Climate change: the Inuit now have a word for ‘robin’

Photo: Amy Huva 2011

Those of us who live around the 49th parallel don’t often think about it, but Canada is an Arctic country. The Arctic coastline is 67 per cent of Canada’s coast and is longer than both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts combined. But when you live in the city, other than watching polar bears on webcams, the Arctic seems a long way away.

But the Arctic is changing, rapidly. On Monday night at the Vancouver Aquarium, two researchers from the ArcticNet group reported on the changes they’ve seen and the research they’re doing to figure out the future of the Arctic.

Dr. David Barber, who is the Canada Research Chair in Arctic System Science at the University of Manitoba spoke about the dramatic changes he’s seen over his career in the Arctic. In the 1980s, he wasn’t sure what climate scientists were talking about when they were warning of climate change, but today in the Arctic, the rapid spiralling of sea ice loss in the last decade has led to changes so fast the researchers can barely keep up with it.

Last summer, Dr Barber was in contact with a German research group  studying the sea ice around the North Pole. The research group was unable to find sea ice solid enough to land the research group, and all their research had to be conducted from the boat, which is a remarkable change from only five years ago when the British TV show Top Gear drove an SUV to the North Pole.

Dr. Barber believes that not only will there be an ice free summer in the Arctic in the next decade, but a central polar shipping route will open up additional to the already open Northwest Passage. As he described how the Greenland ice sheet is currently melting 600 per cent faster than models predicted (no, that’s not a typo, 600 per cent) with enough ice to raise sea levels by six metres, he asked how many people lived within 6 meters of sea level.

When he was greeted with blank looks, his response was ‘too many’, which means I must be the only person who runs the sea wall at high tide mentally imagining what an extra metre of sea level rise would look like.

It’s not just the cute polar bears we have to worry about; it’s the additional repercussions from the loss of sea ice. No multi-year ice (the ice that stays frozen even through summer) means that all the phytoplankton, zooplankton and other microbial organisms that live just under the surface of the sea ice will be homeless, and not have time to adapt to having lost their habitat over only a five to 10 year span (normally these things take tens of thousands of years). This will pull the bottom out of the Arctic food chain meaning the polar bears, seals, whales, walruses and other animals that eat those organisms will go hungry, with the consequences being felt all the way up the food chain.

Algae growing under sea ice (photo: Chris Fritsen)

The sea ice also regulates the jet stream we all see on the weather report. No summer sea ice will slow down the jet stream meaning our weather will move more slowly – droughts will last longer, the rain will last longer (sorry Vancouverites) and will mess with our agricultural growing seasons having repercussions for human food security.

This is the thing about the Arctic – it’s the climate change canary in the coal mine. What’s happening in the Arctic now is what will be happening to us in the next few decades as we watch the natural world around us change rapidly. Because when we live in a planetary ecosystem, saying that I live in Vancouver (far from the Arctic) doesn’t matter. Physics doesn’t negotiate.

This means that something is happening rapidly now to our habitat, rapidly enough that it can be observed by a researcher over one career.

It’s happening so quickly that Inuit communities are creating words for animals never seen in their area like robins. It’s happening so quickly that researchers still haven’t worked out whether the carbon cycle in the Arctic will be a net carbon sink or carbon source with climate change.

And if that’s not terrifying enough already, that’s before we even start talking about the possibility of ocean floor methane hydrates bubbling up to the surface of a warmer, more acidic ocean. If this sounds apocalyptic, that’s because it is. The last time methane hydrates de-gassed into the atmosphere was around 251 million years ago at the Permian Extinction, when 95 per cent of all species on the planet went extinct.

The climate change stakes are truly this high, and the time to act boldly is now. 

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Now what?:

*Obama has not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of the Unions addresses.

*In all of the debates Obama hadn’t planned to mention climate change once.

After 26 years of research the entire world of science has full consensus that a crisis “might” happen, not WILL happen.

Find me one single IPCC warning that isn’t qualified with some sort of “maybe” or “could be” etc……..

Science has NEVER said that a climate crisis, (the worst crisis imaginable) will actually happen, despite “being at the point of no return, possibly” .

Help my planet could be at the brink of no return from possibly being on fire maybe?

Exaggeration isn’t a crime, yet.


Robins in the arctic

Robins have been documented in the arctic all the way back to 1913. Do some research before publishing untruths. Try Google it works.

In case you are wondering:

 Nunamiut Eskimo word for ‘robin.’  “Koyapigaktoruk”

Mackenzie Eskimo word for ‘robin.’  “Kre-ku-ak’tu-yok”

Alaskan Eskimo word for ‘robin.’ “Shab’wak”

Just More Climate Twaddle

It is a pleasure to see the comments here.  Nobody is buying climate-porn anymore.  There is no connection between Arctic cycles and the piddling amount of  CO2 humans put into the atmosphere ...all 3% of the less than .04% that is there already.  That's all there is, and plants would benefit from more.

Climate change has ZERO to do with this.

The Innuit have had words for robins for quite a long time, as noted above.


The word for bumblebee is  'Iguttaq,' and is in an Innuit folk tale.


Don't let AGW hystericysts fool you. A little research easily dispels their nonsense.

stop the insanity

I have lived on the western shore of Hudson Bay since 1988. Robins and bumblebees have been around since long before I got here and most certainly the inuktitut language has names for them. While it would appear that the climate trends in the north are warming somewhat ,it is NOT to the extent that these people make it seem. They need to come and LIVE here. instead of -35 today its -33. Animals are healthy, winters still extend from October to May, the sea ice in Rankin Inlet still goes out the first week of July. Us northerners are tired of reading this unsubstantiated crap disguised as science. Come live in Rankin Inlet and study climate here instead of Vancouver and maybe we can have a discussion. Untill then keep your silly facts to the cafe where they statrted I suppose.

What's the Innuit word for

What's the Innuit word for IPhone?

These commenters are gadflies

I doubt a single negative commenter here has a clue about the level of scientific and quantitative difficulty that environmental chemistry, the author's discipline, poses.  I also doubt any of these commenters are scientists.  All the nonsense replies about Inuit language are straw-men, "Gotchas" by people incapable of going toe-to-toe with real scientists on the real issues.  They troll these response venues looking for clever "gotcha" opportunities to pump up their own egos.


Amy, you honor us all with your insightful perspectives and your work is important.  Thank you for taking the time beyond work to share these thoughts.

Former Believers make better planet lovers.

The scientists know more than any of us? They only say we "could" and have never said we "will" have a crisis, thus leaving the evidence for scientific exaggeration as clear as day. It's not a crime to exaggerate and study the effects and almost never causes of an assumed to be real crisis.

Not one single IPCC warning says it will happen only might happen so it’s been 26 years of needless CO2 fear mongering. Anybody still believing in this misery wants it. Loving a planet with fear?



All the barbs in these comments about robins are patently idiotic. Anecdotal stories of older research comparing 2 or 3 eskimo words back in the 50's are useless.  Do any of you people have a clue how far the Inuit range extends? You behave as though you really believe there is one perfectly unified language across Inuit subcultures in: The United States, Canada, Siberia, the Arctic, Greenland.  Newsflash (1): They don't all share the same languages or dialects.  Newsflash (2): Migratory patterns and ranges for birds and butterflies are shifting at alarming rates previously unseen.  It's happening all over the place.

They're educated.  MUCH more educated.

Anybody who takes the time to canvass the top global earth science institutions, carefully 1 by 1 throught eh top 50, and then nationally and internationally respected academies - will discover these scientists really do have a predominantly unified perspective.  As one MIT scientist put it "We're playing Russian Roulette with a loaded gun and 19 of 20 chambers are loaded."  That kind of language is being used by climate scientists all over the place.  And the people who rant at the scientists are either (a) Too lazy to get their own degree and digest the knowledge, (b) Too lazy to spend a lifetime devoted to these difficult disciplines, (c) Incapable or generally disinterested in the details.  Whatever the case...It's analogous to a bunch of non-mechanics taking their car to a mechanic, not just any mechanic, the BEST mechanics in town; and when the BEST mechanics in town say, "You're transmission's blown"...You all say, "No it's not.  You're wrong.  You don't have a clue what you're talking about."  It's shameful, presumptuous, destructive hubris.  If any of you have kids you ought to be ashamed because you wilfully risk their ability to produce food in coming decades by discouraging corrective action.

Just a comment about the use of uncertainty in science and the wording of the IPCC that some might find useful:

Scientists never deal in absolutes - there is always going to be uncertainty and error in anything. The difference with climate change is that the uncertainty currently lies between 'uncomfortable change' and 'unprecedented and difficult to adapt to'.

So when the IPCC refers to something being 'likely', what they mean is that there is a 66-90% chance it will happen. This is not how the word 'likely' is used in spoken language commonly, but the scientific meaning of the term can be better contextualised with the percentages.

FYI, here's their likelihood statements from the Third Assessment Report

"The following words have been used throughout the text 

of the Synthesis Report to the TAR relating to WGI findings: virtually certain (greater than 99%
chance that a result is true); very likely (90–99% chance); likely (66–90% chance); medium likelihood
(33–66% chance); unlikely (10–33% chance); very unlikely (1–10% chance); and exceptionally
unlikely (less than 1% chance)."

Climate Blame and Reefer

Climate Blame and Reefer Madness share the same page in the history books now. Nice job girls. We owe it to our children to be authentic and intelligent progressives again who doubt, challenge and question all authority in order to legitimize that authority, especially an authority that condemns our own children to the greenhouse gas ovens of climate change. So explain how the world of science would all get together and lie we ask? Because they only agree it is happening, not that it is a real crisis. Not one IPCC report isn’t qualified with “could be” etc. The scientists didn’t lie, we exaggerated and now former believers make better planet lovers. *In all of the debates so far, Obama hasn’t planned to mention climate change once. *Obama has not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of the Unions addresses nor any of the debates. *Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets run by corporations. *Julian Assange is of course a climate change denier. *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit). We need to stop loving the planet with fear and demand that the millions in the global scientific community finally say in one voice that it will or will not happen, not might happen. Only a comet hit could be worse and let’s save the little tiny catastrophic climate crisis for Harry Potter movies.

What is the Inuit word for


Oil deposits?

Ice Age?

Medieval Warm Period?

That there are people who believe that humans can control and  determine if the earth warms or cools is incredible.

But who cares, since the Mayan calender predicts ........ AUGHHH!


Poor article

One of the oldest, most famous Inuit legends is the epic of Kiviuq. In this epic, the great shaman Kiviuq gets captured and almost eaten by a giant BumbleBee lady.

I am sorry, but there has been an Inuktitut word for "bumblee" for a long time.

I know climate change is real, but there's no reason to sensationalize the issue with lies.