Today is the final day of the 2010 ArcticNet Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM). Several hundred Arctic researchers and representatives from industry, northern communities, associations and government converged on Ottawa to discuss research progress, identify key areas requiring study and compare notes on the state of Canada’s Arctic.

One of many receding glaciers on Ellesmere Island. Photo: Eric Solomon.

It was not that long ago when much of the focus of the ArcticNet ASM was on identifying whether, when, and to what extent global climate changes will affect the Arctic. This week’s presentations generally devoted only a single slide to acknowledge that change is ocurring and quickly moved on to a discussion of “so now what?”

Adaptation–of people and wildlife–and mitigation are the themes of the day in Arctic research.  And there are many questions:

Given that permafrost is melting, what does that mean for the chemical makeup of the soil? The way that pollutants will interact with the land and the life in the north? The freshwater systems that sit atop the melting permafrost?

Given that the sea ice develops later, melts sooner and is generally thinner, will the top predators in the north shift from polar bears to killer whales? Will animals that have evolved to thrive in and around sea ice such as belugas, narwhals, polar bears and ringed seals, be replaced by southern species that can outcompete them in ice-free conditions. Will food insecurity in northern communities increase or decrease?

Given increases in temperature and wind in the Arctic, how will the makeup of algae and plankton in Arctic lakes change? How will that impact the species of fish in the lakes? How quickly will southern species continue to move northward?

All of these issues are greatly impacting Inuit in the north. If there is a people anywhere in the world that will successfully adapt to the world’s changing climates, however, it’s the people in the north. It is their intimate connection to the natural environment which on one hand is causing them to experience most profoundly the impacts of climate change; but on the other hand, the strength of that connection for so many milenia indicates an ability to adapt that has long-since been lost by much of the rest of the world. It won’t be easy; there are many concerns ranging from food insecurity to impacts of melting permafrost, but the Inuit have built their way of life around working with nature and they will continue to do so, however difficult and differently than before. Those of us whose cultures are built around the domination and control of nature may find it harder to be successful.

In the mean time, the race is on to answer so many questions about the impacts of changing climates even as those changes are ocurring all around us.

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