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Dec. 5, 2017

Two Wilfrid Laurier University graduate students have been recognized for research projects aimed at addressing critical environmental issues facing communities in Canada's North. Evan Wilcox was presented a W. Garfield Weston Award for Northern Research at the master’s level by the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies, while Stephanie Pike received a POLAR Northern Resident Scholarship.

Field research site in Inuvik

Lake vulnerability to climate change

Wilcox, second-year student in the Master of Science Geography program, was awarded the W. Garfield Weston Award for his research project entitled “Vulnerability of western Arctic tundra lakes to climate change.”

Wilcox’s research assesses how lakes between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk adapt to climate change. In the western Canadian Arctic, the climate is both warming and drying. Massive numbers of shallow, permafrost lakes are ice-free for longer periods of time and lake evaporation is increasing. Unexpectedly, however, there is little evidence of lake drying or disappearance. Hydrological models would not predict this result and researchers do not know how the lakes will change due to a warming climate during coming decades.

“Evan is carrying out novel research in the western Canadian Arctic, using state-of-the-art instrumentation in combination with high-resolution hydrological models to better understand the processes controlling lake levels, consider future scenarios of change and to discuss these changes with local community groups,” said Philip Marsh, Wilcox’s supervisor and a professor and Canada Research chair in Laurier’s Department of Geography and Cold Regions Research Centre.

“Dr. Marsh has been a great mentor through my research,” said Wilcox. “He values my research for what it is and treats me as an equal… I feel I’m in very good hands.”

The W. Garfield Weston Award for Northern Research champions northern research, aiming to raise the profile of northern science and position Canadian scientists to contribute in ways that are pertinent, timely and innovative.

Stephanie Pike in Yukon

Hazard mapping in the Yukon

Pike, a second-year environmental studies master’s student, is the recipient of the POLAR Northern Resident Scholarship. Pike was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon, where she currently lives, and is exploring “policy, plans and processes for developing and improving the use of hazard maps in adaptation for remote Yukon communities.”

“Being able to conduct research in the region I call home has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said Pike. “The people and culture in the Yukon are resilient, strong and vibrant. The entire atmosphere of life in the Yukon inspires me to work in the field of environmental studies.”

Pike’s research identifies and assesses policies, plans and processes in place for reducing the impacts of environmental hazards in Yukon communities and the adjacent ecosystems and wildlife they depend on. Pike will connect hazard-mapping research to community needs and opportunities for adaptation and mitigation to help with both development and adaptation to future land and ecosystem changes.

“Stephanie has been wonderful to work with, bringing northern knowledge and experience to her research, as well as a personal perspective of living and working in the North,” said Scott Slocombe, Pike’s supervisor and a professor in Laurier’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies.

“Having the guidance and support of Dr. Slocombe during the research process has been phenomenal,” said Pike. “I am constantly learning about how to be a stronger researcher and writer.”

The POLAR Northern Resident Scholarship is awarded to long-term residents of Nunavut, Northwest Territories, the Yukon or provincial north who demonstrate leadership in northern scholarship.

The W. Garfield Weston Award for Northern Research and POLAR Northern Resident Scholarship are both presented by the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies, which honours academic excellence, high calibre research and commitment to northern research, and are supported by the W. Garfield Weston Foundation and Polar Knowledge Canada.

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