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Featured Research

Silalirijiit Project

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Coastal Greenland town

The Inuit community of Kangiqtugaapik (Clyde River), Nunavut, on Baffin Island, Canada, maintains a strong subsistence culture, living off the land and ocean. Community members travel long distances to hunt seals, polar bears, and fish. Tracking weather and ice patterns in the area to decide where, when, and what they hunt is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. In 2009, Shari Fox of NSIDC worked with Clyde River residents to launch the Silalirijiit Project, which means ‘those who work with weather.’ This collaborative research project brings together hunters, Elders, and visiting scientists to support the community with better weather, snow, and ice information to set them up for safer travel and successful hunting.

Annual maintenance of weather instruments at Ailaktalik station
Esa Qillaq (right) and Kelly Elder (left) perform annual maintenance at the Ailaktalik station for the Silalirijiit Project. — Credit: Shari Fox

This multidisciplinary, multicultural project increases the community’s access to weather information by establishing a modest weather station network and documenting Inuit knowledge of weather, weather indicators, and weather forecasting. It blends Inuit knowledge with climate science and environmental modeling in order to better understand how weather patterns are changing in the Clyde River area and how people are responding. In addition to enhancing the detailed knowledge of the environment that Clyde River residents already possess, this collaboration is vital to sustaining their ways of life. In recent decades, climate change has shifted weather patterns in this region, making the patterns more variable and extreme.  With the added data and resources from the Silalirijiit Project, Clyde River residents can access information to make more informed decisions about travelling and hunting. 

Meeting community needs with weather stations

In 2009, when the project began, instrumented weather data were sparse. The only weather stations in the region were located at airports, which are few and far between and frequently result in inaccurate predictions because the topography of this region is complicated and the airports are far from Inuit hunting locales. The Silalirijiit Project team realized they would need to bring more, better-placed weather stations to the area in order to provide more accurate weather information. Because the local hunters and Elders already had detailed, experience-based knowledge of the weather patterns in the area, the project team relied heavily on their input as to where the most useful locations for weather stations were. The team identified several locations to target, then installed the first weather station at Akuliaqattak, which is located about 70 kilometers (43 miles) north of Clyde River, in 2010. They have installed several additional weather stations since that first one, which are located at Silasiutitalik, Ailaktalik, and Nattiqsujuq, and as a result, near-real time weather data and information are now available to the public in Inuktitut, the Inuit language, and English. 

The Silalirijiit Project team has analyzed if, when, and how the weather station data are used, finding that community members regularly access data, most often just before the weekend and when storms are in the forecast. Researchers, educators, tourism operators, pilots, and meteorologists also use the data. The community maintains the weather stations themselves, ensuring the skills to do so stay within Clyde River.

Advancing and sharing weather information

In addition to installing and maintaining the weather stations, the Silalirijiit Project team also works to advance other types of weather information for the community. Researchers are working with Elders and hunters to identify additional weather variables via modeling that are more useful to the community than those identified in standard weather station data. Ocean wave height and visibility (e.g. blowing snow), for instance, are more useful to hunters than air temperature and humidity, because they must go out to hunt regardless of how cold the air may be. However, if visibility is too poor or the waves are too high, they may need to postpone or choose a different area to visit for safety reasons. 

The project also supports land-skills training for youth at the request of the community. Young Inuit are given the opportunity to learn weather-related knowledge and skills from experienced hunters through an ongoing, daily hunting program. During the program, project team members document how the instructors pass on weather knowledge to the younger generation in order to learn more about and document what Inuit know about and practice related to weather, how they forecast it, and how they understand weather changes. This information is being used to help develop the new weather models. 

Collaboration across organizations and cultures

The core Silalirijiit Project team has remained in place since the project’s start, and members attribute the project’s success to close collaboration and genuine friendship between team members and the greater community. Led by Fox, the core team consists of Esa Qillaq, Ilkoo Angutikjuak, Robert Kautuk, and DJ Tigullaraq of Clyde River, Glen Liston of Colorado State University, Kelly Elder of the US Forest Service, and Henry Huntington of Huntington Consulting. 

Several sources have funded the project through the years, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Government of Nunavut, and the Hamlet of Clyde River. Clyde River community members funded the stations themselves during a two-year gap in funding. NSF funding is granted through the Arctic Social Sciences Program, which supports research on past and present Arctic social and cultural systems and research relevant to understanding these systems.

Timeline:

  • 2009: The Silalirijiit Project began.
  • 2009: The first weather station sites were confirmed. 
  • 2010: The first weather station was installed at Akuliaqattak. 
  • 2013: The first Silalirijiit Project officially ended. 
  • 2014: Funding was secured through the Government of Nunavut to keep the weather stations running. 
  • 2015: Funding was secured through the Hamlet of Clyde River to continue operating the Clyde River weather station network.
  • 2018: New grant from the National Science Foundation: Working with Inuit Elders and Youth to Identify, Document, Quantify, and Share Human-Relevant Environmental Variables (HREVs) in Clyde River, Nunavut.