Arctic Thunderstorms: New Signs of Warming

O T T A W A, Nov. 15, 2000 -- The native people of the Canadian Arctic are seeing something unknown in their oral history — thunder and lightning.

Electric storms in the upper Arctic are among the evidence of climate change being reported in a new study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The release of the study this week coincides with a U.N. conference on global warming being held in The Hague, Netherlands.

The study focuses on knowledge among Inuits of changes in the Arctic environment. Researchers spent a year visiting Sachs Harbour on Banks Island in the Northwest Territories, accompanying Inuit people on their hunting and fishing trips and recording their observations.

Puzzled Animals

“When I was a child, I never heard thunder or saw lightning, but in the last few years we’ve had thunder and lightning,” Rosemarie Kuptana of Sachs Harbour, 1,440 miles north of Vancouver, said Tuesday. “The animals really don’t know what to do because they’ve never experienced this kind of phenomenon.”

The study lists various environmental changes, including melting permafrost and thinning ice. And some more subtle changes, such as the appearance of robins and barn swallows that allegedly weren’t previously seen so far north.

Because the Inuit — also known to some people as Eskimos — spend their lives hunting and trapping outdoor, they perceive small changes in the environment, scientist Graham Ashford said.

“They’re telling us very clearly, it wasn’t like this before, and they give examples of how they know that it’s different,” he said.

Ashford urged the Canadian government to take a lead role in negotiating an agreement to decrease greenhouse gas emissions at the talks taking place in the Netherlands.