Global Warming Changing Inuit Lands, Lives, Arctic Expedition Shows

Jon Bowermaster
for National Geographic News
May 15, 2007

An arduous expedition to highlight how rising temperatures, melting sea ice, changing wildlife, and other effects of global warming are altering life for the native peoples of the Arctic has finally reached its conclusion.

After 78 days of trekking across sub-Arctic Baffin Island in the Canadian province of Nunavut, veteran polar explorer Will Steger and his team pulled into the town of Iglulik on the afternoon of Friday, May 11 (Nunavut map).

The 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) journey was the first in a series of planned expeditions called Global Warming 101 designed to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change in the polar regions. The expedition was funded in part by National Geographic Society Mission Programs. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)

Steger is no stranger to such trips—he traveled unsupported to the North Pole in 1986, across Antarctica in 1989-90, and from Russia to Canada in 1995.

But unlike his previous journeys, this one was less about whiteouts and dogs and more about the remote Inuit population living on the edge of the Arctic. (Related: "Arctic Expedition to Spotlight Warming Impact on Inuit Groups" [February 23, 2007].)

"We really wanted to hear from the people on the front line about how the Arctic is changing," Steger said. "And we did, everywhere we went."

Changing Land

At every stop team members engaged the Inuit in conversation about climate change.

There has been a large increase in animals not previously seen this far north, including robins, finches, and dolphins, the adventurers learned.

And faster-melting ice is causing a decrease in hunting days each year, while igloos, which native hunters prefer to tents when they are on the trail, are much harder to build with less snow and ice.

Three Inuit hunters—Theo Ikummaq, 53, born in an igloo near Iglulik; hunting guide Simon Qamanirq, 53, an internationally known carver; and Lukie Airut, 65 a veteran hunter, dog musher, and Canadian ranger who speaks only Inukitut—also traveled with the team to help point out changes.

Ikummaq, for example, showed how shifting winds were changing the shape of ice formations used as landmarks by generations, making reading the terrain more difficult.

Continued on Next Page >>


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