'Changes in sea ice can be good for one community, but not the next.'

Arctic regions find &#39c;ommon; ground

By Shari Gearhead, Special to Nunatsiaq News

CLYDE RIVER – When Warren Matumeak, an Iñupiat elder from Barrow, Alaska, took his first step out the airplane door on April 8, cheers rang out inside the Clyde River airport.

The cheers celebrated the fact that 80-year old Matumeak, despite his limited mobility, had made the long trip to Clyde River from Barrow.

The welcome also celebrated the reunion of a circumpolar research team – of which Matumeak is a member – who were meeting in Clyde River to start several weeks of work together.

Matumeak and 14 others from Alaska, Greenland, Colorado, and Clyde River make up the research team for the Siku-Inuit-Hila project.

The goal of this international three-year project is to examine local sea ice, sea ice use, and sea ice changes at three communities in the Arctic: Barrow, Alaska; Clyde River, Nunavut; and Qaanaaq, Greenland.

At the heart of the project is the team of Iñupiat, Inuit, Inughuit and scientists who design and conduct the research together.

The team met in Clyde River for their third community sea ice knowledge exchange, after visits to Qaanaaq and Barrow in the spring of 2007.

As a group, the research team travelled to each community to study sea ice, merging their perspectives from different cultures, languages, and knowledge.

For almost three weeks in April, the team learned about Clyde River sea ice, noting similarities and differences between Clyde River and the other two communities.

"Changes in sea ice can be good for one community, but not the next," said Qaerngaaq Nielsen, an elder and member of the research team from Savissivik, Greenland.

Qaerngaaq explained how in Savissivik a later freeze-up is good for many people who enjoy a longer boating season and seal hunting in the water.

But for the community of Qaanaaq, 200 kilometres to the north, a later freeze-up is hard, because the hunters prefer to travel and hunt on sea ice.

And for both communities, travel routes have changed dramatically with changing sea ice conditions.

This means dog sleds must now travel new land routes over glaciers, because the teams can no longer run on the sea ice in some places.

The research team spent most of their time in Clyde River travelling the sea ice together. The group spent four days camping and fishing for char near the end of Sam Ford Fiord, a trip of more than 200 km.

Along the way, they visited traditional camp sites, visited sea ice features like cracks and ridges, and even found an old breathing hole that whales had kept open in the winter.

Much to the team's surprise, there was a narwhal skull about 100 metres from the hole. The Clyde River team helped to reconstruct the scene and determined that a polar bear had caught a narwhal through the hole.

The polar bear fur mixed with blood all over the ice was evidence that a narwhal had been caught and several polar bears probably fought over the kill, they concluded.

The knowledge exchange trips to Clyde and the other two communities are just one part of the Siku-Inuit-Hila project.

Local sea ice experts also meet once a month in each community to document local knowledge and language about sea ice and discuss ice conditions throughout the year.

A sea ice monitoring program is also in place in each community where a local person takes regular measurements of the sea ice to determine, among other things, sea ice and snow thickness, temperature and melt rate.

Key to the project's success is the close-knit research team, participants say.

"This has become so much more than research. Through this project we have developed and nurtured deep friendships and emotions," said Lene Kielsen Holm from Greenland, one of the project's leaders.

Siku-Inuit-Hila is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. Taken all together, the information from Siku-Inuit-Hila will feed a book that the research team will complete over the next few years.

And most important, the project will record a view of sea ice that reflects conditions in three circumpolar regions and integrates both scientific and traditional knowledge.

Shari Gearheard lives in Clyde River. She is a research scientist with the University of Colorado.

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