Observed Climate Change Impacts in Sachs Harbour, Canada

"The community of Sachs Harbour is located on Banks Island in the Canadian western Arctic. Climate change impacts on this community have been studied intensively through the Inuit Observations of Climate Change project, undertaken by the Community of Sachs Harbour and the International Institute for Sustainable Development. The Inuvialuit (the Inuit of the Canadian western Arctic) initiated this study because they wanted to document the severe environmental changes they are witnessing as a result of climate change and to disseminate this information to the world. A brief summary of some of their findings follows.

1. Physical Environmental Changes

- Multiyear ice no longer comes close to Sachs Harbour in summer.

- Less sea ice in summer means that water is rougher.

- Open water is now closer to land in winter.

- More rain in summer and autumn makes travel difficult.

- Permafrost is no longer solid in places.

- Lakes are draining into the sea from permafrost thawing and ground slumping.

- Loose, soft snow (as opposed to hard-packed snow) makes it harder to travel.

2. Predictability of the Environment

- It has become difficult to tell when ice is going to break-up on rivers.

- Arrival of spring has become unpredictable.

- It is difficult to predict weather and storms.

- There are "wrong" winds sometimes.

- There is more snow, blowing snow, and whiteouts.

3.Travel Safety on Sea Ice

- Too much broken ice in winter makes travel dangerous.

- Unpredictable sea-ice conditions make travel dangerous.

- Less multiyear ice means traveling on first-year ice all winter; this is less safe.

- Less ice cover in summer means rougher, more dangerous storms at sea.

4. Access to Resources

- It is more difficult to hunt seals because of a lack of multiyear ice.

- Hunters cannot go out as far in winter because of a lack of firm ice cover.

- It is harder to hunt geese because the spring melt occurs so fast.

- Warmer summers and more rain mean more vegetation and food for animals.

5. Changes in Animal Distributions and Condition

- There is less fat on the seals.

- Fish and bird species are observed that have never been seen before.

- There is an increase in biting flies; never had mosquitoes before but do now.

- Fewer polar bears are seen in the autumn because of lack of ice.

- The fish “least cisco" is now being caught in greater numbers.

Climate change is occurring faster than indigenous knowledge can adapt and is strongly affecting people in many communities. Unpredictable weather, snow, and ice conditions make travel hazardous, endangering lives. Impacts of climate change on wildlife, from caribou on land, to fish in the rivers, to seals and polar bears on the sea ice, are having enormous effects, not only for the diets of Indigenous Peoples, but also for their cultures.

Source & © ACIA Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment  (2004),
 Key Finding #8, p.95

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