Alexandra Meyer



Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna, Austria

Supervisor: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Peter Schweitzer, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna

Project duration: November 2017-November 2021


This PhD project is funded through EU Horizon 2020, BG-2017-1, through the project NUNATARYUK.

Contact:, +4795064145

Current Longyearbyen address: Vei 238 49B


The Societal Impacts of a Changing Environment in Longyearbyen, Svalbard: An Ethnography of Arctic Change

I am a project collaborator in the project NUNATARYUK – Permafrost thaw and the changing Arctic coast, science for socioeconomic adaptation and a PhD candidate at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. Currently, I am also the secretary of the Austrian Polar Research Institute (APRI).

Project: The Arctic is undergoing rapid environmental and socio-economic changes that in combination lead to transformations of arctic communities. Longyearbyen, Svalbard, is currently in the process of restructuring its economy from coal mining to a post-industrial economy based on tourism, research and higher education, with a corresponding growth in the service sector. In addition to these socio-economic changes, Svalbard is experiencing severe climatic changes which lead to a number of environmental changes. This dissertation examines how the community of Longyearbyen is impacted by, responding to, and perceiving changes in its natural environment, in the context of economic restructuring. 

An overarching topic is the combined effects of economic restructuring and environmental changes, and the examination of how the economic restructuring influences the societal impacts of climate change, vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities in town. Another central question relates to transience and place attachment. Longyearbyen is an international community with an extremely high turnover. The dissertation examines how the high transience of the population influence people’s attachment to place and perceptions and responses to environmental changes. The built environment is the interface between environmental changes and local communities, and urban planning and development are important tools for community responses to current and projected climatic changes. As one entry point for examining impacts, perceptions of and responses to change, the project focuses on the built environment, urban planning and development.

​This dissertation builds on different approaches from environmental anthropology and contributes to the growing field of the anthropology of climate change, drawing on a multiple stressors-framework and engaging critically with the concepts of adaptation and vulnerability. Whereas the impacts of climate change on indigenous arctic communities are well documented, this dissertation examines how climate change plays out in the Norwegian settlement of Longyearbyen, Svalbard: a non-indigenous, affluent, international, and extremely transient community that is currently restructuring its economy from coal mining to postindustrial activities.