This is the continuation of an interview with Ronald Brower, Sr. on March 8, 2016 by Karen Brewster at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Ronald talks about the dangers of being out on the sea ice and how to be safe out there, the effect of wind and current on ice conditions, and changes in ice conditions he has observed in his lifetime. He also talks about climate change and the future of whaling, human adaptation to the changing environment, the applicability of traditional knowledge, and younger generation's sea ice knowledge.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Sea Ice Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Mar 8, 2016
Narrator(s): Ronald Brower, Sr.
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Sue Beck
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Conditions during the 1997 ice break-off event
Effect of warm current
Effect of wind and current on ice conditions
Effect of tide on ice conditions
Conditions during the 1957 ice breaking event, and moving ice coming in and hitting shorefast ice
Dangers of ice over the deep ocean
Ice add-ons (iiguaq) and safety issues, and preventing drifting out
Effect of wind and current on ice conditions
Changes in pressure ridges
Climate change and future of whaling
Changes in animal populations
Human adaptation to changing environment
Effect of pressure ridges on ice safety and on sea life on the ocean floor
Applicability of traditional knowledge, and ice movement around Barrow and along the coastal barrier islands
Effect of changes in ice conditions on changes in knowledge and activities
The art of walking on thin sea ice
Changes in seasonal ice development and break-up
Bearded seal (ugruk) and walrus hunting
Generational transfer of knowledge, and younger generation's knowledge of sea ice conditions
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN BREWSTER: I wanted to ask about that ‘97 break-off you were just talking about.
What the weather conditions were like? The wind, the currents, the atmosphere, what was going on that might have caused or led to that big break-off?
RONALD BROWER: What I saw was that as we were sitting, was the day, the morning was extremely clear.
The moon was full. We had a full moon. It was rising in the afternoon. It’s rising in the afternoon. So, it’s to our east.
So what’s happening? The currents are running faster going eastward. From west to east, flowing more faster than before than I had noticed.
And I told my co-captain, Harry Junior, “This current is running way too fast. This is faster than normal.”
It’s the fastest water movement, current, that I had seen most of my life off of Barrow.
And I told Harry, “This is much faster than normal. It’s not like that out -- Remember that other time when the moon was up? It was about four o’clock in the afternoon and the weather conditions were like this and it broke up? About the same -- the same thing is about to happen to us.”
And I called him. He was out drifting with the -- out on the ice. And then he came -- he came over and he came landing.
I told my crew, “Take that camp out. We’re heading out. We’re getting off.” While we’re packing up, the second bump hit. This time the second bump shattered all the ice. It was a big thud.
It was like a -- things were shaking. And I was trying to get the crews to understand. “Hey! This is -- don’t just dispute somebody’s words. Get off the ice. There’s danger.”
And then the westernmost camps start yelling, “Get off the ice! Get off the ice!”
And these two gentlemen were just going, “Aw, don’t worry about it. We’re not going to be affected by it.”
When somebody tells you to get off the ice, you don’t talk back to them. That’s the most stupid thing you could do.
KAREN BREWSTER: But, so that current, do you think the moon was pulling that current?
RONALD BROWER: Oh, the moon had -- definitely -- definitely caused us to have some high tide.
KAREN BREWSTER: It was high tide?
RONALD BROWER: The combination of the water moving west -- I mean, from west to east was flowing pretty rapidly, and it’s been getting faster and faster every year as the ice is thinning.
That current has been building up faster and faster.
KAREN BREWSTER: But I would think if the ice to break off and drift out, the current would have to be coming from the east to the west. No?
RONALD BROWER: No. You’re talking east to west. I’m talking west to east.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So you -- you saw the current fast going west to east and that concerned you? RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Why?
RONALD BROWER: Because that’s a warmer current coming in from the Pacific. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
RONALD BROWER: It’s coming in from the Pacific, and because I’ve been out on the ice a long time, I know the movement of the ice in the Arctic.
I’ve been out there how many years working out on the main ice pack.
And so when I saw that current and ice coming out from below, I knew it was much warmer water that’s coming at us at a much higher rate, which means it’s melting faster below.
Our outside temperature is about twenty, which is fairly warm, and so -- very calm, no clouds in the sky. The sun is shining bright. The moon is rising high. And the current is getting stronger.
So I called Harry, “Hey, this is getting dangerous. We need to get off the ice.”
And that’s when -- right after I talked to him, that’s when it shook.
KAREN BREWSTER: And did it shake because something hit it farther west? RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So something hit -- hit it farther west and it made it crack and break off?
RONALD BROWER: It was a large iceberg that hit it. And that just broke it all off.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. I was thinking it -- when you say broke off behind you, it made me think, oh, it should be something pushing from the east.
Now you’ve explained it hit -- it hit farther west or south.
RONALD BROWER: It hit probably back around here. I would think that it hit this ice.
The water is moving in this direction. And the ice hit this way. Boom!
And when it hit the ice, it shattered. The shatter went north. And it just split up all the ice along the shore, leaving the shorefast ice.
All the sea ice that was attached to the shorefast ice shattered all the way up.
And it hit past Point Franklin. And all the area, all the ice moved off.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Now I understand. I didn’t understand that before.
RONALD BROWER: It hit from -- it was a big iceberg from the deep that hit.
And that’s what shattered the rest of it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Does it ever happen that you get a strong east wind and a current going east to west that will move the ice out with -- ?
RONALD BROWER: Oh, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah?
RONALD BROWER: It happens almost yearly.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, that’s what makes the lead, right? RONALD BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: But -- but does it happen with people on it? RONALD BROWER: Oh, yeah! KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, it does?
RONALD BROWER: People have been lost to sea as a result of that.
KAREN BREWSTER: So how do you protect yourself?
RONALD BROWER: Well, you have to take all your necessary precautions.
Number one, you have to know about the ocean currents. You have to know about your ice conditions. You have to know about your weather conditions.
Look at the time of the year. April, May, and June we have the strongest currents flowing from west to east.
KAREN BREWSTER: Qaisaġniq?
RONALD BROWER: Mm-mm. Qaisaġniq. KAREN BREWSTER: Qaisaġniq.
RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm. And the qaisaġniq has been building up stronger and stronger ever since I’ve observed it as a child.
And in the recent years, about three, four -- ‘70s or ‘90s -- ‘90s to the 2000s is the strongest current that I’ve ever seen.
'97 was really one of the strongest, high, most powerful currents that we had experienced.
Whales we were getting that time were getting dragged. Towed under. Quite a few folks lost whales that year due to the undertow, which was extremely strong.
KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. You mentioned the tide. RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm.
KAREN BREWSTER: That -- that ‘97 time, and the tide had come up? RONALD BROWER: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: How does the tide affect the ice conditions?
RONALD BROWER: Well, the ice along the coast of Barrow, especially here between Barrow and Point Franklin in along the coast, comes -- each day will pop up, maybe shift five, six inches along the coast.
Maybe about -- either right along the coast or several -- a couple hundred feet off the coast. So it’s moving.
So that ice is just moving back and forth five, six inches and that’s it. We don't have more tide than that.
But when the sun and the moon are both over here, the moon is up here, the sun is over here, and the moon comes -- or the sun comes around, the moon seems to cause the water to flow faster eastward.
So along with the -- that’s when the water seems to swell up. And water is moving eastward.
Qaisaġniq is much stronger. Very fast. And it’s also pushing against that ice.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so in those conditions it doesn’t matter what the wind is doing? RONALD BROWER: There was no wind.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, or -- Yeah, but at other times if you have a strong east wind, can it counteract that?
RONALD BROWER: If we had a strong west wind, it’ll facilitate the ice movement to be faster. It’ll take you away much faster.
If we have a east wind, it’s -- it’ll counteract the surface but not the big icebergs.
The big icebergs are not subject to wind conditions. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Okay.
RONALD BROWER: They drift with the current, and they can plow right through. They often have.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you were talking about that, and this -- that makes me think about a story your dad talked about where the crews were all out, and something big and heavy was coming in and it broke up all the ice and they all had to run to safety? I think it might have been about 1959. I’m not exactly sure.
RONALD BROWER: 1957.
KAREN BREWSTER: '57? Oh yeah, '57. You were just a boy. But do you remember that?
RONALD BROWER: Oh, yeah. I was out there. KAREN BREWSTER: Were you out there?
RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm. Yeah, I was one of the ones running to safety.
I had hopped on my dad’s or somebody’s -- I think it was Fred’s dog team brought me to shore.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you have -- do you know why that happened, and what the conditions were?
RONALD BROWER: It was similar conditions. As I said, that that giant iceberg hit. Came from the west just like that. It was speeding along.
Those tow -- the undercurrents were very strong and it’s -- and when that ice is moving, and it may seem slow, but when it hits that’s a lot of pressure.
Everything else is shattering out on the other side.
KAREN BREWSTER: And does it make a difference if what is being hit is thicker or thinner ice?
RONALD BROWER: No, it doesn’t. It’s the weight that --
The impact of the weight on the ice is so great. It may seem to be moving slow, but the ice is brittle and it just shatters.
KAREN BREWSTER: So even if it hits thick ice that thick ice will still shatter?
RONALD BROWER: It will shatter the thinner ice. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: What if it hits thick ice?
RONALD BROWER: Well, it might just bump and stop. It might crack it up.
But depending on the weight of it, it can also break it up. But the impact that we had was -- we felt it thirty, thirty-five miles away.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, and by ‘97 you were on thinner ice probably.
RONALD BROWER: Yeah, much thinner ice. Back in ‘97 the ice was about what, three and a half, four feet thick?
KAREN BREWSTER: So if that thinner ice got hit by that big weight -- RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: -- it was not solid -- RONALD BROWER: It just shattered it. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RONALD BROWER: It shattered it all the way across.
KAREN BREWSTER: But you say now you don’t see those big icebergs anymore?
RONALD BROWER: Oh, we’re seeing them. We see them, but they’re out on the deep. They’re going by on the deep, but we see them. But they’re not coming close to shore as they used to.
They’re not as many as there used to be. They mostly disappeared.
Very rarely will we ever see an iceberg now. And when we do, we know it’s glacier ice because it’s 75, 150-feet high.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. What about pressure ridges? Has the pressure ridging changed?
RONALD BROWER: Oh, yeah. Pressure ridging has changed dramatically, very tremendously.
We’re seeing pressure ridges of the thin ice coming towards Barrow, but when you’re going eastwards, remember, in the main ocean -- up here in the main is -- main Arctic Ocean where there's no land mass.
Remember, Barrow area is just a edge out there sticking out. And it’s at that main ice. The main ice is scraping along that and hitting toward Barrow. It’s moving from here out this way. It’s coming in that way.
And going down into the Beaufort along that deep -- the deep sea right -- right going eastward.
And then it turns. It turns seaward over by Cross Island. Some of the ice floes come in, but the main ice pack is going out.
And that’s going into the deep sea. And getting out into the deep sea can even be more dangerous.
KAREN BREWSTER: For people or for the ice?
RONALD BROWER: For people. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RONALD BROWER: Because the ice you’re riding on is now shifting. When the waves are in there, you’re looking at twenty, thirty foot high waves.
And your ice -- piece of ice is moving with that. So it is extremely dangerous. Very few have survived that.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I’d think most of the seal hunting and whaling is off shorefast ice, correct? RONALD BROWER: Yeah. Mm-hm.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. That you're -- in theory you’re attached to something.
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. You don’t want to get off the shorefast ice. That sea ice is always on the move. It can be more dangerous, unless you’re mobile or a boat.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, on the shorefast ice I’ve heard of an iiguaq? RONALD BROWER: Iiguaq. KAREN BREWSTER: An add on? RONALD BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: What’s that? Is that safe to be on?
RONALD BROWER: It’s a piece of ice that just bumps into another ice and freezes together. The one that bumps is the iiguaq.
KAREN BREWSTER: And is then that iiguaq now considered part of the shorefast?
RONALD BROWER: It can be if it stays. If it doesn’t have an anchor, it may just -- the tide break off and drift away.
Sometimes it’ll break off when the moon is on the other side to us. That’s when they break off. When the moon is coming up.
KAREN BREWSTER: In the west?
RONALD BROWER: In the east. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, in the east, okay.
RONALD BROWER: When the moon is coming up in the east, it’s -- the water movement is so much.
But all of a sudden when the moon disappears, when the water drops, other pieces start breaking off.
KAREN BREWSTER: So if there’s shorefast ice and then an iiguaq and then the open lead, would you go out to that lead?
RONALD BROWER: Of course. That’s where we do the hunting.
KAREN BREWSTER: It’s still safe even though there's that iiguaq?
RONALD BROWER: Well, we take precautions to make sure that we are safe. You have to.
But it’s those folks that are hunting during the dark of winter that are in -- in most peril.
KAREN BREWSTER: The seal hunters? RONALD BROWER: Yeah. But that’s also the best time to be out seal hunting.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And why are they in the most peril?
RONALD BROWER: That’s because it’s in the dark. You can’t see much of the movement going on.
Most of our -- well, you can check for current, but it’s also hard to tell what’s happening behind you.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, I was thinking with whale camp you always say, “Well, check behind you.” How do you do that? You leave somebody back there on the other side?
RONALD BROWER: There’s different ways that people set up their markers.
They have markers. You can look from the shore and look -- go to that -- if those two line up, you’re okay. If they’re moving away from each other, you’re drifting.
So we have markers where we think we can see them from a distance. That way we know we’re lined up.
We line up on something. We just go there, take a look, make sure that we’re not drifting away.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Being out on those iiguaqs sounds a little scary to me.
RONALD BROWER: It can be. But if you have a boat, you have a chance to get ashore.
KAREN BREWSTER: So maybe you go put your hunting camp out there, but the camp where everybody sleeps and eats is back? RONALD BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you take the windbreak and the boat?
RONALD BROWER: You don’t set up camp on iiguaq. You’ll be drifting out to sea pretty soon.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. You just go and hunt out there.
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. That’s about what you can do. Keep your equipment in a safe place. Yeah.
Iiguaq act -- behave differently depending on the weather temperature. If it’s super cold out, then you’re good. If it’s starting to warm up or the current is beginning to flow, I would stay off of it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And what about east wind? Does that affect it?
RONALD BROWER: East winds? Of course. All the different winds have different effects on our environment.
East winds normally bring the north ice, heavy ice toward the shore. And it shears along Barrow just because of the angle of the ice movement.
East winds will cause the water to break up. However, to be east of Point Barrow is a little bit not as safe.
Might be better hunting for the -- just west of Point Barrow. But the east side of Barrow -- or the west side of Barrow, the ice will break off and it’ll clear off.
East winds you normally don’t want to be out there too far.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it seemed to me when I lived in Barrow, when there was an east wind, everybody would be, “Oh, it’s opened the lead. It’s good hunting. West wind closes the lead.”
It’s very simplistic, I understand. But is that -- ?
RONALD BROWER: Not as simple as people try to make it sound. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Yeah.
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. There’s -- winds are one thing.
It’s the currents that have a greater impact. Your winds and current, both can work.
Now we might have a current flowing east and winds -- or winds blowing from the east and currents from the west. They’re crossing each other.
And that’s -- those kind of conflicting conditions are sometimes they’re not too good for hunting.
But if we have open water -- when there’s open water, everybody goes out and tries to catch their game.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so if you have those conflicting wind, current -- RONALD BROWER: It doesn't matter. KAREN BREWSTER: It doesn’t matter? RONALD BROWER: No. KAREN BREWSTER: You go anyway?
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. You just have to watch the conditions -- the ice conditions all the time.
KAREN BREWSTER: We were talking about pressure ridges before. I was asking if that’s changed.
RONALD BROWER: Pressure ridges? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RONALD BROWER: Oh, yeah. Pressure ridges have slowly disappeared over time.
As -- one of the things on the coast that’s happening is that as we lose more land to erosion and rising of the water here, the currents are also changing a little bit.
Not only are the currents -- the main currents are flowing, but the currents are changing in that they’re warmer, they’re faster, and they seem to be --
Well, those are the two main differences that I see: they’re warmer and they’re faster.
And they’re coming -- the warm water is coming earlier. It’s been happening earlier and earlier every year, more warm water flowing by much faster.
It is having a big effect on our coastal ice. We see it.
It’s -- we're -- I worry about for the time when it’s going to be hard to just go spring whaling if we have any ice.
And if we have any ice left, I would say that very soon we're going to be out on the ice quarter of a mile from the town instead of the forty miles.
That’s the impact that I have seen in my lifetime.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Or is it -- is there going to be a time, as you say, where there’s no ice, and will you go spring whaling like fall whaling?
RONALD BROWER: That’s what I’ve been talking about to our crew members, is that we have to be prepared just to go like we’re going to go spring whaling.
But traditions are hanging strong. People are getting their whale boats ready now.
Some are all ready to go, because we anticipate whales to be coming by earlier. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.
RONALD BROWER: We’re -- I already see birds migrating north. The plovers are. I just saw two plovers heading north.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. Yeah, I’ve wondered about the timing of whaling and the sea ice. That if the ice isn’t -- you know, everybody talks about the ice being thinner now and it takes longer to form in the winter.
You know, you don’t get ice forming until December. So, December 'til April isn’t very long. Used to be September.
And so if -- if the ice is no longer safe to be on until later, will the whales have already passed?
RONALD BROWER: Well, they will already have passed. But it also depends on whether their food has arrived, as well. Because it’s the currents that are also bringing their food.
It’s been -- just the way the currents -- the way from the Beaufort Sea -- not the Beaufort Sea -- from the Arctic Ocean going around -- KAREN BREWSTER: From the Chukchi?
RONALD BROWER: -- from Nome, the currents flowing north are coming up quite fast, and they’re going in this way.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you think the whales are coming earlier? RONALD BROWER: Yeah. Even the birds are coming earlier.
KAREN BREWSTER: So if the whales are coming earlier but the ice isn’t thick enough yet, can you miss each other? Or people will find another way?
RONALD BROWER: Well, that’s what we -- that’s what we’re observing. What’s happening with the whales.
That’s why we need to be more vigilant now. Because in 1979 the elders were telling us that the animals that we are used to seeing, and migrating, are getting fewer and fewer, beginning with the birds.
A migration of birds, especially the King Eider ducks for example, were flying north in flocks of maybe a hundred to two, three hundred in a flock coming by every five minutes.
Now, nowadays, you’ll be lucky if you’re seeing flocks of twenty to fifty every fifteen, twenty minutes. A big change.
I see seals during the warm spells are getting more prolific. There’s more seals on the ice, but that’s also a warning to us as Inuit.
Where animals are feeding and healthy and well, very soon going to crash. We’ve seen that with caribou. We’ve seen that with seals.
And time is coming when we’re going to see that, we’re warned, with whales.
In 1979, Umigluk (David Frankson) mentioned that we have to be wary of what’s happening to the bowhead whale.
Because if those kind of changes continue, it’s not only the air that’s being affected -- so will the water. That means the food that we eat is going to be affected. And that was a very clear warning from our elders.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you’ve been noticing it? RONALD BROWER: We're living it. KAREN BREWSTER: You're living it. Yeah.
RONALD BROWER: We’re living those changes now. And it’s very rapid.
In my lifetime, I have seen ice -- I’ve hunted on ice that was twenty-five feet thick. Now, I’m hunting on ice that’s only eighteen inches thick.
KAREN BREWSTER: What do you see for the future with all these changes?
RONALD BROWER: The only thing that I see is that we’re going to have to change with the environment.
There're all kinds of different changes coming up on Inuit. Our whole world has totally changed from what I knew. Nobody’s wearing skin clothing anymore.
KAREN BREWSTER: Nobody’s living in sod houses anymore.
RONALD BROWER: Or using the snow -- the apuyyaq's, the snow iglu (igloo). And so times have changed really rapidly.
So, with also adding to that the loss of language. You can add to that with the loss of language is the loss of history. With the loss of history, then we have a people lost.
KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. To get us back to sea ice a little bit, the reason I was asking about pressure ridges is I’m wondering if there are fewer of them, how does that affect the safety of being on the shorefast ice and being at the lead?
Is the -- pressure ridges make a difference?
RONALD BROWER: Pressure ridges normally would ground offshore and ground to hold fast the shorefast ice. With that gone, we’re going to be faced with thin ice that’s not multi-year but annual-growth ice.
And that’s what we’re dealing with now.
KAREN BREWSTER: And there’s not grounding? It’s not attached to the bottom any way?
RONALD BROWER: It’s not grounding like it used to. It’s not thick enough to ground. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
RONALD BROWER: So that part of our sea life is also changing. More sea life is growing, because the ice is not damaging the bed.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, on the bottom? Yeah.
RONALD BROWER: And the seals and the whatnot are feeding more, and so they’re prolific.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so, yeah, there's not that scouring along the bottom from the pressure ridges. RONALD BROWER: No.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, I hadn’t thought about that.
RONALD BROWER: So clams and other food sources are rapidly growing at the bottom.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I was thinking of the top part. I hadn’t thought about the underneath.
I was thinking about what that meant for being safe. Now you’re out on ice that isn’t grounded. But everybody still goes out.
RONALD BROWER: We don’t have much choice, do we? It’s the ice that we know. And it’s the place where we hunt from, and that’s not going to change.
It’s been part of our culture for the last eight thousand years.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you -- are you still able to apply the old knowledge to the current conditions?
RONALD BROWER: Well, some of the old knowledge is no longer applicable.
A lot of that old knowledge is still applicable today, even with the changes that we’re going through.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you have some examples?
RONALD BROWER: The sea ice is still breaking up the way it breaks up a long time ago. It’s still breaking up pretty much in the same way it normally does.
What I know is that the ice normally in front of Barrow, because Barrow has a deeper shore, will normally sometimes break off at the coast, along the coast, and drift out to sea. And that happens especially with strong east winds.
West winds will bring ice to Barrow, and it’ll open up on the north side. Open leads form on the north side from the west winds.
Ice piles up on the west side, and then on all the islands, including all the islands all the way out to Cross Island. The pressure ridges will form on the west side.
And then when we start having east winds and north winds, all the pressure ridges will shift to the north side of the islands and to the north side of Barrow.
And you’ll see the pressure ridge forming way out away from Barrow, out into the ocean. Because that’s where the shallow is. It follows the shallow water.
I look at the shallow water as the extension of the mainland where the beaches used to be, and that now forms where the pressure ridges are forming these days.
And so all the pressure ridges will form with the east winds on the north side. KAREN BREWSTER: On the north side of the Point (Point Barrow)? RONALD BROWER: On the north side of the islands. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, I see.
RONALD BROWER: On the north side of the islands and -- just on the north side, but not the west side. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
RONALD BROWER: So the islands are -- whichever they are -- sometimes the islands, they’re -- the pressure ridges are forming on one side, then when the currents and the ice shift, now they’re forming on this side. This area gets sheared off, and the pressure ridges are on that side.
KAREN BREWSTER: And the same works in terms of around Barrow and the Point? RONALD BROWER: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: North side, west side. RONALD BROWER: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
RONALD BROWER: Point Barrow and all the barrier islands going toward Canada.
We don’t see that happening so much on the west coast of Barrow. It’s mainly toward the east coast.
KAREN BREWSTER: But even now when there’s thinner ice and not so many pressure ridges, that knowledge still applies?
RONALD BROWER: Yes, it’s still useful. It may not be pertinent as it used to be.
Things have changed a lot. So some of that information is no longer useful, because we don’t have those conditions anymore.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, can you think of an example?
RONALD BROWER: Well, the ice is way too thin. The currents are faster. The winds are more humid. The winds are --
Our seasons are shifting very rapidly. Let’s see --
KAREN BREWSTER: I was thinking if there was something you remember learning as a boy about knowledge of the ice that now the conditions aren’t there anymore, so you don’t use that information?
RONALD BROWER: The knowledge of the ice is -- well, the old knowledge of the ice is gone. Is -- while we have it in memory, it’s no longer applicable.
Hunting from the sea in thick ice is no longer practical. Chances of survival are much less, and the dangers are much greater.
While getting away from the coast you get into the deep ocean, you’re getting into an environment where there’s less and less game.
But for whales, offshore might be -- oh, two, three hundred miles offshore might be okay, and that’s their territory.
Seals? You might find ribbon seals and spotted seals way out there. But that’s about it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. I was just thinking if there’s anything you remember learning that now you’re not using anymore?
RONALD BROWER: What I’m learning -- the -- Oh, yeah.
We’re not -- I’m not traveling on the ice like I would, because there -- the kind of -- well, the pressure ridges are there, but they’re not as big.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Or something you were taught as a boy that you haven’t taught your own boys?
RONALD BROWER: I’m not using my unaaq. I’m not checking for the depth of the ice. I should be more now.
But we normally use that when we’re walking on thin ice anyway, but not when it’s eighteen inches thick. But you use it for safety.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. But that’s not done so much?
RONALD BROWER: It’s not necessary anymore, because we’re not getting that kind of snow. KAREN BREWSTER: How does the snow -- ?
RONALD BROWER: The snow is not covering up the cracks. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. So you can see what you’re -- ?
RONALD BROWER: You can see where you’re going. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Interesting.
RONALD BROWER: So the unaaq has lost some of its meaning. We’re not using many of the -- we still use the manaq (a wooden, pear-shaped float with four hooks and line used for retrieving seals from the water after they have been killed), but we’re using new craft to go get their seals when they’re too far.
Nobody’s hunting from thin ice anymore, only from the safe ice.
Nobody’s using nets anymore on the edge of the ice -- KAREN BREWSTER: For seals? RONALD BROWER: -- for catching seals.
Nobody’s seal hunting from seal holes anymore. Nobody is using the little snow blind to go seal hunting. All kinds of different things.
KAREN BREWSTER: When you talk about that walking on thin ice, yeah, people used to walk on very thin ice 'cause sea ice doesn’t crack the same as freshwater ice, right?
RONALD BROWER: In the colder times, yes.
Now sea ice is not as strong as it used to be when the atmosphere is colder. It’s a lot weaker.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. 'Cause you hear stories from the elders about walking on the ice that was moving as they would walk. RONALD BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And a very fine art to know how to do that, I would think.
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. It is. You have to be always on the move. You cannot stay still, and you cannot keep your feet together or you sink right through.
You have to keep your legs spread apart, all the time moving.
KAREN BREWSTER: And on your toes more or -- ?
RONALD BROWER: No, on the flat of your feet. You’re spreading out that weight.
If you’re gonna go faster, you want to start -- as you lift off you’re using your toes to move your body forward and using that to push yourself forward so that it takes the weight off your step.
KAREN BREWSTER: Kind of like ice skating almost. RONALD BROWER: Hm-mm. KAREN BREWSTER: You sort of push off and --
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Huh.
RONALD BROWER: And -- but now even that is -- doesn’t work because when you step, you’re breaking through and that’s it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because it’s too warm.
RONALD BROWER: The ice is not -- strength -- the strength of the ice isn’t there anymore. It’s because of the warmth.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, I was wondering. I was just up in Barrow, you know, end of February. And the open lead was very close to shore.
And I was thinking, you know, that’s not very much time for ice to develop. You know, ice could come in, but for the ice to form in place -- it’s warm. You know, it was above zero when I was there.
RONALD BROWER: It’s not going to happen. The water’s too warm. It’s already way too warm.
KAREN BREWSTER: And the air’s too warm too, isn’t it?
RONALD BROWER: It is. So it’s not going to happen.
So they’re gonna be hunting whale from where that open lead is, unless the main ice pack comes in and slams into the coast of Barrow and leaves some to add on to the shorefast ice.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. I mean, you could see the lead from town.
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. So if that’s the way it’s going to be from here on. It’s -- this is the way it’s going to be for this new generation of whalers.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what about at the end of the ice season? When it starts breaking up, is that -- ?
RONALD BROWER: It’s breaking up much way -- way much earlier.
Used to break up in May, June. Now it’s breaking up in April. Two months earlier.
So we’re already getting ready to go whaling right now. We’re breaking trail now.
KAREN BREWSTER: And when it starts breaking up, you know, we were talking about ugruk hunting and walrus hunting.
RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm. Ugruk hunting is affected. Walrus hunting, we’ll see what happens.
But we’re not seeing the kind of walrus herds we used to see either.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, 'cause you need all that broken ice for that kind of hunting, right?
RONALD BROWER: Well, you see, the walrus need the ice in the springtime to calf. And without -- they’re calfing on thin ice. But we’ll see what happens.
KAREN BREWSTER: What about the ugruk, where do they calf?
RONALD BROWER: They -- on the beach. Or on the ice. They already -- April, they should already be having their pups.
Or getting pretty close to having their pups. We’re about a month away.
KAREN BREWSTER: But ugruk you can hunt in open water, right? RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: It’s just harder?
RONALD BROWER: You have to know where their feeding grounds are.
Ugruk have certain feeding grounds that they go to. One of them seems to be off of Point -- something off of -- way out from Ualikpaa.
The currents from the -- here -- from Point Franklin swirl around over here, so it brings you to or toward Ualikpaa.
Then the other one is off of Barrow, out here where the two currents are meeting. And that’s where the ugruk are also gathering.
And then you have to go way out, sometimes ten miles off the Point to go into the Arctic Ocean on both sides to catch ugruk. Either that or try to find the main ice.
KAREN BREWSTER: We didn’t talk about the east of Barrow and all those points and islands, and I think you wanted to talk about that. RONALD BROWER: It’s up to you.
KAREN BREWSTER: Or I don’t know if you want to do that now, or we schedule another time? It is quarter to twelve.
RONALD BROWER: I’m running out of time. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay, so shall we finish for today? RONALD BROWER: Okay, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you have anything else you want to conclude with?
RONALD BROWER: It’s just that the way we are studying the ice I think can now be improved upon.
I think our whalers are pretty much aware of that already. It just needs to be noted more.
That the young folks need to be taught a new way, the new dangers of sea ice in today’s conditions.
KAREN BREWSTER: And do you think those young people are getting taught that?
RONALD BROWER: I believe so. Some of them are. Not all of them. Most of them -- A lot of them don’t have somebody to teach them nowadays.
'Cause our community has also become fragmented as we get inundated with the Western culture.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I was thinking their whaling captain or the older people on their crew would teach the younger people on the crew.
RONALD BROWER: Well, sometimes they do. But a lot of times it’s the younger folks that are creating crews that don’t know about the ice conditions.
They’re just getting enough wealth to put on whaling crews.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, because your story shows you learned from your dad and your uncle and all that and --
RONALD BROWER: But the young folks are not taking the time to learn. Their pursuits in life are different from the older generation. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. Okay.
RONALD BROWER: Yeah, but they need to know how to live in the Arctic so that survival is maximized. And they need to remember that.
One of the things is we don’t live for ourselves individually. We -- our tradition is we try and make sure the group as a whole survives, not just yourself.
KAREN BREWSTER: And it’s been fortunate that so far, with the dangerous conditions, there hasn’t been any major accidents.
RONALD BROWER: No. Well, the accidents are lessened by people taking the appropriate measures to use their knowledge of the environment to ensure safety. And that’s critically important.
KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-mm. Yeah. Okay. RONALD BROWER: Alright. KAREN BREWSTER: Alright. Quyanaqpak. RONALD BROWER: Ii.