NSIDC scientist leads Nunavut-Nepal exchange
Prayer flags blow in the wind just outside the village of Burje, the home base of Gearheard and colleagues during their recent visit to the Tsum Valley, Nepal. Gearheard traveled to Nepal with a group of Inuit from Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada, to share knowledge and experiences about living in a changing climate.
—Credit: Shari Gearheard
From February 3 to 17, NSIDC scientist Shari Gearheard traveled to Nepal with a group of Inuit from Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada. The team exchanged knowledge and ideas with Nepalese and Tsumbas, residents of the Tsum Valley, a high alpine region experiencing rapid environmental change, much like the Arctic. Gearheard said, "Communities in both these regions depend upon snow and ice and that snow and ice is changing."
Gearheard lives and works with Inuit hunters and Elders in Clyde River, studying how environmental change is affecting the region, and how the people who live there are affected by and respond those changes. Gearheard and fellow Arctic researcher Henry Huntington, of Huntington Consulting, came up with the idea of comparing communities in high altitude mountain regions with communities in high latitude polar regions. What environmental changes were people observing? How were the communities responding to these changes?
In Nunavut, climate change has led to declining sea ice and changing weather patterns. In the Tsum Valley, weather patterns are also shifting and glaciers are receding rapidly. "We were especially interested in providing an opportunity for people living in these communities to be able to interact directly with each other and share knowledge and experiences, as well as share their cultures and worldviews," Gearheard said.
Inuit hunter Liemikie Palluq (left) and NSIDC researcher Shari Gearheard dressed in the traditional clothing of their Tsumba hosts. Sharing culture, traditions, and ways of life were an important part of the exchange.
—Credit: Henry Huntington
Gearheard and Huntington traveled with three men from Clyde River: hunters David Iqaqrialu and Liemikie Palluq, and Mike Jaypoody, a young filmmaker and computer technician. Also joining them were Tiina Kurvits from the United Nations Environment Programme/Global Resource Information Database (UNEP/GRID)-Arendal and the "Many Strong Voices" project, and Dhawa Lama, a Kathmandu-based guide originally from Tsum Valley, who is working with different organizations and individuals to bring beneficial projects back to his home community.
In Tsum, the group saw many similarities between life in the far North and life in the high mountains of Nepal. "Like the Inuit, Tsumbas are seeing rapid social change a well as environmental change," Gearheard said, "The introduction of tourism and technology is speeding up the pace of life, adding new stresses."
Researchers have a lot to learn from people who depend on snow and ice for their livelihoods, says Gearheard. "These communities have important knowledge and observations, as well as strategies for responding to change," she said, "There is great power and benefit in facilitating opportunities for them to directly share their experiences and knowledge with each other."
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