A University of British Columbia Arctic expert will help to identify the impacts of the rapid environmental changes in Canada’s North and develop an adaptation strategy, as part of a team of researchers that has received a $4-million grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
Researchers from ten Canadian universities will study the changing permafrost and snow conditions affecting the landscape, water, and wildlife of the tundra as well as their impact on northern communities and natural resource industries in a project entitled Arctic Development and Adaptation to Permafrost in Transition (ADAPT).
The team will comprise 15 experts in engineering and natural and applied sciences. UBC Prof. Greg Henry, Dept. of Geography, will lead research on tundra ecosystems, including vegetation and wildlife, one of the project’s four research themes. Other themes involve permafrost dynamics, aquatic ecosystems, and soil microbial systems.
“We’re grateful to NSERC for supporting this important international research initiative to benefit Canada’s delicate northern ecosystems and the human populations they support,” says Dr. John Hepburn, Vice President Research & International at UBC. “Effectively addressing global climate change requires a collaborative approach that involves multiple regions facing similar challenges.”
Researchers will work with a large number of collaborators from organizations across Canada and countries around the world, including France, the United States, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The research sites are spread out over a vast area of northern Canada, including the Yukon, Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, both shores of Hudson Bay, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut.
Henry will coordinate research for the terrestrial ecosystems section of the project and synthesize the results. His research will explore impacts of melting permafrost on tundra and the effects of snow level changes on water and nutrient availability in the soil and on plant distribution and growth.
“One of the strengths of our group is the extensive research experience of our scientists in different aspects of the North, from geophysics and microbiology to engineering and modeling,” says Prof. Warwick Vincent of Laval University, Canada Research Chair in Aquatic Ecosystems Studies and leader of the project. “Our goal is to create a reference for the Arctic land system in response to the critical changes taking place in Canada’s environment.”
“Our government recognizes how critical science is to improving the quality of life of Canadians and building a stronger economy,” says the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry. “Canada’s North possesses tremendous natural resource wealth and a growing economy. The provisions we announced in Budget 2011—including spending on infrastructure, education, research and clean energy—reflect the Government of Canada’s ongoing commitment to this vital region of the country.”
ADAPT is the first project to be funded through an Discovery Frontiers grant, which is part of a larger NSERC Frontiers initiative that addresses national research priorities and global challenges by supporting a small number of major new transformative and integrative activities.
“The Discovery Frontiers initiative allows us to focus substantial funding on a specific national research priority,” says Dr. Suzanne Fortier, President of NSERC. “This particular grant will help a team of Canada’s world-class northern researchers collaborate with their international counterparts to study environmental changes that have a dramatic impact on the North and affect the whole country.”
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