Mining in the Arctic

Coal mining (Photo: GettyImages)Coal mining (Photo: GettyImages)Mining is the backbone of industries in the Arctic, along with fisheries. This is due to historical developments that saw the penetration of resource based industries together with the construction of according transportation networks as an important factor in the North.

A very broad definition of mining is: "(...) the discovery, extraction, processing and transportation of mineral resources up to the point at which they are further processed or used in the production of finished goods."

The typical commodities extracted by mining are usually various forms of metals and metal ores (such as iron, copper, zinc or even gold, silver and platinum) as well as minerals such as coal, sulphur, potash and many more. In principal, oil and gas extraction can be counted as mining.


Extraction of primary resources can be anything, including base or precious metals like iron ore, uranium, coal, diamonds, oil shale. Examples from the circumpolar North are, amongst others, iron (Kiruna, Sweden), Coal (Svalbard, Norway), Gold (Canada, Russia), Diamonds (Russia) and Nickel (Kola peninsula, Russia). The mining is either open pit mining at the surface or sub-surface mining.

Controversy is mainly about the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of mining that can be considerable. Environmental impacts include visible changes the landscape and pollution (e.g. with heavy metals) of surrounding ecosystems. The circumpolar north saw socioeconomic impacts on settlement structure and demographics due to mining. Mining towns have been established in several places with the sole purpose of providing settlement for miners.

Residents were often newcomers who temporarily stayed, worked and left the Arctic developing only a utilitarian relation to the surrounding area. This often in sharp contrast to the rather "symbiotic" traditional relation of indigenous people to their surrounding ecosystem. The focus on mining is often leading to a connection with "boom and bust" cycles for the mined resource, leaving a strong impact on a local community if global demand for a resource rises or falls.


Sources: UArctic Norden

International Polar Year The Northern Forum University of the Arctic Arctic Council International Arctic Science Comittee Norden Arctic Portal

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