Greenland, with its 660,000 square mile ice sheet that covers an astonishing 80 per cent of the island's landmass, has for a long time now been synonymous with spectacular scenery and epic adventures. Unfortunately, in these times of rapid climate change, Greenland has also become a symbol of something far graver.
Concerned by the impact rising global temperatures are having on the planet, scientists currently estimate that if the entire Greenland Ice Sheet melted sea levels could rise by a frightening 20 metres. This would have a devastating effect for low-lying coastal countries and major cities like London, New York, and many others.
Fjällräven have long held a special relationship with Greenland, as it was there that a Swedish expedition team using Fjällräven backpacks and tents headed in 1966. It was, although they didn't know it when they went, a trip that would dramatically shift the focus of the outdoor brand.
"I think climate change is the biggest question of our generation."
Upon returning, the members of the expedition came back with memories to last a lifetime but also a number of complaints regarding their clothing. This inspired Fjällräven founder Åke Nordin to develop a perfect all-round outdoor jacket; one that was lightweight, would dry quickly, and keep you warm – a jacket, in other words, that meant there was no such thing as 'bad weather'. His work resulted in the Greenland Jacket.
Fast forward to today and Fjällräven are coinciding the release of their 'Greenland Updated' collection with a project to support scientists studying climate change on Greenland. The scientists are Gabriel Lewis and Karina Graeter. Fjällräven are supporting the pair by providing them with clothing, equipment, and a platform to share their stories with the wider world thanks, in part to the involvement of photographer/filmmaker Klaus Thymann.
For his research, Gabriel is traversing 2,000km over the island's massive western ice sheet. He will be using a penetrating radar system to learn more about the speed that the ice is melting which, in turn, will help experts make more accurate predictions about future climates.
“Most people don’t ever think of the Greenland ice sheet," Gabriel tells us via email. "But it’s so important globally for fresh water, sea level and glaciation. One of the primary objectives of our research is to validate complicated computer climate models – we need to know if they do a good job calculating the amount of snowfall and glacier melt across Greenland today. If they can accurately predict what is happening now, then we can trust the models' global sea level rise predictions 50, 100, and 200 years into the future."
“Communicating the research is the real challenge. If people understand the science, they will have more motivation to make the changes that need to be made."
In a world where the most powerful country on Earth is led by a climate-change denier in the shape of Donald Trump, these are particularly challenging times to be a scientist. Especially in a field that so often deals directly with humanity's negative impact on the environment and, subsequently, underlines the importance for our leaders to act before it's too late. Negativity from climate-change deniers, aimed squarely at those trying to preserve the planet for future generations, can test even the most patient of people.
"I absolutely hate the question of if I "believe" in climate change, since it is like asking someone if they "believe" in gravity or evolution," Gabriel adds. "The scientific consensus is concrete: the climate is changing and humans are responsible, yes, we're certain of it. The earth's climate and atmosphere are extremely complicated systems, no single person could possible fully understand all of the feedback and phenomena involved, however the broad scientific community has spent the past several decades measuring, modelling, and confirming the anthropogenic contribution to climate change worldwide.
"If we don't act now, like we'd ideally have done 10 years ago," he says, "I think we're going to have some drastic changes which will massively impact the entire world."
Karina, meanwhile, will be focusing on discovering and recording the climatic forces that are driving the recent increases in melt in Western Greenland, an area that’s seen the most rapid ice loss of the entire ice sheet.
"Understanding how much and how quickly global sea level will rise is extremely important for governments, businesses, and people making decisions about their future in a changing climate," she tells us. "If these decisions aren’t made it could put entire populations at risk with no plan for how to deal with the crisis."
Like Gabriel, she also finds communicating her findings on climate change a frustrating task: "We try so hard to do our work with integrity and it hurts when people make broad accusations about the validity of your work. But it has forced us as scientists to reconsider our role within a broader dialogue.
"Scientists have typically remained relatively separate from global issues," she says. "We tend to do our research, write our papers, and then leave it to others to decide how to use the information we’ve given them."
But that's starting to change now.
Resistance to evidence of climate change, she says, is forcing scientists to "reconsider their role in public discourse" and that those who want their research to be accepted are now "learning how to communicate their findings to non-scientific audiences.
"The support we are starting to see from outdoor brands like Fjällräven is great," she says. "It shows us the support our work is getting outside of our small scientific community. It makes me happy to know that people appreciate our work, and it drives me to do the best I can in my part with climate change. "
Nature might be Gabriel and Karina's office but it's also something that they're deeply passionate about on a personal level. Hailing from California, Gabriel spent his time growing up zip-lining between big redwood trees and surfing those legendary Pacific waves. While Karina, a city-kid from Ohio, got hooked on the outdoors slightly later – becoming a keen hiker, climber, and skier.
These scientific projects bring together the pair's love for science with their love for getting outside, as Gabriel puts it: "The personal connection with nature is what originally drew me into the study of glaciers and climate change and that same passion for the environment is what motivates me to continue my scientific research of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Even when we are cold and frustrated in Greenland, our goal of helping to combat climate change and preserve these natural spaces helps us endure through the difficult times."
You can follow the Greenland scientists' fascinating story on Fjällräven’s retail and social media channels from the start of the spring/summer 2018 season.
This article was produced in partnership with Fjällräven.