Polar communities are the first to observe the effects of climate change and Canada’s North is no exception. In the area of Old Crow Flats located in northern Yukon Territory, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has sought the help of a group of seven researchers to measure the impact of climate change on their internationally recognized wetland. One of them is Murray M. Humphries, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Natural Resource at McGill and member of the university’s Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment (CINE).
“I’m very excited to be part of a project in which the lead is taken by the community,” said the wildlife biologist, who will investigate muskrat populations and moose habitat and migration. “Yeendoo Nanh Nakhweenjit K’atr’ahanahtyaa – Environmental Change and Traditional Use of the Old Crow Flats in Northern Canada” is a five-year project conducted under the International Polar Year program. It will focus on physical environment, vegetation, wildlife, and human changes and adaptation to climate change.
Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has reported that Old Crow Flats is undergoing major changes in snow conditions, temperature, precipitation, hydrology, vegetation, lake and river integrity, along with diversity and distribution of wildlife. Humphries wants to examine how muskrat abundance and distribution have changed over the past two decades, because their number is dwindling. Fluctuations in water levels and the abundance and distribution of preferred aquatic vegetation, both factors affected by climate change, are known to be major determinants.
The scientist will also examine why moose populations are invading the territory. The study will examine how moose habitat use is related to variation in microclimate, hydrology and shrub distribution, as well as the timing and spatial extent of moose migration. Satellite-tracked GPS collars will be part of the equipment to gather two years data.
McGill University already conducts world-renowned research on climate change and other issues in Canada’s far north, notably at the McGill Arctic Research Station (MARS) in Nunavut, which is used by McGill and other institutions from NASA to the Canadian Museum of Nature to explore glaciology, climate change, permafrost hydrology, geology, geomorphology, limnology, planetary analogues, and microbiology.
International Polar Year officially continues until 2009. The International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) are sponsoring this international scientific program, which will include research in the Arctic and Antarctic.
On the Web: International Polar Year