The following is part three of Northern Exposure, a three-part series that examines how a warming Arctic opens up the Northwest Passage and economic opportunities, but also creates headaches.
It’s December in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, about 20 degrees below freezing on what is considered a warm day, and for the first winter ever Nicole Maksagak thought she would be driving in the comfort of a Ford F-150 pick-up truck. Instead, she’s making at least eight runs per day on her Ski-Doo to take her four children, aged six to 13, to school, commute to work and run errands.
Maksagak said she might feel better on her snowmobile if she didn’t owe so much money on the 2018 Ford. Her truck, however, is stranded more than 1,000 kilometres away in Inuvik — along with critical supplies ordered by businesses and the town of Cambridge Bay — after shipping traffic in the western Arctic unexpectedly stopped early this fall due to poor ice conditions.
“I’ve never seen my vehicle in person, I never even test drove it,” she said. “But I’m paying for it, and I paid for the insurance, plus the registration.” Her situation shows why shipping is such a flashpoint for tension in Arctic communities since a failed arrival of just about anything has cascading consequences.
It also illustrates an overlooked aspect of climate change’s impact: Maritime traffic in the Arctic is higher than ever as mining and resource extraction projects increase along with other investments, but shipping conditions are more dangerous than ever as a result of the weather’s greater seasonal variation.
“There’s a bit of a misconception that climate changes means warming, less ice, and it’s easier to navigate,” said Neil O’Rourke, assistant commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard in the Arctic. “In fact, it’s making navigation a little riskier or more complex.”