Environmental Monitoring and Research

Environmental change around northern communities: from Boreal forest to Arctic tundra

Wednesday, November 21, 2018 - 16:30 to 19:00 Multiplex Gym (DND)


A.E. Coles (Presenting)
Wilfrid Laurier University

S.V. Kokelj
NWT Geological Survey

J.L. Baltzer
Wilfrid Laurier University

The communities of the Northwest Territories cover a huge range of climate, geology, permafrost, and land cover settings: they extend from Boreal forest to Arctic tundra, span 12 degrees of latitude, and transition all of the permafrost zones and geological settings from Precambrian Shield to Cordillera. Rapid climate warming in the Northwest Territories – at four times the rate of the global average – is driving significant environmental change, such as widespread permafrost thaw, shorter winters and longer summers, tundra shrubification, biome and wildfire regime shifts, and changes in water quality and aquatic health. Yet, the nature and magnitude of environmental changes affecting communities are not ubiquitous. This is because while these environmental changes are a response to climate warming, the different climate, geology, permafrost, and land cover settings dictate the types and trajectories of changes. However, currently we have either site-specific examples or broad-brush generalisations about the consequences of climate change, and therefore little understanding of how climate change-related stressors vary by setting. Here, we focus on the environmental changes affecting the Northwest Territories’ 33 communities. Through a systematic review and meta-analysis of environmental studies conducted in or around each community, we investigate the environmental changes affecting each community. Then, using gridded climate data and remote sensing-derived indices of surface changes that are supplemented with site-specific data, we determine how different settings (geology, land cover, etc.) influence the nature and magnitude of those environmental changes and the occurrence of climate-related phenomena. We aim to determine the different factors that make a community vulnerable to environmental changes. This broad-scale and holistic approach is valuable for exploring interactions and feedbacks between climate forcing, landscape setting, and environmental responses. Ultimately, this study will provide insight on the variation in stressors and responses affecting communities across a wide range of climate and landscape settings encountered in the North. The outputs will be useful in the implementation of effective, community-specific climate change adaptation measures, and can also be used to inform the development of broader climate change policies.