Sea ice, climate change, and community vulnerability in northern Foxe Basin, Canada

2009 February 3

Ford, J., Gough, B., Laidler, G., MacDonald, J., Qrunnut, K, and Irngaut, C. (2009). Climate Research, 37: 138-154. Download PDF.

The Arctic is undergoing rapid climatic and environmental change, most notably in the spatial extent and thickness of the sea ice. Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic are directly affected by these changes, with dramatic change in sea ice conditions documented in recent years. We use a case study from the Inuit community of Igloolik to examine the processes and conditions shaping human vulnerability to sea ice change. In 2006, the ocean froze 3 to 4 wk later than normal, with little remnant ice during the summer. Igloolik residents described this state of sea ice as anomalous, and Inuit observations were consistent with instrumental sea-ice data. We examined how community members experienced and responded to the anomalous ice conditions of 2006, using our analysis of this perceptual/behavioral data as a lens for exploring vulnerability and its determinants. Inuit observations shed light on the implications of such ice conditions for human use of this arctic environment, including reduced ability to procure traditional food. Effects on the community were exacerbated by other climate-related conditions and non-climatic stresses, including increasing fuel prices and longer-term socio-cultural trends. The case study also indicates significant adaptive capacity: anomalous ice years are increasingly becoming the norm and there is evidence that social learning and responsive local institutions are reducing the physical risks of using the ice in a changing climate. Climatic extremes documented in 2006 are projected to be the new mid-century norm as a result of anthropogenic climate change. The case study therefore offers a baseline for examining potential future vulnerabilities.

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