New perspective on changing travel conditions in Arctic communities

Posted on Monday, March 18, 2019

An Inuit standing next to his snowmobile in the Arctic

Photo credit : Dylan Clark - McGill University, Canada

Global warming is transforming the way we live everywhere on Earth, but since the Arctic is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the planet, you would think that Arctic communities would be twice as affected by these temperature changes. However, a new study shows that the travel skills and regional knowledge of Inuit communities have helped mitigate the effects of climate change on travel conditions in the Arctic.

The study, led by University of Leeds professor James Ford and co-authored by University of Ottawa professors Jackie Dawson and Luke Copland, used interviews with members of nine Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic to assess trail viability. The researchers then compared this information to 30 years’ worth of weather records to determine changes in travel conditions.

Their results indicated that despite significant changes in climate-related conditions between 1985 and 2016, including warming temperatures, overall trail access was much less affected than the researchers had expected.

The semi-permanent trails used by the Inuit on sea-ice, rivers and frozen ground are vulnerable to warming conditions, but the study suggests that trail conditions have only changed trail access by roughly one or two days over the last 30 years. These trails are critically important for travel between settlements, to cultural sites and for practicing traditional hunting, fishing and gathering activities.

The study highlights how close cooperation with people on the ground is essential to understanding how ongoing changes to the environment will affect the specific activities of different groups. Incorporating this practice, or a “bottom-up” approach, is central for understanding what climate change means for people and, in turn, for developing responses tailored to unique circumstances.

Nevertheless, while the skill set of the Inuit community may be mitigating the effects of climate change on travel conditions for now, there is no doubt that warming conditions in the Arctic are having detrimental effects on the region.

Changing access to ice, land, and water in Arctic communities was published in Nature Climate Change.

 

Media inquiries:
Orian Labrèche
Media Relations Officer, University of Ottawa
613-863-7221
orian.labreche@uottawa.ca

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