Terra Daily: Unprecedented warm temperatures in the High Arctic this past summer were so extreme that researchers with a Queen's University-led climate change project have begun revising their forecasts. "Everything has changed dramatically in the watershed we observed," reports Geography professor Scott Lamoureux, the leader of an International Polar Year project announced yesterday in
One of 44 Canadian research initiatives to receive a total of $100 million (IPY) research funding from the federal government, Dr. Lamoureux's new four-year project on remote Melville Island in the northwest Arctic brings together scientists and educators from three Canadian universities and the
The information will be key to improving models for predicting future climate change in the High Arctic, which is critical to the everyday living conditions of people living there, especially through the lakes and rivers where they obtain their drinking water.
…From their camp on Melville Island last July, where they recorded air temperatures over 20C (in an area with July temperatures that average 5C), the team watched in amazement as water from melting permafrost a metre below ground lubricated the topsoil, causing it to slide down slopes, clearing everything in its path and thrusting up ridges at the valley bottom "that piled up like a rug," says Dr. Lamoureux, an expert in hydro-climatic variability and landscape processes. "The landscape was being torn to pieces, literally before our eyes. A major river was dammed by a slide along a 200-metre length of the channel. River flow will be changed for years, if not decades to come."
Comparing this summer's observations against aerial photos dating back to the 1950s, and the team's monitoring of the area for the past five years, the research leader calls the present conditions "unprecedented" in scope and activity. What's most interesting, he says, is that their findings represent the impact of just one exceptional summer.
"A considerable amount of vegetation has been disturbed and we observed a sharp rise in erosion and a change in sediment load in the river," Dr. Lamoureux notes. "With warmer conditions and greater thaw depth predicted, the cumulative effect of this happening year after year could create huge problems for both the aquatic and land populations. This kind of disturbance also has important consequences for existing and future infrastructure in the region, like roads, pipelines and air strips."
If this were to occur in more inhabited parts of
…International Polar Year (IPY) is the largest-ever international program of coordinated scientific research focused on the