Understanding Our Impact on the Natural Environment
Umeå School of Architecture / Umeå University
Free Standing Course 7.5 Credits
Mapping Changing Ecosystems: Understanding Our Impact on the Natural Environment
Kartläggning av föränderliga ekosystem: att förstå vår påverkan på naturliga miljöer.

The wealth of our industrial society is largely dependent on the extraction of natural resources and combination of technologies and human labour. Such activities have vast impacts on ecosystems and their abilities to provide global society and nearby communities with services fundamental to life, such as clean water, fresh air and biodiversity.

The course analysed and mapped the services offered by ecosystems and the human activity and production chains which affect them. The course introduced students to theory on the subject of ecology, such as frameworks which translate ecosystem services into monetary value, to assess the negative impact of human activities and how we can control it. The aim was to apply a variety of such frameworks to investigate specific sites of exceptional value and natural beauty, with ecosystem services and assess their potential value, with the aim to make data, subjective experiences and other findings into visually gripping and explicit maps.
The main objective of the course is to develop a territorial research on environmental issues, the methodology provided the students with continous theoretical input (talks and lectures from guests), updates on critical issues (relevant case studies in the world) that helped guide them in their research and the tools to construct it (qgis/mapping instrument, 3d modelling, and more).

The methodology introduce 10 steps of investigation, equipping each student with tools to develop their own, personal investigation. Resluting in 8 diverse and individually customized research projects following the students own personal interest and passion.
The 10 steps guide to direct the research is:
01. Identify a conflict between human settlements and nature: Think of a possible zone of conflict between human settlements and nature. It might be possible that you see in a newspaper a situation where some natural ecosystem is in dan-ger affected by human activities: industries, infrastructure, trash, etc.

02. Dimension: Pin it on a map (google earth or map, an orthophoto map, or satellite picture). Try to measure the area and have some sense of dimension. Ex-tract its coordinates to be able to position it in any geolocalization or localization tools.

03. Describe the situation: Describes the situation in your own words. That
will allow you to create your own narrative and point of view to later on transform it into storytelling.

04. Agents of disturbance: Define the agents of disturbance. Which industries are involved? How many people or species are affected. You are to draw a dia-gram of correlations, understanding the interrelations between geographies, hu-mans, and ecosystems.

05. Chronological understanding: Investigate the antecedents, when the phe-nomena were initiated, who are responsible, and describe the chain of events cre-ating a chronological understanding of the situation. Related the phenomena with other important series of successes.

06. Territorial Implications: Try to understand the expansive implication of the phenomena analyzed, how the changing ecosystem also affects the surround-ings, and map the regional implications.

07. Intersections with other variables: Try to expand your understanding of the problem by intersecting the facts with other economical, geographical, and political variables or parameters.

08. Agents involved: Map the companies and countries involved in the prob-lem, and trace them to have a precise comprehension of the agents.

09. Relate with geopolitical borders: Think about the geo-political borders, draw them, and overlap with the area affected. Pay attention to the boundaries, frontiers, barriers, and other limits that could isolate or avoid the problem to be discovered or perceived.

10. Networks that hold the entire operation: You are to understand the eco-nomic implications by analyzing the factors that motivate the exploitations of the area. Think about the networks that hold the entire operation, and map them by connecting points of interest.
Case Studies
Napa County, California USA
Burn Scars
In 2020 wildfires burned a staggering 42% of Napa totalling roughly 212,000 acres. Their size, ferocity and impact are increasing. Due to human driven climate change, they’re burning for longer, the burn seasons are extending and extreme wildfires are set to become more frequent, increasing by around 50% by the end of this century, according to a new UN report. This poses the question: how will one of the most diverse and renowned wine regions in world cope with this dev-astating force of nature when fire season coincides with wine season?
Blue Corridor
As a tool for enhancing and maintaining existing ecosystems by connecting fragmented and isolated habitats
Protecting Blue Corridors is a global conservation project to safeguard migration routes of whales who navigate long distances between breeding and feeding areas each year. Species like humpback whales can travel up to 8,500 kilometers each way on these great migrations twice a year. However, these ocean highways are increasingly becoming dangerous. Human interventions can create an abrupt gap in the ecosystem continuity and its habitats, and Migratory ocean species such as whales have no boundaries. Their range can often span state, national and international jurisdictions. Commercial whaling was banned in 1986. However, Japan, Norway, and Iceland have killed nearly 40,000 large whales since then. Over 100,000 dolphins, small whales, and porpoises are also killed in various countries each year.

Sara Kulturhus – Beneath the timber frame


The scope of this project is based around the Sara Kulturhus and the Swedish forestry companies and practices involved. This project report follow the research process starting with agents involved and localized area of conflicts which branch out to discussions on the sustainability of the forestry industry.

See full video

California, USA
An Overview of Ecological Damages
to the San Francisco Bay Area
The San Francisco Bay Area, while home to almost 8 million people, is also home to over 500 equally diverse animal species. This research project seeks to give insight as to why a place that was once home to tremendous natural bounty has lost its way and is now host to many different problems. Human settlement has negatively affected the San Francisco Bay Area Wetlands Ecosystems, as well as given rise to red tide and other harmful algae, while extreme drought has left the state parched and in dire need of rainfall. Westward flowing rivers carry many pollutants directly into the Bay Area from the Central Valley region (the origin of many of the harmful pollutants), This project is not intended to be a deep dive into any one factor, nor does it seek to offer a solution, but merely serves to inform those that are not acquainted with the region about the wide range of factors that are causing disturbance.

Environmetal and human cost of the Winter Olympics


The dark side of China's "green" winter olympics: Farmers in China say they are being harassed, driven off their property, deceived out of money, and even wrongly imprisoned as officials scramble to meet the goals to increase green energy production.




Chernobyl is the most catastrophic nuclear disaster to date, although occurring in April 1986 the effects of it survive to this day. What humans had to abandon due to high radioactive levels nature has reclaimed with lynx, bison, deer and other animals roaming through thick forests that now cover the 2,800 square kilometre exclusion zone, becoming the third-largest nature reserve in mainland Europe. Recent events show us that the effects of war and a warming climate bringing more forest fires, remind us of the danger that still exists. If we aren’t careful with the continued management and care of Chernobyl what could happen would once again destroy the surrounding environment and destroy everything that has come back since the disaster.

Pindos National Park, GREECE

Valia Calda


Valia Calda (ironically: Warm Valley) is a valley, hidden between the prefectures of Ioannina and Grevena, in one of the most important and untouched forests of Greece. It is also one of the coldest places in the country, and hosts about 60 species of mammals. These include almost all the endangered mammals of Greece, such as the bear (Ursus arctos), the wolf (Canis lupus), the wild cat (Felis sylvestris), the otter (Lutra lutra), the Balkan chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra balcanica) and the roe (Capreolus capreolus) and the more common ones, such as the wild boar (Sus scrofa).


Mapping the Kallak Mine

The Sami community have been in dispute over the opening of the Kallak North Mine with mining company Beowulf Plc and the Swedish government since 2006. The mining company Beowulf Plc is publicly traded and over 75 per cent of the company shares are owned by Swedish shareholders.
According to the Swedish Geological Survey (a Government office), the most significant environmental aspect of mines is linked to the management of mining waste, which can create long-term problems.The most tangible impact comes in the form of noise and dust, intrusion on the landscape, and the emission of pollutants into the air and surrounding watercourses, lakes and groundwater. While the Sami population sustains that the mine will disrupt their reindeer husbandry.
Falun, Sweden

Artificial snow as an emerging

necessity for cross-country skiing event: The case of Falun, Sweden


Sweden regularly holds World Cup skiing events but the lack of natural snow in Falun the last 3 years leads to a need for artificial snow stockpiled long in advance. Falun succeeds with this continuous impact through a narrative of pride and culture, gathering stakeholders like the local energy company and a city-owned company to manage the sports infrastructure. This allows the approval of more events, and Falun was just awarded the hosting of World Championships 2027.

siwa, EGYPT

Siwa Oasis


An urban oasis in Egypt between the Qattara Depression and the Great Sand Sea in the Western Desert, one of Egypt’s most isolated settlements with about 33,000 people, mostly Berbers. There are historical evidence of the settlement since at least the 10th millennium BC

The Siwa oasis is in a deep depression that reaches below sea level, to about −19 metres. Siwa has been noted for its dates since ancient times, and today date palm cultivation is by far the largest component of its economy yet, bringing many environmental problems: water logging, soil salinization, the inefficiency of disposed drainage water systems; deterioration in land productivity.

Environmental Researchers

Meet our team
Alejandro Haiek
Course Responsible
Alejandra Diaz
Luis Pimentel
Raquel Colacios
Tomas Mena
Aditya Mandlik
Research assistants
Rebecca Rudolph
Raffaele Errichiello
Hana Osman
César Velando
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