Bending the Third Rail
Because We Should, We Can, We Do
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
The World's Canaries
The Inuit should be considered the world's canaries and what they are seeing is frightening in its implications for us all.

"These are things that all of our old oral history has never mentioned," said Enosik Nashalik, 87, the eldest of male elders in this Inuit village. "We cannot pass on our traditional knowledge, because it is no longer reliable. Before, I could look at cloud patterns or the wind, or even what stars are twinkling, and predict the weather. Now, everything is changed."

The Inuit alarms, once passed off as odd stories, are earning confirmation from science. Canada's federal weather service said this month that the country had experienced its warmest winter since measurements began in 1948. Nationwide, average temperatures this winter were 7 degrees above normal. Some of the larger temperature increases were in the arctic north.


In this month's issue of the journal Science, a team of U.S. and Canadian researchers said the Bering Sea was warming so much it was experiencing "a change from arctic to subarctic conditions." Gray whales are heading north and walruses are starving, adrift on ice floes in water too deep for feeding. Warmer-water fish such as pollock and salmon are coming in, the researchers reported.

Off the coast of Nova Scotia, ice on Northumberland Strait was so thin and unstable this winter that thousands of gray seals crawled on unaccustomed islands to give birth. Storms and high tides washed 1,500 newborn seal pups out to sea, said Jerry Conway, a marine mammal expert for the federal fisheries department in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

"We are seeing dramatic changes in the weather systems," Conway said. "To be honest, we don't really understand what are the potential impacts. If you look back in history, there have been warming periods that have gotten back to normal. But we don't know if that will happen this time."

The Washington Post has the full story.