A new $40 million study has found the energy dynamics of the Arctic Ocean changing drastically, and in ways not foreseen by previous climate change predictions.
The study, which involved 10 teams from 27 countries, looked at the open water along the breaks in multi-year ice, which are known as flaw leads. The results paint a depressing picture of ways in which climate change is altering the Arctic’s marine ecosystem, from weather, ocean currents and the life of flora and fauna, all due to record lows of ice coverage and thickness.
The results, which show that climate change is reducing biodiversity, were released at last week’s International Polar Year Conference, which saw criticism of an apparent attempt by the Canadian government to muzzle its own scientists attending the conference.
In its latest assault on environmental protections, Canada’s government has just stopped funding a key research site in the Arctic looking into what is now a record hole in the ozone layer, which protects the earth from the harmful effects of the sun’s radiation and which has been eaten away by now-banned chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), used as refrigerants and in aerosols.
“The Arctic Ocean is definitely changing on a whole lot of different fronts,” said Prof. David Barber, of the University of Manitoba at the conference. But this is not news to the Inuit, the indigenous people of the Arctic, who had a small conference presence but are having to work hard to make their voices heard and get their longstanding knowledge taken into account.
The president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Aqqaluk Lynge of Greenland, told the conference that traditional knowledge could complement scientific evidence and analysis and emphasized that Inuit highly prize working with scientists.
“We as Inuit fully welcome the opportunity, indeed, the necessity, of working with scientists from around the world,” he said. “We welcome and we need the … research and data generated so that our decisions may be made with sound and cutting-edge knowledge. We Inuit want to cooperatively move from knowledge to action.”
Lynge said that Inuit knowledge, ranging from traditional ceremonies, to technologies, to cultural expression and language, provides resources upon which scientific investigators can draw to enhance their understanding of the Arctic.
“You have to understand that to us the Arctic is our home. It is not a mining company or a scientific laboratory. It is our home,” he said.
Lynge said that climate change is a major threat to Inuit.
“I have seen the sadness of my people as they do not know how to cope with these changes that often robs them of their traditional livelihood and their culture,” he said. “Inuit keep asking [for] help to address their concerns regarding climate change. They ask me increasingly to take their local concerns to the international community.”
But Lynge noted a “most chilling impact.”
And that is “the fear that our knowledge system will be so severely jolted by such a radical shift in the climate that the very foundation of who we are as a people may be at risk.”
Watch 2007 interview with Aqqaluk Lynge about how a proposed airport expansion in Britain would effect his people thousands of miles away in North Greenland:
Picture by Gerard Van der Leun