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IN DEPTH The Arctic’s southernmost village Located 1120 kilometers north of Montreal, Kuujjuarapik lies on the southern edge of Nunavik, Quebec’s Inuit region. This former fur trading post, formerly called Whale House since beluga whales were hunted there, at the mouth of the Great Whale River, enjoys a unique status in Nunavik. Unlike the other thirteen communities in the region, this village of 1500 people is shared by two ethnic groups, the Inuit and the Cree First Nation, a Native American people who are here at the northernmost point of their territory. Apart from a shared gymnasium and hockey arena, Kuujjuarapik (or Whapmagoostui, as the Cree call it) has two separate municipalities, two schools, two police stations, two fire stations, and so on. However, both communities are subject to the same ban. Kuujjuarapik- Whapmagoostui is what is known as a “dry” village, where the sale of wine, beer, and spirits is strictly controlled by the Inuit and Cree authorities. Along with obesity—due to a meat-rich diet incompatible with the consumption of the sodas and snacks brought by “modern civilization”— alcoholism is a challenging problem in northern communities. 1. The APT project is funded by the Fondation BNP-Paribas, which has provided a €560,000 grant. 2. The IPCC reports, published every six years, are based on the latest scientific findings. 34 CNRS INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE In Kuujjuarapik in the winter months, snowmobiles have replaced traditional Inuit dog sleds. T raveling in the Far North requires a great deal of patience, as the Inuit, who are used to long delays in the region’s airports, know only too well. On this December morning, we can experience it first hand. The Air Inuit flight we caught in Montreal is forced to land 150 kilometers from Kuujjuarapik, our final destination. In this Inuit village on the southern shores of Hudson Bay, at the mouth of the Great Whale River, a blizzard is raging, preventing all air traffic. These are unusual weather conditions for this time of year. “Because of climate change, the sea ice takes longer to form on the bay, creating highly unstable air masses,” we’re told. The largest terrestrial carbon reservoir This is only one of the many consequences of climate change in Nunavik, an Arctic region of Quebec where 90% of the population is Inuit. Here, not only is the sea ice shrinking every year, but the permafrost, soil that is permanently frozen and typical of the Arctic, is also thawing. And this is a serious issue not only for the infrastructure of the region’s fourteen municipalities—riddled with potholes and cracks on roads or airport runways, not to mention the ground gradually settling under house foundations—but also for the future of the planet’s climate. To find out more about this unsettling phenomenon, we decided to take a trip with Florent Dominé. This researcher at the Franco-Canadian Takuvik joint laboratory has launched an ambitious research project on permafrost called APT (Acceleration of Permafrost Thaw by Snow-Vegetation Interactions), which brings together eight French and Canadian laboratories.1 Permafrost accounts for 25% of the landmass in the northern hemisphere, an area the size of Canada. It is the largest terrestrial carbon reservoir on the planet, exceeding all known global fossil fuel reserves (oil, gas, and coal). “Since the last glacial period, 1700 billion tons of carbon of plant origin have accumulated there,” Dominé explains. “That’s twice the carbon in our atmosphere!” The danger is that the rise in atmospheric temperatures causes the permafrost to warm up, and even thaw in places. “Between 1992 and 2010, Nunavik recorded a 2°C increase in ground temperature at a depth of 4 meters,” says Michel Allard, a researcher from Quebec at the Takuvik laboratory and a participant in the APT project. And when it thaws, permafrost releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, two potent greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere. “If all the carbon trapped in the permafrost were released, it could have a dramatic effect on global warming,” says Dominé. The scientist believes temperatures could rise by as much as 5 to 8°C by 2100, compared with the 4°C forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)2 in its worst-case scenario, which does not take into account these complex, recently discovered processes. Three sites under scrutiny “We must urgently include permafrost in climate models,” Dominé insists. “To do this, we need to know precisely how its temperature regime changes according to external conditions (such as air temperature, wind speed, and type of soil) as well as—and this is not so well known—the characteristics of the snow cover that lies above it and insulates it in winter.” A second crucial area of research involves


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