The Heat Is Online

Inuit Cite Migrating Seals, Bears, Insects and Birds

Global warming proof In Arctic?

The Weather Channel, Nov. 16, 2000

While scientists and politicians debate the complex issues of global warming and climatic change, members of the Inuit tribe in far northwestern Canada say the evidence of those events is right outside their door.

There are fewer seals and polar bears to hunt, the mosquito population is booming and migratory birds that have not been seen in the region before are showing up. The information is contained in a study being presented at a United Nations meeting on climate change, now going on in The Hague.

"We can’t read the weather like we used to," said Rosemarie Kuptana, an activist among the 130 Inuit people who live in Sachs Harbor, which is the only community on Banks Island. The island covers about 28,000 square miles in the Canadian Arctic.

Researchers made four visits to Banks Island last year and recorded interviews with its residents. The effect of climate change on the Inuit lifestyle is the focus of the study.

The Inuit people are hunters, trappers and fishermen, who depend on the natural resources of the area for survival. During the interviews, the Inuits described how their environment is changing:

  • Polar bears and seals have moved farther north, because the sea ice around Banks Island is melting.
  • Migrating robins and barn swallows, which never ventured so far north, are seen regularly.
  • Mosquitoes, beetles and sand flies stay longer during the summer months.
  • Houses are cracking and shifting, because their foundations rest on permafrost, which has started melting.

"It provides strong support for the conclusion that climate change is not just a theory," said Graham Ashford, who led the research project for the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The Inuits also said that the timing of seasonal events has changed, like the first freeze of autumn happening later and the spring thaw occurring earlier.

Winter is still very harsh on Banks Islands, but the Inuits say the 40 below zero days that once were common are unusual now.

Scientists will try to determine whether the changes on Banks Island can be blamed on manmade global warming pollution or if the Arctic warmup is part of the natural climatic cycle.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.