Ice over troubled waters: navigating the Northwest Passage using Inuit knowledge and scientific information

Last modified: 
December 13, 2019 - 1:56pm
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2018
Date published: 04/2018
Authors: B Panikkar, B Lemmond, B Else, M Murray
Journal title: Climate Research
Volume: 75
Issue: 1
Pages: 81 - 94
ISSN: 0936-577X

Sea ice throughout the Arctic is undergoing profound and rapid change. While ice conditions in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago have historically been more stable than conditions in the open ocean, a growing body of evidence indicates that the major thoroughfares in much of the western and central Canadian Arctic, including the Northwest Passage, are increasingly vulnerable to climatic forcing events. This is confirmed by the observations of Inuit elders and experienced hunters in the communities of Cambridge Bay, a hamlet along Dease Strait, and Kugluktuk, a hamlet situated at the mouth of the Coppermine River where it meets Coronation Gulf. People in these hamlets now face new navigational challenges due to sea-ice change. Navigation practices described by elders and hunters reflect an intimate knowledge of the land and ice topography, currents, and weather conditions for hundreds of kilometers around their communities, although people reported increasing unpredictable weather and ice conditions, making travel more treacherous. Many emphasized the importance of traditional knowledge and survival skills as necessary to adapt to ongoing and impending changes. They expressed particular concern that younger generations are untrained in traditional navigation practices, landscape- and weather-reading abilities, and survival practices. However, elders and hunters also stressed the need for more localized weather information derived from weather stations to help with navigation, as current weather and ice conditions are unprecedented in their lifetimes.

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