It is easy to identify with the idea of “climate anxiety” when you see the changes close up like this. But Bjørn Christian is not too worried about how the climate changes we are seeing will affect us in little old Norway.
“In Norway we are very privileged. We have many different climate zones, with high mountains and elevated land-areas, and we have very few low-lying areas that are seriously exposed to the effects of climate change. So the Norwegian nation viewed in isolation has less to worry about than many others. Nevertheless, much of our unique character will disappear when the glaciers melt, a lot of our biodiversity goes, and many alien species come in. We also face challenges from microplastics and pesticides and pollution from medical waste and environmental toxins. The uncertainties surrounding the impact of these are worrying. However, some of our fish stocks could well move south, so they will probably be OK.”
He smiles to acknowledge that it doesn’t sound like a dream scenario here at home either. Nor does he want to sound political. But once the facts are there on the table, it’s hard to put them back in the drawer. Moreover, when he takes his Norwegian glasses off and looks at the global situation, optimism is perhaps even further away. Out there in the world, especially in the Arctic regions and the Global South, the problems they face are of quite a different magnitude.
“When the permafrost melts in the Arctic, there is not much we can do to prevent the coastal strip from being eroded and whole villages having to move. People will have to migrate to find new areas to settle in.”
But enough of that; physical geography is more than just climate anxiety.
Helping the police with a reopened murder case
For the last six months, his mind has been on a different project. When the police received a new tip-off about a closed murder case from 15 years ago, it was suggested that the victim might be buried in an existing grave in Øvsttun cemetery in Bergen.
COWI was brought in to scan selected plots with georadar to see whether they could detect any anomalies under the ground there. An abnormality is an irregularity that could indicate something under the surface other than just soil. Together with a colleague from Denmark, they took detailed 3D scans of the ground. The technology is the same as that used when secret burial chambers and hidden rooms were located in the Egyptian pyramids and when archaeologists found traces of old Viking ships.
The scans enabled the police to prioritise the graves to be examined more closely.
“The results from scanning with georadar are not perfect, but the anomalies we find in the images can help us to see elements that do not fit. But these irregularities may also be clay, gravel or other features. We were open with the police about the uncertainty around our finds and what they can and cannot tell us,” says Bjørn Christian.
From industry to living city
He is not originally from Bergen, the city where he has been gradually settling down since 1998. But there is no doubt that Bergen has changed a lot since he drove in for the first time just over 20 years ago.
“When I moved to Bergan in 1998, I took a wrong turn and ended up in a dead-end street with burnt-out cars, right next to where COWI’s office in Bergen is now. Now the edges of the fjord around the town are quite different. At COWI we have done a lot of work to clean up the seas and harbour areas of Bergen in recent years. Such a long industrial history leaves its mark. You could generally say that these are leftovers from a time when environmental standards were not what they are today.”
Shipyards, dentists’ surgeries, paint factories, tanneries, waste from furnaces and roads, flaked-off house paint – to name just a few – have left the Bergen fjords full of environmental toxins. COWI is helping to survey and remove these pollutants. Puddefjorden has already been cleared, and the next fjord out is Store Lungegårdsvann, followed by Vågen (the inner harbour).