The Dynamics of Human-Sea Ice Relationships: Comparing Changing Environments in Alaska, Nunavut, and Greenland

NSF logoThis project is funded by NSF grant 0624344


To conduct an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural study of the dynamic relationship between humans and sea ice.


Shari Fox is the PI; Roger Barry and Henry Huntington are Co-PIs; Andy Mahoney, Ilkoo Angutikjuak, Joelie Sanguya, Igah Sanguya, Geela Tigullaraq, Toku Oshima, Mamarut Kristiansen, Qaerngaaq Nielsen, Warren Matumeak, Joe Leavitt, and Nancy Leavit are Co-Investigators.

Project Summary

This project is also referred to as "Siku-Inuit-Hila" (Sea ice, people, and weather). The research team includes social and physical scientists and members of each community: Barrow (Alaska), Clyde River (Nunavut) and Qaanaaq (Greenland). The project relies heavily on fieldwork conducted by the whole team in each community. Comparisons of sea ice use and changes are the focus of workshops and field excursions. The team will also establish ice monitoring stations, which are monitored by local observers to record the ice growth and melt cycle at key locations for each community.

In recent years, Arctic sea ice has been thinning, retreating, and changing its patterns of freeze up and break up. For many indigenous communities in the Arctic, sea ice use and human-sea ice relationships that are deeply rooted in time, as well as identity, are being challenged. There is an urgent need for scientists, decision makers, and others to better understand the human and social dynamics surrounding Arctic sea ice change, what is at stake for coastal communities, and what the responses might be. Using the unique approach of an international, multidisciplinary, and multicultural "sea ice knowledge exchange," the investigators, in partnership with indigenous sea ice experts (hunters and Elders) from three regions of the Arctic (Barrow, Alaska; Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada; and Qaanaaq, Greenland), will conduct a comparative study across these three communities. Bringing together traditional knowledge, science, and methods from social sciences (e.g. interviews; participatory observation) and physical science (e.g. analysis of remote sensing imagery and meteorological data), the research team will examine the following:

  1. Characteristics of sea ice and its use by humans, including the role of the human-sea ice relationship in social organization of the three communities
  2. Changes in human use patterns over time
  3. Changes to sea ice, with particular attention to the features most crucial for human uses
  4. Recent human responses to changes in sea ice
  5. Societal impacts from sea ice changes and human responses
  6. Implications for future changes, impacts, and adaptation

The results of the research will

  • Provide important insights into present and anticipated changes to Arctic ecosystems at scales most significant to coastal inhabitants and ecosystems
  • Provide insights into present and potential adaptations by local residents
  • Involve local residents in the study, thereby increasing their capacity for collaborative participation in scientific research while improving capabilities to communicate results effectively to the local communities
  • Involve young investigators (graduate student, junior scientists, and local high school students)
  • Increase the capacity of groups such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council and local Hunters and Trappers Associations to take a substantial role in Arctic research
  • Provide training and infrastructure for sea ice research in communities (e.g. ice monitoring equipment and oral history training) and build a network of researchers and Arctic residents across three countries
  • Create models and tools for studying human-environment relationships in the Arctic, as well as linking indigenous knowledge and science
  • Contribute data sets and analysis to ongoing research efforts by organizations such as the Canadian Ice Service and the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

The study expands on issues identified by the international Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA 2005) and will contribute to the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008.

Related Resources

View "Inuit Isaannit Silaannaq," a 2007 video documentary by Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa-TV (Greenland National Broadcasting Company) about the "Siku-Inuit-Hila" project and Fox's and Mahoney's fieldwork in Greenland. (In Greenlandic; interviews with Fox and Mahoney are in English)

Download a copy of "A Change in the Weather," an article about Shari Fox's research in Nunavut, featured in the February 2008 issue of Natural History magazine. (PDF, 1.2 MB)

Contact NSIDC User Services for more information.