The Earth Has Shifted – 2009-05-28 – Ian Mauro
We’ve just arrived in Iqaluit – the capital of Nunavut – after having been in Resolute Bay for almost two weeks. Resolute was an incredible place and we were met with so much hospitality from the locals.
Our crew went to the floe edge with two amazing women hunters – Tabitha and Tagga – and we enjoyed eating caribou, narwhal muktuk and bannock. These women were so great; equally welcoming and gentle and tough and hardy.
In the interviews, we heard many important stories and observations, and one that keeps coming up is that the “earth has shifted”. Consistently, across the landscape, we are hearing from Inuit that the sun, moon and stars have changed their position in the Universe leading to the conclusion that the earth has shifted on its axis. Days are also getting longer and the sun appears higher in the sky.
Interestingly, in my nearly decade long experience in the Arctic, I have actually seen the phenomenon that locals speak of. I began living in Pangnirtung in the summers of 2001 and at that time 24 hour daylight would end in the first couple days of August. However, now, the dusky night sky arrives about a week later. This is something that all Inuit are interested in and talking about.
In our quest to understand more about what we’re hearing, we conveniently met with local Resolute meteorological observer Wayne Davidson (see photo). Wayne has been documenting weather and climate patterns in the Arctic for 30 years while measuring the height of the sun at the horizon. Wayne is only one of a few experts in the world studying this, taking photographs and measuring how the sky is changing. Check out his website for details: Extremely High Horizon Refraction.
I interviewed Wayne while in Resolute and he explained to us that as greenhouse gases increase, which also increases the temperature of the atmosphere itself, the refraction index of the sky actually changes. Simply put, we are looking through the atmosphere when observing the sun and any other celestial object, and as the temperature of the atmosphere changes so does our perspective of it. When the atmosphere is cool, the sun, moon and stars appear far away in the sky, but when it is warmer, they appear “on zoom”, as Wayne stated.
Wayne is convinced that Inuit are at the “cutting edge of science”. Their observations of changes to the sun directly measure the increase in greenhouse gases and associated warming of the planet. Importantly, Wayne was quick to state that this knowledge is impartial, as Inuit have no vested interest like many scientists, corporations and governments. Straight from the heart observations indicating that our world is indeed changing. No doubt, a major shift in our global mindset is going to be required to remedy humanities relationship with the earth.
“The tilting of the earth changes everything”
Update Submitted by Ian Mauro on Wed, 11/25/2009
Arguably, the most bizarre, fascinating and perhaps groundbreaking of all observations we’ve heard from Inuit is that they believe our world has tilted on its axis and this contributes to climate change. When Zacharias and I first heard this, we thought it was very strange, yet elders in all the communities we’ve worked in – Pangnirtung, Iqaluit, Resolute Bay and Igloolik – all believe this phenomenon to be true. In today’s blog, we post a video from Igloolik elder Japiti Palluq talking about the impacts of a tilted earth, and unpack the traditional knowledge and science on this issue.
It’s been very interesting to see elders and hunters across Nunavut make the same observation about the world having shifted on its axis. In most cases, research participants were not prompted on the issue, yet they began talking about it. Just today, we heard from another interviewee that “the earth has tilted”, and Zach looked and me and jokingly said “did you tell him?”. As a trained scientist, I know that a key test for “truth” is the repeated replicability of a research finding, independent of who is doing the test. Hearing Inuit across Nunavut make the same observation, using their traditional ecological knowledge, seems to pass this credo for scientific truth. So what data are elders collecting and analyzing to draw this conclusion?
Elders across Nunavut have noticed that the sun and stars have changed their position in the sky. The sun is now rising higher and staying longer than it used to. Importantly, in the far north, you must remember that the sun goes below the horizon for a large part of the year, and therefore Inuit are very familiar with its celestial pattern. Indeed, Inuit we’re talking with are telling us stories about how in the old days, during the dark months, they would travel the land by dog team using stars as their navigational tools. So, when Inuit talk about the sun and stars, they do so with an intimate knowledge of these systems.
We’ve heard that the earth has tilted in the direction of the sun. Elders explain that this is why the sun is higher in the sky and there is increased and more direct heat entering the Arctic ecosystem. As Japiti explains, this has subsequently altered migratory routes of animals, warmed the ocean water, and thinned the ice cover. While this almost sounds like a fringe theory to obfuscate that fossil fuel use increases greenhouse gases, it is actually something has just recently been acknowledged by scientists.
When we began this project, I scanned the academic literature to see if there was any scientific evidence to support Inuit claims that the “earth has tilted” and thus causing climate change, but nothing existed. Now that we’re in Igloolik, editing the film, and hearing this observation repeatedly, I hit the literature again. And, to my surprise and delight, two research studies have recently been published that relate to the Inuit knowledge we are collecting with video.
Drysdale et al (2009) published a study in the prestigious journal Science this past August that argues the Late Pleistocene (approximately 141,000 years ago) glacial period came to an end because of changes to the obliquity, or tilt, of the earth. Like Inuit, the study states that this is a possible climate change hypothesis “because of the relatively large and persistent increases in summer energy reaching the high latitudes of both hemispheres during times of maximum Earth tilt”. Although Drysdale et al (2009) are discussing past climate change, their findings seem to support present claims by Inuit that a tilting earth may warm climate. In another study, published this past September in Geophysical Research Letters, Landerer et al (2009) indicate that the warming of oceans, exacerbated by melting glaciers that flow into them, is causing “horizontal mass redistribution” of the world’s seas. Essentially, the weight and position of the world’s oceans have shifted, and this has literally caused the earth to shift its position on its axis! In both the Drysdale (2009) and Landerer (2009) studies, the authors argue that these phenomena have not been previously reported, and that their findings offer new insights into how scientists and society should think about climate
change and its causes and associated impacts.
Indeed, Inuit observations seem tied to the technical science of long-term climate change, specifically the theory of the Milankovitch Cycles, which seem to predict natural planetary warming and cooling periods based on the position of the earth and its axis in relationship to the sun. See Wikipedia for more details:
In many ways, Inuit elders speak with the knowledge of astrophysicists and environmental scientists all in one, and so I’m just trying to catch up. I find it fascinating that for many years, elders and hunters living on the land have been observing and talking about environmental change that is now only being published by scholars working at the cutting edge of science. Indeed, Inuit are climate change experts, and their knowledge complements and in some ways surpasses scientific understanding on this topic. We certainly hope that our work shows how these two “ways of knowing” can work together to better understand climate change, arguably the paramount issue of our time.
Drysdale (2009). Evidence of obliquity forcing of glacial termination II. Science, 325, 1527-1528.
Landerer et al. (2009). Long-term polar motion excited by ocean thermal expansion. Geophysical Research Letters, 36, 1-5.
Qapiragajuq: An Update on “Tilting of the Earth”
Submitted by Ian Mauro on Wed, 01/06/2010
If you’ve been following our work, you’ll know that elders across Nunavut believe that “the earth has tilted” and this is the cause of climate change. To better understand this, we’ve been in constant dialogue between scientists and elders, and have discovered that a warming northern atmosphere has actually altered the visual landscape of the Arctic, which has caused the sun, moon and stars to appear out of position in the sky. An optical tilt of the earth caused by refraction rather than a physical one!
Inuit knowledge regarding the sun, moon and stars is incredible. We’ve heard life-and-death stories about navigating the land by dog team, in the middle of winter, only using star light. Remember, in the high Arctic, as the earth cycles around the sun, during some of the winter months the pole faces the blackness of the universe, and depending on your location returns in the New Year. Here in Igloolik, the sun disappears for about a month and a half from early December to mid January. The “return of the sun” is a community-wide celebration and ceremony and is remembered year-after-year. Elders know the exact location that the sun has been returning on the horizon over the course of their lifetimes. And, now, through our project, they are beginning to speak about how this is changing.
Working with Igloolik elder Augustine Taqquraq – who we’ve hired to help us with the film – we mapped in detail how the sun has shifted in his lifetime. Today, January 6, Augustine turned 66 years old. In 1957, when he was 13 years old, he remembers the exact location on the horizon where the sun returned when he was living on the land in camp. Now, viewing from the exact same location, the sun returns in a dramatically different place on the horizon. In 52 years, the sun has shifted southward by 19 KM, which is a 44 degree movement relative to the position of the observer. This is an example of the massive visual shift that elders across the north have observed, leading them to each conclude that the earth has tilted.
When we explained this to climate scientists, including researchers working at NASA, most had never heard of such an observation before. However, all the scientists indicated that a physical tilt of the earth was impossible, and could not have happened the way our elder Augustine described. So, like an unfolding mystery, we went back to the drawing board to learn more about what might be causing this observation.
Wayne Davidson, a weather scientist and meteorological observer working Resolute Bay, helped solve the problem. In the late 1990s, Wayne also began to notice a change with the sun. He, like the elders we have documented, saw that the sun was moving southward. And, based on his scientific understanding and discussions with local Inuit, began documenting and better understanding this “low altitude refraction”. In the video clip posted in this blog, Wayne describes how the sun changing its position in the sky – moving consistently in one direction – is actually a metric to measure anthropogenic, or human caused, climate change.
Essentially, as climate change warms the atmosphere and alters wind patterns, hot southern air is moving northward. As we know, hot air rises over cold air, which causes a very complex atmospheric structure with different air densities. The molecules of the lower cold air are much more dense, whereas the molecules of the upper hot air are expanded and more diffuse, and each have different “refraction indices”. This literally means that light bends differently through hot and cold air respectively, which causes objects in the sky to change their shape and position, especially at the horizon. In the video, look at Wayne’s computer screen to see some of the strange images he has captured of the sun as a result of this phenomenon.
Inuit are noticing the sun, moon and stars change their position in the sky and this actually measures the degree to which climate change has affected the Arctic environment! What a mind blower! As we further spoke with Augustine about this, we realized that refraction is a well known concept to Inuit, based on their knowledge of spear fishing in water. Inuit know that the water bends light and you are to aim at a different location than where you see the fish at the surface of the water, if you are to catch it. This hunting technique, which calculates for refraction, is called “qapiragajuq”, which literally means to “spear strangely”.
Not only have we solved the mystery of why Inuit believe the earth appears to have tilted, but in doing so, we have also discovered that Inuit have techniques for adapting to a changing visual world. When things appear strange, a new technique is required. Fortunately, Inuit are telling us that they have the skills and knowledge to adapt to climate change, and despite the challenges it presents, like any good hunter, they will be prepared.