Researchers examining changes to ice and snow in and around Gjoa Haven were back in the community last week for the second year of a five-year study, according to James Qitsualik, president of the Gjoa Haven Hunters and Trappers Association.
Elders are being consulted on the differences they’ve witnessed in their lifetimes, Qitsualik said.
The researchers will use satellite images to help create maps that will be accessible in an online database and they will make presentations to youth to help them understand changes and how to remain safe, he added.
“We might have a little bit longer summer, which creates a little bit warmer oceans, which makes it dangerous a little bit longer than average,” Qitsualik said of the transforming landscape.
There have been some startling extremes too, he noted. For example, north of King William Island, the ocean normally freezes in late November, but there was a recent year when it wasn’t solid ice until early January, said Qitsualik.
Changes in snowfall have also been dramatic at times, he added.
“In the past we used to have a lot more snow. Now all of the snow is bypassing us, going further south,” he said, pointing out that the changing conditions can put snowmobilers at greater risk of accidents and skis on the machines can be damaged by unnoticed rocks that have only a light covering of snow.
Various animals and insects have been migrating to the island as well. Sandhill cranes, ground squirrels and black flies have become common, he said, and grizzly bear sightings have also increased.
“So we’re starting to see more southern animals come up this way,” he said.