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Climate Change changing the Inuit way of life PDF Print E-mail
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Climate change is forcing the Inuit, who have spent thousands of years working and living in the Arctic, to change the traditional way of doing things.

In Canada’s High Arctic, Inuvialuit hunters and trappers have a close relationship with the natural world. And as the climate is warming changes are seen. As the Inuvialuit travel over the tundra or harvest fish from the sea, they notice even the most subtle changes to their environment. However, the most recent ones have been significant and worrying, as the climate has become unpredictable; the landscape unfamiliar.

Autumn freeze-up occurs up to a month later than usual and the spring thaw seems earlier every year. The multi-year sea-ice is smaller and now drifts far from the community in the summer, taking with it the seals upon which the community relies for food. In the winter the sea-ice is thin and broken, making travel dangerous for even the most experienced hunters. In the fall, storms have become frequent and severe, making boating difficult. Thunder and lightning have been seen for the first time.

Hot weather in the summer is melting the permafrost and causing large-scale slumping on the coastline and along the shores of inland lakes. The melting has already caused one inland lake to drain into the ocean, killing the freshwater fish. Around the town of Sachs Harbour, it is causing building foundations to shift.

New species of birds such as barn swallows and robins are arriving on the island. In the nearby waters, salmon have been caught for the first time. On the land, an influx of flies and mosquitoes are making life difficult for humans and animals. These changes tell local people that the climate is warming.

Given the dramatic changes that local people have observed, International Institute for Sustainable Development IISD and the Hunters and Trappers Committee of Sachs Harbour initiated a year-long project to document the problem of Arctic climate change and communicate it to Canadian and international audiences. The project team worked in partnership with specialists from five organizations to develop an innovative method for recording and sharing local observations on climate change.

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council grantee Barry Smit says the Inuit are sometimes not being given the tools they need to make the correct decisions for their lifestyles. He lead a discussion to probe this issue,part of a larger problem of bridging knowledge across disciplines, at the recent annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Francisco.

“We have plenty of climate change models for the Arctic, but often they do not measure the things the Inuit rely on to make the best decision on how to use their resources,” says Smit, a University of Guelph researcher and the Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Change, whose integrative research is also supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Bridging the gap between scientific and traditional knowledge is the impetus Smit uses as part of ArcticNet, a Network of Centres of Excellence that studies the impact of climate change in the North.

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