Fólk í norðurslóðarmálum

The ocean is naturally of great importance to us

Soffía Guðmundsdóttir - PAME

Soffía Guðmundsdóttir, the Executive Officer of PAME, has a deep appreciation for the ocean as her life's work revolves around marine issues and its ecosystems. She is a true Akureyri native but moved to Reykjavík with her family decades ago and therefore experienced remote work long before the pandemic.

What does PAME do?

"PAME stands for 'Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment,' which focuses on the protection of marine areas in the Arctic," says Soffía. PAME is a working group within the Arctic Council that primarily focuses on policy development regarding Arctic marine issues. The PAME office was opened in downtown Akureyri in 1999 when Soffía was appointed as the Executive Officer. "We utilize the work of other scientific groups within the Arctic Council to develop policies, create implementation plans, and carry out projects accordingly," says Soffía. PAME monitors the progress of these policies through projects that are divided into several themes. "These include shipping, protected areas, oil and gas operations, practical use and definitions of ecosystems, as well as pollution in the oceans, mainly addressing plastics and waste. We currently have four projects related to plastics and waste in the Arctic oceans. A significant and comprehensive implementation plan was released at the end of Iceland's presidency of the Arctic Council in May last year, and we are now following up on it and developing new projects," says Soffía.

A simple way to learn about the ocean currents

One of the projects related to plastics and waste in the oceans is a collaboration between PAME and Verkís, called "plastic in a bottle." Plastic containers equipped with GPS devices are deployed, and their trajectories are tracked. The first container was launched by Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, the Minister for the Environment, two years ago, and it ended up reaching an island off Scotland. Soffía mentions that interesting results have emerged from the project, including containers that have returned to their original locations. The project does not have a specific scientific purpose but rather aims to draw public attention to the issue of waste ending up in the oceans. "It's also a great educational tool for children to follow and learn about ocean currents," says Soffía. The trajectory of the containers can be followed on pame.is.

Operating within the Arctic Council

Soffía describes the Arctic Council as an interesting collaboration platform. "All decisions within the Council must be reached by consensus, which makes it quite enjoyable to work together. It has been a harmonious experience from the beginning, even though the larger countries involved, such as the United States, Russia, Canada, the Nordic countries, and Iceland, often have differing political perspectives on various global matters. However, on this platform, they have made a conscious decision to work together, and it has been rewarding," says Soffía.

Moved back into her parent’s basement for the job

Soffía moved to the United States after completing her bachelor's degree in chemistry at the University of Iceland. She then pursued a master's degree in environmental engineering and worked at an engineering firm in Seattle after graduation. Later, she moved to England and obtained an MBA from the University of Oxford. "Then, in 1999 when this job was advertised, I decided to apply. I got the position, moved back to Iceland, specifically my hometown, at the end of October 1999, and lived in my parents' basement. I have been working at PAME ever since," says Soffía. However, she moved to Reykjavík ten years ago and has been commuting between the two cities in the past decade.

Teaches Polar Law

Alongside her work at PAME, Soffía also serves as a lecturer in the Arctic Law program at the University of Akureyri. "I focus a lot on shipping and ecosystem-based approaches when evaluating the environment," says Soffía. She has been teaching at the University of Akureyri since 2012.

The Working Groups are important for Iceland

According to Soffía, these two working groups within the Arctic Council, PAME and CAFF, address crucial issues for Iceland. "It's about the ocean and nature conservation in the Arctic. As an island nation, the ocean is naturally of great importance to us. There are significant resources and the fragile biodiversity of Iceland. These two factors are highly significant," she says.

Soffía Guðmundsdóttir

"It's about the ocean and nature conservation in the Arctic. As an island nation, the ocean is naturally of great importance to us. There are significant resources and the fragile biodiversity of Iceland. These two factors are highly significant."