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Swansea University professor visits British Embassy Oslo

Professor John A. Matthews re-visits the embassy residence to take in a familiar view of the Jotunheimen mountain range.

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The mountain scene in the Oval Room with focus on Jotunheimen.

When Professor Matthews first visited the British Embassy Oslo in 2012 he was fascinated by the murals in the Oval Room of the embassy residence, in particular the one of Jotunheim mountain, with which he is very familiar as leader of the Jotunheimen Research Expeditions. The 42nd Jotunheimen research Expedition took place over six weeks during July and August 2013, and involved seven members from Great Britain, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Norway.

The Jotunheimen Research Expeditions are run annually from the Department of Geography at Swansea University. The aim is to encourage research into the physical geography of the natural environment based in Jotunheimen but including the neighbouring regions of southern Norway. The neighbouring regions include not only the valleys around the Jostedalsbreen glacier but also Breheimen (the region between Jotunheimen and Jostedalsbreen), Reinheimen, Sunnmøre and the Rømsdalsalpane to the north, and Dovrefjell and Rondane farther east.

Jotunheimen is the highest mountain range in Europe north of the Alps and west of the Urals; and Jostedalsbreen is the largest ice-cap on mainland Europe. Both are National Parks, as are many of the neighbouring regions.Natural environments and habitats range from the deciduous (nemoral) woodlands of sheltered fjords, through evergreen (boreal) pine forests and sub-alpine birch woodlands, to low-alpine heathlands, and the fjellfields, snowbeds and glaciers of the mid- and high-alpine zones of the high mountains. The climate correspondingly extends from a mild, temperate climate at sea-level to high-alpine permafrost. Thus, the Jotunheimen Research Expeditions are investigating environments as varied as those on any continent in an area of around 10000 square kilometres.

The first expedition took place in 1970. Though based at Swansea University for the last 18 years, earlier expeditions were based at Cardiff University (17 years), the University of Edinburgh (3 years) and the University of London, King’s College (2 years). The expeditions enable a team of staff and postgraduates to undertake field-based research projects. The interdisciplinary research frequently involves international participants as well. The expeditions have also had an important educational and training function. Over 150 undergraduate students have, over the years, taken part as field assistants and/or carried out dissertations and/or returned on later expeditions as postgraduate researchers. Finally, an Artist-in-Residence took part in 2005, to develop the expedition as an artistic venue and also to explore some of the commonalities between art and science in the field.

The importance of this wide-ranging research can be gauged by over 180 Expedition Contributions, written by more than 60 different scientists, which have been published as research papers in scientific journals and books. In addition, 21 expedition-based Ph.D. theses have been successfully completed so far.

The walls of the Oval Room were painted (oil on plaster) with Norwegian landscapes by Johan Fredrik Eckersberg (1822-1870) probably in 1858/9. In 2001, the embassy commissioned the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research to clean and conserve the paintings. As far as the mountain view is concerned, Professor Matthews kindly sent HM Ambassador Jane Owen a photograph of the mountain taken from roughly where the artist must have set up his easel over 150 years ago. This photograph is now on display in front of the mural and shows how accurate the artist’s rendition of the mountain scene is, although Professor Matthews eye for detail notes the lack of a snow valley off to the left!

Published 15 August 2013
Last updated 21 August 2013 + show all updates
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