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The Silalirijiit projects: Linking traditional ecological knowledge with technology-based climate modeling

Date: September 11, 2015


Background

Esa Qillaq collects a weathered bowhead whale vertebra, which he will carve into a sculpture at his home.
Esa Qillaq collects a weathered bowhead whale vertebra, which he will carve into a sculpture at his home.
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.

Approach

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.

Person looking at weather station in snowy backdrop
Ilkoo Angutikjuak examines the Akuliaqattak station for polar bear damage. Akuliaqattak translates to the place in the way, which is named for the long strip of land between two fjords on the west side on Baffin Island.
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. 

Key Findings

  • The Silalirijiit collaboration has led to the establishment of a broader Nunavut Climate Change Partnership. This partnership is multi-faceted, bringing scientists, planners, communities and decision-makers together from across Nunavut to build the capacity for climate change adaptation.
  • Modeled snow distributions from historical climate data closely match local knowledge of snow distribution and behavior.
  • An extended meteorological station network adopted by local hunters and recreationists has proven useful for traditional activities as well as search and rescue operations.

Additional Information

Installation team at a weather station at Silasiutitalik in the Kangiqtugaapik (Clyde River) area of Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada.  (Photo: Kelly Elder)
Installation team at a weather station at Silasiutitalik in the Kangiqtugaapik (Clyde River) area of Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. (Photo: Kelly Elder)
Weather station in Clyde River area
Meteorological station at the head of the Clyde River fjord. The station is named Silasiutitalik, which means the place where a weather station used to be. Current weather for this station can be found at: http://www.clyderiverweather.org

All photos by Kelly Elder



Principal Investigators: 
External Partners: 
Principal Investigators:
Shari Fox Gearheard (University of Colorado & National Snow and Ice Data Center)
Henry Huntington (PEW Research Foundation)
Glen Liston (Colorado State University)

Additional Partners:
University of Colorado
National Snow and Ice Data Center
Colorado State University
Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere
National Science Foundation
Inuit First Peoples, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada
Ittaq Heritage and Research Centre
Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge in the Arctic
Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council
U.S. Geological Survey