Arctic areas of the planet are experiencing the most rapid rate of change in climate with very tangible, visible impacts. Changes in weather, vegetation, watershed response, snow and ice masses, and fauna are increasing in magnitude and frequency. A series of projects are linking Inuit, Yupik, and Athabaskan knowledge with climate science to understand changing weather patterns and their impacts on the First Peoples. Evaluating the nature and significance of weather changes in the arctic requires an approach that merges different tools, methods, and ways of knowing the environment.
The Silalirijiit collaborative is a multicultural and multidisciplinary team of physical and social scientists are exchanging skills and knowledge all with the common purpose of understanding the weather in this part of the Arctic. “Silalirijiit” (pronounced see-lah-LEE-ree-yeet) is an Inuktitut word that means "those who work with or think about weather." Projects are focused on high-latitude North America in general, but in particular, the Kangiqtugaapik (Clyde River), Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada and Lower Yukon River Basin, Alaska.
Silalirijiit projects step outside the bounds of traditional scientific research by using a combination of facilitated dialogue and collection of snow, ice, and water data. They combine qualitative and quantitative methods into a transformative process of mutual discovery between scientists and communities. To support collection of weather data for the projects, RMRS scientist Kelly Elder designed a state-of-the-art weather station network for the Clyde River area on Baffin Island. This area is used heavily by the community for recreation and hunting.
Scientists with the Silalirijiit collaborative are also working with First Nation students to teach them to compare, contrast, and integrate indigenous observations and knowledge with western scientific methods. Indigenous knowledge captures ecological changes over time in unique and alternate ways from conventional western science. The students' work involves observations of changes that affect the lives and activities of Baffin Island and lower Yukon communities where citizens are particularly interested and concerned about changing sea ice, snowpack, water resources, and water quality.
Results of the Silalirijiit projects will facilitate the development of adaptive strategies through community participation and form a new, relational way of viewing the environment. These collaborations create a more holistic view of climate change effects on human populations by addressing the year-round relationship between the local populations and the climate and hydrologic cycles in the arctic region.
All photos by Kelly Elder