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Arctic ice battered once more; Grise Fiord's Larry Audlaluk has witnessed extraordinary melting

The latest blow to dwindling ice in the Canadian Arctic came in the form of an 80-kilometre ice platform breaking away from the last fully intact ice shelf at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island during late July and early August.

Approximately 80 square kilometres started to break away from the Milne Ice Shelf at the end of July and into August, as depicted in this satellite imagery. It was the last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic. Above normal air temperatures, offshore winds and open water are impacting Arctic ice.
photo courtesy of Canadian Ice Service

The island of ice that collapsed and floated away represented a loss of 43 per cent of the shelf's area, according to the Canadian Ice Service.

Larry Audlaluk, several hundred kilometres to the south in Grise Fiord, heard the news days later. But he's been witnessing the effects of climate change first-hand for much of his life.

He's seen more and more rock, identifiable by its lighter colour, that has been exposed by melting glacial ice.

"Since I've been a boy in Grise Fiord, in the area, I've watched the ice caps receding for years," he said. "It really seems to have accelerated ... after 1985 it's been melting at an incredibly fast pace."

He also remembers being able to hunt on the sea ice during late September as a young man in the 1970s. These days, he and others in Grise Fiord have to wait until late October or early November before they can venture out onto the ice, but November brings the beginning of the dark season when the sun doesn't rise again until February.

Some scientific studies are predicting an ice-free Arctic during late summers in as little as 15 to 30 years.

“I'm so sad. I'm crying in my heart when I hear making money is more important (than the environment). It's important to make money but don't kill our whole planet in the name of industry,” says Grise Fiord resident Larry Audlaluk.
photo courtesy of Larry Audlaluk

Audlaluk, who was invested in the Order of Canada as a High Arctic ambassador in 2008, is aware that some nations would quickly exploit the disappearance of Arctic ice because it would mean shorter shipping routes.

"The world has so much at stake ... With all that (shipping) traffic, are we going to be ignored and brushed aside so the economists of the world can be satisfied?

"What if there's a big disaster in the Northwest Passage? What kind of compensation plan do they have?" he asked.

"We are human beings up here, after all. We have our needs as well."

The thought of putting economic growth and its associated greenhouse gases ahead of the environment leaves Audlaluk disheartened.

"If people really cared for their planet, that (the environment) should be the priority. I'm so sad. I'm crying in my heart when I hear making money is more important," he said.

"It's important to make money but don't kill our whole planet in the name of industry."

Savikataaq, Qaqqaq want action

Nunavut Environment Minister Joe Savikataaq said Nunavut's Climate Change Secretariat is working with the research community to better understand the impacts of climate change and the risks to Nunavummiut.

"We know that the Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the world, causing major impacts to our communities, our waters and our land. The collapse of such a significant part of the Milne Ice Shelf is proof that warmer global temperatures are shrinking glaciers, sea ice and ice shelves at alarming rates," Savikataaq stated.

"We cannot deny that events like these won't keep happening and we need to ensure that Canadians and people around the world fully understand the impacts we see each and every day as a result of inaction in the fight against global climate change."

Nunavut member of Parliament Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said the Milne Ice Shelf splitting apart should provide a "wake-up call" to the world.

"Receding ice sheets in the Arctic have been one of the clearest indicators of climate change for decades. People across the Arctic have raised alarm bells about them for years, but these warnings have fallen on deaf ears," said Qaqqaq.

"For people in the Arctic, (melting) ice makes travel more dangerous and threatens our way of life. Globally, the loss of ice sheets will accelerate climate change even faster.

"The most recent loss of ice sheets in Canada should be a wake-up call. It is not too late to start taking care of our environment, but we must act now."