The Value of Indigenous and Scientific Collaboration in Climate Research

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner
Wednesday, 20 January 2010: 8:30 AM
B213 (GWCC)
Betsy Weatherhead, CIRES/Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, CO; and S. Gearheard and R. Barry

Research on climate change is, by nature, multi-disciplinary. Experts in oceanography, atmospheric chemistry, land use, meteorology, atmospheric dynamics and various communities involved in measurements must overcome language and cultural differences to address this important issue. Meetings are often encouraged to allow face-to-face interactions to help overcome some of the disciplinary boundaries that can exist within science. Review papers and assessments often help bring recent advances into an understandable format for other researchers. Occasionally, efforts are made to explain new discoveries or understandings to the non-scientific community, including policy makers, students and the general public. This flow of information, discovery and progress has been in place for many years, allowing information to flow from the scientific community to the general public. However, most recently, with a stronger emphasis on cross-disciplinary work, new insights and directions for research are being discovered by turning the old model upside down. More specifically, by listening to non-scientists about the observations they can provide with respect to climate change has offered new insights into how the world is changing. Reversing the old model of scientific discovery requires careful progression to allow for maximum benefits and appropriate respect for each community's strengths. Furthermore, the dialog across cultures is difficult, requiring time, care, and iterative work to allow for true scientific progress. The final outcome of cross-disciplinary work involving non-scientists and scientists can result in significant discoveries that may not come about as easily if we rely solely on the traditional methods of scientific inquiry.

Recently, the authors merged Inuit reports from Arctic Canada with advanced statistical techniques to examine the possibility that weather may be more “unpredictable” for those living in the North. These reports had spurred prior efforts among environmental scientists with non-supportive results, in that prior efforts did not find major changes in variability, changes in timing, or severity of cold fronts, and many other traditionally scientific descriptors of weather. Working in more detail with Inuit reports, the authors were able to identify the timescales of change and the seasons in which Inuit reported the most change. Only by taking these detailed records and careful examination of Inuit reports were the authors able to identify scientific data and approaches that could reveal new insights.

More importantly, Inuit observations on how conditions have changed in the Arctic have led to further scientific research on climate change that is likely relevant to both scientific understanding of such change and to further planning of what to expect from future change. The inclusion of non-scientific observations and reports has the potential to advance environmental science in large and important ways, but only if the inclusion takes place in a careful and respectful manner. These efforts will require time and sensitivity, as well as the development of further techniques for examination and understanding of non-scientific observations. The results of cross-disciplinary work and inclusion of indigenous and local understanding and reports will likely surpass the results of scientific work without such efforts.