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March 6, 2017

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PhD Student, Geography

The Mackenzie and Selwyn mountain ranges on the Northwest Territories-Yukon border never cease to amaze me. Every time I am up there I’m in awe and a thousand questions flood my mind. When it comes to directing my curiosity, I refer to the literature but also listen to the stories others share with me when we come across each other on the trail. They are listening to the land in their own way and see things I don’t see. This helps me narrow the scope of my research, and as I continue to return year after year, my research has come to focus on how changing soil temperatures are causing ice-rich soils to thaw and what impacts this has on the water balance and surface ecology of the area.

Often the valley bottoms in the Mackenzie and Selwyn Mountains have ice-rich landforms interspersed with wetland and as ground ice thaws, more ponds form where high ground was before. Peat moss and other plant species become submerged and decay, and subsurface flow is increased in both volume and connectivity. What these systems will look like in the future is difficult to discern. As the climate continues to warm, changes to the water, plant and animal life present are becoming more pronounced. For example, seedling spruce and aspen are being found in large numbers at higher elevations, while at the verge of thawing features, dwarf birch shrubs are drowning and left standing dead.

For me, the best part about working in the North is the wide open spaces and quiet that comes with it, especially during the long summer days that often feel like two days in one with all that can be done.

Geoff Kershaw's supervisor is Associate Professor William (Bill) Quinton, director of Laurier's Cold Region Research Centre.

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