Publication: «Life on thin ice: Insights from Uummannaq, Greenland for connecting climate science with Arctic communities»

Juan Baztan, Mateo Cordier, Jean-Michel Huctin,  Zhiwei Zhu, Jean-Paul Vanderlinden


Greenland; Uummannaq; Inuit; Climate change; Sea ice; Adaptation; Knowledge co-production; Science and society


  • Scientific knowledge on climate change is disconnected from daily life experiences of community members in Uummannaq.
  • Graphs showing temperature and ice forecasts do not fit community members' “here and now” attitude, which is closely connected to the centrality of hunting, fishing, dogsledding and camping and the short-term decisions these activities entail.
  • The available data about climate change in the Arctic does not provide adequate support for the Uummannaq community to understand how what they value, including their main cultural and professional activities, is being affected.
  • Scientific research needs to consider local-level community needs in order to produce results that are salient, credible and legitimate for communities experiencing climate change.
  • To be more useful to the Inuit community in Uummannaq, and possibly others with similar conditions, research on coastal sea ice should be further developed, specifically research focused on sea ice thickness in winter, and such research must be connected to and co-produced with locals to ensure the core values of the community are integrated into the research process and outputs.



What are the links between mainstream climate science and local community knowledge? This study takes the example of Greenland, considered one of the regions most impacted by climate change, and Inuit people, characterized as being highly adaptive to environmental change, to explore this question. The study is based on 10 years of anthropological participatory research in Uummannaq, Northwest Greenland, along with two fieldwork periods in October 2014 and April 2015, and a quantitative bibliometric analysis of the international literature on sea ice – a central subject of concern identified by Uummannaq community members during the fieldwork periods. Community members' perceptions of currently available scientific climate knowledge were also collected during the fieldwork. This was done to determine if community members consider available scientific knowledge salient and if it covers issues they consider relevant. The bibliometric analysis of the sea ice literature provided additional insight into the degree to which scientific knowledge about climate change provides information relevant for the community. Our results contribute to the ongoing debate on the missing connections between community worldviews, cultural values, livelihood needs, interests and climate science. Our results show that more scientific research efforts should consider local-level needs in order to produce local-scale knowledge that is more salient, credible and legitimate for communities experiencing climate change. In Uummannaq, as in many Inuit communities with similar conditions, more research should be done on sea ice thickness in winter and in areas through which local populations travel. This paper supports the growing evidence that whenever possible, climate change research should focus on environmental features that matter to communities, at temporal and spatial scales relevant to them, in order to foster community adaptations to change. We recommend such research be connected to and co-constructed with local communities to ensure their needs and values are integrated into the research process and outputs.


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