Dr Tristan Pearce - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Dr Tristan Pearce

Dr Tristan Pearce is a Research Fellow with USC’s Sustainability Research Centre, whose work focuses on human adaptation to global environment change. His current research program centres on the Artic and the effects of climate change for the local Indigenous people - the Inuit - and their communities. The goal of this research is to develop a dynamic understanding of the processes and conditions affecting community vulnerability, resilience and adaptation to climate change.


“I am from northern British Columbia, Canada and I have always loved cold weather and been intrigued by Indigenous cultures and livelihoods. Climate change is already affecting my home region and becomes even more pronounced as you travel further north, with the Arctic a global climate change hotspot. Inuit have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years and have a wealth of knowledge about the environment and wildlife they depend on for subsistence. I feel privileged to be able to work with Inuit and draw upon western science and Inuit traditional knowledge to better understand changes in the climate and implications for environments and human livelihoods. This involves me living with Inuit, hunting, fishing and trapping and learning about the challenges they face with climate change. I am continually excited to learn from Inuit knowledge and skills important for safe and successful hunting in extremely remote and harsh conditions. Working with Inuit in the Arctic is a whole new type of education for me.” 

Dr Pearce is working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from USC and Universities in Canada, and Inuit communities on several related projects that aim to integrate social, biophysical, atmospheric, and health sciences, and local and traditional knowledge to advance understanding of human adaptation to climate change in the Arctic.

“The Canadian Arctic is widely regarded as a global hotspot of climate change impacts, and implications will be particularly pronounced for Inuit (Indigenous peoples in the Arctic), many whom depend on hunting, fishing, and trapping, activities which continue to underpin livelihoods and economies, but which also create particular sensitivities to the rapidly changing climate. Inuit will have to adapt, and this is reflected in the increasing urgency with which adaptation is being considered in the Arctic. To initiate adaptation actions, decision makers and communities need to understand the nature of vulnerability to climate change in terms of who and what are sensitive, to what stresses, in what way, and why, and also the capacity to adapt. This requires working with people in communities to identify what climatic stresses are relevant and important to them beyond those selected a priori by researchers, including the role of non-climatic drivers of change.”

An example of one of Dr Pearce’s research projects is the Vulnerability, Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change in the Arctic project, funded by Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and ArcticNet, a Network of Centres of Excellence of Canada.

The research project will build on completed vulnerability, resilience and adaptation research to develop and validate a novel, longitudinal community-based monitoring approach. This includes: (1) longitudinal reanalysis: replicate community vulnerability assessments conducted ten years prior to examine how continuing socio-ecological changes have affected human-environment interactions; and (2) community-based monitoring: equip Inuit hunters with GPS units to take on every trip throughout the year to record land use data. The research explores decisions made, hazards faced, coping mechanisms used, unusual conditions encountered, challenges experienced, and changes observed. Such monitoring will help develop real-time data on land-use, climate-related risks, adaptive responses, and limits to adaptation. The expected outcomes of this project will contribute to a dynamic understanding of how Inuit are affected by and respond to climate change, and identify opportunities to support Inuit adaptation.

Research significance and impacts

This research is significant because it advances our understanding of how climate change is affecting the Arctic and how Inuit are experiencing and responding to these changes. The research puts a ‘human face’ on climate change. The Arctic is often referred to as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for global climate change, meaning that climate change impacts in the Arctic are an early warning signal, and are likely indicative of future impacts in more southern regions.