Climate change blamed for warm Nunavut weather

Climate change is contributing to unusually warm weather in Nunavut and Nunavik, according to a senior climatologist with Environment Canada.

Temperatures 10 to 12 degrees higher than normal

An iceberg floats along the waters of Frobisher Bay on Aug. 18, 2009. Usually people are crossing Frobisher Bay by snowmobile in December, but this year there is still open water. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Climate change is contributing to unusually warm weather in Nunavut and Nunavik, according to a senior climatologist with Environment Canada.

"I often say you don't see climate change when you look out the window. The exception is Nunavut," said David Phillips.

Temperatures are 10 to 12 degrees warmer than usual in many places, Phillips said, resulting in fall-like weather in many places in the region on Tuesday, the first official day of winter.

A high-pressure system stuck over western Greenland is causing warmer weather to move over Nunavut, but the warming climate is contributing, as well, Phillips said.

The temperature on Tuesday morning in Iqaluit was  –9 C and in Baker Lake –3 C, far above normal.

'Warmest year on record'

"We clearly know this is going to be, in Iqaluit, for example, the warmest year on record," Phillips said.

Temperatures should be between –19 and –28 C over southern Baffin Island, Phillips said. But on Frobisher Bay, some hunters are still travelling by boat because the bay has open water at a time when they're usually crossing it on snowmobiles.

Some people in Nunavut would prefer normal winter temperatures.

"It's kind of crappy for snowmobiling, I guess. Makes it hard to get out on the land," Iqaluit resident Chris Lewis said.

Even those who enjoy the warmer weather are concerned.

"It's wonderful for us humans, but I don't think it's very good for the animals," said Monica Ell, also from Iqaluit.

Freeze-thaw cycles can make it difficult for caribou to reach vegetation locked in ice and may cause starvation, wildlife officer Mitch Campbell says. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Mitch Campbell, regional wildlife officer for the Kivillaq region, said the see-sawing temperatures make it especially hard for herbivores such as caribou.

When snow melts and it rains, a subsequent freeze-up makes it hard for them to get food, he explained.

"The vegetation is locked into ice, so in order to eat the vegetation, they'd have to eat the ice and that is not something … that the animals would even be able to do, so that can, in severe cases, cause starvation," Campbell said.

It's still too early to tell if the current warm weather has hurt wildlife, but the conditions have proved harmful in the past, Campbell said.

The unusual and unpredictable weather is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, Phillips said, with the long-range forecast showing rising and falling temperatures for some time to come.

"In many ways, what we see this year in Nunavut is about as strange as it gets," he said.