Traditional Knowledge

trad_02.jpgThe sun rises in a different place than it used to,” the elder told the Global Warming 101 Expedition Team. We shot a look at each other across the room. “How could this be?” we asked ourselves later. Elders all across Baffin had told us the same thing, but it just didn’t make any sense to us. The elders weren’t reporting just a small shift in the sunrise location; they were telling us that it was rising as much as three sun-widths to the side. Many told us they believed it was connected with the warming, but they weren’t sure how.

At home in our basecamp we would try to figure out how these observations from the local elders could fit with our understanding of the way the earth’s spin, tilt and orbit work. We thought, if the earth had indeed shifted on its axis, wouldn’t we have heard about it from scientists?

Finally we found a possible explanation. Locals in Clyde River told us about Wayne Davidson, a meteorologist in Resolute Bay in the High Arctic, north of Baffin. He thinks that an unusually warm layer of air over the cold snow refracts the light from the sun over the horizon. To get an idea of how this works, stick a fork into a glass of water and look at how the tines appear to bend at the waterline.

As part of the International Polar Year (IPY) scientists from around the world will be studying the Arctic and Antarctic. Locals here on Baffin are hoping the scientists will be able to shed some more light on the environmental changes happening in their home region.

As I travel through Baffin, speaking with the locals about their observations of environmental change, I marvel at their knowledge. I am hopeful that the IPY will provide another opportunity for western scientists and Inuit people to share knowledge with each other.

Elizabeth

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