Press release

New video documents climate change impacts on High Arctic

November 15, 2000

Mosquitoes find their way to the Arctic Circle; The permafrost is melting; A traditional way of life is at risk

IISD Project Manager Graham Ashford, Scientist Norm Snow and Rosemarie Kuptana, Sachs Harbour, NWT, resident and Past President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference are available for advance interviews Nov. 13, 14 and 15. Please call 416-538-8712 to schedule a time. Project officials and Inuit spokespersons will also participate, with environmentalists David Suzuki and Elizabeth May, in a news conference to launch the video Thurs., Nov. 16, 8 a.m. EST, Dining Room, National Press Club, 150 Wellington St., Ottawa.

WINNPEG — Unusual species of fish, birds, animals and insects; melting permafrost; a disappearing lake; thinning ice; and unprecedented reports of Arctic lightning storms are among dozens of climate change-related impacts in the Far North documented in Sila Alangotok: Inuit Observations on Climate Change, a dramatic new video released Nov. 16.

As nations meet in The Hague Nov. 13-24 to decide how to implement goals agreed to under the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the International Institute for Sustainable Development project underscores the urgency of the issue. The video footage vividly illustrates for the first time many ill effects warming temperatures are having on Inuit hunters, trappers and fishers in the hamlet of Sachs Harbour on Banks Islands, Northwest Territories, the most westerly island in the Canadian Arctic.

Among the climate change problems captured by the video project:

  • An inland lake that drained into the ocean killing all of the fresh water fish, because of melting permafrost;
  • Foreign insects and animals showing up in the region and competing for food and habitat;
  • Thinning ice, making hunting and fishing more dangerous. Seals and polar bears are carried further out to sea, making it more difficult for residents to get food;
  • Building foundations shifting due to permafrost melt, leaving some residents fearful they might have to abandon their community;
  • Autumn storms are more frequent and severe, making boating difficult. Thunder and lightning are reported for the first time.

Undertaken by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Hunters and Trappers Committee of Sachs Harbour, and funded by the Climate Change Action Fund, the Governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories, and the Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation, the video follows local people onto the land and sea around Sachs Harbour-and chronicles the changes they've observed-as they perform traditional activities.

"We've long known Polar Regions play an important role in regulating weather patterns around the world," said IISD Project Manager Graham Ashford. "Scientists have been predicting climate change would be most severe in the Polar Regions first. This project provides first-hand evidence of that and an indication of what's in store for the rest of us."

Two videos have been produced. A 14-minute version captures the intensity and challenge of climate change. The longer, 42-minute version includes additional, in-depth observations and visual evidence of climate change, including the appearance of salmon, barn swallows and robins; the impacts on muskox and geese; interviews with science team members; and archival footage.

"What's scary is the uncertainty," said Rosemarie Kuptana, Sachs Harbour resident and Past President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. "We don't know when to travel on the ice and our food sources are getting further and further away. We can't read the weather like we used to; it's changing our way of life.

"The Arctic is a very important ecosystem to the health of the rest of the planet," she added. "What we can do is try and educate and say: 'this is what's happening to us.'"

In addition to the videotape record, the project involved Western-trained scientists who interviewed community members, especially Elders and hunters, to obtain their detailed observations. Their work will result in several technical articles on the integration of indigenous knowledge, local observations and adaptive strategies with Western scientific research on climate change in the Arctic.

Said Kuptana: "Traditional Inuit knowledge about the world around us-like the weather, the animals, the migration patterns, the changes that we've seen-this is knowledge that has been accumulated over many, many centuries. It's oral tradition; it's scientific knowledge. It's our scientific knowledge."

David Runnalls, President of IISD, which produced the film, said: "We undertook this project to help the world see the problem of climate change through Inuit eyes.

"Climate change is widely considered to be one of the gravest threats to the sustainability of the planet's environment, the well-being of its people and the strength of its economies. By clearly demonstrating the negative impacts of climate change in Canada's Arctic, IISD hopes this project will reveal to people that this problem is real and action needs to be taken locally, nationally and internationally."

The video will be presented November 16 by IISD at the Conference of Parties (COP-6) to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, meeting in The Hague Nov. 13-24. It is available for public viewing online Nov. 16 at


Changes in birds - New species of birds observed in the area including robins and barn swallows. Changes in bird behaviour-snow geese stayed for a shorter time in the spring, while some small birds, which traditionally migrated, now stayed the entire winter.

Changes in marine animals - Observing seldom-seen aquatic species such as salmon and herring. Rock cod populations were observed to decline. Char were larger in size. Less sea ice was thought to have led to more young bearded seals being separated from their mothers and starving. Although many people felt that the seal population in the area was higher, fewer seals were accessible to the community due to a lack of sea ice.

Changes in land animals - The population of caribou was smaller and contained fewer large males. Polar bears leave their lairs earlier and move away from the community with warmer weather. The population of wolves was observed to be higher while the number of rabbits has decreased. New types of foxes (black/red) have been observed.

Changes in insects - Shorter winters, longer summers and more water were thought to have caused an increase in the number of insects in the area, and led to the arrival of new species. An increase in mosquitoes and a longer mosquito season. Occurrence of new beetles and sand flies.

Changes in weather patterns - Milder winters, warmer summers, a shorter fall and a slower and later freeze-up. Increased rain, summer hail, intense summer sun, stronger winter winds and the occurrence of thunder and lightning were also identified. Fluctuations in the seasons were also noted, particularly the earlier arrival of spring. The occurrence of bigger waves in the harbour was also felt to be a significant change.

Harvesting problems - Thinner and less abundant sea ice is making it difficult for people to hunt for animals such as seals and polar bears. On the land, melting permafrost created difficult conditions for overland travel, making it hard to harvest and transport land animals.

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.