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Welcome to Utö

Join educators from 10 universities across Europe on a Swedish island to learn about climate and energy from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Map of Utö
© Alasdair Skelton

This massive online open course (MOOC) was created by a multinational team of educators from across Europe while gathered together on a small island called Utö which is situated in the southern part of Stockholm’s archipelago.  Our purpose is to share perspectives on climate, environment and energy from multiple disciplines. The course takes the form of a virtual fieldtrip during which we will reflect on the climate of the past, the state of the climate and climate change solutions.

This short course is both a self-standing introduction to climate, environment and energy, and a “taster” for an entirely new transdisciplinary master’s program in climate, environment and energy which will we aim to launch in 2024 by CIVIS which is a European Civic University formed by an alliance of 11 universities. 

CIVIS is an alliance of 11 universities across Europe

The course is led by educators from 10 of the 11 universities in CIVIS. The 11th member joined after the course was created. The course takes the form of a virtual fieldtrip during which we will stop at various locations on Utö, each of which was chosen to exemplify one part of the course contents.

Before we get started, I would like to tell you about the place we will be visiting.

Utö means “outer isle”. The small island is described by many as the jewel of Stockholm’s archipelago.

The name Utö means “outer isle”. It is situated in the Baltic Sea, forty minutes by ferry from the Swedish mainland. It is a low-lying island which is 15 km long and varies in width from 1 to 6 km. The narrower northeastern and wider southwestern parts of the island are both nature reserves whereas the middle part of the island is a military training ground. Our field trip will be to the northeastern part.

The rocks which form this part of the island are 1.9 billion years old. They are mostly volcanic rocks produced by massive explosive eruptions and chemical rocks precipitated along the newly formed shores of what would eventually become Scandinavia. In the one hundred million years that followed, these rocks were uplifted and folded, becoming part of a mountain chain of Himalayan proportions, only to be eroded away again and, with the passage of time, brought back to the level of the sea.

Although the rocks which Utö is made of are unfathomably old, the island itself is not. Utö emerged from the sea no more than five thousand years ago, rebounding after being pressed down by the massive weight of kilometers of ice during the last glaciation which peaked 20 thousand years ago.

The 200-meter-deep Nyköping mine on Utö is now derelict and filled with water. The whitish purple rocks on the right side are pegmatites from which lithium was first discovered.

One of the chemical rocks found on Utö are precipitates of iron. These precipitates have been mined on Utö since Viking times, making the mines on Utö among Sweden’s oldest. For centuries, mining was done by piling logs up against the curving walls of the mine and setting them on fire, making the rock more fragile and easier to break loose using picks and other hand tools. Mining on Utö peaked in the 1800s at which point the island was entirely bereft of the pine and birch trees which flourish there today. 

The ore body which was mined on Utö is cut by a whitish purple pegmatite, which is a rock made of very large crystals. In 1800, this pegmatite attracted the attention of José Bonifácio de Andrada, a geologist and statesman from Brazil who played a key role in its attainment of independence. He found that the pegmatite contained crystals of a previously undiscovered mineral called petalite from which lithium was first discovered eighteen years later by the chemist Johan Arfwedson.

Lithium was first discovered by Johan Arfwedson in the mineral petalite which was found in the Utö mine by José Bonifácio de Andrada in 1800.

Over 200 years have passed since lithium was discovered here and the woodlands have finally recovered from the devastation of mining, making Utö a popular destination for both Stockholmers and travelers from all over the world. It is our pleasure to welcome you there too.

© Alasdair Skelton
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Climate and Energy: An Interdisciplinary Perspective

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