Long-term perspectives on aquatic ecosystem change with thawing permafrost

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Tags: physical sciences, water quality, climate change, aquatic invertebrates, permafrost thaw

Principal Investigator: Korosi, Jennifer B (1)
Licence Number: 16090
Organization: York University
Licenced Year(s): 2017
Issued: May 12, 2017
Project Team: Joshua Thienpont (Posdoctoral Fellow, University of Ottawa), Jofina Victor (Undergraduate field assistant, York University), Brad Auger (Undergraduate field assistant, York University)

Objective(s): To assess how conditions have changed in the intervening decade as thaw slumping has intensified and the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway was constructed.

Project Description: The research team will re-survey 70 lakes originally sampled in 2005/06, to assess how conditions have changed in the intervening decade as thaw slumping has intensified and the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH) was constructed. The team will assess how lake ecosystems responded to past climatic shifts throughout the post-glacial history of these lakes (10,000 years), and use these records to provide a window into past terrain sensitivity to contribute to ongoing assessments of permafrost landscape instability.

The research team will collect water samples from more than 70 lakes between Inuvik and the Beaufort Sea coast, many of which are located along the new highway, for water chemistry analyses. The team will also sample algal and zooplankton communities living in the lakes to investigate modern ecological conditions using standard net tows. Sediment cores will be collected from 15 lakes by boat, to reconstruct past environmental conditions. Each lake will be visited once, accessing by helicopter. No equipment or sampling devices will be left in the lakes.

This project will provide a long-term context (from decades to millennia) on the impacts of permafrost thaw on water quality and terrain sensitivity, which will enable better modeling of the future impacts of climate warming in ice-rich permafrost regions. This is essential for the development of climate change policy and adaptation strategies, including decision making regarding maintenance of the new Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway. The research team plan to engage with landusers for guidance on site selection. The Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik Hunters and Trappers Committees have been engaged in past work on the impacts of permafrost thaw on terrain and aquatic ecosystems, and will be approached as partners for the current project.

The research team will provide posters and reports outlining the research findings in plain, accessible language to the Aurora Research Institute for distribution, as well as copies of all theses or publications that arise from the project. A GoPro will be used to take short videos in the field outlining the research and demonstrating how samples are taken. The research team also plan to engage with local communities, and arrange meetings while in the area. In the past, the Principal Investigator has conducted workshops for local schools explaining the research methods and techniques during field seasons, and would be happy to do so again if there was interest.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from June 25, 2017 to July 25, 2017.