Participatory climate-risk modeling in the Arctic

The Arctic is undergoing transformative climate change, with profound implications for transportation systems. The lengthening of the shipping season in the Arctic Ocean is well-documented herein, with warming temperatures also compromising the operating period and safety of winter roads. Less studied are the more informal transportation networks involving use of unmaintained trails on frozen lakes, rivers, ocean, and the frozen ground, which are critically important for travel between communities, to cultural sites, and for practicing traditional hunting and fishing activities which have particular importance for Indigenous communities. In research conducted as part of the Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change (IHACC) project (, we have documented concerns among Inuit communities in Arctic Canada that changing trail access due to climate change is affecting a variety of health outcomes including compromising food security, impacting wellbeing, and reducing physical safety. In a recent paper published in Nature Climate Change (Ford et al., 2019) we developed trail access models which identify quantitative risk thresholds of ice and weather conditions that affect the ability and safety of using trails, based upon Indigenous knowledge and science. The proposed PhD project will take this work to the next level, examining how projected future changes in sea ice and weather conditions might affect trail conditions, working closely with Inuit communities. The PhD has 2 primary objectives:


  1. Using already developed trail access models, use downscaled global climate model data to model how climatic and ice-related thresholds and associated trail access might be affected at different levels of warming and over different timescales.
  2. Working with a number of Inuit communities, use participatory scenario planning approaches to examine what projected changes might mean for community livelihoods, culture, and well-being, and identify opportunities for adaptation.


The PhD project will be on the cutting edge of developing innovative interdisciplinary approaches to connect science and Indigenous knowledge, and will involve working in the region witnessing the most climate change globally. Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the project, the student will be supervised by a social scientist who works with Indigenous knowledge systems in the Arctic (Ford), a natural scientist with expertise in detecting and modeling change in sea ice (Shepherd), and public health scientist based in Canada who has expertise in participatory epidemiology (Harper).


The student will be expected to spend considerable time in Inuit communities in northern Canada, and be comfortable working in challenging cross-cultural contexts and climates. They will have strong modeling and/or statistical analysis training and be interested in engaging in a highly interdisciplinary and participatory project.  The PhD research will be undertaken within the larger IHACC collaboration.


Fit to NERC science


The project is aligned with NERCs focus on ‘societal challenges’ and ‘strategic research design’ by developing and operationalising a novel approach for combining diverse sources of knowledge—science and Indigenous knowledge—to understand potential trajectories of change in small Arctic communities. Its focus on using future risk projections to examine opportunities for adaptation working closely with communities using participatory scenario planning approaches, underpins the overarching goal of the work to build resilience to environmental hazards, another goal of NERC science. As the region witnessing the most dramatic climate change globally, the Arctic provides a unique opportunity to generate understanding on how rapid climate change interacts with human systems, develop and test new approaches, and examine opportunities for adaptation. The project is highly interdisciplinary, and thus more broadly fits into NERCs remit to train the next generation of researchers with skillsets that transcend traditional disciplinary silos. The PhD opportunity also comes at an opportune time with UKRI recently announcing that it will develop a multi-disciplinary UK-Canada Arctic research programme. The PhD research will be undertaken working closely with Inuit communities in Canada’s far north, and will work closely with Canadian partners and colleagues.


The student

The successful candidate will have an excellent academic record, and should be able to demonstrate evidence of engagement with interdisciplinary research, education, and/or work. Key attributes include:


  • Coursework and familiarity with both quantitative and qualitative methods, with a strong interest in integrating quantitative analysis and community-based qualitative fieldwork. Modeling skills are a strong asset, particularly climate modeling.
  • An interest in climate change
  • Experience working and/or travelling in the Arctic or to comparable settings
  • A high degree of self-motivation, initiative, and independence
  • Interpersonal skills enabling comfort and engagement of diverse cultures and peoples
  • Ability to adapt to, and work in, new cultural and development settings


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