Inuit involvement urged to fight acidification

ICC-Canada leader speaks to the importance of Arctic marine environment

The Inuit Circumpolar Council-Canada says the Inuit must be involved in fighting acidification of the Arctic Ocean through monitoring efforts and sharing of their knowledge.

That was the message delivered on Tuesday, Dec. 10, during an Arctic Council panel on ocean acidification at the United Nations climate talks in Madrid by Lisa Koperqualuk, vice president of the ICC-Canada.

“Protecting the marine environment and animals is of utmost importance to us,” Koperqualuk said during a side event reported by Jane George in the publication Nunatsiaq News. “We are a marine people who depend on the sea ice, floe edge and polynas.”  Polynyas are stretches of open water surrounded by ice, especially in Arctic seas.

For Inuit the Arctic Ocean is “our critical infrastructure and our highway to travel on,” Koperqualuk told the Arctic Council.

The Arctic Ocean, where vessel traffic is expected to increase more rapidly, is experiencing the growth of ocean acidification at a rate twice the speed of anywhere else in the world, cue to the combination of cold water, sea ice melt and input of freshwater rom melting glaciers, she said.  The increased acidity is a problem because it threatens the health of sea life and Arctic residents who depend on those resources.

Concern over ocean acidification in the Arctic prompted the Arctic Council to organize the side event called “All Aboard! Tackling Polar Ocean Acidification.” 

The increased ocean acidification is due to carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by burning of fossil fuels, like coal and gas, that is dissolving in the ocean.  The carbon dioxide then reacts with water to produce carbonic acid.

George noted in her article that Ko Barrett, vice chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compared the ocean to a sponge.  Arctic Ocean acidification issues are increasing because cold water absorbs more carbon dioxide than warm water.

Increased amounts of fresh water from rivers and melting ice also lowers the capacity of the ocean in that region to neutralize acidification.

Members of the council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) on Arctic Ocean acidification also suggest that a resulting decrease in Arctic cod abundance could affect its predators, including culturally important species hunted by Inuit, such as ringed seals and beluga whales. AMAP is calling for reduced emissions of greenhouse gases as a matter of urgency, and for more research and monitoring efforts.

The goal of the Madrid meeting is to mobilize countries to commit to efforts to curb climate change, according to Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.