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Keywords:

  • Inuit;
  • hunting;
  • climate change;
  • vulnerability;
  • adaptation
  • Inuit;
  • chasse;
  • changements climatiques;
  • vulnérabilité;
  • adaptation;
  • méthodologie;
  • recherche participative communautaire

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Research domains
  5. Review of current scholarship
  6. Moving forward: Methodologies with promise for vulnerability assessment
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

The last decade has witnessed a proliferation of research into the human dimensions of climate change in the Arctic. Much of this work has examined impacts on subsistence hunting, fishing, and trapping among Canadian Inuit communities. This scholarship has developed a baseline understanding of vulnerability and adaptation, drawing upon interviews with community members and stakeholders to identify and characterize climatic risks and adaptive strategies. To further advance this baseline understanding, new methodologies are needed to complement existing research if we are to capture the dynamic nature of how climate change is experienced and responded to, and fully engage communities as equal partners. Longitudinal studies, community-based monitoring, and targeted adaptation research offer significant promise to advance understanding. These methodologies provide a strong basis for developing meaningful partnerships with communities, the co-production of knowledge, and empowerment for adaptation: essential components of community-based participatory research.

La vulnérabilité au changement climatique et les recherches sur l’adaptation dans le domaine de la subsistance chez les Inuits au Canada : Orientations pour les recherches à venir

Au cours de la dernière décennie, les dimensions humaines du changement climatique ont pris de plus en plus d’importance dans les recherches sur l’Arctique. La plupart des travaux se sont intéressés à leurs effets sur la chasse, la pêche et le piégeage de subsistance au sein des collectivités inuites du Canada. Une enquête menée auprès des membres des collectivités et des parties prenantes a permis d’acquérir les connaissances nécessaires à une compréhension de base de la vulnérabilité et de l’adaptation en vue d’identifier et de fournir une description des risques climatiques et des stratégies d’adaptation. L’amélioration de la compréhension de base passe par de nouvelles méthodologies requises pour compléter les recherches afin de mieux connaître la nature dynamique des conditions du changement climatique auxquelles les collectivités sont confrontées et s’efforcent de s’adapter, tout en garantissant leur pleine participation en les considérant comme des partenaires égaux. Grâce aux études longitudinales, à une surveillance communautaire, et aux recherches ciblées sur l’adaptation, on peut espérer faire progresser les connaissances. Ces méthodologies serviront d’assise solide pour renforcer des partenariats fructueux avec les collectivités, pour la coproduction de connaissances, et pour renforcer l’autonomie en faveur de l’adaptation. Bref, nous élaborons dans leurs grandes lignes les orientations de la recherche participative communautaire.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Research domains
  5. Review of current scholarship
  6. Moving forward: Methodologies with promise for vulnerability assessment
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

There is strong evidence that anthropogenic climate change is underway in the Canadian Arctic (Prowse et al. 2009a; 2009b), changes that could be classified as “dangerous interference” with the climate system (Ford 2009a; Crowley 2010). These changes are having implications for Canada's Inuit population, many of whom depend on hunting, fishing, and trapping, activities which continue to underpin livelihoods, culture, and well-being, but which also create unique sensitivities to the rapidly changing climate (Nuttall et al. 2005; Furgal and Prowse 2008; Furgal et al. 2008; Ford and Pearce 2010; Pearce et al. 2010b).

Models indicate that climate change will continue to be amplified in Arctic regions (Serreze and Francis 2006; Lenton et al. 2008; Holland et al. 2010) and communities, governments, and Inuit organizations have expressed concern, particularly with regard to potential direct and indirect effects on the subsistence sector (Lemmen et al. 2008). Some have argued that greater action and urgency is required by the international community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Crowley 2010). This is important but the reality is that changes will continue regardless of mitigation and it is unlikely that the international community will be able to stabilize global temperatures below the predicted increase of 2°C or even 4°C above present norms (Rogelj et al. 2010; New et al. 2011). The inescapable conclusion is that Inuit will have to adapt (and are already doing so), and this is reflected in the increasing urgency with which adaptation is being considered in the North (Budreau and McBean 2007; Health Canada 2008; Ford et al. 2010b; Indian and Northern Affairs Canada 2010; Pearce et al. 2010a, 2010b; Richardson 2010).

To initiate adaptation actions, decision makers at multiple levels need to understand the nature of vulnerability to climate change in terms of who and what are vulnerable, to what stresses, in what way, and why, and also the capacity of human systems to adapt (i.e., adaptive capacity or resilience) (Duerden 2004; Ford and Smit 2004; Smit and Wandel 2006; Hovelsrud and Smit 2010). Such information is also essential at a local level for empowering communities, households, and individuals to manage the risks and opportunities posed by climate change. The last decade has witnessed a proliferation of human dimensions of climate change (HDCC) research in the Canadian Arctic providing important contributions for answering these questions. This scholarship emphasizes the importance of working with people in communities to identify what climate conditions are relevant and important and what adaptive strategies are feasible (Ford and Smit 2004; Schröter et al. 2005; Furgal and Seguin 2006; Wolfe et al. 2007; Pearce et al. 2009). Such engagement can be fraught with unequal power relationships between communities and researchers, however, shaped by a historical context of colonial-scientific practices where communities had little say in the research process (Smith 1999; Gearheard and Shirley 2007; Castleden et al. 2008; Pearce et al. 2009). Unfortunately, such practices are not confined to history, and while community collaboration in the research process has undoubtedly improved in recent years, research is still often conducted on communities as opposed to with communities. The resultant skepticism towards scientists and research fatigue engendered by these practices creates significant challenges for vulnerability and adaptation research, the success of which depends on knowledge sharing, capacity building, and the development of strong collaborations with communities (Ford and Smit 2004; Pearce et al. 2009).

In this article, we critically examine HDCC scholarship focusing on research involving Canadian Inuit, identifying research domains, evaluating the extent to which current understanding captures the nature and determinants of vulnerability and adaptation, and examining how communities and northern stakeholders have been engaged in the research process. While we focus on the Canadian Inuit subsistence sector, our central thesis that new methodologies are needed to advance existing scholarship if we are to fully capture the dynamic nature of vulnerability and effectively and respectfully work with communities has relevance for subsistence-based populations in other regions of Canada and more broadly.

Research domains

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Research domains
  5. Review of current scholarship
  6. Moving forward: Methodologies with promise for vulnerability assessment
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

The HDCC field is a broad research area covering the observations and impacts of climate change on human systems, vulnerability, resilience, adaptation, and climate policy. Human dimensions research in the Arctic has emerged over the last decade as the circumpolar region has become recognized as a “hotspot” for climate change. Canadian research has been at the forefront of developments, with a rapidly expanding body of scholarship (Bolton et al. 2011). We categorize this scholarship into four research domains: Indigenous observations of climate; impacts; vulnerability and resilience; and intervention studies. These domains are identified and characterized based upon our general understanding of the literature and active engagement in the field over the last decade as researchers, reviewers, and members of Arctic science committees. We acknowledge, however, the emergence of more formalized and systematic approaches to literature review and mapping (Shiffrin and Borner 2004; Berrang-Ford et al. 2011; Petticrew and McCartney 2011).

Much of the early work on climate change documented Indigenous observations of climate change. This research highlights the detailed knowledge of changing conditions possessed by Inuit—specifically individuals engaged in regular land-based activities—and the importance of documenting this knowledge to develop a more comprehensive picture of Arctic change. Recorded observations include later ice freeze-up and earlier break-up, thinner and more unstable ice that is vulnerable to winds and currents, changing wind and weather patterns, warming temperatures, and changes in the health and migration patterns of some species of wildlife important for subsistence, among others (Ashford and Castleden 2001; Berkes and Jolly 2002; Krupnik and Jolly 2002; Fox 2004; Gearheard et al. 2006; Nickels et al. 2006; Riewe and Oakes 2006; Laidler and Ikummaq 2008; Laidler et al. 2009). Recent studies have sought to integrate Indigenous observations and instrumental data on changing conditions and make Indigenous observations available to a wider audience, including both northerners and the international community (Huntington et al. 2004; Gearheard et al. 2006; Meier et al. 2006; Gearheard et al. 2010; Kunuk and Mauro 2010; Weatherhead et al. 2010).

Many studies that have recorded Indigenous observations have also examined the impacts that climate change is having on subsistence livelihoods, cultural resources, and health. This work augments climate impact studies conducted primarily within the biophysical sciences which have focused on infrastructural impacts associated with permafrost thaw, sea-level rise, coastal erosion, and changing ice conditions, plus implications of climate change for wildlife (Prowse et al. 2009a, 2009b). While some of these studies indicate the potential for positive impacts, many indicate significant disruption, specifically for subsistence-based activities and community infrastructure (ACIA 2005; Furgal et al. 2008; Ford and Pearce 2010; Bolton et al. 2011).

To advance knowledge on how the biophysical impacts of climate change translate to effects on livelihoods, researchers have examined the socio-cultural, economic, political, and health processes that determine how climate change is experienced and how adaptation is shaped, integrating insights from the first two research domains. Some studies use concepts from “vulnerability science” (Ford and Smit 2004; Ford et al. 2006a, 2006b; Andrachuk 2008; Ford et al. 2008a, 2008b; Ford 2009b; Laidler et al. 2009; Hovelsrud and Smit 2010; Pearce et al. 2010b; Sydneysmith et al. 2010; Prno et al. 2011) and others from “resilience science” (Berkes and Jolly 2002; Berkes et al. 2003; Armitage 2005; Berkes et al. 2005; Wolfe et al. 2007; Armitage et al. 2008). Despite differences in intellectual tradition between vulnerability and resilience scholarship, both focus on how coupled human–environment systems experience and respond to stress; demonstrate that climate change will affect human systems undergoing socio-economic transformations; and assess the capacity for adaptive action (Ford et al. 2010a).

A good example of vulnerability science “in action” concerns understanding the trend towards the increasing danger of land-based activities documented in communities across the North. Early research documented this as evidence of climate change impacts, and the image of hunters falling through ice has become common in media portrayals of the risks posed by climate change. Certainly changing weather and ice conditions are making terrestrial hunting and travel routes on northern sea ice more dangerous, but this danger is compounded by evidence that land skills and knowledge are not being transferred to younger generations, including sea-ice terminology, traditional navigation, survival skills, weather prediction, and knowledge of how to identify precursors to hazardous conditions (Aporta and MacDonald 2011; Aporta et al. 2011; Gearheard et al. 2011; Heyes 2011; Laidler et al. 2011; Pearce et al. 2011). The climate is changing and dangers are increasing at the same time that knowledge of how to identify those dangers, manage them, and avoid them is decreasing. The process of transferring cultural knowledge (i.e., land skills) is therefore as important as climate change in shaping vulnerability, and involves numerous social, cultural, economic, and historical factors (Pearce et al. 2011).

We call the final research domain intervention studies. This nascent body of scholarship explicitly identifies and evaluates opportunities for adaptation policy at different scales, drawing upon locally and regionally identified adaptation needs (Ford et al. 2007, 2010b; Pearce et al. 2010c; Boyle and Dowlatabadi 2011). This emerging research domain is essential for furthering our understanding of the HDCC, engaging communities, and linking research to policy.

The active involvement of community members and other stakeholders in research processes is well represented in all four domains, and acknowledged as essential for effective research and engagement. Early studies documenting Indigenous observations of climate change sought to develop and apply participatory rural appraisal methodologies in an Inuit context (Berkes and Jolly 2002; Fox 2002; Furgal et al. 2002; Nickels et al. 2002). Communities played a key role in initiating these projects and were actively involved in conducting, analyzing, and disseminating research. More recently, Pearce et al. (2009) draw upon the experience of the completed research and insights of knowledge users and community members, to develop con-siderations for conducting community-based vulnerability and adaptation research. These considerations include the importance of early and ongoing communication of research ideas; community partnerships in project design, development, and implementation; facilitation of opportunities for local employment and training; and disseminating research findings in collaboration with local people. To this end, HDCC research has drawn upon and contributed to the broader scholarship on community-based participatory research (CBPR) in an Indigenous context.

While climate change studies involving Inuit that employ CBPR approaches have typically adhered to key principles (e.g., pre-research community consultation, local employment, dissemination of findings, etc.) based upon informal agreements and discussion with communities, partnership agreements that formally commit researchers to these steps are increasingly being requested by local and regional organizations. This is emerging in the context of disquiet about what researchers have historically indicated they will do and what has actually transpired in the research process: for example, concern has been expressed that research findings are sometimes published before community consent and sometimes subsequently published in the media before community and stakeholder feedback is incorporated. It is also evident that not all climate change scholarship has followed the methods and philosophy of CBPR. In particular, as international interest and domestic funding has focused on Arctic climate change in recent years, there has been a rush to document impacts and Inuit perceptions of change, sometimes involving “parachute research” and duplication of studies, much to the consternation of communities (Bolton et al. 2011).

Review of current scholarship

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Research domains
  5. Review of current scholarship
  6. Moving forward: Methodologies with promise for vulnerability assessment
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

The proliferation of vulnerability (and resilience) studies represents an important development for understanding how climate change interacts with society, and for identifying and developing adaptation interventions. Vulnerability is a measure of the susceptibility to harm in a system in response to a stimulus, and can be conceptualized as a function of exposure and sensitivity to climate change and adaptive capacity (Smit and Pilifosova 2001; Turner et al. 2003; Smit and Wandel 2006). Exposure refers to the nature of climate-related (direct or indirect) risks. Sensitivity concerns the organization and structure of human systems relative to climate-related risks and determines the pathways through which exposure is manifest. Adaptive capacity reflects the ability to address, plan for, or adapt to climate-related risks and to take advantage of new opportunities. For some scholars, we included, resilience is viewed as a component of adaptive capacity, reflecting the ability of a system to absorb stress, flex, and rebound (Smit et al. 2000; Ford and Smit 2004; Smit and Wandel 2006). In this way, vulnerability scholarship identifies the importance of biophysical and human processes in determining vulnerability, and the necessity of place-based research involving close collaborations with communities and policy makers (Ford and Smit 2004; Schröter et al. 2005).

Scholarly understanding of climate change vulnerability among Canada's Inuit population has increased over the last decade, with the subsistence sector a primary focus. Some studies explicitly examine vulnerability drawing upon concepts and terminology from vulnerability or resilience science. Other studies implicitly contribute to understanding by providing information on specific components of vulnerability (i.e., exposure, sensitivity, or adaptive capacity) or use other terminology to describe human–environment interactions. Many of these projects have developed in-depth community case studies, engaging policy makers and community members throughout the research process. Notwithstanding these developments, we argue that knowledge on vulnerability and adaptation in the subsistence sector remains incomplete in a number of areas:

  • • 
    There is an uneven geographic spread of studies, with clustering in a limited number of typically small communities (100–1500 inhabitants) (Ford and Pearce 2010; Bolton et al. 2011). This constrains our ability to develop the kind of regional-level insights on vulnerability and adaptation that policy makers at territorial and federal levels typically demand if they are to make policy decisions. However, some efforts have recently been made to review and critique scholarship on a regional scale (e.g., Pearce et al. 2010a and Bolton et al. 2011).
  • • 
    The majority of research has focused on the direct effects of climate change on the subsistence sector, including dangers posed, implications for resource utilization, and access to traditional foods, with fewer studies examining indirect effects, including economic, health, and cultural vulnerabilities (e.g., vulnerabilities mediated through resource development and enhanced shipping in the north) (Pearce et al. 2010a; Bolton et al. 2011).
  • • 
    Even for Inuit communities that have been actively engaged in HDCC research, the specific nature of components of vulnerability (exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity) is only generally understood. In particular, limited research has been conducted on determinants of adaptive capacity to deal with climate changes affecting subsistence activities (e.g., access to financial resources, social networks, flexibility of resource management regimes, etc.) (see Ford et al. 2010a, 2010b). Thus, we generally know that the climate is changing but the nature of climate stimuli that present risks and/or opportunities have not been fully characterized (e.g., what is dangerous ice, what is “too much snow on the ice”); we know that adaptive learning has historically underpinned adaptation to changing environmental conditions but few studies have examined how or how fast adaptive learning takes place, in response to what stimuli, and among whom; we know that hunters are already adapting but we have little understanding of how much disturbance can be adapted to or what climate stimuli promote adaptation; and we know that there are likely time lags and thresholds of adaptive response but our knowledge of them is limited. These questions have particular relevance for communities that have identified concerns related to the sustainability of subsistence harvesting in light of climate change, the erosion of land skills among younger generation Inuit, and the need for tools to assist with adaptation (e.g., trail hazard maps) (Ford et al. 2006a, 2006b; Tremblay et al. 2006; Tremblay et al. 2008; Gauthier et al. 2010; Pearce et al. 2010c; Pearce et al. 2011).
  • • 
    The role played by government policy and programs in influencing adaptive capacity has also been largely overlooked. Harvester support programs, fuel assistance programs, community freezers, etc. are provided by different levels of government across the North and are likely to have an important role in affecting future adaptation (Gombay 2006; Ford et al. 2007). Yet, apart from occasional studies identifying their importance and need to be expanded, there has been little critical reflection on the role these programs could play or socio-cultural implications they could have for Inuit. Government policy at an international level could also have broad implications for Inuit harvesting, particularly concerning resource management. The recent ban by the United States on the importation of polar bear hides in response to concerns over climate change pressures, for instance, could have large implications for access to cash resources among full-time hunting households (Dowsley 2009; Wenzel 2009), and offers a portent of potential (largely unexamined) challenges that might lie ahead.
  • • 
    Vulnerability resides in the condition and operation of coupled human–environment systems, including system feedbacks to stresses encountered (Turner et al. 2003), yet our understanding remains relatively static (Collings 2011). This limitation constrains our ability to examine future vulnerability and adaptation. For instance, research has not yet parameterized biophysical risks facing the subsistence sector in a way that could be linked to the output of climate models, or characterized how future social drivers may affect vulnerability.

This deficit in understanding in part derives from the infancy of HDCC research. It also stems from methodological challenges. Conceptual studies on vulnerability indicate that the following processes and conditions need to be captured by vulnerability assessments: i) interactions between exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity; ii) the role played by restructuring after stress has been experienced; iii) the influence of determinants of adaptive capacity operating over multiple scales; iv) non-linearity; v) evolution of vulnerability over time; vi) internal dynamics that give rise to new risks and/or enhance coping; and vii) critical interactions creating or moderating vulnerability (Turner et al. 2003; Smit and Wandel 2006; Leichenko and O’Brien 2008; Adger et al. 2009; Eakin et al. 2009). To achieve this, studies have typically used retrospective documentation of climate hazards and coping strategies from interviews and focus groups with hunters and community members, key informant interviews, participant observation, and analysis of secondary sources of information, with fieldwork typically ranging from a few weeks to multiple months. Hunters, for example, may recount hazards they have experienced while on the land or stresses affecting their ability to harvest, explain effects these stresses have, describe adaptations, and identify challenges to adapting. On this basis, researchers have developed an understanding of the pathways through which climate affects livelihoods and identified opportunities and challenges to adaptation. This approach has been an important methodological development, advancing a more sophisticated understanding of the links between climate and society than the largely biophysical-dominated work summarized in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA 2005) and assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (McCarthy et al. 2001; Parry et al. 2007). It has also provided the basis for active engagement of communities in the research process, informed policy discussion, and underpins much of our own work.

The retrospective nature of data collection and analysis, however, presents a number of challenges: interviewees often only recount what they have recently experienced and observed (i.e., recall bias), the season during which research takes place strongly influences what is recounted in interviews, and details about the nature of risks and coping strategies recede as time passes. This creates difficulties for understanding the role played by multiple stresses in affecting vulnerability and adaptation, identifying the place-specific nature of risks, situating current experience in a broader historical context, and accounting for the evolution of vulnerability over time. Moreover, research is often temporally discrete, aligned with short-term funding and graduate student cycles, typically spanning no more than two years, and with fieldwork timing often dictated by convenience (e.g., field trips in the summer). This is appropriate for baseline studies but is unlikely to fully capture the dynamic nature of vulnerability, which is continually evolving in response to internal and external perturbations and feedback. Limited timelines also pose challenges for engaging in CBPR, which involves fostering trust between researchers and community partners, developing local ownership of the research, sharing intellectual power, co-creating knowledge, and building capacity (see Castleden et al. 2012 of this issue, 160).

Collings (2011) argues that the lack of long-term studies in Arctic research has resulted in an increasing reliance on what informants say or report as opposed to what they do. Relying on what people say can be problematic, especially where interviewers lack understanding of the complex socio-cultural–historical relationships shaping the interviewer–respondent interactions and influencing what information is shared (Huntington et al. 2006). Briggs (1970) found that the kind of direct questions favoured by researchers is counter to traditional Inuit ways of knowledge sharing, while Huntington et al. (2009) note how preferences to maintain harmonious relationships and avoid conflict may also result in Inuit interviewees not openly contradicting statements made by the interviewer even if believed to be incorrect. Consequently, it has been observed that interviewees tend to choose the path of least resistance when they are exposed to questioning; that is, they answer minimally, withhold information or provide an answer they think the questioner wants to hear (Collings 2009; Huntington et al. 2009, 2011). The latter is particularly relevant for Arctic change research; if asked directly if the climate is changing, many community members will affirmatively respond because this is what they have heard on the news, is the position taken by many Inuit leaders, and is what they believe researchers want to hear. Uncritically assessed, a sole reliance on interview data collected during a limited number of field trips can create a misleading picture of the human dimensions of Arctic change.

Moving forward: Methodologies with promise for vulnerability assessment

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Research domains
  5. Review of current scholarship
  6. Moving forward: Methodologies with promise for vulnerability assessment
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

While HDCC research is a relatively new field of study in the Arctic, there is an established tradition of research in human geography and anthropology that has sought to uncover the role of climate and social change in affecting Inuit subsistence livelihoods (Wenzel 1991, 1995; Condon et al. 1995; Collings et al. 1998; Aporta 2002; Damas 2002; 2004; McGhee 2004; Aporta and Higgs 2005; Henshaw 2007; Aporta 2009). There is also a well-developed scholarship on CBPR—much of it developed in an Indigenous people's context that identifies how to equitably involve community partners (Smith 1999; Castleden et al. 2008; Pearce et al. 2009). This literature offers a number of important methodological insights for human dimensions scholarship and can be used to develop a more in-depth understanding of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity, plus strengthen the engagement of communities in the research process. In particular, we see longitudinal studies and community-based monitoring as particularly important for developing the meaningful and long-term relationships necessary for CBPR, advancing local involvement in the research process including setting goals and priorities, building trust between scientists and local people, guiding project development and implementation, deciding how the research is used, facilitating two-way knowledge sharing and skill development, and addressing climate change adaptation issues of relevance to communities (Castleden et al. 2008; Pearce et al. 2009). These methodologies offer the opportunity to develop what Briggs (1986) and Collings (2009) have termed “communicative competence,” where researchers become acclimated to the cultural setting and understand the cultural context that shapes the researcher–informant relationship (see Grimwood et al. 2012 of this issue, 211); competence which, in turn, affects the knowledge shared. Additionally, based upon feedback from communities and knowledge users in our own work, targeted adaptation research is critically important. Communities are increasingly feeling “researched to death” with few tangible benefits seeming to emerge from the process. CBPR principles can help manage this tension, noting that successful interventions based on the research process are also important in determining how action-orientated research is judged at a community level.

Longitudinal studies

Longitudinal studies involve repeated observation of a phenomenon, problem, or outcome over extended periods of time. Studies of this nature are useful for capturing the long-term dynamics of vulnerability and adaptation, recognizing that adaptive learning, experience with risk, restructuring, and social-economic conditions and processes, all play an important role in shaping how climate risks are experienced and responded to, allowing vulnerability to be monitored over time. Longitudinal studies also reduce recall bias through the monitoring of trends, and provide a baseline from which to examine how socio-economic–political developments affect vulnerability, while repeat observation can underpin respondent validation. Importantly, the sustained engagement required for longitudinal studies also tends to build trust and strengthen the commitment of all parties to the research, and is more likely to create an environment in which local people feel comfortable in voicing how they want to see the project evolve and to what ends, and for knowledge sharing.

Approaches to longitudinal study differ significantly, including formalized assessments involving repeat research trips on a regular basis over a specified time period (seasonally, annually, and on decadal time scales) where the same people are interviewed using the same or similar questions (i.e., cohort study). Formalized studies of this nature are commonly used in health research although there are limited examples in an Arctic context. Longitudinal studies may also be more informal in nature involving the documentation of observations on community life during repeat researcher visits, or the conduct of multiple research projects in the same location over time, but without a formalized timeline or cohort study design or even initial intention to perform a long-term study. Both types of study are useful for Arctic vulnerability research.

Community-based monitoring

Community-based monitoring involves employing local people to collect data on a problem or outcome on a regular basis, and involves working closely with community members and decision makers in the research process (Brook et al. 2009). In the Arctic, such studies have typically been utilized in the biophysical sciences, where community members collect data on meteorological conditions, sea ice, and animal numbers/health (Brook et al. 2009; Eicken et al. 2009; Mahoney et al. 2009). Increasingly, Arctic social science research is utilizing community-based monitoring for a variety of purposes. Tremblay et al. (2006; 2008) report on a project in Nunavik which is using real-time monitoring of sea ice and other environmental conditions by hunting teams to identify dangerous areas and develop hazard maps. Aporta (2009) equipped hunters in Igloolik, Nunavut, with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to document the geographic extent of trail networks. Krupnik et al. (2010) and articles in a special edition of The Canadian Geographer (Aporta et al. 2011) profile findings from the International Polar Year Sea Ice Knowledge and Use (SIKU) project, which worked with Inuit hunters to document knowledge on and monitor use of the ice. Many of these projects have been initiated by communities, and while a number are developed in a climate change context, the focus has been on documenting observations of change and recording impacts. Nevertheless, they offer significant promise for vulnerability studies. For the subsistence sector, regular monitoring of land use and regular (e.g., bi-weekly) interviewing of hunters could help develop real-time data on the characteristics of climate-related risks and relationships with adaptive capacity, trace the implications of socio-economic stresses for experience and response to climatic risks, monitor change and evolution in vulnerability over time, and locate thresholds in adaptive response, while also providing a venue for hunters to regularly identify their concerns and information needs. Combined with longitudinal study design, community-based monitoring can help unravel the complex interaction and evolution of vulnerability over time in a specific location.

Targeted adaptation research

Targeted adaptation research refers to studies that analyze and monitor an identified determinant(s) of adaptive capacity to better understand how adaptive capacity is constituted and how it is translated into adaptation, and may incorpor-ate aspects of community-based monitoring and longitudinal design. This involves going beyond a baseline understanding, with a few examples recently emerging in the Arctic literature. Pearce et al. (2010c) and Pearce et al. (2011), for example, working in Ulukhaktok, NWT, analyzed the proposition that an erosion of land-based skills is increasing vulnerability among younger generations, documenting the incomplete transmission of several land skills important for effective adaptation to climate risks that affect subsistence. This detailed assessment took place over four years and built upon concerns identified by community members. It identified specific land-skills that need to be enhanced and who needed to learn them. The key to targeted research is the focus on specific aspects of adaptive capacity, examining if, where, and when intervention is needed, with community identification playing an important role. For a number of Inuit communities, there is a baseline understanding among researchers and communities to develop such targeted projects (Ford et al. 2010a, 2010b).

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Research domains
  5. Review of current scholarship
  6. Moving forward: Methodologies with promise for vulnerability assessment
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

Undeniably, progress has been made over the past decade in identifying and characterizing the vulnerability and adaptation of the Inuit subsistence sector to climate change. Taking stock of this scholarship, we identify a number of priority areas for future research. First, there is a need for studies to identify communities and regions that have been neglected thus far in HDCC research, with greater attention on exploring economic, cultural, and health vulnerabilities. In locations where baseline studies have been completed, it is important that research employs new methodologies to capture the dynamic nature of vulnerability. Longitudinal studies, community-based monitoring, and targeted adaptation research offer significant promise, facilitating documentation and characterization of the multiple determinants of vulnerability operating over multiple spatial-temporal scales and how they interact in specific places at specific times. They are also of key importance for meaningfully engaging local people in the research process, building trust, and ensuring research proceeds in a mutually beneficial manner in which communities are equal partners.

These methodologies have not been widely used in the general HDCC literature and we believe that the Arctic research community in Canada is well placed to take leadership. This belief stems from the creation of large long-term, well-funded initiatives focusing on Arctic climate change (e.g., ArcticNet), completion of baseline studies in a number of communities providing a scientific and logistical grounding for more in-depth projects and collaborations with communities, and the continued involvement over time of a number of research teams and researchers in Arctic HDCC research. Moreover, research granting councils, research licensing bodies, and scholarship all place significant emphasis on working with communities and developing meaningful relationships.

Moving forward, it is evident that geographers have a lot to contribute to increasing our understanding of the human dimensions of Arctic climate change, as they do climate change in general (Hulme 2008). The discipline's emphasis on the multi-scalar place-based nature of vulnerability and importance of multiple stresses, promotion of CBPR, experience with diverse methodological approaches, and focus on interdisciplinarity, are key to informing the new frontiers of Arctic change research.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Research domains
  5. Review of current scholarship
  6. Moving forward: Methodologies with promise for vulnerability assessment
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

The authors would like to acknowledge ongoing support provided to their research by ArcticNet, a SSHRC Standard Research Grant and a SSHRC Northern Communities Grant, Vanier Doctoral Scholarship, NSERC, CIHR's Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments, International Polar Year CAVIAR and ACRC projects, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, and IDRC's IRIACC initiative. They also thank Barry Smit, Frank Duerden, Lea Berrang-Ford, and the communities in which we work for their intellectual input and ongoing support, and to the organizers of this special issue of The Canadian Geographer for input on the article. Three reviewers provided detailed and constructive feedback.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Research domains
  5. Review of current scholarship
  6. Moving forward: Methodologies with promise for vulnerability assessment
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
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