link to Home Page

icon Canadians

Effects of global warming clear in Canada arctic
By David Ljunggren, Reuters, April 19, 2000

He may be only a hunter in Canada's remote Arctic, but Steven Kooneeliusie certainly knows as much about the practical effects of global warming as any environmental scientist. He and the other Inuit whose job it is to brave snow and ice to find caribou, seal and other animals say the signs of a gradual increase in temperature are everywhere. "When I went hunting years ago I used to wear a full-length caribou skin coat, but now I just wear a light parka. It is so hot these days my snowmobile often overheats," Kooneeliusie said in the small town of Pangnirtung, some 1,500 miles (2,450 km) north of Ottawa nearly on the Arctic Circle. "We're seeing animals here we've never seen before, and last year I spotted a swan. The sun is very hot, too hot. For the first time ever people are actually getting sunburned." While arguments rage about whether global warming is primarily caused by pollution, the effects on the ground are all too real in the Arctic. One of the best places to observe them is the new territory of Nunavut, home to 27,000 people dotted across 750,000 square miles (2 million square km). "The effect that global warming is causing in Nunavut today is being felt by a lot of people, especially those who travel outside of communities, both hunters and campers," Sustainable Development Minister Peter Kilabuk said.

Kilabuk, based in the Nunavut capital Iqaluit, grew up in Pangnirtung and has seen for himself the changes in the fjord that the town sits on. "I know when I was probably 8 or 10 the ice wouldn't go out until July, sometimes not until the second week of July. But over the last few years we've seen the ice go out as early as May," he said. "To us the effects are real. Climate change is here and it's a real cause for concern." Among those cursing global warming were four hunters trying to haul their snowmobiles up a frozen waterfall in Auyuittuq National Park, which lies between Pangnirtung and the remote northern settlement of Broughton Island. "Normally there is enough ice here for just two people to be enough. But this year the ice is just awful," complained one man as he strained on a rope. Auyuittuq - "The land that never melts" - is famed for its enormous glaciers, but locals say even they are melting. "The glaciers have receded over the last 10 years and the ice is much worse," hunter Solomon Nakoolak said.

U.S. government researchers say average global temperatures over the last 25 years alone have been increasing at a rate equivalent to 2 degrees Celsius (4 Fahrenheit) a century. Studies show the Arctic sea ice has also thinned over the last 30 years or so to six feet (1.8 meters) from 10 feet (3.1 meters) and has shrunk by around 6 percent since 1975. This month, scientists from the United States and Europe said more than 60 percent of the Arctic ozone layer some 11 miles (18 km) above the Earth had vanished over the winter due to record cold and continued pollution - one of the most substantial ozone losses at this altitude ever recorded. As the Arctic gradually heats up, precipitation increases and helps push the tree line ever further to the north.

"People are already observing species which don't belong here such as grizzly bears, which have been moving north. We see a lot more wolverines further north than we used to," said Francois Rainville at Environment Canada's office in Iqaluit. "There are insects and birds which have not been seen here before. There is an impact. People are seeing change," he said. Last year one Iqaluit woman reported seeing a robin. Shrinking ice packs also mean polar bears have less time to stay out on the floes in winter looking for seals and other food sources to help them through the lean summer period. More and more sightings are being reported aross Arctic Canada of hungry bears foraging for food in towns. "Last year, for the firsttime in a long while, we had polar bears here. A mother and a cub surprised some picnickers just outside town," Kooneeliusie said. "We did all we could to scare them off but they ignored us because they were so hungry. We had to shoot them." Some fear that as the ground heats up airport runways and buildings could crack, a phenomenon already seen in Siberia. Rainville and other experts prefer not to debate the causes of global warming, saying it makes more sense to focus on dealing with the aftermath.