Local knowledge, needs will drive Arctic sea ice research

Social Sciences

UVic Department of Geography PhD candidate Laura Eerkes-Medrano, left, and Isaac Tavalok, chair of Gjoa Haven's Hunters and Trappers Association, during ONC's November visit to Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. Credit: Maia Hoeberechts

Expanded community engagement into more Arctic communities is helping Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) carry out the ocean science that matters most to the people who live in Canada’s North.

Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR) announced today that ONC will receive $247,000 to expand its successful community-engagement program in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, to the communities of Kugluktuk and Gjoa Haven. The two-year grant, focused on the science of sea ice, was awarded by POLAR and is a continuation of their support of ONC’s leadership of community engagement in the Arctic.

“Research driven by the needs of a community is well-established in areas such as health and social work, but it’s lagging in the sciences,” says Maia Hoeberechts, project lead with ONC, a University of Victoria initiative.

“We have the intention with all of our projects of doing scientific work in ways that are meaningful to the communities we work with,” says Hoeberechts. “But what really excites me about this one is that it’s the first time we’ve been funded exclusively to work with the communities, with the option to develop a follow-up research proposal with them if there’s interest.”

The study of sea-ice processes is a key aspect of understanding climate change in the Arctic. Ice growth, melt rates and ocean acidification are all affected by increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, largely a result of burning fossil fuels.

ONC will be conducting interviews with youth, active hunters, Indigenous elders and non-Inuit community members in Kugluktuk and Gjoa Haven as part of the project, and replicating its two highly successful youth engagement programs launched in Cambridge Bay in 2014 and 2016.

Those programs—Ocean Sense and Youth Science Ambassador—aim to engage youth in the collecting and sharing of vital insights into changes in the oceans around their communities. Youth are encouraged to make their own observations, analyze ONC data and talk to Indigenous elders, putting their local observations to use in making global connections.

Other aspects of the project will train college students in the North in ONC instrumentation. ONC will also translate and share data from ocean monitoring bodies including Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Canadian Ranger Ocean Watch program and the Canadian Ice Service—both partners in the project—to improve accessibility for people in Arctic communities.

That data will be shared as well via Oceans 2.0, ONC’s unique data portal bringing together the deep-sea information being continuously collected by ONC’s network of undersea observatories. 

ONC’s observing network of internet-connected stations has been collecting data and detecting environmental change for more than five years in the Arctic Ocean at Cambridge Bay. The state of sea ice due to climate change is a global concern, and the growing possibility that the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free by 2030 has accelerated the need for a better understanding of how the Arctic functions and responds to climate change.

A press kit containing high-resolution photos is available on Dropbox.

NOTE to media: The ONC communications team is returning from Quebec today and are available only until 11 a.m. PST. They will have full availability as of Monday, Dec. 18.

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Media contacts

Maia Hoeberechts at maiah@uvic.ca

Greig Bethel at 250-216-7510 or gbethel@uvic.ca

In this story

Keywords: Arctic, oceans, climate, Indigenous, youth, Nunavut, Ocean Networks Canada, Polar Knowledge Canada, community, geography

People: Maia Hoeberechts

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