27 April 2019

photo essay

Life at the top

Circling the Arctic, two photographers capture its people, industries and landscapes – starting with this photograph of an Inuit cemetery in Alaska marked out with whale bones

By Kadir van Lohuizen and Yuri Kozyrev

Two photojournalists. Two journeys. One goal: to document the effect climate change is having on the Arctic landscape, its communities and their livelihoods. It’s a region where tourism, trade, militarisation and the search for mineral resources often clash with an indigenous way of life that is increasingly threatened with total disappearance.

Last year, from March to September, Yuri Kozyrev travelled east along the Russia coast, while Kadir van Lohuizen headed west from Svalbard, Norway, to Greenland, Canada and Alaska. Each travelled halfway around the Arctic Circle, eventually to meet in the Bering Strait. Their resulting project, “Arctic: New Frontier”, was produced with the support of the Carmignac Photojournalism Award, whose mission is to annually fund an investigative photo reportage.

“The melting of the polar sea ice is in the process of changing the map of the world for ever,” the two photographers said. “In visiting all the affected regions and countries in one expedition and by showing how the different players – starting with Russia and the US – are working on conquering the North Pole, we are revealing how the impact of climate change in the Arctic is of global significance for the rest of the world.”

This is their journey.

 


Russia, Yamal peninsula

The nomadic Nenet people of the Siberian Arctic move giant herds of reindeer during the annual migration, covering more than 1,000km from their summer pastures in the north to winter pastures just south of the Arctic Circle. 

 

The mass migration of reindeer accompanied by Nenet herders. No one knows for certain whether the reindeer lead the people or vice versa. As part of the journey they cross the world’s fifth-largest river as it deep-freezes.

 

The Nenets live in conical tents and eat reindeer meat. In this harsh environment, temperatures can reach -50C.

 

Children watch a computer screen inside one of the tents, which are made from reindeer hide. The Nenets are the last of the nomadic reindeer herders.

 

In summer, a helicopter sent by the regional government arrives to take the Nenet children to school.

 

The children prepare to leave their parents, their tundra home and reindeer to go to school.

 

A worker at the Novoportovskoye, one of the biggest oil fields in the Yamal peninsula.

 

Drilling for liquefied natural gas at Sabetta. The project includes an LNG plant with a capacity of 16.5 million tons, a sea port and an airport.

 

A girl is dressed up for a celebration of the end of her school year in the city of Nadym, beside a lake that is covered with ice even in June.

 


Canada, Resolute Bay

Members of the Canadian army on snow scooters take part in the annual Operation Nunalivut. They patrol the High Arctic, learning about winter survival, training with the Inuit Canadian Ranger Patrol Group.

 

A snowmobile patrol by the army during training exercises. The army is increasing its presence in the Canadian High Arctic.

 


USA, Alaska, Point Hope

Gordon Omnik is an Inuit whale hunter on the lookout for bowhead whales. The Inuit community of Point Hope is allowed to catch ten bowheads a year.

 

Whaling captain Steve Ommittuk in his home. Nowadays, because of the early disappearance of the sea ice, it’s much harder for the Inuit community to catch whales.

 

The whaling captain celebrates his birthday with his family. Normally whale hunting starts when the sea ice starts to break in the spring. When the whales migrate up north, they use the channels to come up for air. If there is no ice, they are spread out over a much wider area and are more difficult to track.

 


Svalbard, Spitsbergen, Ny-Ålesund

The remnants of the former coal mine at Ny-Ålesund. The town is now a scientific research station that focuses on environmental and earth sciences.

 

The view from Ny-Ålesund. Compared with other locations at such a latitude, the town has a well-developed infrastructure.

 

A cruise ship docks at Longyearbyen discharging up to 3,000 passengers. Svalbard has a population of only 2,500. Many more cruise ships now come because of the disappearing sea ice.

 

The Norwegian coastguard, which is part of the navy, patrols the Isfjorden.

 


Canada, Hudson Bay

The Amundsen ice breaker, which also operates as a scientific vessel. The search for mineral and fossil fuel resources is at a record high in the Canadian Arctic, facilitated by the melting ice.

 


Greenland, Kangerlussuaq

Rivers of meltwater at the edge of the ice sheet close to the town of Kangerlussuaq.

 

The Eastgrip science camp on Greenland’s ice sheet. Scientists have established that the 2,700m-thick ice sheet is moving 15cm a day towards the ocean, contributing to rising sea levels.

 

Scientists at Eastgrip drill more than 2,500m through the Greenland ice sheet to take ice cores, which reveal the behaviour of ice streams and information about climate events in the past. 

 


Russia, Yakutia, Sakha Republic, Verkhoyansky District

After being frozen for thousands of years in a Siberian riverbed, this mammoth tusk is a financial boon to the hunters who found it.

 

The 300ft deep Batagaika crater is known as the “gateway to the underworld”. Scientists believe it started forming in the 1960s when the permafrost under the area began to thaw after forests were cleared.

 


Russia, Taymyr peninsula, Norilsk

Copper plant at Norilsk, Russia’s most polluted city, built in 1949. The town’s three plants employ 56 per cent of the population, though one has recently closed to cut the 350,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide emitted each year.

 

The broken beams of an old gulag prison camp are revealed each summer by the melting of the permafrost. Behind is an abandoned nickel factory.

 

Volunteers at a Second World War memorial site at Dikson, the world’s most northerly mainland settlement. During the Soviet years, tons of technical debris and scrap were dumped here, which local people are gradually removing.

 


Russia, Yamal peninsula, Salekhard

Salekhard, founded by Russian Cossacks in the 16th century, has developed rapidly in the past ten years, boosting the population by 35 per cent. The boom is linked to the oil and gas industry.

 


USA, Alaska, Bering Strait

The Alaskan village of Kivalina, with a population of 400, is severely threatened by the rising sea level. It has been decided that the community needs to relocate to higher ground.

 

Kivalina has no sewerage and households don’t have running water. Once a day for two hours people can come to collect water.

 


USA, Alaska, Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay

Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay, is mostly populated by migrant workers from the US and Latin America who work in the oil. The Trans-Alaska pipeline transports around 700,000 barrels a day.

 

Residents of Deadhorse, wearing protective shoe covers against the oil. The oilfields are mostly based on native land, but access is denied to outsiders.

 

End of the road at Deadhorse, which is the final stop on the Pan-American highway on the coast of the Arctic Ocean.

 

© Kadir van Lohuizen or Yuri Kozyrev / NOOR for Fondation Carmignac.

 

Further Reading

“Arctic: New Frontier” is presented in a touring exhibition, currently on view at Saatchi Gallery, London, until 5 May