Rex HolwellAs a child, early December was the time when the ice in Nunainguk (or Nain), would be sufficiently hardened for him to drive his snowmobile onto the frozen harbor. Unity Bay is located in the Atlantic Ocean. However, it is protected by clusters of islands so that it does not freeze completely.
Life in his Newfoundland and Labrador town is quite different. Speaking from his office in early January close to the sea, he says the water still hasn’t frozen. And if the harbor isn’t safe to cross, people lose vital access to a transportation corridor for wood, hunting, fishing, and exploring. Over time, Holwell has seen the effects of climate change firsthand—a gradual but definite shift towards warmer winters.
Monitoring the thickness of ice is crucial for Nunainguk’s safety and vital data for understanding North warming. Holwell has been working for SmartICE for over 2 years. He’s currently the manager of operations in Nunainguk, where he trains people to use SmartBUOYs, sensors inserted in the ice to measure the thickness and transfer the data via satellite. He also teaches people—often youth in the community—to use the SmartQAMUTIK, which is towed behind a snowmobile and measures ice salinity.
SmartICE provides free measurements to the public. Communities can then use these measurements to plan and adjust for ice conditions.
SmartICE was awarded the December ICE Award Nature Inspiration AwardFrom the Canadian Museum of Nature. The honor builds on past recognition, which includes a United Nations Climate Solutions Award in 2017 and a Governor General’s Innovation Award in 2019.
The recognition of SmartICE’s founding director Trevor Bell is a further proof that SmartICE is doing something worthwhile. Bell founded the non-profit with the Nunatsiavut government around 10 years ago. They asked him if he had any ideas on how technology could be used for safer sea ice travel.
“So what we essentially do is put into the hands of communities the technology that they need to monitor their own sea ice,” he said. “But we also have developed transferable skills that are really useful for young Inuit entering the labor market in these northern communities.”
Holwell also travels to Inuit Nunangat to train Inuit on the SmartICE technology. SmartICE grants, industry and foundations fund his work. Holwell said that the idea is to combine technology and traditional Inuit knowledge.
SmartICE equipment is currently in use in 24 communities in Inuit Nunangat. It is also expanding to First Nations communities in Yukon and Northwest Territories for ice monitoring of lakes and rivers. “Every community I go to, I tell people this is not meant to take the place of your traditional knowledge. Number one—your traditional knowledge,” he said.”But it’s an effective tool, if you know how to use it properly.”
Researchers at the University of Leeds will be launching their research in January 2021 FoundSince the mid-1990s, 28 trillion metric tons of sea-ice, glaciers, and ice sheets had all but disappeared around the world. This means that sea ice melts 57% faster than it did at the end of 20th century.
In the Arctic, the total amount of sea ice has shrunk to less than half of what it was in the 1980s, making it the area most deeply impacted by climate change—worldwide. The Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the globe.
Since decades, indigenous organizations such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which represents approximately 180,000 Inuit from Alaska (Canada, Greenland and Chukotka) have been focusing on how the warming Arctic climate affects them.
Along with advocating for more renewable energy and a real push to meet the world’s Paris Agreement commitments, the ICC stressed that protecting the Arctic from the effects of climate change protects the rest of the world. Melting sea ice results in rising sea levels—not just up North, but across the globe.
“Like all other species, we’re another species within the respective ecosystems of the Arctic environment, and that profound relationship between our people and the environment…It’s become really an issue of how are we going to survive as a distinct people that have adapted to the cryosphere, that have adapted to the Arctic region,” ICC chair Dalee Sambo Dorough In The fall.
“For me, the real lesson learned here is that technology is important for helping prepare people to adapt, but when you’re out on the ice, when you’re actually out there adapting to unpredictable ice conditions, the only thing that you have that’s going to get you home safely is your Inuit knowledge of safe ice travel or traditional knowledge,” Bell said.