Science encounters Inuit knowledge of the Arctic

Indian Country Today reports the “traditional atmospheric knowledge [of Inuit peoples] is helping to answer questions on changes in weather patterns, according to a new study accepted for publication in the journal Global Environmental Change.

The study integrates Inuit weather interpretations based on wind direction and speed, cloud formations, animal behaviors, the stars, sun and moon, with scientific evidence obtained from ice cores, weather satellites and computer models.

“The character of the weather is changing, a critical problem for the Inuit,” said lead author Elizabeth Weatherhead, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Colorado. “They were talking about something very specific that was disrupting their lifestyle.”

To reconcile differences between what Inuit were saying about their weather and what scientists were recording, Weatherhead looked at the data collected by her co-author and University of Colorado colleague anthropologist Shari Gearheard, who while living with the Inuit in Canada paid close attention to their descriptions of weather irregularities and time scales. . . .

“Our hunters have been telling us for decades that weather and ice conditions are changing, though when we began noticing it we didn’t call it climate change,” said Patricia Cochran, Alaska Native Science Commission executive director. A goal of the commission is to facilitate the inclusion of local and traditional knowledge into research and science.
. . .
Weatherhead said the study is important because it takes seriously people who are in touch with the earth. “Indigenous knowledge can help us understand what changes are taking place, and help identify which critical issues are most important. They can help us decide what our best path forward is.” . . . “

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