Parnuna: Locals have valuable information about climate change

Arctic Hub, Parnuna Egede Dahl, Ice Movements, local knowledge, indigenous knowledge, ice thickness, Uummannaq, Disko Fjord, Research, Science, Greenland

Locals in Uummannaq possess unique knowledge about changes in ice, currents, and wind. Knowledge that is rarely included in the scientists’ calculations. But Parnuna wants to change that. 


By Signe Ravn-Højgaard


“You’ll go out on the sea ice in half an hour. The fishermen and kids are ready by their snowmobiles!” says Ann Andreasen, head of the children’s home in Uummannaq to Parnuna Egede Dahl.


And that is what will happen.


Parnuna Egede Dahl, research assistant at Brown University in the United States, is busy dressing up in fur and getting ready to spend several hours on the sea ice of Uummannaq.


Together with the field assistant, Paninnguaq Korneliusen from Ilisimatusarfik and social researcher Bright Dale from Norland Research Institute, Parnuna researches changes in sea ice formation and how these changes affect the local population around Uummannaq fiord.


“The climate changes prolong the period where the ice is too thin for walking or dog sledding but too thick for sailing. Climate change makes it more difficult to predict ice formation and when it will break up,” says Parnuna Egede Dahl:

“Satellite images show scientists that the ice is formed later and breaks up earlier. Often the ice also breaks and regenerates during the winter. However, what cannot be seen on satellite images is how thick the ice is and, accordingly, how useful it is to the locals. That is what we are trying to gain more knowledge about,” says Parnuna Egede Dahl.

Local support

Local support is essential for such a research project, Parnuna Egede Dahl believes. For this reason, she has teamed up with field assistant Paninnguaq Korneliussen, who is from the Uummannaq area and has an extensive local network. And Parnuna Egede Dahl is grateful that the children’s home in Uummannaq finds the research project valuable. This is why they are now on their way out on the sea ice.


Out on the sea ice, Parnuna Egede Dahl and her colleagues teach the children how to drill holes in the ice to measure the thickness of the ice. The intention is that the children should continue measuring the ice once the researchers have left again. In this way, the children will contribute with data for the researchers while also learning about climate change and research.

“We put a lot of effort into ensuring that the local communities around Uummannaq fiord benefit from the research,” Parnuna Egede Dahl


The researchers have written a manual and recorded a video with the children, so other children in Uummannaq can also measure ice thickness.

“We put a lot of effort into ensuring that the local communities around Uummannaq fiord benefit from the research. And we think about how the local communities can help improve the research. This is why we will translate our research results and share them with the locals who want to give us input before the research is published.”

“The local population pointed out to us that climate changes amplify the wind and the currents,” Parnuna Egede Dahl.


To meet and talk to the local population of Uummannaq, Parnuna Egede Dahl and colleagues have also participated in dog sledding races and attended and hosted local gatherings. The researchers have also initiated a so-called sharing circle, where knowledge about the sea ice was shared among generations. The participants talked about old myths containing knowledge about ice. They advised on how to behave on the ice. And they brought old songs and games connected to ice back to life.

Scientists should listen to local voices

“The local population pointed out to us that climate changes amplify the wind and the currents. They tell us how wind and ocean vortexes are becoming more frequent, weakening the sea ice. Local wind and currents are often difficult to include in climate models. But we as researchers must improve this because the locals tell us it impacts the sea ice a lot.”

Parnuna Egede Dahl can see how the locals’ experiences of changes in the Uummannaq fiord fit into the global climate change narrative. And in the long run, climate changes will significantly affect life in Uummannaq, says Parnuna Egede Dahl.


“The locals are used to adapting to changes and share traditional knowledge about how the changes naturally occur in cycles. However, they observe new phenomena that do not fit with this old knowledge. They have to get used to the fact that climate change disturbs these cycles and makes the ice less safe. Due to the prolonged period where the ice is too thin to ride or walk on but too thick to sail through, it can give capacity problems for the freezers at the fish factories, decrease food security and increase the need for ice breaker-ships.”


Read Ilisimatusarfiks handbook about the research method sharing circle – available in Greenlandic and Danish

Photo credits
Top photo Parnuna Egede Dahl
Photo 1+2 Parnuna Egede Dahl
Photo 3 Paninnguaq Korneliussen
Photo 4 Parnuna Egede Dahl