GNWT-Laurier Partnership

Since 2010, Laurier has maintained an unusual and productive research partnership with the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT). The partnership, which has been expanded and extended to 2030, has brought new research expertise and training opportunities to the Northwest Territories and strong community connections and research opportunities to Laurier scholars.

Laurier’s Yellowknife research office opened in 2017 to establish a year-round presence and deepen partnerships in the Northwest Territories. In the field, Laurier researchers work at research sites spanning much of the Northwest Territories, including boreal forest, tundra and high Arctic environments. At all sites, researchers work in close partnership with local communities.

4 million km2
boreal forest and tundra involved as research areas
280+
students and postdoctoral fellows trained since 2010
$33.5 million
external research funding (2010‑2019)

Areas of Research

Laurier’s research in the Northwest Territories consists of monitoring, modelling, predicting and making policy recommendations in a variety of areas.


Permafrost Thaw

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.

Surface and Subsurface Hydrology

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.

Forest Dynamics

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.

Forest Fires

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.

Greenhouse Gases

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

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

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.

Stream Flow

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.

Food Security

Researchers are working with communities on aspects of food security and northern food systems including access to traditional foods, fish, game and gardens.

Wildlife

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.

Indigenous Knowledge

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.

cutting ribbon

Ten Years Together

The Government of Northwest Territories (GNWT) and Laurier partnership has significantly contributed to the growth of scientific monitoring and knowledge in the North over the past 10 years. The partnership has now been extended to 2030.