Ice Through Inuit Eyes

Banner Photo: Gita Ljubicic

Ice through Inuit Eyes: Characterizing the importance of sea ice processes, use, and change around three Nunavut communities 

2003 – 2007

Funded by: SSHRC doctoral scholarship, Northern Scientific Training Program, Canadian Northern Studies Trust (ACUNS), Environment Canada (Northern Ecosystem Initiative Program, Cryosphere System in Canada Program)

Photos: Gita Ljubicic, Ame Papatsie

Sea ice is a part of life in Inuit communities.  It plays an important role in economic, social, cultural, and subsistence activities.  Sea ice is also commonly used as an indicator of climate change in arctic regions because of how it regulates – and is impacted by – energy exchanges between the ocean and the atmosphere.  Significant scientific research effort has been focused on determining the potential impacts of global climate change on arctic sea ice seasonal patterns.  More recently, there has been increased interest in the impacts of climate change on arctic communities, and resulting societal adaptations.  In order to understand impacts and adaptations related to sea ice change in Inuit communities, it is important to first learn about how sea ice is a part of community lifestyles and livelihoods.

Inuit have developed an intimate relationship with the sea ice and marine ecosystem through generations of observation and experience.  While they have long been able to harvest wildlife and forecast changes linked to ice conditions, little of this detailed knowledge has been documented to appropriately represent this expertise.  Therefore, working with Inuit sea ice experts in Cape Dorset, Igloolik, and Pangnirtung, Nunavut, this project aimed to characterize the local importance of sea ice processes, use, and change.  Working according to a collaborative research approach, a combination of participatory methods (i.e. semi-directed interviews, experiential sea ice trips, focus groups, participatory mapping, and verification workshops) were undertaken over many community visits between 2003 and 2007. 

In each community, we learned from Inuit Elders and active hunters about:

  • freezing and melting processes;
  • the influences of winds and currents on sea ice;
  • Inuktitut terminology for seasonal ice conditions and hazards;
  • sea ice uses for travel, hunting, and wildlife habitat;
  • observations and impacts of sea ice change; and,
  • community perspectives on working with researchers.

This research started as part of Gita Laidler’s (now Ljubicic) PhD thesis research, and aimed to provide a foundation for knowledge-sharing about sea ice between Inuit and scientists. This work continued and expanded through the Inuit Sea Ice Use and Occupancy Project, the Nunavut Sea Ice/Weather Forecasting project, and the Land-Based Learning in Nunavut project.

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.

Copies of the documents below, as well as interview and sea ice trip recordings, are available in Igloolik at the Igloolik Research Centre, in Kinngait at the Community Learning Centre, and in Pangnirtung at the Angmarlik Visitors Centre, for local access and use.


Maps and Posters


Laidler, G. J., Elee, P., Ikummaq, T., Joamie, E., and Aporta, C. 2010.  Mapping Sea-Ice Knowledge, Use, and Change in Nunavut, Canada (Cape Dorset, Igloolik, Pangnirtung).  In: Krupnik, I., Aporta, C., Gearheard, S.,Laidler, G. J., and Kielsen-Holm, L. (eds.).  SIKU: Knowing Our Ice, Documenting Inuit Sea-Ice Knowledge and Use.  Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 45-80. (

Laidler, G. J., Ford, J., Gough, W. A., Ikummaq, T., Gagnon, A., Kowal, S., Qrunnut, K., and Irngaut, C. 2009. Travelling and hunting in a changing arctic: Assessing Inuit vulnerability to sea ice change in Igloolik, Nunavut.  Climatic Change, 94: 363-397. (

Pearce, T., Ford, J., Laidler, G., Smit, B., Duerden, F., Allarut, M., Andrachuk, M., Baryluk, S., Dialla, A., Elee, P., Goose, A., Ikummaq, T., Joamie, E., Kataoyak, F., Loring, E., Meakin, S., Nickels, S., Scott, A., Shappa, K., Shirley, J., and Wandel, J. 2009. Community Collaboration and Climate Change Research in the Canadian Arctic.  Polar Research, 28: 10-27. (

Ford, J. D., Gough, W. A., Laidler, G. J., MacDonald, J., Irngaut, C., and Qrunnut, K. 2009. Sea ice, climate change, and community vulnerability in northern Foxe Basin, Canada.  Climate Research. 38: 137-154. (

Laidler, G. J., Dialla, A., and Joamie, E. 2008. Human geographies of sea ice: freeze/thaw processes around Pangnirtung, Nunavut, Canada.  Polar Record, 44, 231: 335-361.  (

Laidler, G. J. and Ikummaq, T. 2008.  Human geographies of sea ice: freeze/thaw processes around Igloolik, Nunavut, Canada.  Polar Record, 44, 229: 127-153. (

Laidler, G. J. and Elee, P. 2008.  Human geographies of sea ice: freeze/thaw processes around Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Canada.  Polar Record, 44, 228: 51-76. (

Laidler, G. J. and Elee, P. 2006.  Sea ice processes and change: exposure and risk in Cape Dorset, Nunavut. In: Riewe, R. and Oakes, J. (eds.) Climate Change: Linking Traditional and Scientific Knowledge.  Winnipeg and Québec City: University of Manitoba Aboriginal Issues Press and ArcticNet. pp. 155-175.

Laidler, G. J. 2006. Some Inuit Perspectives on Working with Scientists. Meridian. Spring/summer: 4-10. Available at:

Laidler, G. J. 2006.  Inuit and scientific perspectives on the relationship between sea ice and climate: the ideal complement?  Climatic Change,  78, 2-4: 407-444. (


Laidler, G. J. [PhD thesis, 2007] Ice, Through Inuit Eyes: Characterizing the importance of sea ice processes, use, and change around three Nunavut communities. (University of Toronto).


Flyers and Notices

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