Earth's polar regions are experiencing climate change impacts at rates far greater than the rest of the world (IPCC, 2022; NOAA Arctic Report Card, 2021). Under all warming scenarios outlined by the IPCC 6th Assessment report, the Arctic way of life will drastically change by 2050. Accelerated sea ice, rapid permafrost thaw, and a rise in average temperatures are challenging the stability of Arctic communities and ecosystems (IPCC, 2022; USGCRP, 2018; Ford, 2008). The climatic changes predicted in the Arctic are changes in animal population; the intensity, frequency, and distribution of climate related events; thinning and loss of sea ice and permafrost (IPCC, 2022; USGCRP, 2018; Ford et al., 2008). Arctic coasts are influenced by the ground ice, permafrost, and sea ice, making the coast susceptible to negative changes driven by warming surface temperatures (Irrgang et al., 2022).
Arctic Bay, Nunavut, Canada
Arctic Bay, located on North Baffin Island, Canada is a coastal Inuit community (Struzik, 2015; Ford, 2008). This land has been inhabited by nomadic Inuit hunters throughout the past 5,000 years (Struzik, 2015). The community rapidly expanded in the 1960s with the introduction of a zinc mine (Struzik, 2015; Ford et al., 2008). The economy has shifted from subsistence activities to mixed economies, where both the informal and formal economic sectors are vital. The historic harvesting of renewable resources is valued in cultural and economic traditions (Ford et al., 2008). Tourism and the food processing of fish and caribou are staples in the economy (Struzik, 2015). Further, the Inuit culture practices a deep relationship with the environment. Cultural traditions include hunting, fishing, hiking and camping. For centuries, these activities along with Inuit travel in the Arctic have been dependent on reliability of sea ice and the tundra climate (Ford et al., 2008). Narwhal, ringed seals, arctic char, and caribou are the predominant species harvested in Arctic Bay (Ford et al., 2008).
Arctic coasts are influenced by the ground ice, permafrost, and sea ice, making the coast susceptible to negative changes driven by warming surface temperatures (Irrgang et al., 2022). Permafrost coasts are particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures as warm air infiltrates the soil column from the top down; this process induces rapid ground ice melt and permafrost thaw making the coast more susceptible to erosion (Irrgang et al., 2022). Arctic permafrost is imperative for maintaining watertight land, stable lakes, and tundra climate suitable for arctic wildlife and travel (NOAA Arctic Report Card 2009). Warming permafrost leads to a delay in onset freeze-up which reduces bluffs resistance to thermal abrasion (Irrgang et al., 2022). Permafrost and ground ice melt can ultimately lead to ground collapse, challenging the stability of infrastructure and ecosystems (Irrgang et al., 2022).
Arctic surface air temperature rose 2.4 times faster than the northern hemisphere's average, increasing an observed 2.7℃, 3.1℃, and 1.8℃ in different regions between 1971 and 2017 (Irrgang et al., 2022). The extent, spatiotemporal distribution, and thickness of sea ice is influenced by rising surface temperatures (Irrgang et al., 2022; USGCRP 2018). The ten lowest sea ice extents, since satellite-based observations in 1979 began, were recorded between 2010 and 2021, with the exception of 2014 (Irrgang et al., 2022). Climate change induced stressors are resulting in rapid land and coastal changes in the Arctic at rates much higher than previously predicted (IPCC 2022, NOAA Arctic Report Card 2021).
Impacts of Arctic coastal erosion can be observed on the natural environment and human environment alike (IPCC 2022; USGCRP 2018; Ford 2008). The erosion of permafrost has high probabilities of releasing organic carbon release and contaminants to the near coast, challenging the vitality of coastal ecosystems (Irrgang et al., 2022). Coastal erosion may induce rapid changes to coastal communities, proposing a risk to existing infrastructure; such as loss of roads, buildings, and cultural heritage sites (Irrgang et al., 2022). Warming Arctic temperatures have the potential to affect an estimated 2.2 million people that live in close proximity to the permafrost coast (Irrgang et al., 2022).
Indigenous peoples are dependent on natural resources for subsistence, livelihoods, and vitality of culture (IPCC, 2022; Ford, 2008; IWGIA, 2008). These communities often exist in diverse but fragile ecosystems. Further, indigenous peoples are among the world’s most marginalized, impoverished and vulnerable peoples (IWGIA, 2008). While indigenous peoples bear the weight of climate change impacts, they have minimal access to resources to cope with the changes (IWGIA, 2008). Global agreements, political processes and regulations often hinder indigenous peoples adaptive capacity; little space for indigenous representation has been held in these processes (IWGIA, 2008). Indigenous peoples are feeling impacts related to the loss of vulnerable ecosystems by which they rely on for culture practices and sustenance hunting (IPCC, 2022; Ford, 2008). The IPCC reports that 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity is on Indigenous homelands; a loss of biodiversity due to climatic related events unequally impacts indigenous peoples globally. Indigenous knowledge contains generations of land use observations and present land changes (IPCC, 2022; Ford et al., 2020). Increased rates of climatic events on indigenous land is leading to a loss of generational knowledge and cultural traditions; generational knowledge equips indigenous communities with the capacity to adapt to climate induced changes to food security, health, infrastructure and livelihoods (IPCC, 2022; Ford et al., 2020). Climate change intensifies pre-existing inequalities imposed upon indigenous peoples (IPCC, 2022; USGCRP, 2018).
Inuit Hunting Practices:
Hunting is an integral part of Arctic Bay Inuit food system, economic and social stability, and sustainability of Inuit culture (Durkalec, 2015; Ford et al., 2008). Practices surrounding hunting are beyond a source of subsistence; activities such as cooking, creating clothing from animal skin, and deepening a connection spiritually connected between the hunter and their land (Ford et al., 2008). A loss of hunting practices equates to a loss of culture for Inuit people. Cultural losses compromise adaptive capacity and have potential to develop into intergenerational trauma and irrevocable loss of identity (IPCC, 2022).
Drastic changes in the Inuit hunting grounds have challenged traditional Inuit hunting methods. Hunters in the community rely on passed down generational knowledge to navigate their land, especially in harsh weather conditions. The narwhal hunt typically occurs throughout June and July. A rise in global temperatures has increased the risk of sea-ice break up causing a hazard for hunters. In Arctic Bay, a strong south wind may detach floe-edge ice from the stable landfast ice and blow it out to the open ocean, leaving hunters and travelers stranded (Ford et al., 2008).
Unpredictable Weather and Unsafe Travel:
Land travel and hunting throughout the year has new risks due to changing extreme weather and thin ice. New areas of open water and unpredictable sea ice thickness jeopardizes the safety of sea ice travel. Further unpredictable weather events, such as extreme freezing temperatures or rain can harm unprepared hunters and travelers (Durkalec, 2015; Ford et al., 2008). Generational knowledge and safety measures are no longer a reliable safety method for a new generation Inuit hunters. The amplified dangerous nature of sea ice as a result of climatic conditions isolates the Arctic Bay community members and accessibility to outside resources. Changing conditions of land trails and sea ice complicates the ability to travel by boat and car (Durkalec, 2015; Ford et al., 2008). Further, thin ice conditions of these routes are damaging snowmobiles and sledding, adding an economic cost and barrier to hunting (Ford et al., 2008).
Adaptation and resilience:
Historically, traditional knowledge of land and resource alongside cultural identity of indigenous peoples have equipt Arctic Communities to adapt and demonstrate resilience in the face of climatic variability (IPCC, 2022; Ford et al., 2014). Traditional land knowledge has been passed through generations of indigenous communities; however the increased rate and variabilities of climate change challenge modern adaptive capacities and indgenous livelihoods (IPCC, 2022; Makondo, 2018; Durkalec, 2015; Ford et al., 2008). Recent literature suggests evidence that social and economic factors, rooted in colonialism and globalization, are compromising the adaptive capacity of indigenous people (IPCC, 2022; Ford et al., 2014). Throughout the Canadian Arctic, indigenous communities are adapting traditional harvesting behavior to adapt to changing sea ice and unpredictable weather events (Durkalec, 2015; Ford et al., 2008)
Preservation of indigenous knowledge and traditional languages
Inclusion of indigenous peoples in climate policy and decision making
Use of modern technology to increase safety measures when traveling on ice and sea
(IPCC, 2022; USGCRP, 2018; Ford et al., 2020)
About the Author:
Lydia Fedorowich graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2024, majoring in Environmental Studies and Art. This webpage was created for Jon Rosales’ Adaptation to Climate Change class.
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