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Living on the edge

Learning objectives

  • To investigate why people live in the Arctic
  • To undertake an enquiry into the changing nature of living in the Arctic
  • To understand the implications of climate change on the lives of people in the Arctic

Pole position

As an introductory activity students could be asked why people live in the Arctic. The indigenous inhabitants, who have lived in the region for thousands of years have adapted to a lifestyle based on the animal resources supplemented by transfer payments, or social welfare programmes, of their respective nations. More recently goods have been imported into the Arctic as a result of globalisation.

Migrants to the area are attracted by the prospect of higher paid service jobs in such areas as resource extraction, tourism or education. Examples such as the influx of 60 Thai nationals to Longyearbyen or the 15% of Danish migrants to Greenland

The images on the multimedia interactive they can be used to compare the site and situation of the settlements, also using the co-ordinates to look at the wider situation

Eg Longyearbyen on flat land at the foot of a glaciated mountain, the corrie can clearly be seen in the background.

The site and situation of Iqaluit is not so easy to describe from the image given!

Background information on the settlements:

Longyearbyen in Svalbard was established as a centre for coal mining in 1906 by John Longyear an American businessman. The current site is located on an outwash plain of the Longyear Glacier. The town can be re-supplied by ship during the ice free season. Air transport throughout the year is provided by a strip capable of dealing with 737 jets. The coal is nowadays only used to power the local power station. Nowadays Tourism, scientific research and conferences are the main economic activities of this Norwegian administered archipelago. It is important to stress that there are no indigenous inhabitants living in Svalbard as people leave when their work contracts are finished.

Iqaluit was set up by the U.S. Air Force in 1942 as a transit point for aircraft to the war in Europe. The infrastructure attracted 489 Inuit by 1957 to the employment possibilities offered by the base. The Americans left the area in 1963 and the town was made the main Canadian administrative center for the Eastern Arctic. In 1999 it was made the capital of the newly established Canadian territory of Nunavut. The city with a population of 5959(2003) is located in the gentle hills surrounding the Koojesse Inlet.

This site was set up in 1947 as an airfield during the Cold War. In 1953 a migration of Inuit led to the establishment of the modern settlement of Resolute. The current site is located in a bay beneath low hills some seven kilometers from the airport which acts as a transportation hub for the High Arctic. The current population stands at 215 people.

Located on a on a site which slopes downward from the Qaanaaq Ice Cap, the town is bisected by a river from the ice cap which acts as the town water supply during the summer months. The town was established in 1953 when Inuit families were relocated from the village of Dundas due to the establishment of the Thule Air Base. Qaanaaq was chosen due to its relatively benign climate and abundance of marine animals.


The varied nature of the settlements are examined, some have been abandoned. It introduces the occupations and relative sizes of the settlements and develops skills of locating and drawing graphs on a map.


The map at the top enlarges to a multimedia interactive showing the 2010 map first, the switch to the 2070 map is at the bottom of the map.

An enquiry exercise looking at the lives of nine people in the Qaanaaq region whose lives will be changed by climate change and the loss of the glaciers and sea ice. Some will be winners some losers, students use the information to decide who belongs to which group. There are no definitive answers it is the students' reasoning which should be encouraged.

This could be done with the students working in small groups, each taking the role of one of the people in the groups and then making a presentation as to how their life will change.

The long journey

A prediction exercise to show how the lives of people have changed and will change in the future.

The blue route is the sledge route over the ice field that would have been taken by grandfather hunting in 1970. The multi year ice never forms around Cape Alexander which means that travel to the Humboldt glacier has to be undertaken over the coastal ice foot, mountains and glaciers. April is the optimum time for this type of travel. The hunting of the polar bear is only done by the elite of the 64 Inuit hunters. The polar bear migrates over the ice bridge from Canada which at its closest point is 35 kilometers away.

The yellow route is that used by the son in 2010 to travel by speed boat. Trips which used to take up to a month can now be done in a week. The boats are used to outrun the bad weather which can occur especially around Cape Alexander just south of Etah. Travel can also be restricted by the shifting ice patterns which can alter the world's largest polyna (a Russian word meaning "an enclosed area of unfrozen water surrounded by ice.") which the Inuit use as a source of food and material. Land animals such as caribou and muskoxen are hunted on a narrow band of land never more than 6 kilometers deep from the coast to the edge of the Greenland ice cap.

The red route is that of the grandson in 2020 based on how an expedition cruise ship would travel from Qaanaaq in the polnya towards the Humboldt Glacier at 80 degrees north latitude. The cruise ship must sail to the south of Herbert Island as this is where the deepest water can be found. These ships are either ice strengthened or ice breakers to allow them to travel towards the Humboldt glacier.

Suggested activities:

Students could write a diary account of each of the trips or a piece of extended writing showing the similarities and differences of the routes taken and explaining reasons for the changes.

Polar Pitstop

Open ended enquiry based question could be discussed in small groups or used as an opportunity for extended writing.

Students design a web site home page for tourists in 2020. This could include such items as history, lifestyle, climate, physical geography, settlement, resource exploitation and the effects of climate change.

Teachers' notes

Notes on each chapter for information and tips on the activities in each section to help you plan how to use the site:


Home | 1: Climate change | 2: Living on the edge | 3: Arctic science | 4: Hunter or hunted? | 5: Postcard from the edge | 6: Troubled waters | 7: Resources from the edge | 8: Arctic Circumpolar Governance | 9: Snow, water, ice, permafrost | 10: Adapting to change

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