Ecological impact on Canada's Arctic coastline linked to global climate change

May 16, 2011
Increases in the Navicula salinarum species at the time of the storm surge show that the lake went from a fresh to a saline-water system. (Highly magnified image: more than 3,000 would fit on the head of a pin.) Credit: Joshua Thienpont, Queen's University

Scientists from Queen's and Carleton universities head a national multidisciplinary research team that has uncovered startling new evidence of the destructive impact of global climate change on North America's largest Arctic delta.

"One of the most ominous threats of today is from , which can cause marine waters to inundate the land," says the team's co-leader, Queen's graduate student Joshua Thienpont. "The threat is especially acute in , where shrinking sea ice increases the risk of storm surges."

By studying growth rings from coastal shrubs and in the Mackenzie Delta region of the Northwest Territories – the scene of a widespread and ecologically destructive storm surge in 1999 – the researchers have discovered that the impact of these salt-water surges is unprecedented in the 1,000-year history of the lake.

"This had been predicted by all the models and now we have empirical evidence," says team co-leader Michael Pisaric, a geography professor at Carleton. The Inuvialuit, who live in the northwest , identified that a major surge had occurred in 1999, and assisted with field work.

The researchers studied the impact of salt water flooding on alder bushes along the coastline. More than half of the shrubs sampled were dead within a year of the 1999 surge, while an additional 37 per cent died within five years. A decade after the flood, the soils still contained high concentrations of salt. In addition, sediment core profiles from inland lakes revealed dramatic changes in the aquatic life – with a striking shift from fresh to salt-water species following the storm surge.

Dead vegetation killed by the 1999 storm surge is in stark contrast to the vegetation along the edges of waterways that receive regular freshwater (and thus survived the damage). Credit: Trevor Lantz, University of Victoria

"Our findings show this is ecologically unprecedented over the last millennium," says Queen's biology professor and team member John Smol, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change and winner of the 2004 NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal as Canada's top scientist. "The Arctic is on the front line of . It's a bellwether of things to come: what affects the Arctic eventually will affect us all."

Since nearly all Arctic indigenous communities are coastal, the damage from future surges could also have significant social impacts. The team predicts that cover, sea levels and the frequency and intensity of storms and marine storm surges will become more variable in the 21st century.

Other members of the team include Trevor Lantz from the University of Victoria, Steven Kokelj from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Steven Solomon from the Geological Survey of Canada and Queen's undergraduate student Holly Nesbitt. Their findings are published in the prestigious international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Explore further: Students develop safe-water system for dominican republic community

Related Stories

Coastal birds carry toxic ocean metals inland

May 25, 2010

A collaborative research team led by Queen's University biologists has found that potent metals like mercury and lead, ingested by Arctic seabirds feeding in the ocean, end up in the sediment of polar ponds.

Recommended for you

Big data confirms climate extremes are here to stay

4 hours ago

In a paper published online today in the journal Scientific Reports, published by Nature, Northeastern researchers Evan Kodra and Auroop Ganguly found that while global temperature is indeed increasing, so too is the variab ...

Peru's carbon quantified: Economic and conservation boon

4 hours ago

Today scientists unveiled the first high-resolution map of the carbon stocks stored on land throughout the entire country of Perú. The new and improved methodology used to make the map marks a sea change ...

How might climate change affect our food supply?

5 hours ago

It's no easy question to answer, but prudence demands that we try. Thus, Microsoft and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have teamed up to tackle "food resilience," one of several themes ...

Groundwater is safe in potential N.Y. fracking area

5 hours ago

Two Cornell hydrologists have completed a thorough groundwater examination of drinking water in a potential hydraulic fracturing area in New York's Southern Tier. They determined that drinking water in potable ...

User comments : 16

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

mememine69
1.7 / 5 (11) May 16, 2011
-The thousands of consensus scientists were silent when Obama never even mentioned the climate crisis in his Feb./2011 State of the Union Speech.
-The thousands of consensus scientists were silent when American IPCC funding was pulled.
-If the crisis were real, the thousands of scientists would have been marching in the streets after their warnings of crisis were ignored.
-How is it that there were always countless thousands of consensus scientists out numbering protestors?
-Thousands of consensus scientists also produced cruise missiles, cancer causing chemical cocktails, land mine technology, nuclear weapons, germ warfare, cluster bombs, strip mining technology, Y2K, Y2Kyoto, deep sea drilling technology and now climate control.
LariAnn
2 / 5 (8) May 16, 2011
I posit that a group called "consensus scientists" does not exist because each of them has a funding source that tends to dictate what they can and cannot support publicly. Were they truly independent researchers, the story might be different, but which of them is going to march or protest against the government when their funding comes from government grants (for example), or when their university funding is connected to government grants of some type?
ted208
1.8 / 5 (11) May 16, 2011
The real problem is money and lots of it for the no nothing rotten politicians and the scientist who have sold their souls for 30 pieces of silver.Skeptics dont deny global warming or climate change. We think the atmosphere probably has warmed slightly and on an average basis over the past 200 years coming out off the Little ice age, and we recognize that climate is continually, albeit slowly, changing.

We dont agree, however, that man made emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases are having either detectable or predictable effects on climate.
Money is always the route cause of every political decision and usually it's bad for the taxpayer!
(if you drive a car, car;) - Ill tax the street;
(if you try to sit, sit;) - Ill tax your seat;
(if you get too cold, cold;) - Ill tax the heat;
(if you take a walk, walk;) - I'll tax your feet.
And you're working for no one but me.

Taxman!

Should 5% appear to small be thankful I don't tax it all - I'm the taxman!
djr
3 / 5 (8) May 16, 2011
ted208 - I too am a skeptic. I keep an open mind - and let the science tell us what is. You approach the suubject with a pre-determined conclusion - how scientific! If the scientists are correct (I believe the evidence at this point) - then we have a serious problem - that we need to start looking at. I don't care about the government arguments - I think we all need to do our part in understanding the magnitude of the problem - and exploring our options in terms of solutions. Why do you all insist on blitzing the discussion on a science web site with your personal opinions. My opinion - and your opinion are irrelevant. Let's let the science take it's course.
zevkirsh
2.1 / 5 (7) May 16, 2011
My opinion - and your opinion are irrelevant. Let's let the science take it's course.


is there global warming, maybe. is it man made, maybe. is it going to cause catastrophic damage imminently to the whole planet which can be stopped if we all agree to put a LOT OF MONEY in the pockets of people who giving us promises--....the answer the global warming idiots would like you to believe is yes.

it is a new riligious incarnation of an environmental movement that never accepted that environmentalism is largely a failure. man will destroy his environment until he has exhausted it and then many will die off. this is the cycle. global warming is a another scam designed to fleece the gullible without actually helping the 'environment'. you want to help the 'environment'?
djr
4 / 5 (5) May 17, 2011
zevkirsh - I don't understand your point. I stated that our opinion on the subject is irrelevant - and you go on to give your opinion. Science is not about opinion - it is about facts. Sure - when we speculate about the future - we get into conjecture - but still need to base the conjecture on best current information. So you say "is there global warming, maybe." How can you look at the data presented in these graphs (http://www.ncdc.n...cators/) and say maybe? You accuse people who are concerned about our climate as being religous - global warming as a fraud. It seems to me you are the one who rejects data - and bases your posts on opinion - and conspiracy theories - with no support. Who cares I guess - but do you understand how high the stakes are - what could possibly happen? Just look at this one study http://www.treehu...lame.php Can you just let the science do take its course???
ted208
1.5 / 5 (8) May 17, 2011
Hi Dir perhaps you could read the following.

Former alarmist scientist says Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) based in false science!

At this point, official climate science stopped being a science. In science, empirical evidence always trumps theory, no matter how much you are in love with the theory. If theory and evidence disagree, real scientists scrap the theory. But official climate science ignored the crucial weather balloon evidence, and other subsequent evidence that backs it up, and instead clung to their carbon dioxide theory that just happens to keep them in well-paying jobs with lavish research grants, and gives great political power to their government masters.'
Dr David Evan

http://hotair.com...science/
djr
4 / 5 (4) May 17, 2011
ted208 - and I can give u an article about 6 climate skeptics who have changed their position - and now acknowledge global warming. http://theweek.co...ir-minds So what???? You won't address the issue - that the evidence supports the position that our globe is warming - and this is a serious problem that we need to be paying attention to. Of course we have the right to hold whatever opinion we want. I have read articles by scientists who believe the earth is 10,000 years old. So what?? What is important is the data. You won't address that issue - you can't - because facts are facts - and there is no global conspiracy. By claiming GW is a hoax - you are calling thousands of scientists liars. Fine - who cares - but why do you need to try to deflect the conversation? Let the science take it's course - please.
djr
3.7 / 5 (3) May 17, 2011
ted208 - for a different take on your Dr. Evans - take a look at "The Australian's war on science" http://scienceblo...e_16.php
David.
Beard
3 / 5 (2) May 17, 2011
I've got an article you might like, Ted.

http://Evilution....eviewed/

Praise the lord!
djr
3 / 5 (2) May 17, 2011
Your link did not work Beard - could you check and repost?

Thanks. David.
GSwift7
1.6 / 5 (7) May 17, 2011
zevkirsh - I don't understand your point. I stated that our opinion on the subject is irrelevant - and you go on to give your opinion


There are lots of papers that don't get covered on this site. Sometimes different papers on the same topic do not agree with one another. Sometimes there are differences of opinion between one research group and another on the magnitude of some varialbe. Climate science is a very broad term, actually composed of several different branches of science. There are way too many individual component theories that combine to form "climate science" for me to even begin to name them. There are many areas amongst them where there is still high uncertainty and a great many unexplored, unexplained, unmeasured topics. Even amongst some of the 'concensus' topics there is a high degree of differences of opinion between research groups. Each temperature trend prdiction is different, for example. Opinions about which version of the theory are best are important
GSwift7
1.6 / 5 (7) May 17, 2011
continued:

predictions made by the majority of climate scientists 20 to 30 years ago are now observed to be false. We've seen the credibility of certain groups and individuals to be questionable. We know that there have been corrupt scientists seeking to make money based on false science in almost any field you can name throughout history. I could give you pages of examples. It is not uncommon for a paper to be retracted from a journal, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently. Unfortunately, any time you are working with theoretical science, opinions DO matter because theories always have some amount of uncertainty.

Furthermore, when science is connected to social, political and economic issues it's important to hear different opinions on the meaning/impact/appropriate reaction to the science. What might be a bad thing to you might be good for me, or we might need to pick the least of two evils.

Opinions are never irrelevant, especially in science.
MikeyK
3.7 / 5 (3) May 19, 2011
GSift7-.....yawn....at the old conspiracy nutjob theories again. Good to see your true colours revealed again.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (4) May 19, 2011
what?

conspiracy nutjob theories?

So, when NASA/GISS, NOAA and CRU each have slightly different estimates for the magnitude of climate sensitivity to a theoretical doubling of CO2, I'm a nut? When each of them predicts a slightly different range of probable outcomes, I'm crazy? They can't disagree and all be right. I think discussion and opinions about which of them is likely to have the best estimate are valid. That's hardly a conspiracy theory. When there are multiple predictions and they do not agee with each other, it's not possible for more than one of them to be right. Heck, if you look at the updates that each of those groups make over time, you can see that it is important to always ask questions and make sure that we are using the best version of the theory. It's okay to improve a theory over time. That isn't evidence of a conspiracy. We learn new stuff all the time. Does that surprise you? The above statement that opinions don't matter is silly.
MikeyK
5 / 5 (2) May 22, 2011
blha blah blah....someone wake me when he stops droning on...zzzzzzzzzzzzz