Laurier’s research in the Northwest Territories consists of monitoring, modelling, predicting and making policy recommendations in a variety of areas. Much of the work of the Laurier-GNWT partnership informs climate change monitoring and early warning systems, and better prepares the territory and its communities for climate-related disasters.
Laurier researchers are monitoring and evaluating the implications of the rate and pattern of permafrost thaw. Researchers work in a variety of areas, including uneven alpine terrain and areas where lines of trees were clear-cut for seismic exploration, creating lines of permafrost thaw that allow water to be conducted underground year-round.
Laurier researchers are monitoring the processes that govern runoff. These processes are changing in response to permafrost thaw, which makes it difficult to predict the future availability of water resources. Researchers are working on models in hopes of using these as predictive tools to forecast how the hydrology at research sites may change. They are also helping communities better prepare for these changes.
Laurier researchers are monitoring northern boreal forests, which are changing rapidly due to uneven permafrost thaw, as well as subarctic tundra, which is transitioning into taller shrub-dominated communities due to climate warming.
Climate warming increases the number of extreme events, including forest fires. However, fire as a natural process is important to maintaining boreal ecosystems. Laurier researchers are working to understand the impacts of increased forest fire activity on vegetation, ground temperatures, snow depth, snowmelt, carbon sequestration and water quality in high-latitude boreal ecosystems.
Areas of muskeg and permafrost both contain vast amounts of carbon in the form of peat. It is not clear how this carbon will interact with the atmosphere as the climate warms. To help answer this question, researchers have been monitoring the flow of carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour between muskeg and the atmosphere.
Snow is highly sensitive to changes in winter precipitation, increasingly frequent winter melt and rain events, warming winters and earlier spring melt events. Researchers are monitoring changes in snow cover and depth at multiple sites.
Lakes are sensitive to changes in snowfall and rainfall, evaporation, permafrost thaw and melting of ground ice. These changes may result in many shallow lakes drying up and loss of habitat for important food species. With melting permafrost, catastrophic drainage of these lakes might increase and the very high discharge may present a hazard to people and infrastructure.
Changing permafrost, vegetation and snow are affecting stream flow across the North in different ways. Researchers are working to understand the causes and predict future changes.
Researchers are working with communities on aspects of food security and northern food systems including access to traditional foods, fish, game and gardens.
Researchers work with wildlife including caribou, whose populations have declined dramatically. Changes in snow pack and forest fire patterns have led to changes in migration patterns, feeding habits and vulnerability to predators.
Researchers are collaborating with Indigenous communities to bring traditional knowledge into projects and engage in community-led projects to develop a more complete picture of how climate systems are changing.
Laurier maintains more than 50 northern research sites, most of which are in the Northwest Territories. Some sites have permanent infrastructure and equipment, such as Trail Valley Creek Research Station, the longest-running hydrologically focused Arctic research station in Canada. At other research sites, researchers employ mobile observation, monitoring and testing equipment.