Hydroecology of Northern Freshwater Landscapes
Dr. Brent Wolfe
The impact of climate change and variability on water resources is a pressing issue for northern freshwater landscapes in Canada. Water in these regions plays a central role in maintaining the ecological integrity of ecosystems, economic development and prosperity, and traditional use of the land and its resources by indigenous communities. Thermokarst landscapes are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Wapusk National Park (WNP) is located on the southwest coast of Hudson Bay on the Hudson Bay Lowlands (HBL) and thermokarst processes have contributed to creating over 10,000 shallow lakes, which provide key habitat for large populations of waterfowl and other wildlife. WNP was established in 1996 to protect a representative area of the HBL, yet little is known about the hydroecology of the freshwater basins that dominate this landscape, how they have responded to climate change and variability in the past, and how they will evolve in the future. In this region, projected warming by the late 21st century is intense. Lakes in WNP typically are <1 m deep and therefore are susceptible to becoming ephemeral, which would have associated ecological and biogeochemical consequences. Exponential increases in Lesser Snow Goose populations have also decimated some areas of the coastal tundra region in the park but little is known of their impact on aquatic ecosystems. Supported by NSERC's Discovery Grant, Northern Research Supplement and Discovery Frontiers programs, ongoing research focuses on assessing the relative importance of hydrological processes that govern present-day lake water balances, and identifying relationships among hydrology, limnology, biogeochemistry and aquatic ecology over time and space across the WNP landscape. Findings will provide the basis to hindcast and predict changes in hydroecological conditions in response to climate change and variability as well as rapidly expanding geese populations.