Arctic Communities Turn Challenges Brought On By Climate Changes Into Advantages

The impact of climate change on Arctic communities is so great that it limits their ability to adapt, or at least that’s what has long been assumed. But according to a recent study in Nature Climate Change, it’s non-climatic factors that obstruct adaptation.

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA – When the Wellness Centre in Arviat, Nunavut took a look at what children in the town were eating, the results came as a surprise. Their diets contained almost no local foods – such as caribou and berries. And they couldn’t explain why.

As community members in Arviat looked more closely, they found a range of factors had contributed to the shift – from a decline in traditional hunting practices to the thawing of food cellars dug deep into the permafrost that could no longer keep subsistence foods cold throughout the summer. In many northern communities, climate change threatens subsistence culture as a whole, as wildlife migration patterns change, soils warm and invasive species take hold.

The information, which was gathered in 2010, set the community into action. They began to pay more attention to local changes to the environment – and to find ways to adapt.

Now, volunteers in Arviat track summer berry production and the presence of non-native species that appear on the tundra. Similar projects have been created across Nunavut. “We can’t tell how the climate is changing if we do not observe closely,” said Shirley Tagalik, who leads the Wellness Centre.

Residents have also constructed a greenhouse where they grow all kinds of vegetables, including radishes and tomatoes. The warmer temperatures and longer growing season have given Arviat the chance to supplement their diets with healthy, locally grown produce. Tagalik said the greenhouse experiment has prompted efforts to develop culture and community cooking programs and soil quality monitoring. “I think —> Read More