A few days ago, we talked about how a long-standing Iqaluit tradition, the New Years Snowmobile Parade, was cancelled this year due to insufficient ice on Frobisher Bay. The bay had not frozen over as it usually does by sometime in October or November.
One question we are frequently asked at the Aquarium is, Is this an example of climate change?
Here’s the problem with answering that question: a late freeze-up, or any specific seasonal conditions for that matter, are examples of weather not climate.
Climate is basically a way of describing what the weather is usually like in any given area. That has to be determined by watching the weather over a long period of time. That means we need to do it even longer to tell if that climate is changing. This fall and winter’s weather around Baffin Island is just one data point to be added to many years of points.
OK, so if that’s not the right question to ask, what is?
The important question to ask in order to understand how this season’s weather connects to climate change is:
Is this type of weather becoming, or likely to become what we consider to be the “typical” weather in the area?
Or put another way, Is it consistent with the trends that we’ve been observing over the last several years?
While this very warm fall and winter in the eastern Arctic is only a single data point, it is consistent with a trend upward in temperature during the 30 years or so that we’ve had the help of satellites to determine temperature. There is a general consensus among the scientific community that what we are seeing is indeed a warming planet and not just one or a few weird winters. It doesn’t mean that every year has been warmer than the last; nor will every future year be warmer than the one prior. But if you smooth out all the ups and downs with a line through the middle, the resulting line trends upward. You can find an example here.
So the people of Iqaluit may still have many more New Years parades on a frozen Frobisher to look forward to; but over time, we can probably expect to see that becoming less predictable, less frequent, and eventually it may be more of the exception than the rule.
In the mean time, though, let’s hope that we as a global community can work together to bring that trend line back down. A parade is one thing, but the Inuit way of life is built around the seasonal coming and going of the sea ice, as is that of the wildlife on which they depend.