Facing climate change, Canada's Inuit live on thin ice
In northern Canada, the Inuit are using state-of-the-art technology to adapt to climate change. Electromagnetic sensors and real-time maps help Indigenous groups track changes in the increasingly thin ice sheet.
On thin ice
In Nain, people live on ice that is gradually getting thinner. The roads of the small community in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, on Canada's northeast coast, lead across thick layers of ice to remote huts and hunting grounds. The safety of these roads is vital for the inhabitants as they try to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Using the latest technology
Rex Holwell, 47, uses the SmartICE program to monitor the region's ice cover and the numerous ice highways. With the new technology, he aims to make life safer in Nain. A recent analysis published in August shows that the Arctic region warmed almost four times as fast as the global average between 1979 and 2021 — significantly faster than experts have previously assumed.
Ice as far as the eye can see — but for how long?
People in Nain can see the effects of climate change with their own eyes. The ice cover used to be up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) thick. Today, it only reaches 90 to 120 centimeters. Snow is getting softer, the spring months are warmer and life on the ice is becoming more dangerous. The Inuit have no choice but to adapt to the new conditions as best they can.
'We have to adapt'
The fragile ice cover has already caused at least five dangerous accidents in the region this year. Holwell is teaching other Inuit to use SmartICE technology; more than 30 Inuit communities are already using the new program. "We have to adapt to climate change. And for that we will need more programs like SmartICE," Holwell told the Reuters news agency.
Snowmobiles or dog sleds?
Modern snowmobiles have long since replaced the traditional dog sleds. The Inuit have a pragmatic approach to the changes in their way of life, but many still keep the old traditions alive. "When the dogs are running, you feel everything," said Isaac Kohlmeister, one of the region's last dog sledders. "You even feel the fish under the ice."
With change comes loss of culture
Like most children in Nain, 13-year-old Darcel Noah is learning to fish under the ice. Many families want their children to be able to continue living on the ice, but climate change is unstoppable. "It will be a loss of culture," said Holwell. "The children will continue to identify as Inuit, but they won't have the same experiences as their parents."
Fishing and hunting to make ends meet
Many Inuit continue to live from fishing and hunting. This keeps the daily cost of living low in the hard-to-reach region in Canada's northeast. "I wish everything would go back to the way it used to be," said Katie Winters as she makes pitsik, the dried fish typical of the region, in her kitchen. "But I don't think we'll ever see that again."