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9:30 a.m. Theme 1: Introduction to Climate Change in the Arctic


John C. Fyfe, Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, Environment Canada

The Physical Science Basis for Climate Change in the Arctic

Average Arctic temperatures have been rising at about twice the average global rate, and in a manner generally consistent with melting sea ice, decreasing terrestrial snow cover, thawing permafrost, and changing precipitation patterns, for example.

While these unprecedented changes are clear and unequivocal in nature, they remain somewhat of a challenge to reproduce using climate models. Climate models are the main tool used by climate scientists to attribute and predict environmental change.

In this presentation I will establish the observational evidence for dramatic physical change in both the Arctic marine and terrestrial environments, and highlight some of the gaps that exist in our understanding of the causes of these changes, which in turn affect our confidence in climate model predictions of future physical and biological impacts.

Kirt Ejesiak, Inuit Circumpolar Council (Canada)

  • Traditional uses of biodiversity 

11:05 a.m. Theme 2: Impact on Arctic Ecology

Stewart D. MacDonald © Canadian Museum of Nature



Gary A. Stern, Circumpolar Flaw Lead system study

Climate Effects on Contaminant Exposure of Arctic Marine and Freshwater Biota

Contaminant concentrations in Arctic fresh water and marine biota have been monitored fairly consistently since the late 1980s. The prevailing paradigm attributes observed changes to global emissions, usage patterns and to processes such as long-range atmospheric transport, food-web structures and length. There is no doubt that the global banning and restricted usage of pesticides and industrial chemicals and stricter emissions regulations for mercury during the late 20th century have resulted in reduced exposure.

However, since the mid-1990s, the levels of these contaminants in many species of Arctic marine and freshwater biota and sediments have not declined and in some cases have even increased. These increases, which oppose the decreasing trends in the atmosphere, rule out atmospheric contaminant levels as a dominant driver and other mechanisms must be considered.

Several examples of climate-driven changes to contaminant loadings and exposure in Canadian Arctic biota are discussed. First, temporal trend results will be presented for mercury and selected PCBs in Mackenzie River Burbot collected between 1985 and 2008 and examine the relationship between the trends of mercury in these fish and those in a dated sediment core collected from a nearby lake whose limnology is profoundly affected by climate warming and which feeds directly into a tributary along the Mackenzie River where these fish are thought to feed. Secondly, a unique time series of ringed-seal samples collected from a single location in the western Canadian Arctic between 1973 and 2007 is examined to test for changes in total mercury in muscle tissue associated with year and length of ice-free season. Results offer insight into how marine mammals may respond to directional changes in the Arctic ice-free season.

11:15 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.


Michel Poulin, Canadian Museum of Nature

Why Should We Care about Arctic Marine Microbes?

Arctic marine protists (i.e., autotrophic microalgae and non-autotrophic flagellates) are well adapted to live in the upper water column of coastal and oceanic regions (known as phytoplankton), or in the bottom layers of polar sea ice (known as sea-ice communities).

There are roughly 5000 recognized legitimate marine phytoplankton species worldwide and an unknown number of sea-ice protists. Although phytoplankton and sea-ice protists have been described since the first Arctic expeditions up to the early 20th century, no current inventory provides the exact number and species composition at a pan-Arctic scale.

In a first attempt to assess the pan-Arctic diversity of these marine protists, a wealth of data from various sources were reviewed (e.g., scientific publications, theses, published and unpublished reports, databases), while species names were confirmed with current classification. We report here for the Arctic a total of 2106 marine single-celled protist species, including 1874 phytoplankton and 1027 sea-ice species. Comparisons are presented with other biodiversity inventories reported from various regions of the world.

Given current concerns about climate change threatening more rapidly the Arctic regions, how will these marine protist communities will be affected by global warming? Obviously they will not disappear, but the structure and functionality of the polar marine ecosystem may be altered.

Steven Ferguson, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The Arctic Biodiversity Paradox: Loss of Sea Ice and Gain of New Whales

The extent, duration and mass of Arctic sea ice are diminishing. Predicted Arctic changes include an increase in marine mammal biodiversity as temperate species extend their distribution to occupy areas previously covered in annual ice.

This greater biodiversity comes at a price: the ice-adapted whales and seals are undergoing demographic stress associated with the loss of their key habitat. Ice-adapted whales and seals have less of their preferred food and contend with new predators. Thus, the biodiversity paradox: a greater variety of species in the Arctic but a doubtful future for the original inhabitants.

I provide examples of how loss of sea ice is (1) changing the distribution and abundance of seal species, (2) increasing feeding opportunities for killer whales, and (3) affecting polar bears and seals in the southerly ice region of Hudson Bay. We need to better understand the demographic and evolutionary mechanisms of changes in distribution and abundance of whales and seals to predict and possibly mitigate or adapt to the effects of warming on Arctic biodiversity.

2:20 p.m. Theme 3: Technological Tools for the Future of Biodiversity Research


Paul Hebert, Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, University of Guelph

Revealing Polar Life with DNA Barcodes

Perhaps 1% of all species on our planet occur in the Arctic, but our knowledge of their diversity, distributions and ecological roles is hugely incomplete. We do know that many of these species have complex histories—marine taxa from the Pacific flooded into the Arctic Ocean whenever the Bering Strait was open. Freshwater and terrestrial species dispersed across Arctic landscapes from glacial refugia after each ice retreat.

These dynamic distributions have had important impacts on the genetic structure of species now found in the Canadian Arctic. The analysis of DNA sequence variation is providing new details on the past history of Arctic life and on its present diversity. In particular, DNA bar-coding is not only providing a solution to the longstanding problem of species identification, but is enabling the connection of all life stages.

The power of this approach is gaining a stringent test at Churchill, Manitoba, where efforts are underway to build a comprehensive DNA barcode library for all multi-cellular organisms. Although Churchill is the first site, it will not be the last. There will soon be a DNA barcode library for all Arctic species. Its development will enable the automated identification capacity needed for biological surveillance projects to operate at the pace and on the scale required to monitor the impacts of global change on biological communities across the Arctic.

Donald McLennan, Parks Canada Agency

Dealing with Uncertainty: Managing Arctic Protected Areas in a Changing World

It is now well documented that climate-driven factors are changing Arctic ecosystems more rapidly than any other area of planet Earth. A recent comprehensive modelling effort identified the central Canadian Arctic as a "global hotspot" of ecological change, and predicted 80% to 100% replacement of bird and mammal species in some areas over the next century.

Canada's 10 Arctic national parks cover more than 60 000 square kilometres of the Canadian Arctic, and are at the centre of this change. These inevitable events present a complex and daunting challenge for Parks Canada managers, who are charged with "maintaining or restoring the ecological integrity" of Canada's national parks, on behalf of all Canadians.

This presentation proposes a management system aimed at reducing uncertainty around two key questions: How will climate change express itself in terms of local weather at the scale of an individual national park? How will park biota respond to these changes? The approach builds on efforts already ongoing at Parks Canada to integrate process-based ecological inventories, well-planned ecological integrity monitoring and focused research, with climate down-scaling and ecological change modeling, to develop a management knowledge system designed to anticipate ecological change and recommend feasible proactive management approaches.

The presentation focuses principally on the ongoing development and evolution of dynamic ecosystem inventories and park monitoring programs, key components of the proposed knowledge system.

André Martel © Canadian Museum of Nature


Nick King, Global Biodiversity Information Facility

The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF): Infrastructure, Standards, Access to Data and Tools to Forecast Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity

Climate change is having increasingly significant impacts on biodiversity, yet in many regions such as the Arctic we are still unable to monitor and quantify the impacts of climate change on biodiversity due to a dearth of species-occurrence data at relevant scales and compatible formats and a lack of infrastructure and institutional cooperation to enable data discovery and access. As evidenced by the recent Canadian national report The State of Biodiversity Information in Canada, this situation pertains to Canada as much as anywhere else.

A partial solution to the problem of data availability is agreement on a mechanism to facilitate sharing of existing and future biodiversity data both within and between countries. The inter-governmental Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) is just such a mechanism; through GBIF, institutions and countries can publish their databases online to common exchange standards, and thus become part of a growing global network of shared biodiversity data. For many research communities, GBIF has been instrumental in enabling link-up of their distributed information resources.

Through the GBIF global network, as of August 2010, more than 200 million primary biodiversity data records are accessible. Access to such data is vital to a diverse range of scientific communities in countries such as Canada investigating impacts of climate change on biodiversity, including in important socio-economic areas such as agriculture, forestry, marine resources, invasive alien species and disease vectors. Examples will be given of how enhancing discovery and access to data enables enriched analyses in support of national and international climate-adaptation policy.