Water and Ice-Related Phenomena in the Coastal Region of the Beaufort Sea: Some Parallels between Native Experience and Western Science

  • Eddy Carmack
  • Robie Macdonald
Keywords: Arctic oceanography, Beaufort Shelf, indigenous knowledge, Jimmy Jacobson, northern ecosystems

Abstract

Information gained through Native experience is combined here with scientific measurements to describe aspects of the wintertime oceanography of the Eskimo Lakes and Mackenzie River delta regions of the Canadian Beaufort Sea. The experiences of Jimmy Jacobson, a Tuktoyaktuk elder who lived in this region for over 70 years, were used as the basis for scientific planning and measurement. We focus on phenomena of special relevance to winter travel and fishing in four specific examples of Native insight guiding scientific inquiry. First, we examine local knowledge of ice characteristics and fish abundance in terms of tidal dispersion and its effect on mixing patterns during winter. Second, we relate the maintenance of a small ice-free area, used by caribou as a salt lick, to the vertical heat flux associated with flow through narrow channels. Third, we look at potentially dangerous episodes of overflooding of snow and ice in the nearshore zone in midwinter, caused by strong westerly winds, through the analysis of oxygen isotope distributions in ice cores. Fourth, we discuss the important influence of wind direction on ice conditions, lead formation, and brine production in semi-enclosed coastal bays. Finally, we note certain circulation features of ecological significance relevant to concerns about development and the transport of pollutants. We conclude that by not requiring agreement between indigenous knowledge and Western science, or ranking one above the other, we can realize the values of each approach. Specifically, indigenous knowledge can provide direction to scientific inquiry, while Western science can be used to measure, model, and predict where development or change might have the most serious impact.

Published
2009-08-25