Traditional Inuit Knowledge
Combines With Science to Shape
Condensed by Native Village
Inuit living in the Arctic watch the the
way the wind scatters a cloud
to tell if a storm is coming or
if it's safe to go on a hunt.
These forecasting skills have been passed
down through generations.
In Colorado's Rocky Mountains,
measure data and use computer
models to predict weather.
But in the past 20 years,
something has changed with Inuit
forecasting. Old weather
signals don't mean what
they used to. A scattering cloud
could mean a storm is coming in an hour instead of
Now the Inuit and researchers are
combining traditional knowledge
and modern science to learn
about these changes in the Arctic climate.
"It's interesting how the
western approach is often trying
to understand things without
necessarily experiencing them,"
said Elizabeth Weatherhead from
the University of Colorado at Boulder. "With the Inuit, it's
much more of an experiential
issue, and I think that
fundamental difference brings a
completely different emphasis
both in defining what the
important scientific questions
are, and discerning how to
For years, researchers heard
about unpredictable weather
from Arctic communities. But
their measurements showed that
the world's weather appeared to becoming
more steady. The disparity
left scientists confused.
"I had been hearing about this
problem from other environmental
statisticians for a number of
years," said Weatherhead, "But the Inuit used a different
language than what we
statisticians used, and none of
us could really figure out what
matched up with their
Shari Gearheard, a CU-Boulder's
scientist, lives in
Clyde River, Nunavut.
Clyde River is an
Inuit community on eastern
Baffin Island. For
10 years, Shari has worked with
Inuit hunters and elders to
document their knowledge of the
environment and how it's
some Inuit members still posses these
ancient prediction skills,
the knowledge is dying off as
their culture and climate
Gearheard is collecting and
says patterns are emerging,
especially during the spring and
the earth is in transition.
The top layer of the snow
would melt during the day, then refreeze at night, forming
"In fact, in a lot of places,
the season is named after a
particular process by the
Inuit," said Gearheard. "In
cases like this where the Inuit
are not seeing that process
anymore, it is an indicator to
them that something had
Weatherhead said Shari's
information helps bridge
indigenous knowledge with
incredibly helpful was Shari's
detailed description of what
they were experiencing on what
sort of timescales," said Weatherhead. "That really
allowed us to start focusing on
our statistical tests and try to
find exactly what matched their
Scientists' statistics of Baker
Lake temperatures matches Inuit
reports of greater
didn't have the place it does
now in research," Gearheard
said. "It's growing. People are
becoming more familiar with it,
more respectful of it."
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