Amphibious Trilogies

Riverine passages and islands

The city of Arkhangelsk feels close to the wide channels of the Northern Dvina. It rises little more than three metres above the calm flow of the wide blue water. One feels close to the surface, always aware that the sandy earth, visible between pavements and puddles, is permeable, that its wet and dry, changing in the movement of drying and dampening time.

Will this water engulf the city as climate change ruptures the passage of water, of safety and the city’s livelihood? One feels so near the water, in a world so horizontal geographically. One thinks of other cities such as Copenhagen and its precarious position just above the ocean.

What might Arkhangelsk’s riverine and maritime future entail? The movement of water is already so central to its pulse and its position. Will floods surging downstream? What might rising seal levels mean for this low lying city? How will the movement of water, it massive flows and rises change the volumes of winter ice? Or might rises in temperature mean there will be much less ice, a shorter freeze frame?

The concrete esplanade feels secure and perhaps as solid as that presented as the material’s monumental use in any major Russian town. Yet this is a material under erasure, a bulwark just above the millennial life of this powerful river system.

There are two parallel and very public courses here: the liquid river and the solid corniche. They are motion passages. Passages for motion and motion in passages.

Traffic, commercial and leisurely flows both ways. On the water there are large sea-going ships, the occasional private pleasure boat, a barge or two, a local ferry and some tugs. On land, small trucks, private cars, walkers, runner and roller blades.

The Dvina is characterised for many kilometres inland by a series of islands. These are quite remarkable to see in their form and arrays when one peers into Google maps. These are single islands as one expects, and of varying shapes. There too are there clusters of archipelagos within the river’s course. They appear as earthen gatherings, landing sites, potential bridges, extending the passage of the watery flow into visible bulges as the water curves and diverts, and seems to almost swell around them, not blockages but beads within the course of time. They look as if they interrupt or fracture the smooth flow; they seem almost to be assertions of the land against the water, time’s markings of the movement and interplay between solid and liquid, erosion and saturation.

The river meanders, it moves, northwards, around singular islands and clusters of land lozenges whose elevation remains flattened on the Google view. The islands present possible passage sites, pauses, interruptions and blockages, but also bridge points and wedges across this low lying landscape. They are shapes to think with but they are very real features to navigate and to negotiate on the river and across its course. We do not travel up river, but our intrepid pair will journey down its delta into the open sea, a transitional route we do not know and will experience, perhaps with land and islands diminishing as the fresh water widens into the salty expanse.

And I wonder then what will happened to the movement of ice in the future as it too shifts. Just how we do not yet know. The city’s sandy surface and its many concrete structures already appear to be perched rather precariously at times as a mural beside the Northern Maritime Museum depicts, painted in a shipping container and concrete wall itself!

The delta’s islands and passages less solid, perhaps shallower, melting more quickly. Where will the open sea of the Dvina Bay begin in winter, where will frozen passage points remain and disappear across the river? How will the delta’s watercourse, the shapes and shifts of land and ice unfold?

Might we call these ‘climate change passages’?

Meteorology, hydrology and glaciology meet in the extended movements of a changing Arctic anthropocenic landscape.

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