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Baffin Island Maps Its Sea Ice

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Arctic sea ice is as much a partner in daily Inuit life as the people themselves, and now a new online, interactive atlas is charting the permutations of that ice, accompanied by explanations of the role the ice plays and its significance.

A unique combination of Inuit traditional knowledge and scientific research has enabled a team of scientists and cartographers from Carleton University in Ottawa, working with Native hunters, elders and other experts, to map the ice around Baffin Island, Nunavut. Cape Dorset, Clyde River, Igloolik and Pangnirtung are all represented in the Inuit Siku Ice Atlas, each with satellite images of its sea ice, plus commentary from local hunters and other residents on the role that the ice plays in daily life, as well as observations of long-term changes and how they are affecting daily life. It also talks about how the sea ice forms.

“The Inuit Knowledge Centre is happy to see the release of the Inuit Siku Ice Atlas, an innovative interactive online resource that provides access to Inuit knowledge on sea ice around specific Baffin Island communities,” said Mary Simon, president of the advocacy organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). This is an excellent example of a collaborative research project that brings together Elders, hunters, youth and researchers to share knowledge, stories, maps, and terminologies. We are looking forward to attending the launch."

The atlas was developed as part of the International Polar Year project, the Inuit Sea Ice Use and Occupancy Project, the site says. It documents the ice evolution between 2004 and 2008.

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In the Igloolik section we learn the importance of sea ice in hunting, both as a shortcut to hunting grounds and as a route to animals such as the seal, which congregates below it near breathing holes or through tidal cracks, making them accessible when the water freezes. Even when the ice is over land, it’s smoother to travel over than the terrain underneath.

“They had to learn about the relationships between winds, weather, tides, currents, and sea ice in order to: travel safely on the sea ice, understand animal habitat and behaviour, hunt successfully to provide food, clothing, and other materials for their families, and to survive in traditional times,” state the map’s creators on the website.

“The atlas does not do justice to the incredible body of knowledge possessed by Inuit. Nor is it thought to replace traditional ways of learning,” said Claudio Aporta, professor of sociology and anthropology at Carleton University, in a statement. “We hope it will offer an accurate glimpse of the knowledge and skills developed by Inuit to hunt and travel on the sea ice.”

Besides increasing environmental awareness and bringing traditional knowledge to the fore, the atlas is also serving as an educational resource for language preservation and to pass the institutional memory of elders down to future generations. Because much of the knowledge has been handed down orally in past generations, the site explains, it is not written down. Now it is accessible online.

“This is a way of sharing sea ice knowledge, and also preserving aspects of the Inuktitut language in various local dialects,” the atlas website says. “Part of this interest was also to have written materials that could be included more into school programs (whether in the classroom or on the land/ice), so that students can learn about Inuit knowledge and language of sea ice."