Snow on ice

snowonice_01.jpgLocal people tell us that when the snow comes right after the sea begins to freeze, it can keep the ice from thickening. It may seem strange to think of snow keeping something warm. Snow traps air, however, just like a fluffy comforter on a bed or the modern insulation in the outside walls of your house. This trapped air is a good insulator.

Even when the air temperatures get very cold, a thick layer of snow on the newly-formed sea ice can insulate the water from the cold air. The warmer ocean waters can then keep the ice from freezing to its usual depth.

Hunters and elders across Baffin Island have been telling us that with a warming climate, the snow often comes right after the ice begins to freeze. In addition to making the ice form not as thick, the layer of snow on the top can make it difficult for local travelers to notice if the ice is starting to melt from the bottom.

snowonice_03.jpgMany hunters and elders have told us that the ice used to melt from the top down. Now they say it melts from the bottom up. They say the snow blanket on top insulates the ice from the cold air and the warm ocean currents melt the ice from the bottom.

Because the ice still looks the same from the surface, it can confuse some travelers. There have been cases of people on snowmobiles falling through thin ice that looked fine from the top.

For much of the year the sea ice makes up a large part of the world of the local Inuit people. They travel over the ice to reach hunting grounds, neighboring communities and outpost camps. They stake their dogs on the sea ice and build fishing shacks.

Their safety and traditional way of life depends on ice and their ability to read it. Even a seemingly small change like the timing of the snowfall in relation to the ice freeze-up can have wide impacts.



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