The Inuit Calendar is based on six seasons defined by weather, ice, animal migration, daylight hours and the night sky. All these variables are in flux according to Harvard Narwhal Biologist Dr. Martin Nweeia. Last August in the high Canadian Arctic, at 72 degrees north latitude, temperatures were at an astounding 70 degrees during the day. In 2018, the same region at the same time of year, experienced one of the coldest August months in 15 years.
Disappearing sea ice in Hudson Bay affects migration patterns of ice-dependent species like narwhal and beluga whales and now allows more shipping traffic which produces more marine noise pollution and the risk of an oil spill. As a natural resource, the Arctic has significant deposits of iron ore, gold, diamonds, phosphate, and bauxite, so cargo shipments are increasing yearly.
The disappearance of caribou herds and altered migrations of other animals have also blurred the seasonal changes. Caribou numbers have decreased by more than half in the last two decades. Narwhal populations are remaining steady but are experiencing migration shifts resulting in their appearance at new locations and their absence from traditional areas. Even the timing of the migration has changed, shifting two weeks later from normal late summer – early fall patterns.
The night sky, which has long had identifiable reference points for Inuit observers, is also changing causing speculation about changes in the magnetic field and a polar shift or flipping of the poles. The earth’s magnetic north has been shifting toward Siberia at an alarming 30 miles each year since 2015. Every million years, it is estimated that the poles flip three times. No one knows if or when it will happen again. That’s a calendar with some unexpected dates.
–Earth Wise acknowledges script contribution from Dr. Martin Nweeia of Harvard University.
Photo, posted June 27, 2014, courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management via Flickr.