Warming Hits Canada's Remotest Arctic Lands
By David Ljunggren
20 April, 2006
RESOLUTE BAY, Nunavut - Even in one of the remotest,
coldest and most inhospitable parts of Canada's High Arctic, you cannot
escape the signs of global warming.
Polar bears hang around on
land longer than they used to, waiting for ice to freeze. The eternal
night which blankets the region for three months is less dark, thanks
to warmer air reflecting more sunlight from the south. Animal species
that the local Inuit aboriginal population had never heard of are now
"Last year someone saw
a mosquito," said a bemused Paul Attagootak, a hunter living in
the hamlet of Resolute Bay some 2,100 miles northwest of Ottawa and
555 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
"Things getting warmer
is not good for the animals, which are our food. We still eat them.
We worry about them," he told Reuters as temperatures hovered around
zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 degrees Celsius) well above the seasonal
The entire life of the Inuit
-- formerly called Eskimos -- is based on the cold. A rapid increase
in temperatures could be cataclysmic as prey disappears and ice becomes
In recent years there have
been drastic signs of climate change in the southern part of Canada's
Arctic, where melting ice in Hudson Bay threatens the survival of local
Buildings in the port town
of Tuktoyaktuk -- on the Arctic Ocean, close to Canada's northern border
with Alaska -- are crumbling into the sea as the permafrost dissolves.
Remote aboriginal communities are in distress because winter ice roads,
needed to truck in supplies, are turning to water.
And now there are signs of
change in Resolute Bay, where 250 people live in Canada's second-most
"The most striking thing
is that the wind doesn't bite any more. It used to take pieces of skin
off you," said Wayne Davidson, who runs the local weather monitoring
station and has lived in Resolute Bay since 1985.
"The weather here was
brutal, probably the coldest, meanest toughest cold weather you could
find," he said. But, he said, there have been enormous changes
in the temperature. The mean temperature in March was minus 13.4 degrees
Fahrenheit (minus 25.2 degrees Celsius) compared with the average of
minus 24.2 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 31.2 degrees Celsius) from 1947
"All months are warmer
by between 3 and 6 degrees (Celsius). This is beyond the usual variations,"
said Davidson. "We're in a total transition ... it's a one-way
street right now."
U.S. scientists said in September
that the Arctic ice was now the smallest it had been for a century,
driven by rising temperatures that many experts believe is linked to
emissions of greenhouse gases by humans.
Experts say the Arctic is
warming more quickly than the rest of the planet because as the dark
ground and seas are exposed by the sun's rays, they absorb heat faster
than reflective snow and ice.
For the inhabitants of Resolute
Bay, this can have dangerous consequences, since the local polar bears
have to bide their time on land before they can walk out onto the ice.
"There is quite a lot
of change in the bears' behavior. They hang around a lot longer than
they usually have," said Tabitha Mullin, a local conservation officer.
"Once in a while they'll
kill the dogs tied up by the beach," she said.
For now, the polar bear population
in the High Arctic numbers more than 10,000 and is still relatively
"A lot of time you see
mothers with two cubs (the norm). Very rarely do you see them with just
one cub," said Mullin, forced indoors by a blizzard which cut visibility
to two yards (meters) and closed down the hamlet.
The warmer temperatures mean
there is increased moisture in the air, which results in more frequent
"We're seeing more snowfall,
not just blowing snow. In the olden days it might rain just once during
the summer. Now it happens all the time. It's awful," said Mullin.
In December the Inuit Circumpolar
Conference (ICC), which represents all northern aboriginals, launched
a legal petition against the United States, claiming that its greenhouse
gas emissions harmed Inuit human rights. Washington pulled out of the
Kyoto accord on climate change in 2001.
Some predict the Arctic waterways
could be ice free in summer as early as 2015, which would severely curb
the ability of the Inuit to hunt.
"We're an adaptable
people but adaptation has its limitations," ICC chair Sheila Watt-Clouthier
told Reuters, saying the Inuit would continue urging the world to cut
emissions of greenhouse gases.
"We're not going to
be powerless victims over this issue of climate change ... Science is
indicating that we still have about a 10- to 15-year window of opportunity,"
The U.S. administration has
shifted its position and now agrees that human activity worsens climate
This still leaves a few experts
who say the gradual warming of the Earth is caused mostly by natural
cycles and that human activities have a moderate impact at best.
Far from the war of words
down south, the inhabitants of the High Arctic ponder another mystery.
Many people say the air is noticeably brighter in the sunless winter
Davidson says this is because
a blanket of warmer air higher up is acting as a conduit for the light
from the south.
"If it keeps on being
this warm, the world will change completely," he said.
"When I hear people
say there is no such thing as global warming, I find them totally appalling."
© Reuters 2006