Meet REXSAC PhD students: Calle Österlin

Discover the third episode of our series of Q&A with REXSAC PhD Students. This time meet Calle Österlin, PhD student at the Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University. His research is focused on improving land use management through increased understanding of the role of multiple pressures on land use in the Nordic region Sápmi.


What drew you to the area/topic of your studies?

In short, a combination of slipping on several banana peels and a long interest for cold northern landscapes. The slightly longer version is that I’m a geographer and have always been interested in why the Arctic regions and landscapes look like they do and how they are changing. I’m particularly interested in understanding the conditions for reindeer husbandry in the northern Nordic region Sápmi. In this region there are many overlapping interests and many natural resources. The rich mineral deposits as well as the forests, rivers and the windy climate result in a strong interests for mining, forestry, hydropower and wind power in Sápmi. It is argued that expanding these industries is critical for the transition into a low-carbon society with a bio-based circular economy. At the same time, the traditional indigenous lands in the region harbour Sami reindeer husbandry and are central for the Sami culture. These regions are also critical for many other societal objectives related to maintaining environmental objectives. Understanding how this landscape is used and finding better ways to manage it is something I find very interesting and is what drew me to study this topic.


What are the objectives of your work?

The objective is to understand how industrial land-use has developed over time in the reindeer husbandry area of northern Sweden. I am looking at how various types of land-use act as multiple pressures that contribute to the cumulative effects on reindeer husbandry in particular. Although the effects of land-use change are often assessed individually, I study how many types of land-use have changed and how that impacts environmental planning decisions.


Photo credit: Dag Avango

How does it support the objectives and work of REXSAC?

The northern part of Sweden is not only home to Arctic communities, but also to extractive industries such as mining. This goes hand in hand with what REXSAC stands for: Resource Extraction and Sustainable Arctic Communities. My research supports the objectives and work of Research Task 2: “Impacts of multiple pressures on Arctic landscapes and societies” by contributing with more understanding and data on how mining and related activities have changed in the case-study area.


What has been your learnings or reflections from the REXSAC field-based coursework?

One thing that I really like to do is interdisciplinary fieldwork at case-study sites. Being in a place and not only do fieldwork related to my own research, but working with colleagues that conduct interviews for anthropological research, take water samples for hydrological research or map an abandoned mining shaft for Archaeology, has taught me so much more than if I only did “my” fieldwork on the site.

Another thing I find interesting is how many old traces of mining there are in very remote places. I’m also glad of how welcoming and inviting people have been in many places we have visited. Often people have given much more of their time than what was scheduled, and are really open with their views on the issues we have discussed. This is rewarding and something I have come to appreciate a lot. In all of the REXSAC-related fieldwork I have also seen many rusty machines and mining equipment lying around, which is something I did not expect to see at closed and abandoned sites.


What are your career aspirations?

Once I have completed my PhD defense I want to continue with research around the topic of cumulative effects and land-use planning, hopefully as a postdoctoral researcher. I like being an expert in a field, but I also like to actively convey messages to decision-makers and try to convince them to make science-based decisions. This essentially means being a researcher and a lobbyist at the same time. Sometime in the future, I would like to explore the role of combining research with lobbying.


Photo: Calle Österlin


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Ylva Rylander

Press and Communication Advisor



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