Advancing Landscape Change Research through the Incorporation of Iñupiaq Knowledge


  • Wendy R. Eisner
  • Chris J. Cuomo
  • Kenneth M. Hinkel
  • Benjamin M. Jones
  • Ronald H. Brower, Sr.



Alaska, Arctic coast, database management, environmental change, Geographic Information Systems, Iñupiat, indigenous knowledge, landscape processes


Indigenous knowledge is a valuable but under-used source of information relevant to landscape change research. We interviewed Iñupiat elders, hunters, and other knowledge-holders in the villages of Barrow and Atqasuk on the western Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Alaska to gain further insight into the processes governing the ubiquitous lakes and the dynamics of landscape change in this region of continuous permafrost. The interviews provided a suite of information related to lakes and associated drained lake basins, as well as knowledge on landforms, environmental change, human events, and other phenomena. We were able to corroborate many observations independently and verify the timing of several large and significant lake drainage events using either aerial photography or remotely sensed time series. Data collected have been incorporated into a geodatabase to develop a multi-layer Geographic Information System that will be useful for local and scientific communities. This research demonstrates that indigenous knowledge can reveal a new understanding of landscape changes on the Arctic Coastal Plain in general and on lake processes in particular. We advocate ongoing, community-oriented research throughout the Arctic as a means of assessing and responding to the consequences of rapid environmental change.