Dr. Shari Gearheard, NSIDC

Interview with Shari Gearheard, June of 2008.

CA-CP: What is the focus of your research?

Shari GearheardDr. Gearheard: I work with Inuit hunters and elders to document their knowledge and observations of the environment and environmental change.  I work mainly in the Baffin region of Nunavut, Canada, and I live in an Inuit community called Clyde River, on Baffin Island.  I work with scientists as well and coordinate projects that bring Inuit and scientists together to design and carry out research.  I really enjoy the challenge of bringing different skills, experiences, and perspectives together, and I love working with multicultural, multidisciplinary teams.  I’ve worked on many different projects with Inuit over the years, from grizzly bears to walrus to vegetation to weather.  Most recently, I’ve been working on several projects about sea ice, working in Nunavut, Greenland, and Alaska.   Also, I have worked with different technologies to document and communicate Inuit knowledge of the environment including CD-ROM technology and interactive GPS.

CA-CP: How can Inuit and scientists work together to understand environmental change?

Dr. Gearheard: Inuit and their ancestors have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years.  Inuit elders today have spent a lifetime living on the land.  Inuit hunters have traditional knowledge passed onto them from older people and they combine that knowledge with their own experiences Pia Paneak teaches Inuits about vegetation changes.and skills.  Through a close relationship with the natural environment, and through constant observation and use, Inuit have a complex understanding of environmental patterns, processes, and changes.

Inuit and scientists can help each other in the quest to understand how the Arctic is changing.  They use different knowledge and different tools, but both contribute very important information.  For example, scientists use satellites to study sea ice.  This allows them to see sea ice on a very large scale, over the entire Arctic, and how sea ice margins are advancing or retreating.  Inuit study sea ice through intense use (travel, hunting, fishing) and have knowledge and observations at the local and regional scale.  Inuit have constant and direct contact with sea ice – touching, tasting, and probing it to get detailed information.  Combining these different scales, tools, and methods from both scientific and Inuit knowledge, we can get a more complete picture of how sea ice is changing.

CA-CP: What can people in the United States learn from this kind of collaboration?

Dr. Gearheard: There are local experts everywhere who have knowledge about their environment and who can teach us very important skills.  Experienced farmers, fisherpeople, pilots, foresters, ski patrol, and ranchers are just a few examples of people who have close relationships with the environment and have direct observations about how the environment has changed over time.  Many scientists are already partnering with people who have local knowledge and we could increase these collaborations.  The more knowledge and experience we can pull together in studying the environment, the more complete picture we can assemble about how the environment is changing.

All photos Copyright Shari Gearheard. Used with permission. See more photos here.

For more information about indigenous peoples and Arctic change visit:

Indigenous Peoples Secretariat

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

Inuit Circumpolar Council

Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic

Read more about Dr. Gearheard's projects at NSIDC here.