While governments and scientists still debate climate change, the Inuit people on Banks Island in northern Canada are pointing to signs that the world is getting warmer.
The evidence is in the land and ice that surrounds them, they said in a recent report in the Associated Press.
The permafrost is thawing, there are fewer seals and polar bears to hunt because of thinning sea-ice, and warmer weather has brought more mosquitos that stay longer. In the fall, it’s freezing up later and later every year.
“We can’t read the weather like we used to,” said Rosemarie Kuptana, a past president of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada who now lives in Sachs Harbour.
Kuptana and her neighbours – trappers, hunters and subsistence fishermen – say a warming trend is changing their lives. The Inuits’ experiences – recorded in interviews by researchers during four visits to the island last year – are the focus of a study being presented last month at a climate conference in the Netherlands.
There has been growing evidence of an Arctic thawing, from receding glaciers in Alaska to reports of an accelerated melting of Greenland’s ice sheet.
Computer models indicate that if the earth is warming, the amount of warming likely would be greatest in the higher latitudes such as the Arctic region.
In Sachs Harbour, residents say autumn freezes now occur a month later than they once did and spring thaws come later. The winters are not as cold as they once were.
One community member said there was a time when it was not unusual for temperatures to reach well below minus-40 degrees Fahrenheit; now such temperatures are rare.
Species of animals and birds that once never came to the island can now be seen regularly: birds such as robins and barn swallows, as well as salmon and herring.
There are more beetles and sand flies and mosquitoes are staying longer in the summer months. “The permafrost is melting at an alarming rate,” said Kuptana.
She described foundations of homes cracking and shifting. She also said she is worried that the community itself may one day slide into the Beaufort Sea because of moving mud that once stayed frozen solid.
Inuit hunters say a thinning of the sea ice
has made it more difficult to harvest seals and hunt polar bears because both have now migrated farther away.
In the AP report, Kuptana said the thinner ice and thawing land have made it more difficult and dangerous for hunters and trappers to move about.
“What’s scary is the uncertainty,” she told the wire service. “We don’t know when to travel on the ice and our food sources are getting farther and farther away.”