Exploring Environmental Change

Part III: Case Study: Changes in an Arctic Environment

7. Environments change over time. Some changes are seasonal (shifts in animal populations) or natural (volcanic eruptions). Other changes are the result of human activity. In this case study, we will focus on one example of how human activity has affected a local environment. The Bowhead Whaling and Its Impact Flash Interactive illustrates a very specific change that happened in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas that surround Alaska: the introduction of commercial whaling. The study by researchers John Bockstoce and Daniel Botkin is based on a sample of actual journals and logbooks kept by commercial whalers. Show students the slideshow and distribute the Bockstoce Study Chart PDF Document. Discuss with students how the commercial whaling industry affected whale populations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What effect do you think this had on the Iñupiaq people who hunted the whales to meet their needs? What other animals might have taken the place of the whale in Iñupiaq life?

8. Tell students that they will now look at the present-day environment in this Alaskan region. Begin by having students find Barrow, Alaska, on a map. Then show the Iñupiaq Whale Hunt video and have students read the background essay. Have the students form small groups again, and ask them to discuss the following questions.

   a. What does whaling provide to the people of Barrow today? In what ways are Iñupiaq people dependent on the whale?
   b. How might changes to the whale population affect these communities?

9. The Bockstoce study analyzed changes that happened in the past. How would we learn about environmental changes happening in Barrow, Alaska, today? Show students the Arctic Climate Perspectives video. Then, discuss the following questions:

   a. What changes have the Iñupiaq people observed in their environment?
   b. What is the benefit of multiple ources of data? For example, observational data and data gathered using tools (e.g., satellite images) — when looking at environmental change? How do the Iñupiaq people's observations and historical regional knowledge work together with the data and analyses developed by the visiting scientists?
   c. Barrow, Alaska, and other Arctic regions may seem far removed from where you live. How is the information about environmental change in Barrow relevant to your local environment? What might the changes in Barrow mean for the rest of the world?

Have students end by reading the Arctic Climate Perspectives video background essay to help them synthesize their thoughts about Arctic climate change and what it means to them.