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As the climate warms, Canada’s North is one of the most rapidly changing areas of the world. Permafrost is thawing, forests are turning into wetlands, tundra is becoming shrubby, and stream flow and lake levels are changing in often unpredictable ways.

To better monitor and understand the changing environment in the Northwest Territories (NWT), Laurier’s Changing Arctic Network (CANet) team is spearheading the development and upgrading of world-class research infrastructure across the NWT.

The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT)-Laurier partnership received $3.2 million in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation in 2015 to develop this infrastructure. The GNWT and Laurier are chief among the organizations contributing the rest of the funding for the $8.2-million project.

The CANet team is led by Professor Philip Marsh, who is Canada Research Chair in Cold Regions Water Science. The team selected key sites across the NWT and has made considerable progress in purchasing and installing the equipment and infrastructure, with the full installation to be completed in 2020. The infrastructure is already contributing to and will increasingly support many research projects by multiple partners at the GNWT, Laurier and other institutions over the long term.

The infrastructure supports several different research units, which focus on:

  • Resilience, with equipment able to measure factors such as plant stress; carbon concentrations in soils and vegetation; and dissolved gases and organic matter in water.
  • Forest response, with computer systems able to analyze tree and shrub ring samples and support hydrological modelling.
  • Permafrost, with infrastructure including surveying equipment, sensors able to detect the state and temperature of ground well below the surface, and equipment to map permafrost thickness and frost table topography.
  • Phenology, which is the study of the timing of recurring biological events such as plant flowering and animal migration. Equipment includes time lapse cameras, drones and sensors.
  • Carbon, with instrumentation to measure fluxes of carbon dioxide and methane over tundra, lakes, wetlands and forests; and supporting infrastructure including data transmission and solar power supply systems.
  • Water quantity, with equipment able to measure factors such as blowing snow, stream flow, snowfall, cosmic rays, snow depth, lake outflow and river velocity.
  • Water quality, with equipment able to measure factors such as dissolved organic matter, fluorescence, dissolved oxygen, water levels, and the depth to which visible light can penetrate a body of water.
  • Biomonitoring, with equipment for storing biological and water samples, capturing fish, tracking fish and measuring their performance in different environmental conditions.
  • Northern communities, with equipment including handheld global positioning system (GPS) units and computers enabled with geographic information system (GIS), which will help map land-use patterns over time.

Some pieces of equipment are installed at permanent research sites, while other pieces are portable. In addition, a variety of major improvements to infrastructure and equipment for labs, field camps and technical support staff support all research units.

Contact Us:

Philip Marsh, Professor, Geography and Environmental Studies

E: pmarsh@wlu.ca
T: 519.884.0710 x2856

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