Swiss Polar Institute and Greenland’s NIS strengthen research on natural hazards | Polarjournal
The Greenlandic landscape (left) has many parallels with Switzerland (right). There are also similarities in natural hazards such as landslides, avalanches and floods, which occur repeatedly in Switzerland. Research cooperation should record and reduce the risks here. Picture: Michael Wenger

Switzerland has been conducting research in Greenland on a wide range of topics for over a hundred years. Be it glacier research, climate, geology, Switzerland has many similarities to the largest island in the world. This was also recognised by Konrad “Koni” Steffen, who had spent decades conducting research in the middle of the Greenland ice sheet and died there last year. Now the Swiss Polar Research Institute SPI and the Greenland Research Council NIS have taken up an idea of Konrad Steffen and want to partly finance it with the “Konrad Steffen Grant”.

The aim of the grant is to support a maximum of two research projects by Swiss and Greenlandic researchers in the field of natural hazards in Greenland. A total of CHF 50,000 is available for this purpose, which will be used primarily for field work, visits and consumables. The SPI and also the NIS both point out that the support is seed money, not full funding for projects. To be eligible for the grant, projects must be carried out in Greenland in a Swiss-Greenlandic cooperation and be in the field of natural hazards research. As initial topics, the SPI and NIS list landslides and landslips, avalanches, and flooding from sudden cracks in glaciers, the “Glacial Outburst Floods” or GLOFs. However, the effects of tsunamis caused either by landslides or the sudden overturning of huge icebergs close to shores can also be included.

Konrad Steffen, the scientific director of the SPI who died in Greenland last year, had the idea years ago that Switzerland and Greenland could cooperate more closely on natural hazard management. The research grant now established honors the renowned and popular researcher and carries on his legacy. Photo: WSL

At a joint online meeting, the SPI and the NIS presented the “Konrad Steffen Grant” and the idea behind it. The new Scientific Director of the SPI, Professor Gabriela Schaepman-Strub explained at the meeting that the new grant was established in memory of Konrad “Koni” Steffen. The Swiss researcher, who died in Greenland last year, had already had the idea a few years earlier that Switzerland and Greenland should conduct closer research and work together on natural hazards. Therefore, the focus was not chosen arbitrarily, but is at the heart of Koni’s legacy.

“In terms of natural hazards and their management, a lot is being done in Switzerland that Greenland can benefit from.”

Dr. Jospehine Nymand, Director Greenland Research Council

In addition, reference was made to the great research activity and cooperation of Switzerland in Greenland, which has been taking place for a long time. According to the SPI, about 30 percent of the research projects supported by the Institute are Switzerland-Greenland related collaborations. Dr Josephine Nymand, head of the NIS, also said: “In terms of natural hazards and their management, a lot is being done in Switzerland that Greenland can benefit from.” And Eva Mätzler, geologist and advisor to the Greenlandic government, explained that consultation procedures were underway in the Greenlandic government on a number of issues relating to environmental hazards. “No management plan currently exists for landslides. Nor has this yet been drawn up for avalanches.” However, it is agreed that, especially in view of the effects of climate change on Greenland, the issue of “natural hazards and management” must be increasingly addressed.

Greenlandic settlements are basically all located along the coast and thus also in the area of influence of icebergs. These also form a potential hazard for sudden tsunamis, which occur when the icebergs break apart or tip over. Picture: Michael Wenger

During the online meeting, the further procedure on how interested researchers can apply for the grant was also presented. A two-step system will be applied. First, scientists from Switzerland and Greenland will meet directly in Nuuk next March to concretise the topics and projects. After that, the projects can be submitted for review and decision. A maximum of two projects will be selected, each of which will receive half of the funding. The aim is to be able to start as early as 2022 and to carry out the research work in Greenland for a maximum of 18 months. The grant is currently planned as a one-off project. But Danièle Rod, the managing director of the SPI, hopes that the initiative will trigger a chain reaction and that, on the one hand, it will again be funded accordingly in the coming years. She also hopes that similar initiatives will be launched by other research institutions and countries. “The Konrad Steffen Grant is a great initiative for future collaboration projects,” explains Professor Schaepman-Strub. Given the increasing global focus on Greenland, the SPI’s wish may well come true.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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The video shows amateur footage of a tsunami that struck the small town of Nuugaatsiaq in June 2017 after a landslide in a nearby fjord. There is currently no functioning management plan for such hazards.
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