Ice floats in Slidre Fjord outside the Eureka Weather Station, on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Monday, July 24, 2006. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘Not what it used to be:’ Warm Arctic autumn creates ice hazards for Inuit

Sea ice in October was at its lowest extent since records began in 1979

For Keith Morrison, the consequences of this fall’s extraordinarily warm weather across the North all came down to an urgent call for help.

The fire chief for the Arctic community of Cambridge Bay in Nunavut was at home the evening of Oct. 6 when he got word that a couple had fallen through the ice near a river mouth.

“It was pitch black,” Morrison recalled.

“The only light was from the machines themselves. He was standing on his snow machine and she was on the komatik (sled), deep enough that most of their bodies would have been in the water.

“I took out rope. One of their grandsons grabbed the rope and jumped in to get the lady out. Shortly after, we found a boat and they used that to get her husband.

“It was a close thing.”

It shouldn’t have been a thing at all. That stretch of ice is normally safe by this time of year, but this autumn has not been normal.

“What differentiated this year was we saw a widespread warmer temperature anomaly across the board in the Arctic,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Eric Dykes.

“Temperature anomalies that are five degrees above normal are happening a little bit more readily than they have in years past.”

Data from around the Arctic bear him out.

In Inuvik, N.W.T., temperatures on every single day between Sept. 1 and Nov. 11 were above normal. In Nunavut, Pond Inlet had only one day of below normal, while above-normal days occurred about 80 per cent of the time in the communities of Cambridge Bay and Pangnirtung.

Not only were temperatures warm, the amount of warming was noteworthy.

The Canadian Forces Station at Alert, on the top of Ellesmere Island, broke a record for Sept. 6 this year by six degrees.

Pond Inlet experienced one day that was 11 degrees warmer than average.

And not only did Resolute, Nunavut, record 68 days of above-normal warmth, nearly half of those days were outside the normal temperature variation. Kugluktuk, Nunavut, was similar — 58 warmer-than-average days, 34 of them outside the normal range.

ALSO READ: Study finds microplastics in all remote Arctic beluga whales

The U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that sea ice in October was at its lowest extent since records began in 1979. That’s 32 per cent below the 1981-2010 average.

“This fall we saw a much more widespread warming,” said Dykes. “Not only that, the stations that did warm were warmer than they had been the previous two falls.”

Andrew Arreak, who works in Pond Inlet for a group that helps people make safety judgments about sea ice, said there was still open water near his community this past week.

“People are usually on it the beginning of November. Yesterday, I was finally able to go on it.”

It’s not the only change.

“There have been more sightings of killer whales, increasing every year,” Arreak said.

“Insects are being reported that aren’t usually around the area. We don’t even know what they’re called.”

Things have changed, said Morrison, who no longer goes out on his Thanksgiving weekend ice-fishing trip. “A lot of people are noticing the ice is not what it used to be.”

Two days after he helped haul the elderly couple out of the freezing river, two young men went through the ice in shallow water.

“The route they were taking was one they’ve been taking all their lives without much of an issue,” Morrison said.

“The ice was thin and they went through.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Virtual Abbotsford International Airshow debuts online

2020 edition of the event moves to a virtual format in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic

Abbotsford golfers shoot aces on same hole in same group

Local golfers Blake Olson and Randy Morford shoot hole-in-ones at Ledgeview on same hole

Fraser Valley Bandits fall to Edmonton in CEBL final

Bandits lose 90-73 to Stingers in Sunday’s Summer Series final

Fraser Valley Bandits advance to CEBL Championship Game

Bandits post comeback 76-75 win over Hamilton Honey Badgers in Saturday’s semifinal

IHIT on scene of suspicious early-morning fire on rural Mission property

Entrance to Gunn Avenue property cordoned off while investigation takes place, updates coming

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

Simon Cowell breaks his back falling from electric bike

Incident happened at his home in California

VIDEO: Internet famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer explores Vancouver Island

Gurdeep Pandher spreads joy through dance, forms cross-cultural connections amid pandemic

Unofficial holidays: the weird and wonderful things people celebrate around the world

On any given day of the year, there are several strange, silly or serious holidays to observe

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

FURTHER UPDATE: Body removed from Maple Ridge hotel after large police presence

A large contingent of Mounties were at the Art Infiniti Hotel Friday afternoon and evening

Gene editing debate takes root with organic broccoli, new UBC research shows

Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables with origins in this scientific haze

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

Most Read