Polar Record

Research Article

Sámi traditional ecological knowledge as a guide to science: snow, ice and reindeer pasture facing climate change

Jan Åge Risetha1, Hans Tømmervika2, Elina Helander-Renvalla3, Niklas Labbaa4, Cecilia Johanssona5, Eirik Malnesa6, Jarle W. Bjerkea7, Christer Jonssona8, Veijo Pohjolaa9, Lars-Erik Sarria10, Audhild Schanchea11 and Terry V. Callaghana12

a1 Norut Tromsø and Sámi University College, P.O. Box 250, N-8504 Narvik, Norway (janar@norut.no)

a2 Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, N-9296 Tromsø, Norway

a3 Arctic Indigenous Peoples and Sámi Research Office, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, FIN-96101 Rovaniemi, Finland

a4 Moskavuona Sámi Language and Culture Centre, N-9042 Laksvatn, Norway

a5 Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, S-75236 Uppsala, Sweden

a6 Norut Northern Research Institute, N-9294 Tromsø, Norway

a7 Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, N-9296 Tromsø, Norway

a8 Abisko Scientific Research Station, S-98107 Abisko, Sweden

a9 Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, S-75236 Uppsala, Sweden

a10 Esrange, Swedish Space Corporation, S-98128 Kiruna, Sweden

a11 Sámi Parliament, N-9730 Karasjok, Norway

a12 Abisko Scientific Research Station, S-98107 Abisko, Sweden and Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, S10 2TN

ABSTRACT

Scientific studies of challenges of climate change could be improved by including other sources of knowledge, such as traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), in this case relating to the Sámi. This study focuses on local variations in snow and ice conditions, effects of the first durable snow, and long term changes in snow and ice conditions as pre-requisites for understanding potential future changes. Firstly, we characterised snow types and profiles based on Sámi categories and measured their density and hardness. Regression analysis showed that density can explain much of the variation in hardness, while snow depth was not significantly correlated with hardness. Secondly, we found that whether it is dry/cold or warm/wet around the fall of the first durable snow is, according to Sámi reindeer herders, crucial information for forecasting winter grazing conditions, but this has had limited focus within science. Thirdly, elderly herders’ observations of changes in snow and ice conditions by ‘reading nature’ can aid reinterpretation of meteorological data by introducing researchers to alternative perspectives. In conclusion we found remarkable agreement between scientific measurements and Sámi terminology. We also learnt that TEK/science cooperation has much potential for climate change studies, though time and resources are needed to bridge the gap between knowledge systems. In particular, TEK attention to shifts in nature can be a useful guide for science.

(Received May 2010)

(Online publication December 23 2010)