In case of observing change, we learned that the Yupik people on St. Lawrence Island are using dozens of natural indicators to track the changing conditions. These include wind, weather and ice patterns, plants, animals, and birds, status of the shoreline, as well as the specific timing of numerous local ‘benchmarks.’ That gives local observations a higher resolution in tracking multiple signals compared to satellite imagery, averaged time series, and scientists’ models.
In understanding change, the decade of partnership revealed that polar people have a complex vision on how the change is progressing. On St. Lawrence Island, they claim that there is ‘not enough cold’ in winter, particularly in February, to produce the solid thick ice that stays longer and is favored by the animals they hunt. The integrative nature of indigenous observations allows people to view concerted changes affecting ice, weather, winds, animals, birds, shore zone, and to follow changes across much broader area.
In responding to change, the people of St. Lawrence Island have to factor the rapidly altering environment, as well as social stressors, such as lagging economy, high gasoline prices, increased ship traffic, commercial tourism and fisheries. The basics of life on the island have not changed and marine catch is abundant; but it comes with higher risks and growing insecurity.
The greater understanding of polar peoples’ views on their environment has come with better scientific assessments of Arctic change. During the same decade, the Arctic sea ice retreated to the record lows in September 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. Also, scientists have come closer to indigenous users in their vision of seasonal ice dynamics. They now factor ice thickness, age, safety, local patterns into new concepts, such as, regionally-organized ‘seascape,’ much like hunters do. This remarkable conversion, either through better knowledge, sharing, or inspiration, may be our greatest legacy of partnership in the studies of Arctic environmental change.