Tracing the Origin of Mercury Contamination in the Lakes and Fish of the Jean Marie River First Nation Lands
Principal Investigator: Laurent, Cyrielle C (3)
Licence Number: 15713
Organization: Geo Cardinal Services Corp.
Licensed Year(s): 2015
Issued: Jul 14, 2015
Project Team: Margaret Ireland (Project Leader, Jean Marie River First Nation), Louis Philippe Roy (Permafrost Scientist, Yukon Research Center), Heidi Swanson (Assistant Professor, University of Waterloo)

Objective(s): To assess permafrost as a possible origin of mercury contamination; to measure mercury content in permafrost samples; to engage the community to exchange traditional and scientific knowledge to better understand relationships between country food, water quality, and permafrost degradation from a contamination perspective; and use traditional land use data to assess the impact of permafrost thawing and potential mercury release on country food around McGill.

Project Description: The short term objectives for this project are to:
- Assess permafrost as a possible origin of mercury contamination;
- Measure mercury content in permafrost samples;
- Engage the community to exchange traditional and scientific knowledge to better understand relationships between country food, water quality, and permafrost degradation from a contamination perspective; and
- Use traditional land use data to assess the impact of permafrost thawing and potential mercury release on country food around McGill.

The long term objectives for this project are to:
- Establish a monitoring program of permafrost temperature and rate of degradation to assess the rate of permafrost-originating mercury release into the watershed; and
- Develop a better understanding of the processes leading to mercury contamination in northern discontinuous permafrost Northern regions.

The geological survey will be guided by the working group inputs and the results of the preliminary air photo interpretation. The area around McGill Lake will be our main focus. Various modes of transportation will be used to reach the area (e.g., boat, or helicopter). The areas around McGill that consist of organic-rich frozen ground, will be surveyed, and physical and environmental information such as soil nature, active layer thicknesses, and ground ice content will be collected. A portable earth drill will be used to collect permafrost cores that will allow an assessment of soil texture and ground ice content. Some temperature loggers will be set up in the boreholes to measure ground thermal regime. These temperature measures will later be used to assess the permafrost susceptibility to degradation. The cores will be brought back from the field, and sub-sampled at every 20 to 50 cm for mercury content analyses.

A community conference will be organized in Jean Marie River in which all DehCho First Nation members will be invited to attend. The objective is to spread the word about the studies our community has been so actively involved in and to share results for the benefit of other DehCho community who are sharing the same issues and concerns of country food and climate change.

Laboratory analyses will be carried out on the permafrost cores to determine the concentration of mercury within the Jean Marie River First Nations (JMRFN) traditional lands’ permafrost. It is expected that each borehole will be several meter deep and the mercury analyses will performed every 20-50 cm. Samples from three borehole collected in 2013 will be analyzed along with the new samples. The permafrost samples will be sent to Heidi Swanson, assistant professor at the Biology department at the University of Waterloo in Ontario where she will be conducting the analyses. Heidi has been fully involved in conducting the contaminant analyses for the projects on fish and water quality that were mentioned earlier. This will ensure the good quality of the analyses and the comparability between the results.

A map or series of maps will show the locations of mercury analyses performed for this study as well as all contaminant analyses done in the past in the surroundings of JMRFN. The map(s) will also show the level of contamination of permafrost water and fish. The results will be analyzed in the next step.

JMRFN’s existing traditional land use (TLU) database will be used in the analysis and synthesis part of the project. Thematic maps overlapping the results of the field work and the TLU data will be created in order to assess the vulnerability of the country food to potential mercury contamination. This will be a very important step in the project as it will address some of the concerns our community members have in terms of country food quality and suitability.

This project will be promoted locally throughout the Dehcho First Nations. JMRFN band council will invite the Chiefs of the Dehcho First Nations and the presidents of the Dehcho Metis Organizations to attend the final community meeting so that they can directly learn the project results. Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management (AAROM) program will also help to spread the word to other members of the First Nations currently involved in contamination studies conducted by AAROM. The Dehcho Drum editor will be given an overview of the project so that the entire Dehcho population can read about it in the Dehcho Drum newspaper.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from August 3, 2015 to August 13, 2015.