecological patterns and interactions will alter in the face of climate change and globalization processes.
A time series showing the harvesting of different animal species and stocks. The data suggest that the harvest of vulnerable (i.e., red-listed) species has decreased substantially, while the harvest of abundant species has been constant or variable (Fauchald et al. 2017). It is evident how management of resources has effected the harvest and socio-ecological dynamics, the question is how this together with socio-econmic factors will be additionally effected by globalization processes, industries and tourism.

Finally, global connections resulting from resource extraction industries and tourism could create highly volatile socio-ecological dynamics over time. For instance, Petrov (2010) showed that mining activities in subsistence-oriented communities boosted employment and caused demographic changes resulting in sudden economic downturns as mines closed. However, this “boom-and-bust” dynamics is often less pronounced in regions with a longer history of resource extraction, more diverse economies, mature labor market, and wealth distribution policies. Similar concerns about boom-and-bust dynamics in the sparsely populated mountainous or arctic areas have been debated in tourism research. The large variation in remoteness, accessibility and low population density in the Arctic is crucial for understanding volatility of socio-ecological systems. Communities vary from isolated, subsistence oriented communities with mixed cash economies, to the more “urbanized” areas in Scandinavia with higher access to wage labor, stronger connectivity to the south by sea and road networks and welfare state systems providing services within a wide range of sectors.

The rapid melting of sea-ice in the Arctic Ocean will, however, increase the accessibility and change the prospects of resource development and tourism in the most remote and sparsely settled areas in arctic North America and Russia. This latter point underscores the need to consider the regional context as well as the prospective climate changes when crafting sustainability policies in the Arctic.



Photos: Ann E. Lennert

Social media such as Flickr has been found as good indicators for tourism flow on a coarser scale. Tourism is expected to increase in the Arctic relating to global warming. At a finer scale it is, however, difficult to separate photos taken by locals and tourists. In RConnected we will work with Flickr as an indicator of tourism in the arctic to create a hotspot map and to look at some trends the recent years.

Data collected in TUNDRA included mapping of landscapes use and ecosystem services by local people during interviews, these will be coupled and connected to the data collected through social media, remote sensing and high-resolution images.

Data collected in TUNDRA included mapping of landscapes use and ecosystem services by local people during interviews and participatory mapping will be coupled to high-resolution images taken by Geo Eye, Quickbird and WorldView II of the landscapes surrounding the same settlements. Additionally these will be assembled with all visible traces of human use, including all buildings, roads and tracks from of road vehicles, that we already have mapped.

This unique data of mapped land use done by remote sensing, as well as ecosystem services mapped by local people and use of social media, will all be related and linked to the web of connectedness measures. Most importantly the project will measure the spatial extent of visible landscape traces in the mining and tourism sites including a quasi-experimental design confined to high-resolution images freely available on Google Earth. These data will allow us to investigate how different types of extractive industries and tourism change the surrounding environments.

All in all, we are confident that this project will bring an innovative, visualized and in-depth insight of how  extractive industries, tourism and globalization processes will impact on socio-ecological dynamics and economies in the future Arctic.