Collaborative Proposal: Understanding Climate-Driven Phenological Change - Observations, Adaptations and Cultural Implications in Northeastern Siberia and Labrador/Nunatsiavut (PHENARC)

The primary research objective of PHENARC is to understand present and potential future linkages between Arctic system climate change, altered phenological processes, and adaptations and responses of human societies to these changes.

Broad research questions are:
i) What are the key seasonal events that form an integral part of the ecosystems in PHENARC’s two main study areas of northeastern Siberia and Labrador?;
ii) How are these seasonal events changing, and what specific phenological shifts are occurring in these study areas?;
iii) What are the drivers of these seasonal events, and how do they cascade through and affect the entire system?;
iv) How are phenological changes and their resulting ecosystem impacts affecting the timing of people’s subsistence and other activities?;
v) How are these societal changes in turn affecting the larger cultural system?

Specific research questions include:
i) How do changes in the timing of freeze-up and thaw of both marine and freshwater systems affect human activities and how does this affect other components of the arctic system?
ii) How does an earlier melt and later re-appearance of sea ice and terrestrial snow alter climate and ecosystem dynamics?
iii) How do these changes in sea-ice and snow cover affect human subsistence and animal populations? iv) How do changes in the timing of plant production relative to animal migration patterns alter food chain dynamics?;
v) How are local inhabitants perceiving, understanding, responding and adapting to phenological changes, both physically and culturally?
vi) How do cultural responses in turn affect and feedback to the physical ecosystem? v) Have such changes in ecosystem phenology occurred in the past, and, if so, what were their cultural reverberations?

In order to answer such questions, PHENARC will employ qualitative and quantitative methods of field study, retrospective investigations, and modeling/synthesis techniques. Data sources include: systematic meteorological observations; climate proxy data; documentary historical records; oral history; and data drawn from interviews with contemporary respondents in our study areas. Two main regions will be considered, northeastern Siberia and Labrador/Nunatsiavut, areas chosen because they are well-known to the PIs, they have not been extensively studied before, and because they provide a variety of terrain and ecosystems invaluable for comparative study. In addition, the targeted communities differ in culture and ethnic mix. In Labrador some are majorly Inuit, while others, like Makkovik, have a population mix derived mostly from one Norwegian settler, but mingled with Inuit, Scots, Norwegians and others to form a unique and interesting culture. In the study area of northeastern Siberia, the ethnic range is far less diverse, and consists primarily of one group of people, Viliui Sakha. A range of climatic parameters will be analyzed, including temperature and precipitation, but major emphasis will be placed on alterations in the presence of snow and ice. In northeastern Siberia, it is changes in snow cover which are of prime concern. In Labrador, it is changes in sea-ice cover. Changes in biological phenology will also be noted.

Specific results of the project will include:
i) The community-generated set of rosters of phenological change in physical and biological systems;
ii) An analysis of how these changes interact, interdepend, and impact the entire ecosystem;
iii) The documentation of alterations in the timing of human activity in response to phenological change;
iv) The establishment of how these changes, in turn, affect and cascade through the arctic system as a whole;
v) The assessment of historical accounts of changing phenological systems, whole systems effects, and human agency;
vi) An analysis of how the changed timing of human activities in turn feedback to the physical and biological systems; vii) A community-generated predictive model of how the altered seasonality of these systems will continue to change, as global climate proceeds;
vii) The systematic comparison of data from the project’s two field sites that, among other things, highlights the role of human agency in both immediate and long-term contexts.

PHENARC Locations. Phenological changes due to a warming world have broad similarities across the arctic system (timing of seasons, arrival of species etc.) but the sociocultural responses, the way humans perceive, interpret and respond, is highly variable. In order to empirically investigate how culture and human agency interplay with these biological and physical processes, PHENARC will work in two different arctic areas with several distinct cultural groups: i) in northeastern Siberia, with Viliui Sakha, horse and cattle-breeding agropastoralists; and ii) in Labrador/Nunatsiavut, with Inuit, Settler, Métis and mixed populations.
Text Box:
For this part of our project, the focus is on the Viliui regions of the Sakha Republic, located in northeastern Siberia, Russia. Viliui Sakha are a Turkic-speaking people whose ancestors migrated from Central Asia to southern Siberia around 900, then migrated northward, along the Lena River, to their present homeland, beginning in the 1200s. This is an arctic/sub-arctic region, characterized by continuous permafrost and average winter temperatures of -50°C. Viliui Sakha are a stellar case of adaptation, adapting to an extreme climate, Russian colonization, the last 100 years of Sovietization, and contemporary post-Soviet decentralization (Crate, 2006a; 2006b; 2003). The newest challenge, and perhaps most difficult for local communities to perceive ways to adapt to, is climate change. In response to community concerns about local effects of climate change, Crate is currently PI for OPP 0710935 Assessing Knowledge, Resilience and Adaptation and Policy Needs in Northern Russian Villages Experiencing Unprecedented Climate Change. Just after the first summer of field work the project has generated substantial phenological data including: i) observations of the early arrival of spring, prompting the early leafing out and flowering of trees and plants and arrivals of migratory fowl; ii) earlier thawing and later freeze-up of rivers and lakes; and, iii) a prolonged fall season and delayed arrival of winter, to name a few. Because Viliui Sakha are horse and cattle breeders in the arctic regions, these changes in seasonal timing affect their annual cycle of activities. For example, with the hard freeze of winter arriving an average of 4 weeks late, horse and cattle slaughter dates are also postponed, and inhabitants need to supply and feed animals hay for an extra month, and to wait an extra month to replenish household meat supplies. Furthermore, harvest of the low bush cranberry, the main berry harvested, is affected since residents gather these berries and store them in boxes to freeze in a protected out building. With the freezing and thawing of a delayed winter, the berries are ruined. With spring and fall arriving late, migratory ducks, geese and other waterfowl fly through at the “wrong” times for hunting activities. This means a decrease in one of Viliui Sakha’s main supplementary food sources.
Viliui Sakha have reported that, unlike in other arctic regions, spring is arriving later now with climate change. They report that snow remains on the ground about one month longer than “normal”, and all spring activities are delayed a month. The subsistence implications include: i) not enough days in the growing season for some crops to mature fully; and, ii) cows not able to go to pasture for one month longer than before , which mean feeding cows hay, and performing daily cow care activities for a longer time. With fall prolonged and winter warm, there is an increase in snow which means an increase in spring thaw water resulting in unusually high spring floods. The greater amounts of snow also interfere with horse husbandry. Sakha horses, like caribou, live outside year-round, and dig through the snow for their forage. With increased snowfall and impermeable ice layers that form under the snow in the Fall freeze and thaw, horses cannot access food and many horses have died of starvation. Birthing mares are losing their foals from weakness due to hunger and from foals ‘drowning’ in the deep snow. Viliui Sakha hunting activity is impeded by the deep snow, and also cow-keeping since inhabitants cannot skid their hay stacks from the outlying hayfields into the village for their animals. The often mentioned change of ‘summers are now cold’ illustrates how cultural and spiritual aspects are also affected. Sakha live for summer, which they consider a time to recharge with the warm energy of the sun, to get them through another long winter. For Sakha summer is a tie when life is easier, there is celebration even among all the business of summer activities. One needs only to consider the several dozen Sakha songs about summer and spring, and the anticipation of summer. Summer is considered a sacred time that many feel they deserve after living through the bitter winter.

2) LABRADOR/NUNATSIAVUT. mapThe other geographical focus of PHENARC is Labrador/Nunatsiavut, appropriately named “Markland” (Forest-Land) by the Viking would-be settlers of a thousand years ago (Ogilvie, et al., 2000). This region is also the ancestral homeland of the Innu peoples who call it Nitassinan. This latter area covers much of the sub-arctic forest and interior barren lands of the Quebec-Labrador peninsula. According to the census of 2001, the population of Labrador is 27,860. Of this, approximately 30% are Aboriginal peoples, including Inuit, Innu, Métis and Mi’kmaq. The focus here will be on the Inuit people, descendants of the prehistoric Thule cultures who were perhaps drawn to Labrador by its abundance of whales and other wildlife, marine and terrestrial. The language of the Inuit is Inuktitut. Settler communities with mixed Inuit, Norwegian and other populations are also considered. Labrador, together with Newfoundland, separated by the Strait of Belle Isle, comprises the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (Borlase, 1993). However, a Royal Commission in 2002 noted the desire amongst Labradorians to break off from Newfoundland and become a separate entity. The Inuit self-governing region of Nunatsiavut was recently created through agreements with the provincial and federal governments.
The settlements of Goose Bay (population ca. 10,000), Makkovik (population 380), Hopedale (population 625) and Nain (1180) have been chosen as special sites for PHENARC study. Nain is the northernmost municipality in the province. Most of the people living in Nain are either Inuit or Kablunângajuit (people who are of combined Inuit and European descent). Nain forms an administrative centre for Inuit organizations, and also coastal activities such as commercial fishing. The fish plant provides employment for a number of local people. Another source of employment is the anorthosite quarry at Ten Mile Bay, not far from Nain. One of the richest nickel-copper-cobalt finds in the world, the Voisey's Bay deposit is located approximately 35 kilometres southwest of Nain in northern Labrador. Labrador is also starting to place considerable emphasis on tourism, seeking to attract tourists by advertising the quality and purity of its natural landscapes. Unlike PHENARC’s comparative study in northeastern Siberia, which will be based on much groundwork by PI Crate, the Labrador component is in its beginning stages.

Natural Systems Data Sets:

Human Systems Data Sets:
1) FIELD STUDIES. The fieldwork component of PHENARC consists of three main research areas: i) Documenting change; ii) Operationalizing Effects and Feedbacks; iii) Modeling Human Agency.













Intellectual Merit, Broader Impacts and Long-Term Goals:
The primary intellectual merit of PHENARC is that it represents a novel approach to advancing knowledge of key linkages between climate and human systems by integrating Arctic climate data with local knowledge drawn from rural native communities in northeastern Siberia, Russia, and Labrador/Nunatsiavut, Canada. By synthesizing very different types of data-sets and identifying patterns in seasonal processes it has the potential for a vast increase in transformative knowledge of human-climate synergies. By systematically documenting, modeling, and integrating key elements of physical, biological and human systems in the context of global and local climate change, PHENARC will add to a systems-level understanding of the functioning of the arctic system. PHENARC builds upon the expertise of the proposers in executing large interdisciplinary, multidisiciplinary projects which have focused on the incorporation of a human dimensions element in natural science systems research. In addition to this, the project will benefit greatly from the PIs active involvement, not only with the targeted communities and their regional and national specialists, but also with PHENARC’S team of international collaborators and affiliates. In addition to analyzing developments in the present and recent past, PHENARC will also consider potential future developments, and hence accords well with the overarching goal of the Arctic System Science Program (ARCSS), which is to consider what climate-system changes mean for the future of both the Arctic and the Earth. PHENARC’s focus on human systems, a nontraditional aspect of phenological study, is a further reflection of both the potential value of the project, and the goals of ARCSS. By conducting research into patterns of seasonality in two disparate arctic regions that are each home to a dynamic contrast of mixed and native settlements, and with a resulting potential transfer of knowledge across scales and international borders, PHENARC’s contribution to the CSAS body of knowledge promises to be considerable.

For the link to the PHENARC page and other projects in the CSAS group see:

Changing Seasonality in the Arctic System

The broader impacts of PHENARC include its potential for disseminating widely new knowledge regarding changing seasonality in Arctic climate and human systems. By developing whole-systems models to understand the linkages between Arctic system climate change, altered phenological processes, and adaptations and responses of human societies to these changes, PHENARC advances discovery while promoting teaching, training and learning through the active participation of the targeted village communities, village research assistants, and the in-country research institutes. PHENARC will study and document how Viliui Sakha, Inuit, and Kablunângajuit geographically and ethnically underrepresented groups, are perceiving and responding to local phenological change due to unprecedented climate change., PHENARC promises to develop a user-friendly, community-generated model to highlight scenarios for the future that can be replicated and used in other Arctic contexts. This model should assist in the adaptation and preparation for the ultimate surprise events of future climate change. The project will generate cumulative knowledge and enhance partnerships, specifically by generating a set of resource materials available to others interested in community-based phenological observation networks, by collaborating with the in-country research institutions and other existing research efforts studying issues of climate change in northern communities. Project findings and results will be disseminated widely by being made available on the village, regional and Republic level and also to other Arctic researchers. A high priority of PHENARC is to share findings with policy makers so that research results will inform their understanding, and help in developing realizable measures for their rural inhabitants. Similarly, research findings and results will be summarized in a series of working papers, single- and co-authored articles (both academic and popular). Additionally, the PIs plan to write a comprehensive monograph analyzing global issues and strategies of indigenous groups confronting climate change. These narratives will feature the voices, testimonies and visions of PHENARC’s rural inhabitants, in-country researchers and local, regional and state officials.

The long-term goals of PHENARC include laying the groundwork to initiate a larger long-term natural and social science study involving an international interdisciplinary team, and by contributing to a possible future metadatabase of community initiatives across the Arctic. PHENARC is designed to benefit society on several levels, by increasing the understanding of the local effects of changing phenology for the targeted communities, by producing resource materials to share that knowledge with other populations, to inform policy decisions, and to enhance research collaborations and exchanges