CLIMATE CHANGE - FRONT LINE ARCTIC OBSERVATIONS
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By Cori Marshall
Earlier this spring the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) released its most recent findings on how the Arctic climate is shifting, more rapidly than imagined. The report stated that the region will experience visible changes in the upcoming decades. The study looked at how local communities are adapting, and how best they could approach the coming changes.
What do the people who live in the North actually experience, and what are they seeing on a daily basis as the Arctic seasonal patterns change? We spoke with Graham Dickson, Founder and President of Arctic Kingdom, to hear his first-hand experience of what is taking place in the North.
Dickson made his first trip to the Arctic in 1999, and the Ottawa native has made his home in Iqaluit for the better part of a decade. Dickson's business is in building small group Arctic tours across the region, which has allowed him to see the changes happening on the front line.
Dickson said that it is through his visits to various communities and regions in preparations for the trips, that he has "become very in tune with changes in climate and their impacts." As the seasons differ from one another, according to Dickson the element that ties the changes together in a tangible way is that "weather patterns are not as reliable and predictable as they used to be." The changing patterns from season to season and year to year Dickson admits "keeps you on your toes."
Dickson describes the Arctic as "a desert," that doesn't see much rain or snow. However, rising winter temperatures have brought on "much deeper snow, which can affect how you move on the land." Over the course of the group's spring excursions, Dickson has also observed changes in how the ice breaks up. Due to these changes, the company has had to adjust tour dates by about one week.
Dickson underlines that Arctic Kingdom runs tours to see the region and its wildlife and "they're all affected by year to year changes to their habitat." Another visible sign of the changes taking place in the region is that "many of the glaciers are receding up the hills and mountains toward the ice caps." In the past, the glaciers extended to the Arctic Ocean.
The changes in the climate are intertwined with the migration patterns of wildlife. For example, Dickson has observed that "orcas [are] coming farther north, and tend to stay longer," due to less sea ice. This trend is having an effect on the "Arctic whales, which typically tried to stay away from [orcas], and were protected by the ice."
The extent of the sea ice is visibly the same as it used to be, though "it is not as thick as it used to be," said Dickson. This causes issues for ice safety in the north. Dickson explains that "if there are more violent storms when the ice is forming it can have an impact," on its shape, structure and integrity.
Dickson suggests that "the farther south you go, the greater the impact," of the change. Dickson has observed fluctuations in the amount of ice that is present, "some years it is so choked with ice that boats can't move, and others where there is no ice at all." Dickson said that Arctic Kingdom "tries to limit its impact by keeping groups small and land based."
As for the effect of climate change on local culture, Dickson explains that "the culture of elders and passing down of traditional knowledge is still done, [though] with an awareness that it is a different world than thirty or forty years ago." There is regular communication between community members and communities to address ice safety through the migratory patterns of the wildlife that have been affected.
Arctic Kingdom itself has socio-economic impacts on the region as guides are hired from the local communities and help the local economy, which in turn may help in adapting to the environmental changes. Visitors can experience the full extent of the Arctic by spending time with people in local communities. Dickson said that visitors leave "as Arctic ambassadors and are able to speak firsthand about the things they have seen, and stories they have heard from Northerners."
The changes that were reported by AMAP earlier this spring are having tangible effects on local communities. The shift impacts mobility, safety, wildlife and traditional cultures. Arctic tourism has positive socio-economic impacts on the local communities providing employment and a means of adapting to the change.
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