Monday, April 26, 2010

Ask the locals

Alison Hawkes in Terra Daily via …The Inuit have been saying for years - way before climate change models could sufficiently back them up - that the weather was getting weird in the Arctic. "Unpredictable," was the way they put it. Somewhat vague but meaningful to a people whose life depended on reading the weather tea leaves to know when the next storm would hit, or where and when the ice would thin.

… [R]esearchers led by Elizabeth Weatherhead at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences have turned to the Inuit to help them fill in their knowledge gaps. Scientist Shari Gearheard lives among the Inuit of Baffin Island and for a decade has been documenting local knowledge of environmental change.

"Inuit and their ancestors have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years," says Gearheard in an interview on "Inuit and scientists can help each other in the quest to understand how the Arctic is changing. They use different knowledge and different tools, but both contribute very important information."

For example, she says that scientists using satellite data often have the perspective of large scale snow and ice patterns, while the Inuit have a boots on the ground resolution of Arctic change. Already, the new perspective has improved the science. By looking at day-to-day temperatures, the researchers saw that their data matched Inuit reports from the field on less persistence in temperature in the May and June springtime.

An organization called the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic has been set up to help facilitate studies and communication between international researchers and the Sanikiluaq community in southeastern Hudson Bay. They even publish their sea ice data online for everyone to use….

The welcome sign at Barrow, Alaska, flanked by two whale jawbones. The body of the sign is written in Inupiat, shot by Bob Johnston, Wikmedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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