Collections Highlight E427952: Kayak Model and Figure


By Emily Cain and Haley Bryant with Krista Zawadski, with support from the Government of Nunavut and the Dept. of Anthropology, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

In 1974, this hunter and his kayak (qajaq) were carved from grey soapstone by Dick Kilikavioyak (1902-1982). Collected the same year they were made by Dr. G. Edgar Folk, Jr. and his wife Mary Arp Folk, the pair joined the collection at the National Museum of Natural History in 1995, along with 129 other objects, as a part of the “Mary Arp Folk Collection of Eskimo Art and Artifacts”. Dick Kilikavioyak was an Inuk (Innuinait) artist based in Kugluktuk, Nunavut (formerly known as Coppermine). This little stone hunter is equipped with a wooden paddle and two spears (made with wooden hafts and metal points, then secured to the kayak with sinew). There are two stone fish in the kayak with him, indicating a successful day on the water. Today, as throughout all its history, traditional hunting and fishing play an enormous role in the lives of the people along the Coppermine River. These activities feed and clothe families and provide a connection to ancestral lands and practices. More recently, kayaking (as well as hiking, fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities) has also played a role in the burgeoning tourism industry in Kugluktuk, and Nunavut more broadly.

This object is evocative of life in Kugluktuk in more than one way, however. While the content matter of this sculpture provides insight into the traditional and contemporary economies of the region, the form and matter of the sculpture also convey a great deal. Examining carved objects and artworks such as this allow us a window onto the traditional carving practices in this region, as well as how they were shaped and encouraged by the mid-century growth of external demand for Inuit art.

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

ICASS IX- Umea, Sweden June 8-12, 2017

By Chelsi Slotten and Nicholas Parlato

The Ninth International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences took place earlier this month in Umea, Sweden, in the southernmost part of Sapmi, the ancient homeland of the Sami.  The five-day event was attended by eight hundred people from twenty five different countries, with 204 sessions and 1,014 papers presented.  The theme of this year’s conference was “People and Place”, addressing the essential importance of our relationship to and reliance on the land.  The Arctic Studies Center was represented at the conference by Igor Krupnik, Nicholas Parlato, and Chelsi Slotten. 

The five-day conference began each morning with a plenary session, many of which revolved around indigenous knowledge and sustainability. It kicked off on Thursday June 8th with an opening ceremony and a plenary titled ‘Extractive resource development and sustainability in the Arctic’.  Panelists included Florian Stammler, Gunhild Hoogensen-Gjory, Thierry Rodon, Chris Southcott, and Sverke

Umea City Church

r Sorlin. Major themes from the first plenary were knowledge-sharing networks surrounding land use issues, proper community representation in negotiations over land, problems of international lending and monitoring for extractive projects, and the gender politics of indigenous communities and industrial settlements.

The second plenary session, called “What is the role of education and education research in advancing understanding of the Arctic?” featured the following panelists: Diane Hirshberg, Jose Gerin-Lajoie, Laila Aleksandersen Nutti, Sean AsquilqluqTopkok and Tuija Turunen.   Common themes in this session were the importance of education in equipping local populations to address the unique challenges they face, and building a more sustainable future.  Emphasis was given to recognizing the value of traditional knowledge, and fully engaging with local populations to ensure that the Arctic is understood as a place of living cultures with valuable contributions to make to the wider world.

Saturday’s plenary, “Indigenous perspectives on knowledge” continued this theme.  The panel consisted of Jillian Mars, Gunvor Guttorm, Kirk Anderson, Lars-Anders Baer with Petter Stoor as moderator.  Many of the panelists had the same major point in their discussions, namely that the value of traditional knowledge must be recognized and embraced in a real and meaningful way within the Academy.  Intellectuals must engage in active decolonization in the research and knowledge-production spheres.  While some universities have made strides towards recognizing the importance of indigenous knowledge, this panel called for a larger engagement by institutions as well as people.  While laws, policy and regulations regarding indigenous knowledge are useful, intellectuals must go deeper and aim for emotional change that results in deep, internalized respect for indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing.

Conference days were split up into morning and afternoon sessions on a variety of topics across multiple disciplines, and often covering inter- and transdisciplinary territory. As is so often the case, there were more sessions than there was time to attend them all.  What follows is a brief overview of the sessions we attended.

Phil Buckland discussing the use of dung beetles in archaeology.

Session 1.1 was an archaeological focused session called ‘The Hunting-Herding Continuum Past and Present: Palaecological, Cosmological, and Climate Narrative Across Eurasia’ that analyzed changing land uses over the past thousand years.  Sessions by David Anderson, Kjell-Åke Aronson and Stine Barkindhaug focused on the importance of reindeer to the Sami way of life, the changing relationship with reindeer, and the need for flexibility in reindeer management as industrialization encroaches on traditional herding areas.  Phil Buckland's afternoon presentation on the uses of dung beetle analysis in archaeology was more methodological in nature, while Ralph Hartley returned to questions of land use and hunting, this time in Southeast Alaska.  All 5 speakers addressed how the changing landscape, either due to global warming, industrialization or other forms of human action, is affecting archaeology and the need for continual high-level work in this part of the world.

Session 9.1 covered the theory-driven ICE Law Project, which considers questions of maritime and environmental law through the lens of ice. Neither earth nor water, ice provides a critical point of departure in addressing the issues of a planet in rapid fluctuation and devising adaptive strategies for coastal peoples and shipping industries. Presentations by Stephanie Kaine and Gavin Bridge laid the conceptual ground for a “disruptive” politics of ice, while Aldo Chircop and Anna Stammler offered current and projected examples of how ice and the Arctic transcend geopolitical and economic boundaries. Conclusions by all four presenters identified the need within the United Nations, the EU, and International Maritime Organization to develop stronger, more versatile regulations over the resources and landscape of a changing Arctic.

Session 18.4 addressed questions around the topic, “Indigenous Communities and Extractive Industries in the Arctic: Processes of Domination and Co-existence”. Two of the presenters, Vyacheslav Shadrin and Aytolina Ivanova, hailed from the Republic of Sakha in central Siberia, while Dmitri Berezhkov, currently in exile from Russia, lived formerly in Kamchatka. Shadrin’s presentation described in detail the proposal of an “ethnologic impact assessment” to enforce compensation to native Siberians from extractive industries. Ivanova explored the contradictions among Evenk people between their sedentary village life and their idealized nomadic life through the lens of Schopenhauer’s “World as Will and Imagination”. Finally, Berezhkov gave a harrowing account of a village’s confrontation with a large coal mining corporation in the Kemerova Oblast of southern Russian.

Nadine Hoffman on changing terminology in databasses.

Session 17.2 was another dual session with panels in the morning and afternoon.  The session on “Facilitating social sciences and humanities scholarship of the Arctic through library, archival and information services” was co-chaired by Spencer Acadia and Hannele Näveri-Ranta.  Ali Shiri and Stéfano Biondo presented papers on the importance of utilizing digital libraries to make information accessible to the communities they pertain to and interested scholars.  Stacey Penney from Memorial University discussed the logistical difficulties in creating such a digital library, while Joë Bouchard discussed the importance of having accurate selection criteria in place before building a collection, digital or otherwise.  Nadine Hoffman then discussed the difficulties in using databases because of changing terminology, in this case Indigenous terminology in Canadian legal research in the Arctic.  Rounding out the panel was Erin Hollingsworth who discussed her project to create Iñupiaq language resources at the Tuzzy Consortium Library in Barrow, Alaska.  All six speakers spoke eloquently on the need to increase digital resources as a conservation method, an educational tool and a way of reconnecting archival material with the communities it originated in.  

Session 14.4 was titled “Sustaining Arctic Cultural Heritage in the 21st Century” and addressed a wide range of subjects. Tatiana Argounova-Low offered a compelling story about a project at the National Arts Museum of the Sakha Republic to recreate the missing second half of a 150 year old Sakha sculpture. Victoria Peemot connected two historical periods separated by one hundred years through a project exploring a 1917 Finnish Geological Expedition to southern Siberia, the people and places it touched, and the memories its documentation evokes today. Finally, the Arctic Studies Center’s Nicholas Parlato presented on the ASC’s ongoing development of the International Guide to Arctic Ethnographic Collections, which, upon completion, will elucidate the diverse holdings of one hundred museums around the world in terms of scope, history, and accessibility.

Nicholas Parlato presenting on the work we are doing at the ASC.

Session 20.2 covered three key dimensions of the “Politics of Sustainability in the Arctic”. Emma Wilson-Rowe discussed the divergent cultural attitudes and policies among Arctic states by analyzing official statements and announcements, bringing to light significant differences in international definitions of “sustainability”. Jes Harfeld brought up the little-discussed notion of anthropocentrism in definitions of sustainability and invited the audience and Arctic studies community to examine challenging ethical dimensions of land and resource use as well as our relationship with animals. Providing a more concrete investigation of active sustainability and mitigation practices, Daria Shapovalova shared her research into four international conventions on environmental protection, dating to 1992, detailing their language, enforcement, and shortcomings.

Session 12.1 focused on the ‘’The Mediated North’ – Constructing ‘the Arctic’ in Contemporary Media”.  Andreas Womelsdorf started the session with a paper on the Alaska computer game Never Alone.  He analyzed the ways in which Never Along differs from traditional computer games set during the colonial period, by allowing indigenous communities to share their stories in their own worlds.  He also addresses how the reason behind the creation of the game- to raise money to decrease the communities reliance on the government- highlights how colonial power relations are still affecting the world today.  Susan Vanek then discussed the difficulties with circumpolar publications, both due to the large number of languages spoken in the North and logistical hurdles such as limited internet.  The final presenter was Ali Shiri, discussing his digital library development project for the Inuvialuit Settlement Region once again.  All three presenters focused on the importance of giving voice to the people who actually live in the Arctic, as well as some of the difficulties in achieving that due to language barriers, funding issues, and insufficient infrastructure.

A very full session 19.3 focused on the unique challenges facing ‘Cities of the North’.  This six person session spanned the globe with presentations about Alaska, Russia, Sweden, and Australia.  The panel introduces a new collaboration between Umeå University, Charles Darwin University and the University of Alaska-Anchorage, that seeks to increase understanding of how cities in sparsely populated northern areas impact development in those areas.  The session posed many questions that this new partnership will hopefully answer, such as what is the role of government in sustaining northern cities? What impact do these cities have on tourism and leisure mobility?  What do settlement, residence and home mean in the modern context of our highly mobile society?  It will be exciting to see when this project is at the next meeting in 3 years time.

Session 8.10 considered problems of “Recognition, protection, and management” with regards to the lands and resources of indigenous peoples. Gail Fondahl discussed the establishment of federal and regional laws on Territories of Traditional Nature-Use in Russia and the challenges presented to local sovereignty and land use by a new “Far East Hectare” law offering western Russian citizens cheap land in the east. She was followed by Antonina Savvinova, who described the steady appropriation of thirty thousand hectares of a one-million hectare WWF-protected territory by encroaching gold-mining operations. To end the session, Nobohiro Kishigami explored the heated conflicts between indigenous whaling communities and environmental activists.

Session 14.3 addressed “21st Century Collecting”, which went far beyond the traditional museum model of collecting. Nancy Wachowich gave a presentation on her 2015 efforts to digitally record traditional seal-sewing techniques with the Pond Inlet Women’s Sewing Collective in Nunavut. Lynn Walker used Marcel Mauss’s seminal work on the social theory of reciprocity, “The Gift”, to provide a framework for repatriation and decolonial practices in museums. Lastly, Jonella Larson White gave an in-depth presentation on the activities of her nonprofit organization, the Foraker Group, which works closely with Alaskan native groups on leadership training, heritage preservation, and financial stability.

Section 9.3 took an in depth look at “Arctic 'exceptionalism'? Northern Contributions to International Relations”.  Sarah Milne applied balance of power theory to the Arctic looking at how recent political changes have impacted the regional orders in the Arctic leading to potential bipolar or multipolar futures.  Michael Tuszczuk then applied role theory to determine that the involvement of nations in the Arctic are often driven by external factors but the role they take in the Arctic is determined by internal factors.  Hege Kallbekken investigated the role of paradiplomacy in the Arctic, finding that even when state level communication breaks down, regional and local relationships continue that can result in political and economic benefits.  All the panelists stressed the importance of understanding the Arctic’s role in the broader world of international relations and how the landscape of international relations in the Arctic is currently shifting. 

Reindeer at Vasterbottens Museum.

In addition to the sessions, there were several wonderful evening events, film screenings, as well as the IASSA General Assembly.  The welcome reception on June 8th was hosted at the Vasterbottens Museum and featured local cuisine, including reindeer stew, and both Sami and Swedish music, as well as a chance to see the museum.  Attendees strolled, ate, and chatted among reproduction Sami camps on the grounds of the museum, while live reindeer enjoyed the local foliage and a Sami hunter answered questions on traditional practices.  Conference attendees could also walk around the main museum building and partake of cloud berry tarts, visit a 19th century residence and bake house where traditional flatbread was being made, and enjoy music in an outdoor gazebo.

The second evening featured live music by Mikias Narvaez Savhi followed by a screening of the critically-acclaimed film Sami Blood.  Written and directed by Amanda Kernell, the film was released last year and recounts the experiences of a Sami girl growing up and leaving her community for education in the south.  A deeply moving film, it shines light on the plight of Sami children forced into “nomad schools” throughout the 20th century and the cultural fallout in their adult years. 

The evening of the 10th also began with live music by the same performer, Arctic Karaoke, and a screening of the film, Guardians of Eternity.  The film looks at the issues of gold mining in Northern Canada, and especially the large amount of arsenic produced as waste in the processing of gold ore.  The chemical is highly toxic and, as of right now, there is no way of safely disposing of it.  The film follows the journey of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation in their attempts to mitigate the damage done by this chemical and set up a system to ensure future generations understand the danger and severity of such mining practices.

Sunday was the last full day of the conference, complete with evening entertainment.  Earlier in the day the IASSA General Assembly was held.  General elections were held, resulting in leadership of IASSA passing from Peter Sköld of Umea University to Andrey Petrov, Professor of Geography at University of Northern Iowa, for the next 3 years.  It was also decided that the ICASS X will be held in Arkhangelsk, Russia in 3 years time.  That evening, the closing banquet included a 3-course meal, followed by presentations of awards, and finally a live band performance and dancing at the restaurant.  The event was very well attended and seemed to be enjoyed by all.

After sessions on the final day, the conference attendees convened in the Aula Nordica auditorium for the last time to conclude the conference and set the stage for 2020. After opening remarks by the sitting president, synthesizing all the themes and ideas developed over the previous five days, the closing ceremony was turned over to Andrey Petrov, who promised to continue promoting IASSA as a platform for indigenous-led research and collaboration. He was followed by representatives from the Inuit Circumpolar Council, who shared their insights and vision of the future of the conference. Finally, a delegation from the Tling’it Nation spoke and presented gifts to many of the organizers and key participants. The conference officially closed with a beautiful Sami song, performed by Krister Stoor of the Umea University Centre for Sami Research.

2016- A Year in Review

By: Chelsi Slotten

    It’s been quite a year here at the Arctic Studies Center.  We started off with a workshop on animal crashes in the Arctic in early January and have kept busy ever since.  Scholars from across the US, Canada, and Europe joined us to look at how human-climate-animal interaction has impacted animal populations in the Arctic.  We were very fortunate to hear from Enookie and Charlie Inuarak, two hunters from the Canadian Arctic community of Pond Inlet.  They spoke eloquently on the how the Inuit relate to animals and the importance of understanding and preserving this bond.  Prior to the workshop, we hosted the Ernest “Tiger” Burch Memorial Lecture.  Dr. Morten Meldgaard, past director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, spoke on the close relationships between animal crashes and human economies with an eye towards how humans have impacted animal populations, which then impact human populations, over time. 


Enookie and Charlie Inuarak. Photograph by Chelsi Slotten.

              Our year continued with work on the upcoming exhibit Narwhal: Revealing an Artic Legend, which will open later this year, and collaborating on the Folklife Festival.  This year’s festival focused on the Basque population.  Dr. Fitzhugh has found evidence of Inuit-Basque interaction in Northern Canada during the 17th century, including evidence of potential cooperation between the two populations.  Several events during the 2 week festival focused on the archaeological evidence for the Basque’s in Canada.  The Festival was a huge success, and we greatly enjoyed being part of it and working with Basque artists and ship-builders.

              Following the festival, Dr. Fitzhugh made his annual research trip to Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec, where he and a group of researchers conducted archaeological survey work and continued excavating the Hart Chalet Inuit site.  This seven week trip was punctuated by presentations at local museums and meetings with indigenous groups to discuss our findings and learn what information the locals were interested in exploring further.  These meetings were highly informative for all, and highlight the importance of working with local communities when undertaking archaeological work.


Rigolet Community Meeting. Photograph by Chelsi Slotten

              Upon our return to Washington DC, we hosted a reception for the White House Arctic Science Ministerial.  Dr. Krupnik was key in working with the Arctic Science Ministerial to organize this event, which was attended by representatives of all eight Arctic Nations and members of the Arctic Council.  We debuted a series of new banners that highlight the history of Arctic scholarship at the Smithsonian.   Our international collaboration continued with the Fulbright Arctic Scholars Week Open House on October 25th.  This program hosted 17 Fulbright Arctic Initiative Scholars from all around the world and several Arctic Youth Ambassadors.  A breadth of experiences, ages, and academic disciplines came together to highlight the importance of Arctic research today and moving forward. The program’s highlight was the scholars’ presentation of their research work to the visiting public in the Ocean Hall.


Dr. Noor Johnson presenting at the Arctic Fulbright Open House. Photograph by Schuyler Litten.

              We rounded out the year with a workshop on the importance of increasing accessibility and awareness of Arctic archival collections arranged with the Jefferson Institute and Library of Congress.  This was, once again, an international affair with scholars from the US, Canada and Europe participating.  The breadth of information available of the Arctic is really astounding and digitization efforts have and will continue to make this information more available.

              This year has been filled with collaborations, meeting new colleagues and progress towards understanding this wonderful area we have chosen to research.  We are, as always, excited to continue to learn and ready to face whatever the New Year brings.  Wishing you all the best from all of us here.  Happy New Years!


Climate Days brought together 158 Arctic specialists to share with one another the current knowledge of ice conditions and climate change in the Arctic. The primary venue for the conference was Ilulissat’s Hotel Arctic.



Sponsors who made this conference possible include Denmark’s National Space Institute, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the European Space Agency, the International Arctic Science Committee, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, the Hotel Arctic, and others.



Opening Session


Introductions made at Ilulissat’s sports hall (Ilulissat Hallen) were presented by Mala Høy,

Greenland Minister of Nature, Environment, and Justice. Anne Riiser presented a welcome from the Nordic Council of Ministers (NORDFORSK).


Professor Rene Forsberg led off for the major sponsoring institution, DTU-Space,

which is a Danish research Institute and part of the Technical University of Denmark. Here, he follows with a conversation with Toku Oshima of Qaanaaq, Greenland, on climate change and its effects on traditional hunting and fishing.

Professor Konrad Steffen, Director of the Swiss Federal Research Institute, began with the observation that sea level had been constant for 2,000 to 3,000 years. Now, with global warming producing more melt water and the upper layers of the ocean undergoing thermal expansion, we are seeing sea level begin to rise. The warmest year to date is 2014. Through changes in precipitation, evaporation, runoff, and ice discharge, the Greenland Ice Sheet is experiencing a loss in ice mass. The warming oceans are increasingly a key factor in melting of both glacier and sea ice.

Dr. Jennifer Mercer contractor to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) thanked that body for its support of Arctic and Antarctic research, with its largest funding increases directed to Alaska and Greenland. Other conference leadoff speakers included Jørgen Hammeken-Holm, Acting Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources. He commented that even with all the sea ice reduction in Greenland waters, commercial quantities of gas and oil have not been found.

Dr. Mark Drinkwater from the Netherlands, with the European Space Agency addressed the use of satellite programs through which ESA monitors and studies the cryosphere. He offers that the ocean is becoming warmer and there is more evaporation – more moisture in air, and more precipitation, which falls as snow at higher elevation in central Greenland, which rises to above 10,000 ft.

Karen Anne Arleth, Head of Greenland’s Climate Office addressed Greenland climate change and adaptation policy.

From a cultural change perspective, artists Bjarki Bragason and Anna Lindal of Iceland talked of how politics influences both economy and nature. A loop has been created in which cultural change is causing climate change, which leads to further cultural change – a continuous downward lock step spiral of climate and culture, as we know them. Bragason and Lindal raise the question: Can our economic model be sustained?

Glacier Dynamics:

Selected Modeling Endeavors

01-243-02. 4364_2013_Arctic Hotel_aerial_wer

Image caption: Subsequent conference sessions over the period June 3 through 5 were held in the Hotel Arctic, which operates under the Directorship of Erik Bjerregaard. Aerial image is of hotel with town to right (south) and airport to left (north).


Maximum thickness of sea ice around Greenland occurred in the 1980s. In 2012, on the ice sheet, Greenland experienced its record year for glacial melt. 2013 had much less melt, possibly due to a coldwater incursion into coastal fjords that reduced the amount of ice lost through calving. This temporarily reduced the ice discharge of outlet glaciers.

The European Space Agency (ESA) through its Climate Change Initiative (CCI) space program measures ice mass through three variables: elevation, gravity, and ice flow velocity. The data show that there is more ice melt in Greenland than in Ellesmere and Baffin combined, particularly in 2010 and 2012.

One of the leaders of these modeling endeavors is Konrad Steffen who has personally installed 25 automatic weather stations in Greenland.

  1-Greenland Conference

Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) does very impressive modeling of ice sheet climatology and surface mass balance. The key is understanding the relationship between elevation and precipitation and the amount of surface melting. These variables are all represented in “Greenland Mass Loss Fits”. Several different models use the same data in different ways, though all realize the same trend of decreasing Greenland ice mass.

In its climate change studies in Greenland, Stability and Variations of Arctic Land Ice (SVALI), a Nordic research initiative, found like GEUS that while there is loss of ice through melt in lower reaches of Greenland, the volume of ice at higher, central elevations continues to increase. As the atmosphere and oceans warm, there is more evaporation and precipitation, with the latter falling as snow at higher elevations in Greenland.

Changes in ice sheet mass can be measured in Greenland by using “space-borne grravimetry”. A pair of orbiting satellites repeatedly measures the gravitational attraction of ice sheet as they pass overhead. The amount of ice lost as the ice sheet melts and as icebergs break off the edge of the ice sheet is not compensated for by new snow and ice. The satellites measure the resulting mass imbalance.

Glacial velocity is a function of season and proximity to sea. There are interesting patterns of advance and retreat, which correlate with ocean temperature. The ice dynamics are a function of velocity (which is a function of the steepness of the outlet glacier), calving rate (which is related to ocean temperature) and subglacial hydrology. (Ian Joughin and Ben Smith). The force of gravity, the weight of the ice, drives ice flow. Changes in climate can modify the frictional forces that resist ice flow. For example, lubrication by melt water can reduce friction if it makes its way to the base of the ice sheet, allowing faster flow.

There is an increase in snowfall in central Greenland, which doesn’t compensate for the mass lost at the edges.

2-Greenland Conference

In 2013, the rate at which ice loss was occurring slowed. With apparent overturning of the North Atlantic’s massive waters, there was likely a cold-water incursion into the fjords around Greenland, with less heat energy being delivered to the outlet glaciers. This unusual event caused several outlet glaciers to temporarily thicken and advance as of time of conference May 2015 (Mike Bevis). The temperature has averaged three degrees less than the average temperature for this time of year calculated over the last 30 years, barometric pressure has decreased, and precipitation has increased.

A significant realization of glacial modeling is that climate feedback mechanisms, like weather, are not linear.

Through its Climate Change Initiative (CCI), the European Space Agency has investigated ‘essential climate variables’, which are related to changes in the Greenland Ice Sheet. CCI data products include ice velocity, surface elevation change, calving front location, and grounding line location.

Doug Benn concluded that calving, sub-aqueous melting, and buoyancy of, causes the front of floating ice to bend upwards, as ice beneath the water line melts more rapidly than ice above the water line. This has led to collapsing ice fronts at glaciers in Svalbard. Water from beneath glaciers can drive circulation in fjords, bringing in warmer ocean water that enhances the rate of ice melt and calving, sometimes accelerating glacial speed. Benn suggested that glacier surges may sometimes be driven by ice changes at the front of the glacier rather than up in the accumulation area of the glacier.

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program identified black carbon as a short-lived pollutant that drifts in from the south with 2015 proving to be a record-breaking high as massive, largely uncontrolled forest fires burn throughout western North America from California through British Columbia to Alaska with carbon particulate matter streaming to the Arctic. Local sources of black carbon further amplify build up. Every Arctic village has its own diesel-fired generator or electrical plant that emits black carbon.

The Greenland Climate Research Centre studies the fundamental relationships between community, ice, and living resources in northwest Greenland. They ask what does weather and climate change mean to the people who are dependent upon the sea for a livelihood. The essence of culture is to serve as a repository of hard won knowledge gained over time, which lends predictability to life. Actor Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves speaks of the loss of this predictability among the Southwest American Indians in the nineteenth century: “Through changes in circumstances, a people who become unable to predict the future become confused”.

Ilulissat Climate Days effectively demonstrated the complexity of climate science through the truly, fascinating modeling of environmental change in Greenland and with worldwide implications of those changes.

The Greenland Ice Mapping Project has tracked Jakobshavn (now Ilulissat) for 20 years, through 2014. The greatest rate of ice loss was in 2012. In recent years, the glacial terminus where calving occurs in Jakobshavn is moving inland approximately 600 meters each year.

Tracking Jakobshavn Glacier Flow

In 2013 I had the good fortune to meet Jens Ploug Larsen, a pilot who flies with Air Greenland as well as with his own local airline, Airzafari. In 2015, with one of Jens’s pilots, Martin, we tracked the Jakobshavn Glacier from Ilulissat inland towards the Greenland Ice Sheet. Photographs track glacial progression from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Note that images portray calving, or “ablation”, that begins well away from the sea.

To present this one glacier in a quantitative, global context, Jakobshavn – one of Greenland’s most prolific – each year produces enough water to satisfy all of the annual water requirements of the United States.

The Greenland Ice Sheet, which rises to more than 2 miles in height, is like a frozen desert that drifts largely through the forces of elevation (gravity) and ice mass. While still miles form the sea, a stream from the Greenland ice sheet enters the Jakobshavn channel. With compression and steeper incline, the ablation zone, region of calving, begins while still miles from the sea.


A major ablation zone of Jakobshavn is fed with a number of ice streams, which congregate like the headwaters and tributaries of a river watershed. In front of the glacier is the top of a sheared wall, still prominently displayed as one large ridge with a zone of ice detritus in between.

03-4249.(rev)Ablation wall 04-4268.JKBG_Collapsed wall copy












Iceberg wall, shaped like preceding image of a sheared wall, now floats in the waters of Ilulissat’s Icefjord. All will become icebergs - and water.

05-4325.JKBG_Iceberg wall copy

In the setting sun of an Arctic evening, a paddler in his kayak navigates through the icebergs of the Jakobshavn Glacier, calved into the waters of Ilulissat.


NSF flight with Air National Guard 109th from Stratton Air Force Base Scotia, New York to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

07-C-130_Kangerlussuaq 08-C130 June 2010_wer













The US National Science Foundation (NSF) arranged for air transport for the American delegation on an U.S. Air Force C-130 from Stratton Base in upstate New York to Greenland’s primary airport, Kangerlussuaq.


Wilfred E. Richard, PhD Research Associate

Arctic Studies Center, U.S. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History,

Washington, D.C.

Research Fellow, Uummannaq Polar Institute, Uummannaq, Greenland



Michael John Willis, PhD, Research Associate

Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University

Adjunct Assistant Research Professor

Geological Sciences

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill



Hal Salzman, PhD

Professor and Senior Faculty Fellow

Rutgers, The State University of New York



Renee D. Crain - National Science Foundation Logistical Support

Jens Ploug Larsen - Airzafari

Ronald W. Levere - publication design

Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga- A Retrospective

By: Chelsi Slotten with William Fitzhugh

Viking Exhibit041


Ask most people who the first Europeans in North American were and they would probably answer Christopher Columbus. They would also be incorrect. The first Europeans to land in North America were actually a group of Vikings sailing under Leif Eriksson almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Leif’s trip to North American resulted in a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland and contact with the Native American population there. The world became much smaller that day as human interactions circled the globe for the first time in human history. Monumental as this event was, Leif does not deserve all the credit. His eventual landing in Newfoundland was the culmination of 200 years of travel and exploration by his Viking ancestors. Fifteen years ago the Arctic Studies Center curated Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga to trace that journey across the Atlantic Ocean. In journeying across the Atlantic, questions of how we know our past and its relevance today were addressed. As the world continues to shrink as a result of better transportation and the internet it’s useful to reflect on where we came from and to that end I have a couple questions for Dr. Fitzhugh.

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit?  10-ship

A: Producing “Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga” was incredibly complicated and expensive. Hillary Clinton kicked off our fund-raising effort. Curators from seven nations participated  and a dozen museums loaned objects. The shop opened at the Smithsonian and then traveled around North America for three years. We published a great book(cover shown to right) and we connected with a huge population of Scandinavian and Nordic people in North America. Fifteen years later I’m still lecturing about Vikings!

The most exciting part of the exhibit was the opening when I met the kings, queens, and presidents of all those countries and had lunch with all of them and the Clintons in the White House. Dessert? Chocolate Viking ships filled with ice cream and fruit!

Q: Have there been any major discoveries in the past 15 years that change or deepen our understanding of Viking travel to North America?

A: Nearly every year archaeologists find new Viking sites and artifacts. Recently a mass grave was excavated in Britain, a Viking ship burial in Scotland; a Norwegian penny dating 1065-85 in an Indian site in Maine; spoils from a wrecked Viking voyage in North Greenland, and studies of Viking burials in Greenland showing—contrary to previous belief that the Norse did not adopt an Inuit economy-- increasing use of marine foods (fish, seals) in their diet during the life of the Greenland Norse colonies.

Q: Why do you think people are still so fascinated with Vikings centuries after their era ended?

A: Vikings are a touch-stone topic! Everyone learns about Vikings in grade school—especially the raiding and pillaging. We are fascinated by these ‘barbarians who turned Christian’, their bravery, their boat-building skills, their sagas and poetry. They sailed across the Atlantic in small boats; they voyaged to Rome and Istanbul. They were also traders and nation-builders. Who wouldn’t be ga-ga for Vikings!!!

Q: What can the Vikings teach us that is relevant today?

A: Vikings were the quintessential explorers – they explored nearly half the globe and were builders of the finest boats of their day. They braved the storms of the North Atlantic and lived at the edge of the known world for nearly 500 years in Greenland. As we reach for the heavens in our space-ships we are following the quest for knowledge and exploration demonstrated by Vikings a millennia ago.  

Q: Is there anything else of particular importance you want people to know?

A: Be a Viking! Explore. Search. Sing. Work hard. And you will change the world just like the Vikings did.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating period in history the online exhibit is publicly available here: http://www.mnh.si.edu/vikings/.