With this in mind, two Canadian researchers have reviewed the large body of literature on climate change vulnerability in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) in the western Canadian Arctic. Their plan? To identify gaps in knowledge.

"A lot of research was getting duplicated," James Ford of McGill University, Canada, told environmentalresearchweb. "Moreover, there was little understanding of priorities for future research because we didn't know what had been researched. So we aimed to find all publications in both the scientific and grey literature that have relevance for understanding how the climate of the ISR is changing, its human dimensions, and potential implications of future climate change."

Ford says the work provides a basis for scientists and policy makers to start thinking about how to promote adaptation to climate change.

Together with Tristan Pearce of the University of Guelph, Canada, Ford analysed 420 publications from the scientific and "grey" – non-peer-reviewed – literature.

"The methodology we develop has relevance for climate change studies in general – there is a proliferation of climate change studies but few people have stood back and said 'what do we know, what do we need to know'," added Ford. "Specifically, we use a systematic literature review, a technique very common in the health sciences but not in environmental science. Such reviews offer considerable promise, especially in light of challenges to the IPCC review process that have emerged in recent months."

Such reviews offer considerable promise, especially in light of challenges to the IPCC review process that have emerged in recent months. James Ford

The pair concluded that a lot is known about the climate changes that are happening in the region right now and how human systems are experiencing and adapting to them. "We certainly know enough to start developing adaptation plans to help communities deal with climate change," said Ford.

Communities have been experiencing more unpredictable weather, thinner ice and earlier ice break-up, decreasing snowfall on land, accelerated coastal erosion, melting permafrost, ground slumping, increased sedimentation, new species of wildlife, less healthy wildlife, warmer winters and more intense sun. This has affected food security, human health, transportation access, travel routes to hunting areas, municipal infrastructure and traditional cultural activities.

There's also plenty of know-how on which factors determine vulnerability, how the climate in the region is likely to change in the future, and the potential effects of this on biophysical systems, such as permafrost, hydrology or specific species of plant or animal.

"What we don't know too well, however, is how projected future changes might affect human systems, and this is an important research need," said Ford. "Moreover, our understanding of the vulnerability of human systems is varied – we know a lot about the vulnerability of the hunting sector but less about how health might be affected by climate change or the economy."

Ford and Pearce are now working with northern science bodies to discuss these research gaps. "The project has led to the development of targeted research to address research needs, working with two communities to develop adaptation plans funded through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada," said Ford. The team also plans to replicate the study in the eastern Canadian Arctic.

Adaptation measures in the ISR to date have included substituting traditional foods with store foods when hunting areas can't be reached, altering the timing and methods of subsistence activities, developing new transport routes to avoid dangerous areas, strengthening infrastructure, setting up community evacuation plans to deal with extreme events, establishing youth–elder mentoring schemes to pass on traditional knowledge on environmental risks and increased use of community freezers to store traditional foods. There have been few adaptations reported in the health, cultural and education or economy and business sectors.

The researchers reported their work in ERL.