Case study 04


Nordaustlandet and the ‘invention’ of Ecology 

Theories of climate

The idea of a climate-driven shift in the cryosphere thereby causing further regime shift across biogeochemical processes has been pervasive in C21st Arctic science. However, this newly pervasive idea of regime shift is actually derived from a biological theory of “catastrophic regime shifts” that only began to emerge from systems ecology about fifteen years ago. Moreover, the idea of the ecosystem itself, and ecology as a wider field of study, was developed during Arctic fieldwork in the 1920s.

A new discipline

During a succession of expeditions organised by Oxford University to Nordaustlandet (North East Land) in the Svalbard Archipelago from 1921-24, British scientists such as Charles Elton, Julian Huxley, George Binney and others began to develop new ways of framing Arctic Cultures, or rather, ‘non-cultures’, through the emergent discipline of ecology. These ecological developments influenced the ways in which Arctic peoples were understood in further British expeditions through the C20th. This framing provided the basis for the continuing presence of the idea of the Arctic as a natural region, as well as for particular imperial and national projects.