Photo: S-E. Arndt/Azote

Arctic social-ecological case studies

The Arctic Resilience Report uses a divere set of case studies to analyze the social-ecological attributes of places that enable resilient outcomes in the Arctic

Chapter 4 of the Arctic Resilience Report uses a diverse set of case studies to analyze the social-ecological attributes of places that enable resilient outcomes in the Arctic. These cases are geographically diverse and illustrate different ways in which local people have managed to navigate multiple drivers of change, shocks and sometimes regime shifts.

Below you will find the detailed case study descriptions upon which the analysis was based.

Cases exhibiting resilience (R) are those in which the social-ecological system has been able to maintain its identity, function and structure despite changes in the broader social or ecological context. Cases exhibiting loss of resilience (LoR) are those in which there has been a loss of livelihoods, identity, function and structure. Cases exhibiting transformation (T) are those in which people have acted to purposefully modify the system’s identity, function and structure to better suit their needs.

Cases where sufficient knowledge was available were collected using a standardized template. Highlighted terms in the descriptions below are defined in a glossary at the end of each document.

Click on the links (PDFs) below for further information:

Cases exhibiting resilience (R)
Savoonga – Maintaining traditional Yupik whaling practices – USA
The St. Lawrence Island Yupik whalers created a new whaling season. The case shows the potential for innovation and adaptation to help offset some impacts from a changing climate and how legislation can support this.

Dempster Highway – Highway development and Porcupine caribou herd –Canada
This case study focuses on how the introduction of this new infrastructure transformed local social systems and the way in which they deal with their primary resources; the Porcupine caribou herd.

Näätämö River - Skolt Sámi salmon fishing and river restoration - Finland
Skolt Sámi traditional fishing communities are reliant on salmon in the Näätämö River for sustenance and cultural livelihoods. How the Skolt Sámi cope with external stresses on the river provides insight on their resilience as a community.

Kiruna – Relocation for mining activities – Sweden
Kiruna is home to the world’s largest underground mine. The iron mining activity in the area has caused geological destabilization, deformation zones and cracks on the surface so the town must be relocated. This case study focuses on the main initiators of the relocation process.

Porsáŋgu and Várjat Vuota Varanger fjords – Social-ecological change of coastal communities - Norway
These fjords have experienced substantial social-ecological changes that may result in regime shifts. The communities living along the shorelines are heavily dependent on fishing; both from the revenues and for their cultural wellbeing. Social and governance responses to the changes have enabled these communities to adapt and maintain their livelihoods.

Unjárga/Nesseby - Moth larvae outbreaks and the adaptation of local sheep farming and reindeer herding– Norway
Moth larvae outbreaks in Unjárga/Nesseby, were most likely caused by a milder climate and changing seasonality, were extensive between 2005 and 2009. These outbreaks affected both sheep and reindeer. Farmers and herders have found that grazing by sheep and reindeer together, allows coping with the moth outbreak.

Yamal Yamal Peninsula - Reindeer herding in Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug– Russia
Herding for the Nenets is a traditional livelihood linking cultural practices and well-being to key ecological dynamics. The Nenets have been adapting to these changes in these dynamics, and fared comparatively well in terms of being able to maintain their traditional way of life. Currently, the largest disturbance to herding is the increase in infrastructure related to gas exploration and transportation, to which Nenet herders are also adapting.

Bering Strait – Arctic shipping – International
This case study involves biophysical as well as socio-economic components. The changes in sea ice is opening for increased boat traffic, while having varying effects on marine mammals. All three of the main shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean pass through the Bering Strait. It is likely that ship strikes and whale deaths are likely to occur and increase without proactive policy.

Cases of loss of resilience (LoR)
Great Northern Peninsula – Seal industry – Canada
While this case is set in the sub-Arctic, the impacts of international drivers in the form of animal welfare pressure on the trade of seal products faced by seal hunters here are similar around the Arctic. This case focuses on how these external demands have impacted the industry in Newfoundland.

Finnmark – Traditional reindeer herding and development - Norway
This case contributes to understanding the resilience of traditional livelihoods to both biophysical forces driven by climate change, and by social forcing driven by energy and infrastructure development, and the cultural clash/conflict between a First Nations communities and modern Norway.

Vilhelmina North reindeer herding community – Reindeer husbandry – Sweden
This case focuses on a specific herding community. They are dealing multiple disturbances and stressors including: climate change, technology, and changes in standard of living. In addition, institutional inconsistencies across governance levels have also had impacts on reindeer herding practices.

Teriberka – Gas and institutional drivers – Russia
Teriberka is an example of a system facing collapse due to a series of different drivers. While the village has had a past of high development, since the 1960s it has undergone a series of disturbances as a result of institutional and economic changes that have greatly reduced the resilience of this village’s ability to support its inhabitants.

Varnek – Shipping in the Barents Sea – Russia
Increased shipping activities along the Northern Sea Route have direct and indirect impacts on the local environment and on socio-economic and cultural life of the local coastal Arctic communities that are heavily and directly dependent on land and marine resources and their environment.

Kyllakh Village – Flooding and relocation – Russia
During the last decade the number of catastrophic floods on Lena River, driven by climate change, has dramatically increased forcing relocation of villages such as Kyallakh. Due to a number of socio-economic challenges, only a small number of residents moved to the new settlement leaving them vulnerable to floods.

Great Northern Peninsula – Cod fishery collapse – CanadaGreat Northern Peninsula – Cod fishery collapse – Canada
Cod fishing was the economic focus of Newfoundland and essential to the well-being of the communities of the Great Northern Peninsula. The collapse of the cod fishing industry and the moratorium in 1992 led to out-migration, which reduced local locally to develop new fisheries, e.g. crustaceans.

Newtok – Climate change-driven relocation of coastal indigenous communities – USA
Along parts of the Alaskan coastline, increased wave action due to melting sea ice combined with thawing permafrost is causing rapid coastal erosion forcing relocation of Newtok and of at least 12 other communities. Relocation is complicated by cultural, financial and jurisdictional factors, and it is remains unclear how to best implement the relocation plans.

Paamiut – Cod to shrimp fishery transition – Greenland
Greenland experienced a cod-to-shrimp transition in the 20th century mediated by climatic changes and overfishing. This case focuses on this transition in the west Greenland community of Paamiut in terms of how ecological, socio-economic and institutional factors influenced the outcome of this transition.

Disko Bay – Sea ice reduction’s impact on resource dependent communities – Greenland
Since the 1980s, the climate in Disko Bay has warmed substantially and sea-ice cover has reduced by 50%, and freezing later. Change in sea-ice has direct impacts for transport, food security, safety, gender roles, etc. Although local residents have learnt how to cope with changing ice conditions current government regulations and new living conditions limit local residents’ ability to be flexible and mobile to manage environmental change.

Qaanaaq district – Migratory fishers and hunters to re-located communities – Greenland
As the melting of ice arrives earlier each summer, mobility has been strongly affected, fishing and hunting is becoming more difficult and risky. With less mobility there are also weaker social bonds between communities, which are key to face the challenges of long cold winters. As consequence many are moving to the cities and young people do not find incentives to continue with traditional livelihoods and local practices.

Siglufjörður – Collapse of the herring fishery and the social consequences – Iceland
Siglufjörður went from being the herring capital of Iceland to a collapsed industry, with subsequent out-migration and limited livelihood options locally. The collapse was due to exploitation practices but also due to changes in water conditions that moved these fishing grounds, as well as over-investment in the herring industry.

Cases of transformation (T)
Cape Dorset – From nomadic hunters to international art sensations – Canada
The Inuit of Cape Dorset Canada are navigating a 60-year transformation from nomadic hunters to international art sensations. The Inuit of Cape Dorset demonstrate resilience to systematic colonization and repression of their language and culture as well as dramatic ecological changes in sea-ice vital to Inuit food security and well-being

Sisimiut – Cod to shrimp fishery transition – Greenland
Greenland experienced a cod-to-shrimp transition in the 20th century mediated by climatic changes and overfishing. This case focuses on a successful transition in Sisimiut in terms of how ecological, socio-economic and institutional factors influenced the outcome of this transition.

Barents Region - Metal mining for northern communities - Finland
In the north of Finland, there are immense reserves of diverse raw materials. As climate change increases accessibility to these raw materials, pre-emptive institutional measures are being taken to reduce social and environmental impacts of the mining industry.

Húsavík in Skjálfandi Bay – Fishing to whale watching tourism – Iceland
A number of external (national and international) regulations (including whaling moratorium and the introduction of the individual transferable quota system) have negatively affected the fishing sector. These changes led to reorganization of Húsavik’s fishing community to a more tourist-orientated one.

Igloolik – Food security in Arctic Inuit community – Nunavut, Canada
As for many indigenous Arctic communities, Igloolik’s food system has expanded to become dual: food security is determined by harvested traditional foods and store-bought foods imported from mainland Canada. This case illustrates the need for new the new food systems to be integrated with traditional food systems in order to enhance rather than reduce both food security and culture.

Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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