Caleb Pungowiyi gives a lecture about his observations of climate change to a climate workshop for teachers held on December 2, 2001 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in in Fairbanks, Alaska. The workshop was sponsored by The Global Change Education Using Western Science and Native Observations Project and funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). In this lecture, Caleb talks about his experiences growing up on St. Lawrence Island and learning from his elders, his observations of environmental change and effects upon the weather, sea ice conditions, vegetation and habitat, and birds, wildlife and fish. He also talks about the importance of understanding whole ecosystems and combining traditional knowledge with science. The last twelve sections are the question and answer portion of the lecture.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Climate Change
Date of Interview: Dec 2, 2001
Narrator(s): Caleb Pungowiyi
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Introduction of Caleb Pungowiyi by Elena Sparrow.
Childhood and whispers of the grass.
Thoughts on science.
Climate change and ice conditions.
Changing ice conditions, how ice forms, and the effects of climate change.
Extreme climate events and little changes.
Birds disappearing, competition for nesting areas, and the declining of the sea lions.
Changes in the habitat and animals adapting to those changes.
Changes in climate conditions and the effect on birds.
Changes in climate conditions and the effect on birds continued.
Changes in climate conditions and the effect on birds continued.
Quality of ice and the effects on walrus.
Ice condition changes and how it can effect the whole ecosystem.
Conclusion -- understanding changes by looking at the whole picture.
Effects of climate change on ecosystems (Sidney Stephens asks, Caleb responds).
Climate changes and the effects on productivity (Caleb continues).
Plants, ground cover, and animals (Leslie Gordon asks, Caleb responds).
Climate changes inconsistent (Betty Stroup asks, Caleb responds)
The connection between traditional knowledge and traditional science, where is it? (Jane Yokoyama asks, Caleb responds).
Elders and scientists (Fred Brewster describes Barrow project, and Betty Stroup comments).
Listening and hearing the rich detail and looking at the world differently (Sidney Stephens comments).
Scientists learning from people living in the area where the changes are occurring (Dr. Martin Jeffries comments)
Scientists versus the Native statistics concerning fish counters (Caleb comments; Joy Hamilton comments).
Local observations (Caleb).
According to the Elders in the community, the patterns of changes that they are noticing, mirrors what the scientists are saying (Cheryl Pratt comments, Caleb responds).
Incorporate more Native knowledge in elementary schools (Betty Stroup comments; Deb Bennett responds; Caleb closes).
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Elena: I'm Elena Sparrow, and together with my co-investigators Leslie Gordon and Sidney Stephens and our program liaison Martha Copling, would like to welcome you to our second day, December 2nd, 2001, of our climate change workshop for teachers, sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation. In our efforts in this global change education, using Western science and Native observations, we have brought you a distinguished speaker this morning, Mr. Caleb Pungowiyi. Caleb is a Siberian Yup'ik elder, although he's a young elder, as you can see. But he's only young in age, but he is old in wisdom. He's originally from Savoonga, he lived in Nome for 20 years, he has been the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. He's also been the president of the Kawerak Incorporation in Nome. He has been the city manager of Kotzebue, and executive director of the Norton Sound Corporation. He currently lives in Kotzebue and he is president of the Aqaluk Trust, which is the foundation for the NANA Corporation, NANA for Northwest Alaska Native Association regional corporation. He also still lives off of the land, he does subsistence hunting and fishing, and he also helps with the youth camp called Sivunivik, which means a beginning and this is for youth ages 7 to 17. They run 4 weeks, four 1-week camps in the summer, and they are thinking of offering this for urban students also, which I think would be wonderful opportunity for our urban.
Caleb: Good morning, as Elena mentioned I'm Caleb Pungowiyi, I'm a Siberian Yup'ik. I'm honored to be here and glad to have the opportunity to share with you some of the things I've learned over the years and also perhaps give some ideas as to how you can use some of the information that we have in terms of the project that you're working on. I'm 60 years old, I just turned 60, but I want to give a little background as to what my childhood was like and compared to what it is today. Born in early 40's on St. Lawrence Island, we didn't have electricity, no TV, no telephone, and the main mode of transportation was by either dog teams or by skin boat. And there was very little use of current modern facilities. My dad was a trapper, we spent most of the time out in our camp where he set up the trap lines. Only time we came into the village of Savoonga was during Christmas, and we were about 60 miles from the community, and as we left our camp to go back to Savoonga, we'd meet other camps and we'd form like a convoy, marching toward Savoonga for Christmas. Those days is, some things I learned a lot, I grew up with my grandma. I was, in our tradition, when my grandmother, my grandfather passed away before I was even born so she was alone. The parents let me be raised by her. And one of the things I remember one time we went camping by ourselves in the summertime, I was about 7,8 years old. She asked to use one of the cabins from one of the other people that lived near the village, and it was about 10 miles from Savoonga. We went out there, she wanted to gather greens for the winter. So we went over there just by ourselves, just me and my grandmother, and she'd do the picking and I'd do the wandering around exploring, but my job was to pack that bag of greens back to the camp. And she would take a break once in awhile, and one time I remember her telling me, "son, listen to the whispers of the grass," in our language. And it'll tell you stories of ages long past. And I used to wonder what that meant, what did she mean by "listen to the whispers of the grass." I've thought about it over the years, and I think that if we don't listen we don't hear. And it was her way of saying that even if we open our ears to something that might seem completely irrelevant or, you know, then we don't learn. And to me the whispers of the grass has meant a lot to me, to listen to the whispers of the grass. I've been telling myself that someday I'll write a book called 'Whispers of the Grass.' But just kind of give you a background of who I am and where I come from. I'm not an educated man, I don't have a college degree. I do have a high school diploma, so I'm proud of that.
Caleb: I read a little bit about this GLOBE program that Elena and, you know, what you're working on, and one thing that and they mentioned at NSF was one of the sponsors for the project, and the first thing that caught my eye on this was "scientifically measurable programs." And I said oh my goodness, you know, can somebody here tell me what, maybe Bill, or Martin, could tell about scientifically measurable programs. I think that we should not limit ourselves to scientifically measurable programs. To me I think sometimes science is limiting. It's too focused on, you don't get to see the whole world. And I think we should open the windows that gives you the opportunity to see the whole world and what that is because sometimes science becomes a crutch that keeps you from proceeding, or going forward. I know that as we learn more and more, we learn that we need to learn more, that as we find out new things we find out that there's more that we don't know. So we need to open the windows of opportunity for us to learn. This climate change thing, and I hope that what I share with you will give you an opportunity to, when you go back to your schools, do some things that'll help inspire minds, use imagination, and to help our future generations you know. Because what you do today sometimes maybe not have an effect until 20, 30 years from now when you look back and say, well this is what. Because lot of things that we don't know today is because we don't know what happened 10, 15 years ago. And if we had some of that hindsight then we'd be in a lot better situation to evaluate in what is happening today.
Caleb: So, um, with climate change, I look back to what I saw in the 50's, the 60's, the 70's, then the 80's and 90's, and although some of the things have been very gradual in change, there has been some very significant things that have happened in the past 40 years. Maybe even beyond that, because 100, 120, 150 years ago when you look back to the whaling records and also some of the reports from the revenue cutters that came up to Alaska, that Alaska was a lot colder place back in those years than it is today. Ice, a lot more ice, and things have really changed. What are some of the observations that we see today? We know for a fact, and some of the things that I'm going to talk about have already been validated with some of the scientific measurements have taken place, and observations that have taken over the years. We know that the ice is, there's a lot less ice in both the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean. It's a lot thinner, it forms later, forming a lot later than what it used to in the 50's, and it melt a lot easier. Maybe I shouldn't say melt, dissipate a lot easier, because melt means that it's melting with the heat of the sun and those kind of things. But there are other factors that play in to the dissipation of the ice. One thing that I was interested in what Mr., is it Martin? On these ice studies, while he's studying fresh water, you know, my interest had been in the salt water. And as Native people or people who live on the coast, ice to us is kinda like supportive of life because it supports the seals, the fish, the birds and the other things that are ice dependent, and it also becomes an extension of our land when it freezes over. We travel over it, we go fishing on it, it becomes, you know, part of our everyday life. But as it changes though, it affects that opportunity for us to get out there. And a lot of you, if you were to talk to the hunters in springtime or wherever, if ice conditions are not ideal to them, the ice is real bum this year they'll say. And, um, but there's a deeper meaning to it in terms of what "bum" means, ok?
Caleb: We see ice in different qualities, ok? If ice, or if the winter is uh, warm and ice doesn't freeze real solidly, it breaks up real easily in the springtime. Ice, when it forms, forms several ways. One is the cold air temperature that makes the ice crystals and they form on surface, and some shallower waters it will form on the bottom and then float up to the top.... We're talking about brine ice now, not, in some cases it does happen with fresh water, where there'll be some ice formation that form on the bottom of a lake and then float up as well. And these, uh, crystals when they float up the ice bring up with it nutrients, then it you know, creates this cycle that we see with the some things that you do with microbiology, plankton and other things you know that use the ice for food. Air temperature and water temperature plays a very important role in the quality of ice that I talk about. As it gets colder the ice crystals squeeze, and they squeeze out this brine that's in the ice, the salt water. If it's not cold enough, some of that brine stays on the ice and it makes it really soft, easy to break up. And that's what I mean by a quality of ice that we see. Um, in some of the slides I'll try to show what I mean by that, in terms of dependence of the resource that are ice dependent and how they use that. The other thing that we see happening as far as changes, erosion. Coastal erosion and erosion in the rivers, getting accelerating or causing more problems in some of the communities and some of the streams. And it's because a lot of Alaska is permafrost, and as the permafrost melts or is washed away by warmer waters and air temperatures, then it creates erosions occur in a faster rate and communities like Shishmaref and Barrow and others who are in high permafrost areas see a greater impact of this action happening. In some of the streams we see the streams or rivers widening because they're melting the river banks and then the streams get shallower, and it affects the fish habitat, it affects the, in some of larger areas, transportation. A boat that used to go into these streams, even barges. In fact Noatak, in our region, Kotzebue, used to have barge service. And now because the water is so shallow because the river has braided out into many other channels, barges can no longer go there. So these are things that are occurring, and yet we sometimes, we don't connect them to climate change because our thinking a lot of times is not connected to climate change.
Caleb: We tend to connect climate change to unusual events, or extreme events, whether it's big storms, floods, unusual snow in the summertime or like this year we haven't had any snow. And we think well maybe the climate is not warming up, it's getting colder. But those that have been here in Fairbanks for many years will know that it used to be right around 30 below, 40 below, about this time of year. And we complain when it's 20 below (laughing). But you know all the warming is not bad, you know I think we don't mind seeing Alaska getting a little bit warmer but you know there are areas of concern that we need to address. And some of the effects that we may not realize that are occurring, and we should be aware of what those potential effects might be. Effects that we may not see today but may happen tomorrow. For example, you know there are things that are occurring in the Bering Sea that we don't have answers for, but they're occurring. Like on the Aleutian chain, the sea lions and the sea otters are declining at a tremendously alarming rate, and we think of it as, you know, probably the food chain, or predation, but we really don't know what some of the real answers are to some of these. The ecosystem is completely changing, but a lot of times our focus is on the major impact. We don't see some of the little things that might occur. And I think that's one of the failures that we have today, is not looking at the little changes. We tend to look at the bigger changes that are occurring. And let me go ahead and show some of the slides and give some idea to, you know, what we see. (Step out of the way a little bit.) Click here for image. This is on a lagoon on St. Lawrence Island, this is taken in around July, early July, and what I'm showing here is a little island that is used by birds for nesting. And one of the things that is occurring across Alaska, maybe not so much in some parts but we also need to realize that change does not affect Alaska uniformly. There are changes, local changes, that are occurring that are different than others. So we have to be aware of some of these local changes. These little islands are nesting grounds, you know, for some of the birds that are in these lagoons; eider ducks, brants, different species of ducks, and also gulls.
Caleb: One thing that's occurring is with the small rise in water levels, and then more wave action. We see a lot of these little islands disappearing. They're being washed away, and the habitat for these species that used to use these little islands are disappearing. The other thing that we see is changes in different species of birds. We see a lot more gulls competing with the eider ducks and others for use of these islands for nesting. And gulls being more aggressive and stronger than some of the birds, will displace the other birds that are nesting on these islands. So this change is occurring because of competition for suitable nesting areas and then of course the degradation of the islands that are used for nesting. And those are some things they can probably look into, like it's immeasurable right now but 20 years from now we might look back and say ok, these are some of the things that we've changed. We know that the coastline is changing; we can measure it with satellite and other information. (Next slide please.) Click here for image. I mentioned earlier about sea lions, sorry it's backwards but, you know their numbers in the Aleutian Chain is declining. This is off of St. Lawrence Island, which is probably about the northeast these sea lions will come up to. Most of these are juveniles. These are not your adult sea lions that come up to the far north. And we see some changes in numbers that used to come up north, for feeding, and we also see some changes in their body conditions. You know we use them for food, their body condition is less fat and they're good swimmers but if the food is not there for them to harvest, then you know their body conditions change. So those are some of the things are occurring. Killer whales, this is one of the killer whales again off of St. Lawrence Island. More sighting of killer whales by hunters and fishermen that are out in the Bering Sea.
Caleb: Part of this again is probably food related. As they search for more food in different areas with the more dispersement of killer whales in different parts of Alaska. Most of the killer whales are fish dependent, they use, eat fish for food but they also eat marine mammals; sea lions, other seals, walruses, and even some of the whales. So we see again a change in habitat, or a change in the behavior of these animals because they're adapting to, when they're hungry they want to eat something that's available. In fact some of the things that some of the biologists think is the reason for the decline of sea otters in Aleutians is because of predation from killer whales. That's because there are less sea lions, find something that's easier to eat and catch, and that's those little sea otters. Not a whole lot of nutrition for them probably, but you know they're there and little fur balls that they can grab and swallow (laughing). (Next slide please.). Click here for image. Here's a Minke whale being harvested on St. Lawrence Island, one thing that we've seen, not only with Minke whales and gray whales is, gray whales, there used to be thousands of them that feed north of St. Lawrence Island, thousands, tens of thousands. And in the past probably 10 years we see more dispersement of gray whales as the food probably has, the availability of food off the north side of St. Lawrence has changed, we see them much further north, up into the Arctic Ocean, and more dispersement in different parts of the Bering Sea. So again, you know, these kind of changes where food availability makes a major change in the habitat, the animals are dispersing to a much greater extent. You see the baleen on this Minke whale, they feed on krill, small fish and if that food that they traditionally fed on is not there, then they try to go where food might be available. So those are some things that we see occurring where, because of changes in the environmental conditions in the Bering Sea, we see the effect on some of these larger species.
Caleb: Birds. Click here for image. See tremendous effect on birds because of the warming. Maybe not so much, some of the sea birds we see, some of the immediate effects are starvation. In 96-97 we saw a large die off of some of the sea birds because food availability. Sometimes the food might be too deep for them to dive for, and sometimes it might not simply be there. So we see again food availability becoming a major factor for some of these species. Some of the birds that are declining and some of these in your local studies can probably look at is snipes, whether it's the shore birds, shore bird snipes or phalaropes like red phalaropes and northern phalaropes. We know they're declining; there hasn't been a whole lot of change in their habitat in Alaska or where they winter in, further down south. But the numbers are declining. And yet we do little to find out the cause because they're not species that are economically important to our community. Most of our resource managers tend to think in terms of species that are harvested by humans. Whether it's moose, caribou, ducks, you name it, those that are harvested for sport or commercial activities get more attention than the birds that are not economically important to the society. So we tend to not pay attention to some of these species that are important, that might play a critical role in terms of the environmental balance that we live in. So we need to look at some of these species that are not being looked at and how they may be affected in today's world. Some places along the coast where some of you may be teaching, there's a lot of, probably a lot of sea birds or other kind of birds. Those need to be documented. Fish and Wildlife Service just don't have the means to be censusing all the rookeries and colonies that where some of these birds may be occupying. Or some of the environmental changes that may occur, sometimes with some of the rookery areas or colonies, if there's changes in that rookery, then it affects the number of birds that are within a particular area. So we need to look at some of those changes that are occurring.
Caleb: Some of the elders will probably tell you that snow conditions play a very important part in the productivity of these birds. We may not think that is the case, that they just come in the summer time, lay eggs, and go, but there is a cycle that have an effect on the productivity of these birds. Whether we have heavy snow in the winter time, or that much snow, and then of course ice and ice related species, that have this total cycle. So we need to look at the whole being and not just certain things. Next slide please. Click here for image. Like I mentioned earlier, some of the communities are dependent on a species for their food. This guy is climbing down to gather eggs. We don't have, some of the communities don't have chicken eggs, so they, spring time when the birds lay eggs they go gather eggs. And they also have good observations of productivity. They can tell you whether the egg shell is thin, thick, or you know, whether the eggs are being incubated to fledging and then whether the birds after they've hatched are leaving the nest. Sometimes there is a die off of young ones before they can leave the nest. So some of those things are things you can learn locally, that local people through their activities can tell you what is happening on an annual basis in terms of productivity of species around them. So there are ways you can do that. Ok, next slide. Click here for image. This is a little ring seal, a baby ring seal, taken in the spring of 1996. Normally this little animal should be out on the ice heading north somewhere, but because the ice melted or dissipated so quickly in the spring of 1996 hundreds of these little seals got stranded or left behind. They're not weaned enough to be on their own, so a lot of them died that summer because they were not simply developed enough to where they would be on their own. Normally the mother stays with them until they are completely ready to, and they stay on the ice until they are completely ready to be on their own. But when ice conditions get to the point where they're not fully weaned, then they're stranded and they die. They're not ready to be on their own. They're not fast enough and skilled enough to catch fish for their food.
Caleb: The other thing is, in terms of ice conditions. I was just telling Mr. Martin (referring to Dr. Martin Jeffries, also present) that this year and also last year, we've had hardly any wind up in the Kotzebue area, and the ice is freezing really flat, hardly any pressure ridges. Many of these seals use the ice for their dens, but in order to have a den you need pressure ridges and snow. Because the snow drifts, and then they can build their den under the snow, but without snow and without pressure ridges, it affects their ability to den. The other thing too is that, we've seen last year when we had a similar situation, is that we saw where the mothers short time that they had been impregnated, you know it takes about, I forget how long for them to, by the time their impregnated to have a baby. It showed that they had babies, but there was nothing on the ice. The ice conditions were not good enough for them to nurture the baby, so either an abortion or something that affected their productivity so that the babies were simply not there. So those are things you can also look at, conditions that affect the productivity in our ocean. Next. Click here for image. Skin boats. This is kind of a May picture on St. Lawrence Island. This is what we call not a very good snow year, hardly any snow on St. Lawrence Island during this period. We may think this is a lot of snow, but it's not. And the skin boats are used for whaling there. They normally would take them across the island to the whaling camps, but when there's too much rocks showing up then it affects the ability to transport these boats over the island over to the other side for whaling. So, snow conditions, environmental conditions do affect some of the daily lives in some of the communities. Next slide.
Caleb: Earlier I talked about quality of ice. Click here for image. This picture was taken in 1954, and we see ice ridges and a walrus on top of the ice. They need ice that's very thick to get up, because they're very heavy animals. But they're also animals that tend to, they like to stay together, for protection, and also for their own social behavior, they like to gather in herds. They are bottom feeders, they on clams on the bottom of the ocean, and therefore, if there's no ice, they need… you know they're big animals, they also need a rest, if they stay in the water too long. I'm sure that like anything else they can't be swimming all the time, they need to get up on land or ice to rest. In 1996 when we had that very warm winter, their body condition was very poor, very skinny, and also that year we saw low productivity in the walruses, because if conditions are not right, their system probably shuts off and says 'well we're not ready', we're physically not ready to have a child, or they abort, and so we see lower productivity of walrus in those years when conditions are not right for walrus. And what the long term trend is, is difficult to tell, but a lot of times what happened in one year or several years is something we may not see until twenty years later, because the ones that are born in 1996 should be reaching productivity age in 2006 or 2020, but if they're not there, they're not going to reproduce. So we see this cycle of productivity that we may not see in 1996 but we will see down the road. So we have to look in terms of what the effects are going to be in the future.
Caleb: Early… Like I mentioned, they tend to… Click here for image. Again in 1954, you know, you see large herds of walrus on ice and tend to stay together for their social behaviors. Again, you know, we talked about, these are ice dependent animals; walrus, bearded seals, ring seals, ice spotted seals, or what are called spotted seals, are all very dependent on the ice. And I think that if you were to study the… Vera Alexander, from the university here, is an expert on ice productivity. She could tell you how important ice is to the productivity of the Bearing Sea and the Arctic Ocean, and if we see ice conditions changing then it is affecting the whole ecosystem within the Bering Sea. Next slide please. Click here for image. Another change that's occurring, you can probably see, you could measure in your areas. You probably don't see it right here, but this used to be a sandy beach. And you see it's rocky. As you see more wave action, higher wave action, all the fine sand gets washed away and replaced with larger rocks. And I think some of the scientific study support that, where you are seeing some of the fine sediments being moved away from shore into the deeper waters, it affects the bottom. It affects the clams, it affects kelp, anything that needs something other than sand on the bottom for productivity, if it's sand then it is going to affect what's down there. So, changes in shoreline, not just erosion, but sandy beaches. We see that occurring, it's not scientifically measured. Nobody has done a study on sediment change, in terms of shoreline. That's something your students could probably look at and study.
Caleb: I had the picture of myself up there for ending. Somebody: We like the real one. Caleb: I hope that some of these things will let you see that… not just measuring weather, okay, not just measuring snow, and not, depending on the weather forecast, but there are things that are within the community, within the environment that you can share with your students and have them opportunity to learn. Try to see the whole world, let them see the whole world, and not just things that are scientifically measurable. Let's use our imagination, let's use our opportunity to see what is happening. I guess I'll finish there and if there's questions then I can try to answer some of the questions.
Sidney Stephens: Caleb, I had one, I read your piece in the Marine Mammal Report, and actually I brought copies of that for people. And could you just talk about some of the actual… you've talked about a lot of the effects of climate change here, could you talk about some of the things that… the actual climate changes that you've observed. I mean, like you did here. You talked about winds and you know, warmer winters and snowfall and things like that. Could you just run through those, just a bit? Caleb: Yeah, I'll try to. Some of the… I think some things that… a lot of time we depend on the eyesight to visualize changes, and that's probably one of the most evident things we do is to… things that we see or have our immediate impact on them. If you were to ask your elders, if you go to the community and ask them to talk about climate change most of them probably wouldn't talk about or immediately answer you know, what they've observed, because sometimes you have to plant a seed in terms of what they're seeing, you have to kind of coach and encourage them to. And then a light bulb will come on, 'Oh yeah, we're seeing more beavers in our area. Why more beavers?' You know, it's thinner ice conditions with the warmer weather, changes in the vegetation, we see more brush, taller brush, food availability makes them come into the area, and then lack of predators. You know, we see change in predators, so they move in, a good nice warm house and plenty of food, and so they do that. We're seeing a tremendous increase in the Western Arctic caribou heard, again warmer weathers, lack of snow, an expansion into the new areas. But we also see where… we are now starting to see that the population probably reaches top numbers and we see caribou that is in poorer condition there last year, year before there's a large number that died off around Point Hope area, about three or four thousand caribou that died because environmental conditions were not right for them. And if we were to have any kind of severe winter weather, or unusual weather events like rain in December or January that covers the ground and access to food becomes a problem.
Caleb: The other things that we see… insects. We might not think that that's a very important thing but we're seeing changes in number of insects in the summer time; different types of insects that might be coming into the area, and that in itself can affect the overall ecosystem. Numbers in fishes, very important food source, whether it's salmon. A lot of times we… because salmon is such an important commercial and subsistence food for all of Alaska it has the greatest attention, but there's other species that are more localized that are effected that we don't pay attention to; whitefish, trout, grayling. In some areas where salmon production is very low or crashed we see a cascading effect to other species that may feed on salmon smolt or eggs; whitefish, grayling, char. We see a similar effect, maybe not immediately, but several years down the road, that hey there's less grayling in this stream than there used to before, or even pike, we can see changes in number of pike. So those are some things that you can look at. Wind conditions I mentioned earlier, we see differences especially in precipitation, whether it's rain, snow, frost, fog. All those things have an effect. Snow plays a very important part in terms on insulating factor on the ground. If we don't have snow, Bill will tell you, or not Bill, I'm keeping Bill Schneider mixed up… …summer time it melts a little bit deeper. It affects the water level. We may not think that it affects the water level on the tundra, but tundra is very productive because of a lot of water that stays on top of the ground. Mosquitoes and everything else forms there, and yet when we have… when the water level is lower, because there's more thawed ground, and the water sinks, then we have drier conditions on top, and it affects the… that or sometimes vise versa where we have a lot of rain, then the water level is up, and it effects the productivity of the tundra. So all these things can play a very important role in how we look at things that are changing. We have to be very careful about what we call annual variability. Sometimes annually things are different than last year, but overall, you have to look at overall trends. This year, you know… last year we had more snow than this year, and this year we have hardly any. And you know, some of the older ladies will tell you that snow plays a very important part in the productivity of the berries; more snow, more berries, and what is the connection? How do we connect that snow to berry production? Is it because the ground is wetter, or water level is different? or you know… We really don't know what… we know it plays a very significant role but yet we don't know what the real answer is. Wind conditions, a lot of the coastal communities that depend on marine mammals, or even fish, need to get out into the ocean too for their harvesting activities. But if the wind, even… I'm not talking about storms; we are talking about wind that may be blowing 12, 15 miles an hour. If the seas are two, three feet high, they can't get out into the ocean, therefore they can't get out and harvest these animals. Okay.
Leslie Gordon: My question was also from the same article and you just mention real briefly about the tree line changing and the willows changing on the Seward and Baldwin Peninsulas. I'd love to hear a little bit about the berries just now; but any other observations about plants or any kind of ground cover as well as the animals, so, you know, if you have observations about that... Caleb: Well I think one thing that I mentioned earlier about the beavers and then the larger willow bushes and things that, you know...I remember going to Unalakleet in the early '70s and driving up what they called the Air Force Road up the hill toward the base and see these outer bushes that are near the road there. And about three years ago I went back to Unalakleet rode over the same road with a friend of mine and was amazed at how much taller these bushes were. Bushes that were five, six feet tall were now way up there, fifteen feet high or more, and it's amazing how some of these things can change. We may think it's natural growth of these bushes to be that bigger but when you look back to what happened the previous fifty years when the bushes stayed that small for so many years, then all of the sudden you know that there is, this effect that's occurring because the roots go deeper into the ground they spread out more, and therefore getting more nutrients, more sun, and up goes the tree. I was in North Dakota last February to give a similar talk like here and show some pictures of some of the trees. When you go down south, to the warmer countries, you see all these leaves, or the branches spread out like (demonstrates) and you come up here they're kind of like this, and all the branches are closed. But I think we are seeing changes in that, we're seeing changes in the different types of trees that are in different areas. Cottonwoods, we see cottonwoods spreading in different parts of Alaska because of their ability to root and grow, and changes in the water table offer them the opportunity to grow. And then of course some of the evergreens we're seeing marching further west and north than they were before. Some may not be significant, but you see a little tree here and there, where there was none before. And so these little things do occur. We don't measure them, satellites can't pick them up, sometimes the pictures can't pick them up, the aerial photos can't pick them up, but we talked about ground truthing, where you can get into the ground and see some things that are really occurring and document them.
Betty Stroup: My own observation, and certainly from working with GLOBE over the summer and working with these two ladies here. We did a climate, sort of a search of climate changes based on weather data given by the National Weather Service, and also the native elder's anecdotes that they shared with us. And we tried to match the two and we found a great deal of truth and consistency, and verification I should say, in what the native elders were saying according to what was measured by the national weather organizations. That was my observation of the summer. Now, my thoughts were climate changes don't seem to be consistent. They seem to be a higher fluctuation, a greater fluctuation from year to year, as opposed to what you were saying, forty years or maybe earlier, okay. So we were viewing some of your slides, and I believe they were from '96. Caleb: Most of them were '96 yes. Betty Stroup: Yes, and I noticed that the ice had already gone out. And I was up in Barrow this summer, and on the Arctic Ocean, and the ice had not gone out, it was still very much along the coastline and that's only a difference of four years. So I was asking folks that live there if this had been the case the year before or if they had seen this happen or what they thought might be happening this winter. And they pretty much said the same thing; that you never know. They can't say with any kind of or degree of confidence what it is going to be from year to year anymore. But they thought that this year the ice would not make it completely out and then the freezing process would start again and freeze that ice that was still there. And it was very close, it was close enough to the coast that we could walk out into the water and it would still be behind us in our pictures. So my question I guess is, what are your thoughts on the possible reasons for this inconsistency in weather? And it's just… that's a very broad based question, but any thoughts that you can share on this would be helpful. Caleb: One thing that I mentioned earlier is that we must be careful about annual variability. That there are changes that are going to occur that are different than last year. But we should not make an assumption that it is going to be the same the next year, or several years from now. Those things are going to occur. Those events and such are going to occur. When you look at the overall Arctic Ocean, and what is happening in the Arctic Ocean whether it's on the Alaskan side, the Russian side or the European side and Canadian side, that there are major changes occurring in the Arctic Ocean in terms of ice. Do we expect that to continue to stay the same? Probably not. I think that we may see a reverse, at least temporarily. A reverse in the ice cover because of things that might occur on an annual basis, or on a short term basis. You know, there was a thing about a little ice age back in the 1800's. When was that little ice age? But we know that we had very, very cold winters in the 1800's, in the mid 1800's in the Alaskan area. While we may see a greater change in our area, there may be a cooling trend in another part of the world. That's part of what's happening. And some of that cooling trend may also move to another part of the world. I don't think that we'll see a uniform event occurring all over the globe, we'll see some of these variabilities occurring where you have a warmer trend somewhere else but a cooler trend occurring somewhere else. So that's the best I can answer, in terms of what is occurring. Betty Stoup: Well that's fine, it's just that I… and I understand completely what you're saying. It's just that, from what I heard the native elders sharing is that if it was cold in 1931 it was cold in 1932, 33, 34. And you know, I don't see that, say in the last 13 years that I have lived in Alaska. You know, when I got here it was extremely cold, and then from that year it seems to certainly to have warmed up and this November we even had a Chinook coming in. So, yes there is… I mean, we can't say overall that this is the way it is going to be all the time. But I want to know how much is… I guess my question is I want to know how much of this is a natural evolution or a climate change that our planet is going through, and how much of it is due to the way we're living, and caused by man's use of products that are detrimental to the environment? Caleb: I'll leave that to the experts. One thing that I avoid in any debate is the cause, because I don't think that we really know what the real causes are, but we know what is happening. And we also know that mankind does not take any steps to correct anything unless it affects him economically. Okay? We tend to go about our way and 'I'm going to live this way until the dam breaks, and if it breaks, then I'm going to move." Or if we can't keep repairing the dam, it's costing us too much money to keep repairing the dam, then we are going to move. That's been our, that's always been our mental attitude that we are going to do things to fight nature until we can't economically fight it anymore, and then we adjust our lives. Gunter Weller, I'm sure you guys know who he is. One of his favorite words is "Dumb asses in Washington DC is going to sit on their butt until it's too late." And that's probably the same thing that we'll do, is that we'll wait until it's too late and then by the time we try to take action it's going to be too late. Betty Stroup: Thank you.
Jane Yokoyama: I was thinking as you were talking that there are lots of elders with a wealth of information like this and it's great for us to hear it. It'd be great for you to come to our classrooms as well. But where is the connection between the traditional knowledge that you carry and with traditional science. Is there a connection there, because I'm sure there are sensitive scientists who want to hear what your observations are, and use that to make measurable observations that verify what you're saying. So is there any system in place now to do that sort of thing? Caleb: There are efforts to put systems in place. I think one of the pitfalls or the barriers that we face is science being so narrow. It tends to be linear, looking at things in terms of what is measured, what you can prove. Science tends to say this is the 'Truth' when the truth might be the next step over. And with traditional knowledge and with… and not just traditional, but local observations. People who have lived a certain lifestyle for a long time can tell you things that they've observed. Trappers, if you were to talk to some of the local trappers here in Fairbanks, John Burns or Dean Wilson who's a fur buyer. They could probably tell you many things of what has changed over that period of time. Whether it's abundance of fur animals or changes in the habitats or different things that they've observed in terms of the changes. Some of those things can not be measured scientifically or we may be too late to measure them scientifically because the data has already passed and we are now into today, and we start measuring from today on to the future. So those are things that we can incorporate. One of the things that somebody mentioned that there was this effort to validate local observations versus the weather data that we talked about. There can be some validation in terms of what traditional knowledge is versus scientific measurement.
Fred Brewster: Kind of to go along with Jane and with what Betty said was, I happen to live in Barrow and last year was a part of a scientist-elder panel, where we had six elders and five scientists from various disciplines. And my students had spent two weeks developing a series of questions, some for the elders, some for the scientists. Then they were selected by groups and we had this meeting there, and it was interesting. But one question that I thought that came out that answered… that really brought the scientists to an upright position was, one of the students asked a question (this was the third week of January, this was about January 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, somewhere around there last year) was when was the last time (this was a question directed to the elders) when was the last time you saw the sea ice not be there at this time of year, because we didn't have sea ice at that time. There wasn't any ice. Now when Betty was there, yeah it was there, it was there the first of august, but at the end of January we still didn't have it. And we had a whole lot of snow this year, in fact probably 15 times more than normal. We've already broken snow records this year for one day records with the same type of conditions, and we're just watching gray coming up off the water all winter long just about because the moisture is just being pumped into the air. But the question was 'have you ever seen the sea ice come in this late?' And the one elder who answered the question, Jana Harcharek of course she translates it into Inupiaq and as she began to reply, she was taking the typical way, the normal way there of answering the question, and Jana and just a couple of them could understand what was being said, but I knew something was going on because after about three minutes into this I saw Jana's eyes started to go up and then she started writing, and about ten minutes later Jana started the translation cause it took this lady that long. Well what this elder had done is she had just recounted ninety years of sea ice history year by year. And it came out that this was the first time in ninety years that the sea ice had not been there at this time of year. But she did it by telling what had happened every year about when it had come in. And when Jana started giving that well the guy from NOAA just about fell out of his chair trying to grab his pad and paper. Walter Shell from Santiago State was drinking a cup that I thought he was going to swallow at the time, and they were just starting to write down… because they hadn't even got this information so… there are things that are kind of going on and it is interesting, but we on a local level can actually do more to bring about that kind of information than any program any place else can. In fact I'm already setting up for another one this next January with a panel of scientists and elders there like that. But the scientists actually I mean they were ecstatic about just that one question that a sixth grader came up with that none of them had thought about asking. But it made that whole thing a success and since then I've had a number of inquiries from across the country, thanks to Sidney, asking 'can I get a copy of this video?' Cause it was actually down at Santiago County public schools this was over the internet and all the classrooms down there had live access to it. So, we were getting phone calls during this thing asking what in the world is going on up there right now. And then we have just the video. But we can do that in our own classrooms and it's really easy to do, and at very little expense, but man talk about some information. So yeah there are changes that are going on. And we still don't have the sea ice quite like we've had but we've still got a lot of precipitation going up out there or coming down because of what's going on out there. But it was interesting to get that from the elders to the scientists and be part of the process there, so we actually have that in our hands. So how can it be done right here by us? Betty Stroup: And that affects how we teach too, because how many of us have taught our students that there's less precipitation at the poles? And that has been the situation, but I bet you guys got more snow than we did in the Interior. Fred Brewster: I was still riding my snow machine on the last day of school, still like that. And in fact we actually had snow that was still there when the first snow came this year, along the snow fences. Jane Yokoyama: I think it's really powerful, the whole process itself though. Because number one you're having traditional elders talk to scientists so your own students can see the connection between the two. Number two, you have this excellent question asked by your own student, so they are all empowered that we're making a difference in this whole thing. And that it also validates that all this… I mean we only see the kid's from the traditional point of view, but they get all this traditional stuff, whether we know it or not, and that's validated when we bring it into this kind of situation. That stuff is worth knowing, and it empowers everybody who's giving that knowledge to them too, so I think the whole process is pretty powerful, not just the knowledge gained.
Sidney Stephens: I think another important part of this is it's not only that scientists can get data from native people. I think that one of the huge things just listening to Caleb talk and thinking about this around the north, is that there's this whole other way of looking at the world, and there's incredibly rich detail. So it's not a matter of simply getting the information they want to answer questions, it's listening to the whispers and it's hearing all of the rich detail and thinking about what other kinds of questions might be asked and what other ways are there of looking at the world and analyzing and thinking about things. So I think it's both those and more that are really critical.
Martin Jeffries: It's fascinating to listen to Caleb. And I heard Caleb's testimony at Senator Stevens hearing at UAF earlier this year and he was talking about similar things. It's interesting to hear you talking about the work you're doing with elders, your communities, the things you've heard and the things you've seen. And I think this question of scientists learning from the people who are living out there where these changes are occurring, this is a very important issue and I don't know exactly what to say in response except that scientists, we scientists, I'm one of them I guess, we tend to deal in absolutes. And by that I mean we want data, we want numbers, we want to be able to put a value on something. And there is a lot of resistance in the scientific community to so called traditional knowledge, because you can't set it in absolutes, in terms of values, it's all very relative, and some scientists hate that, because if they haven't got numbers then they can't deal with it. Now I thing that's their problem, but unfortunately it's a problem that faces all of us in the scientific community because we all get painted with that same brush, that all scientists are unsympathetic to traditional knowledge and learning from the people who are experiencing these changes as opposed to National Weather Service observers who are going out and reading thermometers or anemometers or whatever, and recording data, numbers. But there is growing sympathy amongst some of the scientific community for traditional knowledge; I think there's no question about that. But it's not a change that is going to happen over night. Scientists need to be educated. Martin: I've joked for many years that just because someone has a PhD doesn't mean they're smarter than you, it just means they've had more education, maybe they're over educated. Leslie Gordon: Piled higher and deeper. Martin: Exactly. Don't be intimidated by anyone who has a PhD or a fancy education with ivy league university names attached to their degrees. They're not smarter than you they just know different things better than you. Remember you know things better than they do. And one reason I'm here is I want to learn from you the teacher's. I'm a member of the faculty at UAF I'm a member of the research faculty. That means I have a contract that does not require me to teach. And I'm very interested in this developing relationships between higher education and elementary and secondary education. I think university people have a lot to learn from K-12 teachers. Probably some of the most innovative teaching is being done in K-12 classrooms not at universities, but universities don't encourage teaching. This is being recorded isn't it? I have to be very careful…(drowned out in laughter) Anyway, but a question over here was you asked about, you mentioned that people were telling you that year after year after year it was cold it was cold it was cold, and now people seem to be seeing fluctuations; that it's cold one year, warmer the next, more snow one year, less snow the next. This is natural variability and change. And this is what we are beginning to understand about climate variability and change; that when climate does go through a shift you see much greater variability, because the climate system becomes more unstable. And that's what you're seeing when one year it's horribly cold the next year it's warm; one year you have a lot of snow the next year you don't. This seems to be actually part of the natural system when it's going through a shift that the climate simply becomes more variable and you see more extremes from one end to the other. And it's important that you are looking at these things and seeing these things.
Caleb: One of the things that was asked earlier about the causes of the change whether it's from our emissions of hydrocarbons into the air or whether it's naturally occurring. And I don't want to pick on Martin, but we used to joke about lawyers. Remember how anybody can buy a lawyer, right? And nowadays it's like anybody can buy a scientist, cause they can present their findings to suit their observations or things that they feel is the correct answer in response to what is happening. And that's one of the things that when you publish it and they try to get away from is who's on who's side but rather looking at the whole system. Yes? Joy Hamilton: What you're saying right there has everything to do with politics and economics too. In our area on the Yukon River, in the Innoko River area, we have meetings all the time all the time all the time regarding the salmon fisheries. I went to one, and there were elders there talking about the spirituality of fishing and why it was so important. And the scientists, fish and game, that was there were obviously torn between their scientific findings that they have set up with the fish counting rigs all over the Yukon and the watershed and the tributaries, but also the fishing and hunting, sports fishing and hunting groups that are out there pounding the legislators. And you know, that doesn't matter to Grandpa Adolph who's been fishing and hunting for years and years in one place and he sees all the changes. You know the politics don't matter, the money part doesn't matter. Where we're from in Shageluk it's a totally subsistence community, there's no commercial fishing, but it does affect us, and it's all about money. And you know the science part even gets pushed aside when it's about money. Leslie Gordon: Or manipulated which is worse because you can make statistics say almost anything you want depending on how you set it up. Joy Hamilton: And where you put your fish counters.
Caleb: Some of the local observations that are occurring, and to some extents with some data, is… we talked about seals up there in the arctic, but there are also seals in Prince William Sound, there's seals down in Southeast Alaska. Glacier Bay, which is a protected area, where there's no hunting and no commercial activity that is going on, we're seeing a reduction in seals. And there's some question, you know, why, why is it where there's no fishing? There's no subsistence hunting and these seals are declining? What's causing it? Is it disturbance? Tourist ships? Is it… there's something else that's occurring that we don't know about? And what is the population data in terms of adults, juveniles; you know all these things that are occurring. So sometimes we tend to focus on human take, rather than looking at the whole picture and seeing what the cause is and sometimes miss the picture completely.
Cheryl Pratt: Speaking with an elder in my community, he said that he was noticing these patterns of change occurring about every twelve years. And then speaking to another elder, talking about climate change, she was saying that the last time our village of White Mountain had no snow was when her grandmother about 95 years ago remembered that there was no snow at all. But then I went to Phoenix to hear a talk from a woman from NASA and she was speaking about climate change and how it is because of the sun and the cycles of the sun and then she said that they have found that these cycles occur in 12 year cycles and 95-100 year cycles. So it just really brought about a greater realization, I mean she's working with a lots and lots of scientists, she's the head of the entire solar system area in NASA, and then our elders are saying the exact same thing with the cycles. Caleb: Yeah, one of the things that also occurs and we have forest fires every year, or sometimes more in other years, and there is a connection, with El Nino, and with probably some of these solar cycles that we see where some years… you know last summer we had hardly any forest fires, very, very few. Is it because it was wetter, or was it because we had less thunder storms? We tend to think in terms of fires just occurring, but you know there's a cause for them occurring and sometimes we don't make the connection as to what the cause is we think in terms of how many fires we had that year and how many acres were burned we don't tend to look at some of the beginnings of those things.
Betty Stroup: Ideally what I'd like to see as a teacher, especially in Alaska because we have the ability to see it first hand, is to depend, well I should say to incorporate more native ways of knowing into our science program and depend less on the Western linear… Let me rephrase that because I know that we're being taped here. To be selective and to allow our linear way of thinking and Western teaching of science to be augmented or to augment or to work in cooperation with the native ways of knowing, and to present that to our students at this age, I mean at the age at which I teach them is primary, elementary. And that's were they need to do that because that's where we'll get to see as they'll grow up they will be able to be the ones that say 'yes this is the way I learned it when I was in 3rd grade and it's coming to fruition, I see it happening.' They get to live it and see it happen. Deb Bennett: I just wanted to say that speaking about traditional and local knowledge compared to western science, I don't think we need to put down one to promote the other, which it sounds like we can do sometimes. We've learned great things through Western science practices, but what promotes or what prompts a scientist to study what he or she studies is the local and traditional knowledge of what's happening in a community or in the world. So I think they go hand in hand. Caleb: One thing that I forgot to mention earlier or say earlier was that… Don't be afraid to make mistakes. I think that's one of the failures of our system is that we teach non-failure. In other words everybody's afraid to make a mistake, and yet we learn more from our mistakes than we do from things that are correct. And I think that if you're going to work with your students and you know experiment a little bit, learn your students; change how you teach so that you both learn from what you are doing. I usually say that I've made a lot of mistakes in my lifetime and I probably still will, but perhaps I'm a little better for those mistakes than for some of the things that I've done right.