The polar bear has become somewhat of an international symbol for the consequences of climate change but some researchers say more work needs to be done on how the disappearing sea ice affects people who call the Arctic home.

Climate change is changing the Arctic landscape faster than other regions — in fact the change is happening "almost 40 times faster than the models had predicted," said Eric Solomon, director of Arctic Programs at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Solomon said Canadians need to remember that their country is, ultimately, an Arctic country.

"The north is about 40 per cent of Canada's landmass, the arctic is 67 per cent of Canada's coastline. We're an Arctic country by just about any measure."

But people living in the south often forget that, he said. This sentiment has been echoed by those living in Canada's northernmost communities for years.

Sea ice highways

"People in the north really rely on sea ice. They use it as their highway," said Solomon, who worked in Canada's Far North for six years.

With the sea ice melting, people living in the Arctic can find themselves cut off from communities. 

Think of it as if your commute was all of a sudden not possible anymore, said Solomon.

"You can imagine if the Lionsgate Bridge were down for some period of time, and you couldn't really get to where you needed to go. That's the kind of thing people are experiencing."

Solomon said the disappearance of sea ice is also a food security issue. The ice allows Inuit to hunt, which is important to both their diet as well as to their culture.

'We do hear a lot about polar bears...'

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A polar bear wanders along the Hudson Bay. New research suggets that permafrost soils in Canada's Arctic are melting at a rate that will significantly speed up global warming. (iStock)

More work needs to be done on the effect climate change is having on the Inuit, said Solomon.

"We do hear a lot about polar bears, we don't so much about people and the impacts on people."

The Inuit have a lot to contribute to the science and research on the region as well, he said, noting his own experience speaking to an elder who worried his knowledge was losing its relevance.

"There's a tremendous amount of traditional knowledge that goes way back, many generations, about the north from direct experience and observation."

Solomon is giving a talk called Life In A Changing Arctic at 7:00 p.m. PT Thursday, Nov. 26,  at the Museum of Vancouver. Admission is by donation.


To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Don't forget about the Arctic in the fight against climate change, said Eric Solomon.