Saturday, May 30, 2015

The nature of nature is change

Today we toured around the northern tip of Denmark, visiting the location where the North Sea and the Baltic Sea mix, a monstrous moving sand dune, and the last fracking site in Denmark, all while having discussions about sustainability and our place in the biosphere.
Today we ventured all the way to the northernmost tip of Denmark, where the North Sea meets the Baltic Sea at a place called Grenen.

The whole group standing at the northernmost point in Denmark.

This area also happens to be near the location where enormous oil and gas tankers transfer their cargo to smaller vessels, which can fit under the bridges between here and the Baltic Sea.

Seeing these tankers was a sobering reminder of just how heavily our society still relies on fossil fuels, and thus just how much work needs to be done to replace them with renewable energy.

Oil Tankers
Large tankers transferring cargo.

After lunch in the nearby town of Skagen, we made the trip to Råbjerg Mile, an enormous sand dune located in northern Denmark. The dune is over 40 meters (130 feet) tall and covers more than 1 square kilometer.

The most notable feature of the dune is its mobility. As a result of the heavy winds in the area, the dune steadily moves between 10 and 20 meters each year. The wind picks sand up off of the leading edge and deposits it on the trailing edge, thus moving the dune.

Climbing Råbjerg Mile
Climbing the sand dune.

On top of Råbjerg Mile
It is EXTREMELY windy at the top!

Professor Imbertson stopped us all in a sheltered area on the ever-changing dune and took the opportunity to teach us about the importance of the way in which problems are approached.

When one is continually observant and looking for the best course of action, and when they are continually adapting to their changing surroundings, they will ultimately be successful. However, when someone finds a solution that works one day and decides to stick with the same approach for many years, they will ultimately fall behind.

As superior as we think we are, we are unavoidably a part of nature. In the words of Professor Imbertson, "The nature of nature is change." Humans, like every other species on earth, must adapt and change our ways to accommodate the changing world around us.

Professor Imbertson's mini-lecture at Råbjerg Mile
Professor Imbertson giving us a mini-lecture amidst the gently falling sand.

Following the hike up the dune, Bo had us divide into six teams and create short presentations on different types of energy generation methods (solar, wind, hydroelectric, etc.).

The purpose of this was to get us in the habit of carefully considering the ways in which any energy generation method, renewable or not, affects the environment.

While some methods are clearly better than others, all effect the environment in some way. It is well known that fossil fuel sources emit large quantities of CO2, but there are many less obvious ways in which even renewable sources can affect the environment, such as taking up space in natural habitats or driving the mining industry for necessary materials.

The environmental impact of all large installations must be taken in to account with the intention of always improving and working toward minimal impact.

Group work
The groups hard at work.

We then briefly changed topics and talked about hydraulic fracturing (aka "fracking"), which is becoming an increasingly common method of extracting fossil fuels from the earth despite the evidence documenting its health hazards.

We visited the only fracking site in Denmark, which was shut down by the government only a few weeks ago as a result of public pressure against such a risky endeavor.

The last fracking well in Denmark
The last fracking site in Denmark, permanently shut down a few weeks ago.

Today was our last day in Denmark. Tomorrow will be a long travel day for us. We will take a nine-hour ferry ride across the Skagerrak strait to Oslo, where we will catch a flight to Trondheim!