Environmental Technology, News, Research & Development

City of Knowledge in the High North

With the Barents Sea at its doorstep, and located 350 km north of the Arctic Circle, Tromsø’s research institutes and university feature the kind of breadth and expertise that have made the region a knowledge capital in the Arctic.

Academics at the University of Tromsø (UiT) pursue world-class research on Arctic and marine resources, but you’ll also find highly diverse offerings, from a leading centre for linguistics to one of the top 500 most powerful high performance computers in the world. These varied academic strengths are coupled with strong business and industry partnerships that help bring cutting-edge research from the Tromsø’s laboratories and institutes to the marketplace and beyond.

The University Powerhouse

With 9,000 students and 2,500 employees, the University of Tromsø – the world’s most northerly university – has a strong presence in the city. The university’s course offerings, including medical and dental schools, a law school, the Tromsø University BusinessSchool, and the Norwegian College of Fishery Science, are popular choices for students from across Norway. And as a member of the University of the Arctic, the trans-Arctic exchange programme, the university also attracts students from across the globe.

Jan Roger Iversen is senior consultant at the University of Tromsø and director of the university’s Aksjons programme, which links industry partners with researchers. He says the university is proud to host two Centres for Research-based Innovation – the Tromsø Telemedicine Laboratory, and MabCent, the Centre on Marine Bioactives and Drug Discovery.

By partnering with businesses, the goal of these two centres is to commercializeresearch findings. MabCent is partnering with Lytix Biopharma AS, Biotec Pharmacon ASA, Pronova BioPharma ASA and Arctic Biolabs Company ASA to help turn its bioprospecting findings into drugs, while the Tromsø Telemedicine Laboratory is working with DIPS ASA, the largest supplier of electronic patient record systems to Norwegian hospitals, Telenor, IBM, the Northern Research Institute, Health Norway, the Norwegian Health Network and UNN, the University Hospital of Northern Norway to help develop telemedicine breakthroughs.

Norwegian Coastal Administration Director Kirsti Slotsvik and University of Tromsø Rector Jarle Aarbakke shake hands on an agreement that will offer the coastal administration tailor made courses and training.© Espen Johansen/iTromsø


A Global Draw for Academics

The university also has its share of purely academic offerings, many of which are strongly international. The Centre for Advanced Studies in Theoretical Linguistics, or CASTL, and the Centre for Theoretical and Computational Chemistry, withits supercomputing facilities, are both recognized by the Research Council of Norway as Norwegian Centres of Excellence and attract students and staff from across the globe.

“The northern Norwegian culture has always been very open to outsiders,” Iversen notes.
“It’s an old fisheries and sea culture that has developed with commerce and shipping, and we have always had connections to foreign countries.”

Professor Kirsten Krause and her husband, both German, came to work at the university’s Department of Marine and Arctic Biology four years ago. Her experience confirms Iversen’s assessment. “We really like it here,” she says. “It’s extremely international. We spend time with Scandinavians, Finns, people from India, Russia – all over the world.”

An Eye in the Arctic Sky

Tromsø’s northerly location makes it particularly ideal for monitoring polar orbiting satellites, which has helped fuel the growth of KSAT, Kongsberg Satellite Services.
The company is headquartered in Tromsø, but also has facilities in Svalbard and at Troll, the Norwegian Antarctic base. This trio of locations enables KSAT controllers to contact satellites every 50 minutes to download data or change a satellite’s programming.

KSAT’s expertise is used in everything from ship tracking to oil spill mapping – and its services are even used by reindeer herders in northern Scandinavia, who are now able to choose grazing grounds using snowmelt maps provided by KSAT with data from the European Space Agency (ESA).

NORUT, the Northern Research Institute, is also a contributor to Tromsø’s growing remote sensing expertise with its Earth Observation group. The group’s projects include measuring snow water content in the Alps, detecting wind and waves at sea, and mapping environmental parameters. The group has worked on projects initiated by the Research Council of Norway, the Norwegian Space Centre and the ESA.

This core competence has also led the University of Tromsø to open the Tromsø Centre for Remote Technology, in cooperation with KSAT, NORUT, Kongsberg Spacetech and the Norwegian Polar Institute.

The Polar Environmental Centre and Polaria, a museum, are co-located just a 5 minute walk from downtown Tromsø.
© Gaute Bruvik/city of Tromsø

Gateway to the Arctic

Tromsø’s position as the “gateway” to the Arctic has long had importance in Norwegian history. The Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen, among many others,launched one of his major Arctic expeditions from Tromsø. More recently, the city has been home to the Polar Environmental Centre, where nine environmental research organizations are co-located.

Among them is the Norwegian Polar Institute, which has grown, especially after the recent International Polar Year, a worldwide research cooperative wherescientists from more than 60 countries including Norway intensified their efforts to understand Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems and processes.

New Climate Centre

In Tromsø, that growth in polar research is most visible in the planned expansion of the Polar Environmental Centre to include a new Centre for Climate and the Environment, opening in September, 2010. At that time, the nine research institutions already at the polar centre will be joined by nearly a dozen others.

With the opening of a new building in 2013, the number of employees working in the Centre for Climate and the Environment is expected to reach 450, up from 200 today. Helle Goldman, a senior adviser at the Norwegian Polar Institute and a member of the board of the Forskerforbundet, the Norwegian Association of Researchers has had firsthand experience in the hiring. “People are applying for these jobs like crazy,” she says. “Among international researchers, this is a very desirable place to live.”