We Are Arctic Water

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On this journey to the Arctic, I have been very interested to learn whether indigenous people are concerned about the security of their fresh water supply. In speaking with local citizens, I could not find anyone who seemed troubled about the quantity or quality of their water supply. They felt that the abundance of ice around them guaranteed a clean supply for their foreseeable future.

However, climate change is indeed having an affect on water security and future supplies. Melting glaciers mean that the location and quantity of water supplies is shifting. Seasonal precipitation is dropping and evapotranspiration is increasing. As the permafrost melts, rivers and lakes sometimes disappear unexpectedly.

Quality of water supplies is also impacted. Shoreline erosion brings salty water inland. Increased global access to the Arctic leads to resource development that is accompanied by manmade pollutants and other impacts. Melting permafrost also leads to a release of natural pollutants such as methane and additional greenhouse gases. Then as resource development brings a population northward, their need for food, water and energy will further tap into clean water resources. The future is uncertain in terms of water security but I feel that an emphasis on water literacy will be important to add to the educational system. People need to understand where their water will come from and how it might be depleted or polluted from climate change and other global influences such as industrialization of the north.

Last night I gazed down on the massive ice sheet in Ilulissat Greenland. I recalled my first experience seeing as glacier as a child. My father and I hiked on top the Columbia Ice Fields in Canada. The remarkable foot of ice extending down the mountain pass has receded dramatically. The location where I got my boot stuck in glacial goop is a long hike from the end of the ice field. I have seen dramatic climate change in my time. What will the second half of my life bring and more importantly, how can I help people to prepare for it?

For further reference, please read:

Climate change and water security with a focus on the Arctic – Birgitta Evengard, Jim Berner, Michael Brubaker, Gert Mulvad, and Boris Revich.

Norman E, Bakker K, Cook C, Dunn G, Allen D. Water security: a primer. A Policy Report–Fostering Water Security in Canada. 2010. Available from: http://www.watergovernance.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/WaterSecurityPrimer20101.pdf. ISBN 978-0-88865-698-8.

ACIA – Scientific Report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2004. ISBN:9780521865098.

Vörösmarty CJ, McIntyre PB, Gessner MO, Dudgeon D, Prusevich A, Green P, et al. Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity. Nature. 2010;467:555–61.

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Goodbye Nain, Labrador

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The next stage of our journey begins. We leave Nain, Labrador on the MV Cape Race and head north. The experience here in Nain has been incredible. I think all of us would agree that it exceeded our wildest imaginations. We wanted to tread very lightly and not make any assumptions about storming in with education for the community. Our fears were alleviated immediately. Everyone was eager to learn more about what we were doing. The community gathers around the pier to fish and hang out. They were keen to bring their children to learn about the residents of our fish tanks and talk about scuba, the ocean and the geography of our trip plans ahead. In turn we learned about the Inuktituk names and legends associated with certain marine life. We listened to stories about what was part of the food supply and what was not. We learned about a beautiful way of life that involves a high emphasis on family and community activities. The children are smart, curious and warm and we could not have had a better launch for the Sedna Expedition.

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Outreach Overwhelming

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We had another incredibly rewarding day with the community. We caught a fresh batch of animals from the public wharf. Many people turned up to watch us dive and were prepared to stock up the tanks when we emerged from the water. We also brought home a transom cover that had been lost by a local boater some time ago. He asked us to pick it up for him and was relieved to have his boat part back. I think it had been in the water for a while, because I had to scrape off some resident anemones and other animals before returning it to him.

Ruby got everyone involved in the tanks and we tried to share a delicate message about trash in the ocean as we chatted with the kids. They were very receptive and were eager to touch, hold and learn about the residents on their local pier.

We’ll set sail in the morning from Nain and move north. The ice is socked in around Saglek Inlet in the Torngats so we are not sure what lies ahead.

Sly Not Blue

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© Jill Heinerth

I got up at 4:30 as the sky was brightening. I wanted to explore the village in the early morning. It was extremely quiet, except for the many dogs I seemed to be awakening as I tramped through the town. One soggy pup was eager to make friend and bumped against my leg and jumped up on my hip with his wet paws encased in cold gravel. I met a lone fisherman on the dock and decided to share space with him. I did not want to invade his tranquility with a barrage of questions. The morning felt serene and didn’t need conversation.

I said, “Beautiful!” and he replied, “oh yes.”

The cast of his rod and he added, “here they come.”

A school of Arctic Char chased after his shiny lure as he skillfully gigged and danced the line through the shallows. A slick streamlined fish was induced to take a bite and he set the hook with mastery. It landed with a thud on the cement pier and bled as it tried to flop back towards the ocean in vain.

“He’s trying to sneak away,” I said.

“He is a good one,” he replied as his tipped the fish with his foot, back toward to the center of the pier.

“No bait?” I inquired.

“My people say, it is better to be a sly fox than a blue one,” he smiled through a gap in his front teeth.

I stood quietly and watched him land one more small fish. He looked around the pier and told me he was late.

The rain drizzled on wet dogs in the harbor and I knew I was in a remarkable place.

© Jill Heinerth

© Jill Heinerth

It is worth noting that families here are challenged by the fact that there is a moratorium on hunting caribou… a staple that they ate every day before the change. Food here comes on a boat that has not arrived yet this season. Families must plan in the fall to stock up for the winter. Food by air is unbelievably expensive (have you ever paid $29 for a raw chicken breast?) and worries about food supply are always in their minds. A meal of Arctic Char is an important part of a family’s ability to forage in a tough environment.

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Reaching Out

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Our Chief Scientist Ruby Banwait launched our educational program today by setting up the touch tanks in Nain, Labrador. We had a fantastic turnout from the local community. We learned the Inuktituk names for animals from local people and shared our knowledge with kids who were able to touch the critters that are normally beyond their sight. Sea creatures were caught gently in the morning, lived in the tanks for the afternoon and were carefully returned to the sea by the enthusiastic kids. Erika’s underwater robots were a real hit with the kids until she ran out of battery power. We’ll launch again tomorrow and expect an even bigger crowd to come out.

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