The Global Warming 101 Expedition Team arrived in Pangnirtung on March 10 after skirting around the edge of the Cumberland Sound. The base camp team was relieved to see them mushing down the Pangnirtung Fiord. We had been hearing reports of thin ice and large stretches of open water on the Sound. A radio story by the CBC reported the Cumberland Sound has the worst ice conditions in recorded history. They reported that seal pups were falling through the ice and the ice was not safe for hunters to travel. We were beginning to worry about the team’s safety.
The base camp team flew to Iqaluit a few days before the dog teams arrived. On the plane Elizabeth sat next to Inuit elder Jamesie Mike (Meeka and Becky’s dad). Jamesie lives in Pangnirtung but had traveled to Iqaluit for an elders meeting on climate change. Although Jamesie speaks only Inuktitut, it was easy for Elizabeth and he to communicate about the ice conditions in Cumberland Sound.
Jamesie had the window seat on the side of the plane facing towards thei head of the sound around which the dog-teams were traveling. He tapped Elizabeth on the shoulder and with wide-eyes he pointed towards the window.
Elizabeth leaned over and gasped in surprise at what she saw. The ice in the sound was fragmented with large stretches of completely open water. The northwest wind had blown the pack ice out towards the mouth of the sound, leaving miles and miles of open water near the head of the sound, right where the dog teams were traveling. The only solid ice skirted the very edges of the sound. Even this solid ice was punctuated by occasional polynias (ice-free areas of warm upwelling ocean currents).
Jamesie turned over his shoulder to talk with another elder in the seat behind him. They both talked excitedly in hushed tones pointing out the window towards the broken ice.
Jamesie pulled his camera out of his bag and took several photos of the Sound. He then removed from his bag two 8”x10” photo copies of satellite images of Cumberland Sound. One photo was taken January 28, 2007 and the other on February 16, 2007. On each photo Jamesie had written “Pang” in blue pen to mark the location of his home.
Jamesie swept his hand over the satellite image, motioning to Elizabeth that the ice which had been in the Sound had all blown out to sea. Even though they could not communicate with words, they both understood the implications of the ice conditions.
On March 11, the day after the dog-teams arrived we heard that the ice over which they had traveled the two days before had broken up and blown out to sea. If this had happened a day earlier or it the team had been a day later, the situation could have been serious.
For the local people who live and hunt around Cumberland Sound the poor ice conditions mean dangerous or impossible travel between outpost camps and an inability to fish and hunt for subsistence.