Caribou and Sea Ice Crossings

Banner Photo: Gita Ljubicic

Potential impacts of sea ice and ship traffic change to caribou sea ice crossing areas surrounding King William Island, Nunavut, Canada 

2017 – 2020

Funded by: Environment and Climate Change Canada (Science and Technology Division), Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, Northern Scientific Training Program

Photos: Gita Ljubicic, Emmelie Paquette, Erin Neave

Caribou (Rangifer tarandus, tuktuit in Inuktitut) use sea ice to move between islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and back and forth to the northern mainland.  Sea ice is an important aspect of caribou habitat, expanding the potential areas that caribou can move to in response to predators, seasonal food availability, human disturbance and climate change. 

This research builds on the Caribou and Community Well-Being project, and is part of an ongoing collaboration with the Inuit community of Gjoa Haven (Uqsuqtuuq), on King William Island (Qikiqtaq).  We explore community concerns surrounding changes in sea ice conditions and ship traffic, and how these may affect tuktuit crossings to/from Qikiqtaq. We focus on five main areas where tuktuit use sea ice to move on and off Qikiqtaq that were mapped by Uqsuqtuurmiut (people of Uqsuqtuuq) in the previous project.

Using Canadian Ice Service regional ice charts we characterized changes in break-up/freeze-up timing, and length of summer open water season between 1983-2017 for the five tuktuit crossings. Using NORDREG datasets that record ship traffic timing, routes, and ship type, we also characterized changes in the amount and timing of ship traffic around Qikiqtaq between 1990-2017. Early results were discussed in workshops in Uqsuqtuuq in September 2018. Uqsuqtuurmiut feedback was essential to help understand local seasonal ice conditions and experiences with ship traffic, and interpret the potential impacts of sea ice or shipping changes on caribou movement and the community.

Our work emphasizes the importance of multidisciplinary and collaborative research guided by Inuit knowledge. Changes in the quality of sea ice and the timing of its seasonal formation and melt can have negative impacts on tuktuit and the nearby communities who hunt them. These impacts can also be complicated by an increase in ship traffic that may affect the ice conditions earlier in the freeze-up or later in the break-up season.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. You can freely download and share all documents posted for non-commercial uses, as long as the authors are credited. Photos cannot be used for any other purposes, without permission from the photographer.




Paquette, E., Ljubicic, G., Johnston, C. A. Okpakok, S., Mueller, D., and Montpetit, B. 2023. Seasonal Sea Ice Conditions Affect Caribou Crossing Areas Around Qikiqtaq, Nunavut: Uqsuqtuurmiut Knowledge Guides Ice Chart Analysis. Arctic, 76(1): 83-101. (


Paquette, E. [MSc thesis, 2020] The potential impacts of sea ice and ship traffic change to caribou sea ice crossings surrounding King William Island, Nunavut. (Carleton University).


ArcticChange Conference – December 2020

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