New research confirms Arctic travel riskiest in spring and fall

A climate change researcher says his newly published research will let emergency responders in the Arctic know which days a search and rescue is more likely to happen, which could make them better prepared.

Probability of search and rescues in Nunavut highest when minimum daily temperature is -3 C, says research

While in Nunavut, Dylan Clark worked with people in Arviat on a program that allows elders to teach youth how to be better prepared when they go out on the land. (Submitted by Dylan Clark)

A climate change researcher says his newly published research will help emergency responders in the Arctic know which days search and rescues are more likely to happen, which could make them better prepared to take action.

This month, the journal Public Health published an online article comparing data from the National Search and Rescue Secretariat for searches in 2013 and 2014 in communities across Nunavut, with Environment Canada weather records for those same days. 
Dylan Clark says he heard from a lot of elders in Nunavut that it is becoming more risky to go out on the ice in the spring and fall, but his research quantifies this risk. (Submitted by Dylan Clark)

Dylan Clark, a researcher with McGill University's Climate Change Adaptation Research Group, interviewed elders in Pangnirtung, Whale Cove and Arviat who told him the ice conditions in spring and fall are becoming more dangerous. 

Then he set out to scientifically prove locals' knowledge.  

"We wanted to be able to say there were a lot of people out on this particular day and no one needed a search, but very few people were out on another day and the search was needed; now what were the weather conditions on each of those days," said Clark. 

"It [the risk] kind of peaks right around -3 C and that's what we've been hearing for quite a while from community members."

Ice less predictable in spring

As a control, Clark analysed gasoline sales in most Nunavut communities to pinpoint days when people may have gone out on an ATV, snowmobile or boat, without running into trouble.

"We also confirmed relationships with sea ice," said Clark. "On the land things are kind of thawing up a bit and it's easier for people to get stuck in the mud or streams." 

Clark says hunters may want to take extra precautions when they go out on those days and search and rescue volunteers may want to ensure they're ready to act.

"It's helpful for them to know when there's a greater probability of them getting called out for a search and rescue," he said. 
A Canadian Forces member takes part in an aerial search over Nunavut in March 2016. (@JTFAtlantic)

"Likewise, it's helpful for community healthcare workers, nurses, doctors to know when there might be more of these cases coming in so they can do refreshers or just be prepared."

Clark also hopes the research will reinforce traditional knowledge and publicize the effect of climate change on Inuit.

"While it would be great if we could have policy makers listening directly to the community members, sometimes it's needed to quantify these numbers and give a little bit more backing for greater change to happen higher up in the national government or in terms of throwing funding at search and rescue, prevention or resources."

Another paper, based solely upon his qualitative research with Inuit elders, is set to be published in the near future.