Kumaglak is an Inupiaq elder living close to Shismaref on the Chukchi Sea coast of Alaska. His traditional activities, seasonal hunting for seal and walrus that he still continues have become increasingly difficult. “We used to go out on the ice for many weeks to find seal, roaming great distances. Nowadays the ice is no longer our friend. It forms much later and is very thin. We have problems in travelling to some of our old grounds and it disappears much earlier. Everything is changing and we cannot pass on our knowledge. It doesn’t fit anymore. We are very troubled.”
Environmental changes in the Northlands are some of the most dramatic. The rise in temperatures has been 2.3oC in the last 60 years, twice the world average. Arctic sea ice has shrunk severely, by some 40,000km2 on each year, with consequent impacts on communities and wildlife. Dramatic erosion on coasts, now devoid of the protecting belt of fast ice, has undermined villages in Alaska and forced relocations of hundreds of residents. The rising temperatures have had a further impact – causing more melting of the surface layers of the otherwise permanently frozen ground (permafrost). This has caused buildings to collapse, giant chasms to appear in the ground and the insidious release of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In these circum-Arctic regions traditions, culture, a distinctive heritage and life itself has been threatened profoundly by climate change.