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Human geographies of sea ice: freeze/thaw processes around Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Canada

  • Gita J. Laidler (a1) and Pootoogoo Elee (a2)

Sea ice has been, and continues to be, an integral component of life in the Inuit community of Cape Dorset, Nunavut. Located on an island of the same name off the southwestern coast of Baffin Island, the strong Hudson Strait currents prevent extensive ice formation around the community. Nevertheless, sea ice remains an important travel and hunting platform, enabling access to Baffin Island, hunting and fishing grounds, and nearby communities. With the combined importance, dynamism, and continuous use of this frozen ocean environment, local Inuit elders and hunters have developed a detailed and nuanced understanding of sea ice conditions, freeze/thaw processes, and the influences of winds and currents on ice conditions. Working collaboratively with the community of Cape Dorset since October, 2003, we present the results of 30 semi-directed interviews, 5 sea ice trips, and 2 focus groups to provide a baseline understanding of local freezing processes (near-shore, open water, sea ice thickening, landfast ice, floe edge, and tidal cracks), melting processes (snow melt, water accumulation and drainage, break-up, and cracks/leads), wind influences on sea ice (wind direction and strength affecting sea ice formation, and movement), and current influences on sea ice (tidal variations and current strength affecting sea ice formation, movement, and polynya size/location). Strong emphasis is placed on Inuktitut terminology and spatial delineations of localised ice conditions and features. Therefore, this paper provides insights into local scale ice conditions and dynamics around Cape Dorset that are not captured in regional scale studies of Hudson Bay and/or Hudson Strait. Results have the potential to inform future research efforts on local/regional sea ice monitoring, the relationship between Inuit knowledge, language, and the environment, and addressing community interests through targeted studies.

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Note. All interviews referred to below took place in Cape Dorset and were conducted by the first author with the second author translating or facilitating. All originals (and transcripts) are archived at the local Community Learning Centre (Nunavut Arctic College).
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