SmartICE: In­no­vat­ing Cli­mate-Change Adap­ta­tion in Canada’s North

Policy - - In This Issue - Trevor Bell

For Canada’s Inuit com­mu­ni­ties, melt­ing Arc­tic ice af­fects ev­ery­thing. Me­mo­rial Uni­ver­sity ge­og­ra­phy pro­fes­sor Trevor Bell co-founded SmartICE, a sys­tem of ice map­ping and mea­sure­ment that in­cor­po­rates Inuit knowl­edge and re­lies on com­mu­nity in­put to pro­vide near real-time in­for­ma­tion on ice con­di­tions. It shared the Arc­tic In­spi­ra­tion Award in 2016, a $1 mil­lion prize en­dowed by Arnold Witzig and Simi Shar­ifi to thank the country that be­came their home.

In­no­va­tion re­sponds to many types of op­por­tu­ni­ties and driv­ers. For SmartICE, re­cent un­prece­dented changes in sea-ice con­di­tions, and the as­so­ci­ated im­pacts on Inuit safety and liveli­hoods mo­ti­vated our tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion. Se­vere so­cial in­equity be­tween Inuit and most other Cana­di­ans, to­gether with first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with Inuit com­mu­ni­ties, drove our so­cial in­no­va­tion. And to grow our north­ern en­ter­prise will re­quire fur­ther in­no­va­tion—this time in so­cial fi­nanc­ing.

SmartICE in­te­grates on-ice tech­nol­ogy, re­mote sens­ing and Inuit knowl­edge to gen­er­ate near re­al­time in­for­ma­tion on ice con­di­tions. To un­der­stand the en­ter­prise’s ori­gins and rel­e­vance, it’s im­por­tant to ap­pre­ci­ate that for more than six months of the year, sea ice hugs the Arc­tic coast­line, where Inuit have lived and trav­elled for mil­len­nia. Sea ice is there­fore not only a hunt­ing plat­form and travel high­way, it de­fines Inuit cul­ture and iden­tity.

Un­for­tu­nately, Arc­tic cli­mate change is caus­ing sea ice to be thin­ner, form later and break up ear­lier than be­fore, re­sult­ing, for in­stance, in a de­crease of 20 per cent per decade in Septem­ber sea-ice ex­tent along the Baf­fin Is­land coast. More trou­bling for ice users, warmer ocean cur­rents are thin­ning the ice from be­neath, leav­ing treacherous con­di­tions un­de­tectable at the sur­face.

Although of­ten ex­pressed as a grad­ual change, the great­est im­pacts of cli­mate warming are typ­i­cally ex­pe­ri­enced through the in­creas­ing fre­quency and mag­ni­tude of ex­treme events. Sea ice is no ex­cep­tion. The ex­tremely warm win­ter of 2009-10 in the eastern Cana­dian Arc­tic pro­vides in­sight into the im­pacts felt by com­mu­ni­ties when sea-ice con­di­tions are se­verely com­pro­mised.

A sur­vey of Nain res­i­dents (Nu­natsi­avut Inuit) revealed that about half of the re­spon­dents couldn’t use their typ­i­cal on-ice travel routes and took more sea-ice travel risks, while about three-quar­ters re­ported they were un­able to pre­dict ice con­di­tions and were afraid to use the ice. Con­di­tions pre­vented more than a third from go­ing hunt­ing and ac­cess­ing country food (the tra­di­tional Inuit diet; Arc­tic char, seal, cari­bou) in a com­mu­nity where 80 per cent of house­holds are food in­se­cure. Close to one-in-twelve sea-ice users sur­veyed had fallen through the ice.

These sta­tis­tics tell the real story of the wide­spread im­pacts of cli­mate change hap­pen­ing now in Inuit com­mu­ni­ties and demon­strate the crit­i­cal need for both mit­i­ga­tion and adap­ta­tion ac­tions. SmartICE was ini­ti­ated as an ur­gent re­sponse to these im­pacts. Build­ing on a close re­search part­ner­ship with the Nu­natsi­avut Gov­ern­ment, the project team set about ex­plor­ing how mon­i­tor­ing and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy could be adapted for both the harsh sea-ice en­vi­ron­ment and the spe­cific needs of Inuit trav­el­ers.

From the out­set, SmartICE had some key prin­ci­ples and goals that helped di­rect its de­vel­op­ment. Fore­most, it is de­signed to aug­ment—not re­place—Inuit knowl­edge of sea ice through in­volve­ment of Inuit in all as­pects of its op­er­a­tion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing. For it to be an ef­fec­tive cli­mate-change adap­ta­tion for Inuit, SmartICE had to gen­er­ate rel­e­vant sea-ice in­for­ma­tion at the com­mu­nity scale, in a timely man­ner, and in a for­mat that is both com­pre­hen­si­ble and ac­ces­si­ble. In prac­tice, SmartICE operators travel along com­mu­nity trails tow­ing our mo­bile ice-thick­ness sensor (SmartQAMUTIK, from the Inuk­ti­tut (Baf­fin) word for an ice sled). The sensor gen­er­ates real-time ice thick­ness data to help guide the op­er­a­tor, while the op­er­a­tor’s track is colour­coded ac­cord­ing to ice thick­ness for the ben­e­fit of the com­mu­nity. Seaice users then mod­ify their tra­di­tional travel routes based on this up-to­date in­for­ma­tion.

A sur­vey of Nain res­i­dents (Nu­natsi­avut Inuit) revealed that about half of the re­spon­dents couldn’t use their typ­i­cal on-ice travel routes and took more sea-ice travel risks, while about three-quar­ters re­ported they were un­able to pre­dict ice con­di­tions and were afraid to use the ice.

In re­sponse to com­mu­nity feed­back, our maps have a straight­for­ward leg­end that rec­om­mends Go, Slow Go, and No Go travel ar­eas, based on ice sta­bil­ity, rough­ness, oc­cur­rence of leads and open wa­ter, and other travel hazards.

Like­wise, our sta­tion­ary ice-thick­ness sensor—the SmartBUOY—is de­signed to be af­ford­able and ef­fi­cient in mea­sur­ing sea-ice thick­ness and snow depth at strate­gic lo­ca­tions iden­ti­fied by the com­mu­nity. These lo­ca­tions are usu­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive of larger ice ar­eas or early in­di­ca­tors of dan­ger­ous ice con­di­tions. Its ad­van­tage over the SmartQAMUTIK is that the SmartBUOY op­er­ates au­tonomously at any dis­tance from the com­mu­nity and trans­mits data by satel­lite.

SmartICE is pre­par­ing sea-ice travel haz­ard maps at the com­mu­nity scale ev­ery cou­ple of weeks and more of­ten dur­ing shoul­der sea­sons when ice con­di­tions are par­tic­u­larly dy­namic. The maps are val­i­dated through the ob­ser­va­tions, mea­sure­ments and tra­di­tional knowl­edge of our SmartICE operators. In re­sponse to com­mu­nity feed­back, our maps have a straight­for­ward leg­end that rec­om­mends Go, Slow Go, and No Go travel ar­eas, based on ice sta­bil­ity, rough­ness, oc­cur­rence of leads and open wa­ter, and other travel hazards.

But SmartICE is not just a tech­no­log­i­cal fix. It strives to be a so­cial in­no­va­tor, em­pow­er­ing com­mu­ni­ties to adapt to un­pre­dictable ice con­di­tions while max­i­miz­ing so­ci­etal im­pact. Fol­low­ing its suc­cess­ful demon­stra­tion in two pi­lot com­mu­ni­ties (Nain and Pond In­let), and in re­sponse to in­creas­ing de­mand for its ser­vices, SmartICE estab­lished a north­ern so­cial en­ter­prise. The Arc­tic In­spi­ra­tion Prize (2016) made this trans­for­ma­tion pos­si­ble—it was the game-changer that al­lowed SmartICE to shift its out­look from com­mu­nity re­search part­ner­ship to north­ern ser­vice provider.

Why a so­cial en­ter­prise busi­ness model? That was an easy choice. First, it is con­sis­tent with Inuit so­ci­etal val­ues, such as car­ing for the en­vi­ron­ment (Avatit­tin­nik Ka­mat­siarniq) and com­mu­nity (Pi­jit­sirniq) and be­ing in­no­va­tive and re­source­ful (Qanuq­tu­urniq). Sec­ond, it com­mits to cre­at­ing pos­i­tive com­mu­nity change—not profit for “south­ern” share­hold­ers—while ap­ply­ing an en­tre­pre­neur­ial ap­proach to the de­liv­ery of its ser­vices. To il­lus­trate this so­cial in­no­va­tion, we are re-de­sign­ing our SmartBUOY tech­nol­ogy so it can be as­sem­bled by trained Inuit youth in Nu­natsi­avut for distri­bu­tion across Inuit Nu­nan­gat. This tech­nol­ogy pro­duc­tion cen­tre—the first of its kind up North—will not only har­ness the vast po­ten­tial of Inuit youth, which can make up 60 per cent of lo­cal pop­u­la­tions, but also in­spire a new gen­er­a­tion to em­brace knowl­edge, tech­nol­ogy and re­search as a ve­hi­cle for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and com­mu­nity well-be­ing.

In the spirit of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, and for SmartICE to be ef­fec­tive, Inuit are in­volved in all as­pects of its op­er­a­tion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Com­mu­nity seaice user groups cre­ated by SmartICE are made up of el­ders, youth, ex­pe­ri­enced and young hunters, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from key lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions (e.g., hunters and trap­pers). The groups, self-named ‘Siku­miut’ (“peo­ple of the ice”), ad­vise SmartICE Inuit operators when and where to sur­vey and how the in­for­ma­tion should be shared with their com­mu­ni­ties.

As SmartICE ex­pands across the Arc­tic—cur­rently nine com­mu­ni­ties, with about an­other dozen pur­su­ing start-up op­por­tu­ni­ties—the en­ter­prise needs to think ahead to its long-term sus­tain­abil­ity and ex­panded mar­ket needs. This in­cludes both scal­able ser­vices and on­go­ing tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment to re­spond to more in­ten­sive cli­mate im­pacts. For ex­am­ple, warmer tem­per­a­tures and in­creased snow ac­cu­mu­la­tion will turn sea-ice sur­faces into slush, re­sult­ing in in­creas­ingly more dan­ger­ous ice travel. SmartICE is de­vel­op­ing and in­te­grat­ing a new sensor that mea­sures the oc­cur­rence and thick­ness of slush, for de­ploy­ment on the SmartQAMUTIK.

Although less fea­tured in the pop­u­lar me­dia than sea ice, fresh­wa­ter ice on lakes and rivers is also ex­pe­ri­enc­ing shorter and less pre­dictable sea­sons. It is es­ti­mated that al­most 10,000 km of win­ter trails pro­vide sur­face ac­cess to re-sup­ply re­mote, mostly Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties across the north­ern prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries of Canada. With few ex­cep­tions, these trails are not mon­i­tored for ice travel safety, de­spite the ev­i­dence of in­creas­ingly warmer win­ters and doc­u­mented break-throughs of re­sup­ply ve­hi­cles. SmartICE is adapt­ing its mon­i­tor­ing systems and ser­vices to gen­er­ate near real-time in­for­ma­tion on fresh­wa­ter ice con­di­tions for the ben­e­fit of both com­mu­ni­ties and busi­nesses across the Arc­tic in­te­rior.

Min­ing, ship­ping, fisheries, tourism, emer­gency re­sponse, na­tional de­fense and en­vi­ron­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing are all car­ried out to some de­gree on or through ice in the Arc­tic and there­fore in­for­ma­tion on ice con­di­tions, es­pe­cially dur­ing the dy­namic freeze-up and break-up pe­ri­ods, re­duces their risk and im­proves operational per­for­mance.

SmartICE is ac­tively en­gag­ing in­dus­tries and gov­ern­ment ser­vices to ex­plore how it can meet their ice in­for­ma­tion needs on a com­mer­cial ba­sis, while sub­si­diz­ing ser­vices for com­mu­ni­ties. It is also ex­plor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for so­cial fi­nanc­ing, which mo­bi­lizes pri­vate capital to de­liver both a so­cial div­i­dend and an eco­nomic re­turn to achieve so­ci­etal and en­vi­ron­men­tal goals. Be­ing an Arc­tic In­spi­ra­tion Prize lau­re­ate opens doors to prospec­tive in­vestors and we are ex­tremely grate­ful for the gen­eros­ity of Sima Shar­ifi and Arnold Witzig in cre­at­ing the prize and rec­og­niz­ing the im­por­tance of Arc­tic in­no­va­tion.

In the spirit of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, and for SmartICE to be ef­fec­tive, Inuit are in­volved in all as­pects of its op­er­a­tion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Com­mu­nity sea-ice user groups cre­ated by SmartICE are made up of el­ders, youth, ex­pe­ri­enced and young hunters, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from key lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions (e.g., hunters and trap­pers).

Trevor Bell is Uni­ver­sity Re­search Pro­fes­sor in Ge­og­ra­phy at Me­mo­rial Uni­ver­sity of New­found­land. Since its in­cep­tion Trevor has led the de­vel­op­ment of the SmartICE ini­tia­tive, a re­cip­i­ent of the 2017 United Na­tions Cli­mate So­lu­tions Award.

Michael Sch­midt photo

Moses Amagoa­lik, a SmartICE op­er­a­tor in Pond In­let, mea­sures sea-ice thick­ness in Eclipse Sound us­ing the SmartQAMUTIK (March 2018). SmartICE puts into the hands of com­mu­ni­ties the tools they need to travel safely on chang­ing sea ice.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.