Ice floats in Slidre Fjord outside the Eureka Weather Station, on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Monday, July 24, 2006. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Ice floats in Slidre Fjord outside the Eureka Weather Station, on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Monday, July 24, 2006. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘Not what it used to be:’ Warm Arctic autumn creates ice hazards for Inuit

Sea ice in October was at its lowest extent since records began in 1979

For Keith Morrison, the consequences of this fall’s extraordinarily warm weather across the North all came down to an urgent call for help.

The fire chief for the Arctic community of Cambridge Bay in Nunavut was at home the evening of Oct. 6 when he got word that a couple had fallen through the ice near a river mouth.

“It was pitch black,” Morrison recalled.

“The only light was from the machines themselves. He was standing on his snow machine and she was on the komatik (sled), deep enough that most of their bodies would have been in the water.

“I took out rope. One of their grandsons grabbed the rope and jumped in to get the lady out. Shortly after, we found a boat and they used that to get her husband.

“It was a close thing.”

It shouldn’t have been a thing at all. That stretch of ice is normally safe by this time of year, but this autumn has not been normal.

“What differentiated this year was we saw a widespread warmer temperature anomaly across the board in the Arctic,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Eric Dykes.

“Temperature anomalies that are five degrees above normal are happening a little bit more readily than they have in years past.”

Data from around the Arctic bear him out.

In Inuvik, N.W.T., temperatures on every single day between Sept. 1 and Nov. 11 were above normal. In Nunavut, Pond Inlet had only one day of below normal, while above-normal days occurred about 80 per cent of the time in the communities of Cambridge Bay and Pangnirtung.

Not only were temperatures warm, the amount of warming was noteworthy.

The Canadian Forces Station at Alert, on the top of Ellesmere Island, broke a record for Sept. 6 this year by six degrees.

Pond Inlet experienced one day that was 11 degrees warmer than average.

And not only did Resolute, Nunavut, record 68 days of above-normal warmth, nearly half of those days were outside the normal temperature variation. Kugluktuk, Nunavut, was similar — 58 warmer-than-average days, 34 of them outside the normal range.

ALSO READ: Study finds microplastics in all remote Arctic beluga whales

The U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that sea ice in October was at its lowest extent since records began in 1979. That’s 32 per cent below the 1981-2010 average.

“This fall we saw a much more widespread warming,” said Dykes. “Not only that, the stations that did warm were warmer than they had been the previous two falls.”

Andrew Arreak, who works in Pond Inlet for a group that helps people make safety judgments about sea ice, said there was still open water near his community this past week.

“People are usually on it the beginning of November. Yesterday, I was finally able to go on it.”

It’s not the only change.

“There have been more sightings of killer whales, increasing every year,” Arreak said.

“Insects are being reported that aren’t usually around the area. We don’t even know what they’re called.”

Things have changed, said Morrison, who no longer goes out on his Thanksgiving weekend ice-fishing trip. “A lot of people are noticing the ice is not what it used to be.”

Two days after he helped haul the elderly couple out of the freezing river, two young men went through the ice in shallow water.

“The route they were taking was one they’ve been taking all their lives without much of an issue,” Morrison said.

“The ice was thin and they went through.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mount Elizabeth Theatre have been approved for a provision of funding by city council for up to $42,000. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
Kitimat’s multi-use theatre grant request approved for live streaming equipment

A funding commitment of up to $42,000 was granted from council to the Mount Elizabeth Theatre

Tracy Owen-Best with her husband, Larry Best. Tracy runs both the Nechako Barbershop and Hair Essentials Salon in Kitimat. Diagnosed with cancer in March 2020, she’s kept a positive mindset with the help from a supportive family. (Photo supplied)
In Our Valley: Tracy Owen-Best

Barbershop owner and cancer fighter keeps it positive

The Quesnel RCMP Detachment is one of seven northern police buildings which can now connect directly to Prince George for daily bail hearings. (Observer File Photo)
Bail hearings going virtual in B.C.’s north

A court pilot project will see virtual courtroom cameras set up in seven RCMP detatchments

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The fence option chosen for the 461 Quatsino Boulevard development is the red lines that border the site plan. The fence will be roughly six feet high with the exception of the fence bordering Cranberry Street which will be eight feet high. (Boni Maddison Architects photo)
Fence to be erected between housing project and Kitimat homeowners

Residents of the Cranberry Street area are finally getting the fence they want

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Most Read