Notes from the North

Day 5 — Kugluktuk

The weather has sent the InMER team to Kugluktuk instead of Holman Island. After departing Cambridge Bay we made the short flight Kugluktuk and landed at around 4:30. Right off the airplane we were greeted with a very different arctic topography. Kugluktuk is on the mainland and over 200 miles to the west, southwest of Cambridge Bay.

As the plane was fueled we met George, a resident of Kugluktuk. When George heard about the purpose of a trip and he immediately shared incredible stories of how Kugluktuk arctic environs had changed. He pointed to the green, almost lush Tundra and the small willow trees near the airport. He told us there were never any trees years ago in Kugluktuk. Now the trees were moving in and getting taller. He also told of more grizzly bears. Profoundly, as we talked about the weather and our decision not to go to Holman Island he commented that he was no longer possible to predict the weather as he had once been able to. As an Inuit who spent many days on the land, water and Ice his knowledge of the weather was deep and accurate. Now, he said he does not know what it will do.

At the small guest house the team stayed out we met Kathy and Ray the house managers, and two guests Bram and Adam. Adam was born on the land and had lived in Kugluktuk for the last 20 years. Bram, from the government of Nunavut has traveled and lived almost everywhere in the Arctic. Over dinner we all shared stories and experiences as we got to know each other. All of our new friends had tales of change in the Arctic. Bram described what could be some of the first mosquito on Grise Fjord, the northernmost Inuit community in Canada. Kathy and Ray described a day of rain in Kugluktuk that produces over 170mm. No one in Kugluktuk ever remembered it raining that amount.. Adam confirmed that he and the other elders had never experienced anything like it their lifetimes.

The InMER team hiked to a promontory overlooking the Coppermine River and the Coronation Gulf meet. The Northwest Passage lay before us. Our trip 2007 reconnaissance trip was nearing its end. As we talked all of the stories of changing arctic and the concerns expressed by those who live in the North were repeated and shared. Discussing the latest satellite images showing the arctic sea ice at a new minimum we could not help feel a powerful urgency for the InMER project. There looking out of an open Northwest Passage the implications of a changing planet hit home. To be here, when, 102 years ago Amundsen made history by conquering the Northwest Passage, while new history was being made, a new ice minimums and an open NW Passage was quite emotional.

Change is coming, yet there is still hope, still an opportunity for all of us to act to make a difference. If the arctic changes more, if the passage opens then there will be negative consequences for all of us, no matter where we live.

The NW passage will open in our lifetime if we do not act and act now to reduce of CO2 emissions on a planetary scale. We must do this for the people of the arctic, and for the people of the world.