CEN Bulletin 22
January 2021
The CEN Bulletin is written for CEN members and the scientific community and others interested in northern environmental research. The material provided showcases the work of its members and aims to disseminate information on CEN activities.

The CEN management wishes you a happy new year. May this new year be marked by solidarity, collaboration and, hopefully, long-awaited reunions.
(Photo credits: Émilie Desjardins)

Scientific highlights
Vestige of the remaining Ward Hunt Ice Shelf in the Last Ice Area (credit: CEN, Laval University)

We need to do more to save glacial habitats

On July 31, the Milne Sea Ice Shelf in the Canadian High Arctic was fractured. It was the only ice shelf that was still intact. A 79 km² block, the equivalent of one-sixth the size of the island of Montreal, broke off and was swept away by the currents in a matter of hours.

It is the work of Professor Warwick Vincent and his colleague from Carleton University, Derek Mueller, published in the journal Science last November, that raises the urgency of taking action to preserve these exceptional ecosystems. For more than 20 years, the researchers have been studying the organisms whose existence is directly related to the presence of permanent ice in this region of the globe.

The north coast of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the northernmost coastal zone in the world, is home to the thickest and oldest sea ice on earth. These habitats are the ultimate refuges for species that depend on sea ice. These ice shelves are, in a way, sentinels of climate, since their degradation is caused by temperature increases that particularly affect northern regions. The accelerated degradation of these platforms, formed by millennia of accumulation of frozen seawater and snow, sounds the alarm about the danger that threatens all glacial habitats and the species that depend on them.

One thing is certain: reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the only measure that can ensure the survival of glacial habitats and preserve the traditional Inuit way of life intimately associated with these habitats. In such a context, compliance with the Paris Agreement is indispensable.

In addition to these indirect effects of human activities, certain activities such as mining and oil exploration, shipping and cruises directly threaten the integrity of glacial habitats. This is why, following requests from the Government of Nunavut, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the World Wildlife Fund, a vast area in the north of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic has been designated as a Marine Protected Area. However, human activities are only limited until 2024. Professor Vincent mentions that this protection must become permanent and must even be extended to a larger area to ensure the protection of these unique ecosystems.

To learn more:
This research has been the subject of several news articles: here and here
Original article here

Top: view of South Sawtooth Lake with its ice cover with Eureka Sound and Axel Heiberg Island in background (credit: Pierre Francus) Bottom: a photo of a sediment core of South Sawtooth Lake with titanium profiles measured at INRS by the Itrax scanner.

The influence of Atlantic water temperatures on Arctic climate

Pierre Francus, Professor at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS)

The Arctic is warming 2 to 3 times faster than the rest of the planet. The increase in temperature is modulated by natural climate variability, one of the important drivers of which is the variation in North Atlantic water temperatures.

These fluctuations, known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), are linked to major climatic upheavals, such as the droughts in North America or the severity of hurricanes in recent years. However, little is known about the exact length of the AMO cycle, whether it has existed for a long time and whether it influences the climate of the Arctic.

During his PhD and postdoctoral work, François Lapointe and a team of Quebec researchers, including CEN researchers at INRS, Pierre Francus and Thibault Labarre, and their American colleagues, analyzed annually laminated sediments (varves) deposited in South Sawtooth Lake on Ellesmere Island, Canada. The chemical and granulometric analysis of each varve, using a unique protocol developed at INRS, allowed them to trace, year after year, the spring layers, rich in titanium and fine sediments, which correspond to the important snowmelt that occurs when the waters of the North Atlantic are cold.

The study showed that the AMO influences much of the climate of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, that the AMO has existed for 2900 years, and that current Atlantic temperatures are the warmest in nearly three millennia. These data represent the longest reconstruction of the AMO and will allow climatologists to incorporate the influence of Atlantic temperatures and ocean-atmosphere interactions into their models to generate better climate predictions.

Open access article here

Portrait of a CEN researcher
Juan Carlos Villarreal

Since Juan Carlos Villarreals arrival as a professor in the Department of Biology at Laval University, his research has focused on phylogeny, biodiversity, conservation and the impact of climate change on the groups of organisms that make up a large part of the photosynthetic biomass and the base of the food chain of the boreal and subarctic regions: bryophytes and lichens. His previous work has focused on the systematics, diversity, phylogeny of hornworts and symbiotic interactions between bryophytes and bacteria in tropical environments.

Bryophytes and lichens play a fundamental role in the global biogeochemical cycles of carbon and nitrogen both directly and through their interactions with the microbiome. Therefore, the main current objective of his research is to reconstruct their historical diversity in order to make predictions on the impact of climate change on the distribution of plant species and their microbiome.

He is also invested in the study of the genomic and functional diversity of bacteria and viruses associated with northern lichens and bryophytes. With a multicultural and talented team, Juan Carlos is trying to understand the impact of symbioses between microorganisms and cryptograms in the lichen spruce forest and subarctic regions. Juan Carlos has been interested in the North since 2016 and works at the Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik and the Parc des Grands Jardins research stations.

Pictures come from the labs website.

Student perspective
Credits: Rachel Guindon

Research stay in Norway

Rachel Guindon, Master’s student in Biology, Laval University

I spent the second year of my masters degree doing an international internship at the Norwegian University of Sciences and Technologies (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. Invited to join the BLUES (Biodiversity, Land Use and Ecosystem Services) research group within the Department of Natural History at NTNU, I worked on my masters project in collaboration with my co-director James D. M. Speed, expert in plant-herbivore interactions. This group involves several master’s and PhD students working, for example, on the effects of reindeer or moose on vegetation. These subjects, while rooted in a Norwegian context, are also comparable to the North American reality. In March 2020, I participated with my research group to the international Nordic Oikos Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland. I presented my masters project about the effect of the introduction of muskox on the vegetation of Nunavik (Northern Quebec) through a poster presentation and "Speed talk” competition, for which I won a prize.

This kind of research stay is a great opportunity to meet and exchange with different people while developing a vast network, both in academic and government institutions. For example, I had the opportunity to meet Norways Prime Minister Erna Solberg during a student event about education, gender equality and environment. Biologists from the Miljødirektoratet (Norwegian Environmental Agency) also invited me to join for fieldwork activities in Dovrefjell, where there is an introduced population of muskoxen. One of the highlights of the fieldwork was our intervention following a collision between a muskox and a train, a scene that would be very unlikely to witness in Northern Quebec. We also conducted the annual survey of the muskox population by walking through the valleys and the steep mountains of Dovrefjell. This collaboration was a fabulous opportunity to compare the situation of this large herbivore between Norway and Nunavik, particularly regarding the management approaches and tools used by the environmental authorities.

In addition to all this new knowledge acquired, I also had the chance to learn new skills outside my field of research. By staying in Trondheim for nearly a year, I had time to improve my Norwegian as well as my understanding of the Scandinavian model. I also learned how to spin qiviut, the exceptional inner wool of the muskox fur. After this unforgettable research stay, I can only encourage students to develop and maintain international collaborations and exchanges.

Credits: Vincent Taillard
Treatment of contaminated soils in Nunavik: challenges in finding an adapted solution

By Vincent Taillard, P.Eng, M.Sc. Ph.D. student, Institut national de la recherche scientifique - Centre Eau Terre Environnement (INRS-ETE) and Gaëlle Baïlon-Poujol, Environmental Specialist, Kativik Regional Government

In Nunavik, the risk of oil spills is extremely high because each building has its own oil tank. Contaminated soils are usually excavated and then transported at great expense to treatment centers outside the region. Nunavik is in great need of an effective alternative solution adapted to the northern reality. In 2018, a collaborative research project was therefore initiated with the involvement of the Kativik Regional Government (KRG) and the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau (KMHB). This ambitious research to find an innovative process for treating contaminated soil under buildings necessarily included a test phase on site in a Nunavik village. Preparing for a field intervention in a remote region has its share of challenges and must be rigorous in order to take into account the particularities of the northern reality:

1. Consultation with organizations that have developed specific expertise: Identify potential constraints and integrate them into the project definition.

2. Study of the socio-cultural and ethical aspects of research in indigenous communities: An indispensable step is to consult the guides to good practices in northern research published by various organizations and study groups.

3. Definition of the roles of the various collaborators: the involvement of each of the partners was one of the keys to the projects success. For example, KRG acted as a facilitator in the administrative procedures (authorizations, COVID-19 aspect, etc.) and the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau provided indispensable logistical and technical support once on site.

Intervention in the field: new obstacles

In 2018 and 2019, the presentations provided an opportunity to introduce oneself, to meet local collaborators and various organizations and institutions, and to prepare the test site. In 2020, due to the global pandemic, access to Nunavik was very limited during the spring, and the field work initially planned for four months had to be shortened to two months. Despite this, the in-situ treatment tests went well and allowed for the collection of all the necessary data.

Towards a sustainable solution

Once the research and development project is completed, the deployment of the technology will therefore make it possible to offer a processing tool that will not only be adapted to the specific context of Nunavik, but also exploitable by the local community.

Doing research during the pandemic

Rachel Guindon, Masters student in Biology, Université Laval

Continuing to do research at home during a pandemic requires discipline, motivation and determination, but also... time for yourself! And what better way to do this than to reconnect with your research subject through the discovery of traditional knowledge. It was during my fieldwork in Nunavik on muskoxen that I noticed the qiviut, the soft and insulating wool of this large Arctic herbivore, clinging to the shrubs of the tundra. Having learned the basics of wool-spinning from fellow biologists during a research internship in Norway, I decided to start using the wool I had collected at the time. The confinement of the fall of 2020 left me several evenings free to practice and improve my spinning techniques. I was able to find an old Quebec spinning wheel over 100 years old that allows me to spin qiviut faster, while discovering that Quebec had a real expertise in the production of spinning wheels, tools that have now fallen into oblivion. Youtube proved to be very useful in finding videos of techniques from Inuit from Nunavut and Alaska, true masters in the art of spinning and knitting this unique wool that is said to be eight times warmer than sheeps wool. In addition to renewing my connection with spinning, a traditional knowledge from Quebec, I was able to learn more about the use and importance of qiviut in Inuit communities while staying in touch with my research topic!

CEN news

Have you noticed the new CEN logo?

The Centre for northern studies logo now contains all the letters of the acronym. However, it has retained some of its original colors and appearance. Many thanks to Madeleine-Zoé Corbeil-Robitaille for the graphic design!

The CEN at the heart of equity, diversity and inclusion issues!

The CEN believes that it is essential for its entire community to evolve in an inclusive, welcoming, responsible and egalitarian space, so that each person can develop and contribute to the reflection and development of knowledge on current northern issues. In addition, the CEN believes that diversity of experiences, perspectives, concerns and thinking is a powerful driver of research and innovation. To this end, CEN has developed a concrete action plan with measurable goals for equity, diversity and inclusion. This action plan, whose development was mainly led by Marie-josé Naud, is available on the CEN website. The CEN management invites its members to familiarize themselves with the action plan and feel free to share any comments, suggestions and concerns.

A voxpop on inclusion in northern research was held on December 8-9-10 during the Arctic Change 2020 scientific meeting. The project was carried out by the #InclusionNorthernResearch project team, in partnership with Inuit youth from the Arviat Film Society. The objectives of the initiative are as follows:

1. Hear the diverse voices within our community on their experiences;

2. Celebrate the diversity enriching our research community;

3. Identify obstacles and barriers with an intersectional approach;

4. Lift these barriers as a community;

5. Promote Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for our community;

6. Do better!

This voxpop is a series of short films that showcase different backgrounds of members of the northern research community and their reflections on the issue of inclusion within this community. The short films are available here. Many thanks to Marie-José Naud and everyone involved in this wonderful project!

More on research

Algae in the middle of the Arctic winter?

Read this article

How can moose limit the effects of climate change?

Read this article

Links between climate, volcanism and human history

The research team used samples from more than 9000 trees to accurately reconstruct annual summer temperatures in Eurasia and North America since year 1 AD. The team compared significant climatic variations with major volcanic eruptions and historical events.

Read the news article or read the original article
International outreach

CEN researchers participate in a trans-disciplinary project on climate-environment-culture interactions

James Woollett, Najat Bhiry and Reinhard Pienitz have received support from the Belmont Forum for a trans-disciplinary project focusing on culture-environment interactions in response to climate change in the Arctic-subarctic North Atlantic. The project, involving participants from 20 institutions in eight countries, aims to assess the resilience and vulnerability of these regions. The project will be carried out by integrating historical and present data from Nunavik, Labrador, Greenland and Iceland. These data will be used to relate 1) the natural variability of sea ice, climate and vegetation, 2) the adaptation of local human populations to their habitat and 3) the representation and the cultural perception of natural environments by local and non-local populations.

Learn more about the project

Special distinctions

Congratulations to Michel Allard, CEN member and professor in the Faculty of Forestry, Geography and Geomatics, promoted to the rank of professor emeritus by Université Laval! This promotion to the rank of Emeritus is the highest recognition granted by Université Laval to a faculty member. It underscores the brilliant scientific and academic career of Professor Michel Allard and the extent of his contribution to the advancement of knowledge in quaternary geology, geomorphology, permafrost science and climatology. His work, which has focused on the impact of thawing permafrost on the natural environment and infrastructure in the Far North, has led to concrete improvements in the lives of these communities and the resilience of their development to climate change.

Serge Payette, professor in the Department of Biology at Laval University, will soon enter the cenacle of the Order of Canada. This pioneer of research on Quebecs northern environments receives this distinction for his major contributions to research on climate change and the northern flora of Quebec and Labrador. Congratulations for this well-deserved recognition!

Congratulations to David Didier, now professor in geography at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, who received the Governor Generals Academic Gold Medal. This recognition highlights the quality of his academic record in the context of his PhD on the development and analysis of a method for mapping coastal submersion in the estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Mark your calendars!
11-12 February 2021 - CENs Annual Symposium 2021 - 60th (in virtual)
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