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International polar year

Living with change

To plan for future change, researchers are studying societies from the past.

For centuries the inhabitants of the North have demonstrated a remarkable ability to thrive under some of the most challenging conditions in Canada’s Arctic. Now they face a new series of major changes: ocean ice cover is giving way to open water; weather patterns are less predictable; disappearing permafrost is reshaping the landscape; new species are appearing; and increased economic development is creating opportunities as well as unprecedented social stresses.

Researchers with Canada’s International Polar Year (IPY) initiative have been working with Northern communities to assess the resilience of Northerners in the face of current and future challenges. They are focusing on questions such as: How have people and caribou traditionally used ice patches in the Mackenzie Mountains? How are Inuit sea ice travel routes being impacted by climate change? When and why did the Inuit migrate eastward from Alaska?

In the case of vulnerability of Aboriginal populations to environmental change, scientists are focusing on many communities across the North. Each site is treated as an individual case study. A common approach is used to assess potential problems and to outline strategies to address those challenges.

Other investigators have been looking at the resilience that characterizes well-established communities. By considering the local availability of food sources such as caribou, researchers are studying how factors such as social networks, traditional knowledge and governance have enabled people in each of these areas to deal with fluctuations of essential resources.

From another angle, IPY researchers are also shedding light on the Arctic’s earliest inhabitants, including traditional practices, settlement patterns and environmental conditions. The lessons of history could improve our understanding of how climate change will affect today’s human and physical environments.


This interactive vignette describes the IPY project ‘Dynamic Inuit Societies in Arctic History’ that investigated how Inuit culture has developed and changed over the past 1,000 years in response to environmental and social change. Users are welcome to scroll through a list of sections that delve into greater detail of the project.


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Quiz :

In what years did the first International Polar Year take place?