Rosemary Ahtuangaruak lives in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States. She is a tribal liason for the Alaska Wilderness League, has served as mayor of the city of Nuiqsut, and works with numerous organizations as an advocate for pipeline safety and the cleanup of toxic chemical pollution. These are her personal reflections on what climate change means for her home.
The Arctic is changing year by year.
I was born in Fairbanks and moved to Barrow in 1980. I remember coming to Barrow as a young child, and the differences are the ice pressure ridges: the visual of sheets of ice that would creep upon the shore some standing on end for tens of feet into the sky.
In my younger years, I would ice fish from the shore for the tomcod with my mom and move climbing around the tumbles of icebergs to fish through the open waters of the leads among the sheets of ice, from August to late October.
About twelve years ago was the first time that I heard of an elder breaking through the ice. Two years later, I broke through the ice when I went out to check the fish net in November. I sunk my snow machine trying to get to shore. That day, seven others broke through the ice from my village. I had to walk back to the village (luckily, just a few miles) soaked from the chest down. I made it back. A couple of years ago, one of our elders in Barrow didn't.
The change in ice formation affects our fishing. We cannot get to the fishing grounds to put nets under the ice when the ice is not formed. Permafrost exposures make the erosion more rapid, with huge caverns created on hot days. I have seen multiple days in the nineties. One year in September, it was 90 degrees when our hunting crew got a whale. It was difficult to keep the bounty from the spoils of the heat. The ice cellars are changing, with a lack of permafrost that used to be a protective measure to freeze the harvest for winter usage.
I took my grandson for a boat ride, and we came across a musk ox on the rivers edge, a moose and caribou in the river, and a bear on the cliff just out of the river all with in a few hours of each. The weather was so hot for all these animals.
The Arctic is alive and changing, and many of these changes are hard to measure. We hope we can all remain aware of the changes and keep the health of the people in mind, as well as the health of the lands and waters for the animals we depend on.
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