Bridging the gap between science and Inuit culture

The land trail going to the sea ice on Melville Peninsula, Nunavut, is pictured in 2006. (CLAUDIO APORTA / CP)

Calgary – Many factors are affecting ice conditions and scientists believe that northern communities may offer key insights. Improving the two-way flow of knowledge between scientists and Inuit communities is the basis of a new study led by Brent Elyse, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Calgary.

Not only will Else’s project investigate the surface energy balance of Arctic ice, it will also try to determine how the Inuit in the Canadian north can make better use of scientific information to manage risks and make informed decisions about travelling on it.

“Ice conditions are changing and becoming harder to predict and as a result, travel is becoming more dangerous and we’d like to find out whether this is a concern in this particular community,” Else says. “We’re also interested in finding out what they know about the ice and when it melts and what factors control its melt, because they have been living there for centuries and know a lot about it.”

Else, has been awarded a $100,000 grant to install a weather station on a small island in the Northwest Passage by the Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response (MEOPAR) network.

Cambridge Bay is a small settlement on the southeast coast of Victoria Island at the western end of Queen Maud Gulf where it narrows into Dease Strait. The Inuit venture on to sea ice to hunt, fish and travel to the mainland. The weather station will be installed on a small low-lying island in the channel to measure atmospheric conditions directly associated with the ice that forms.

A major focus of new Arctic research is to make sure it is relevant to local communities. “If you have a weather station here does it help them make a better informed decision about travel?” Else says. “Understanding when sea ice melts is important for science and for navigation in the Northwest Passage, but particularly for the people living there.”

Else will collaborate with Joe Arvai, a specialist in risk and decision science in the Department of Geography and Maribeth Murray, director of the Arctic Institute of North America, housed at the University of Calgary.