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Arctic undergoing dramatic changes: expert

by admin January 17, 2011

Canada’s North is changing rapidly, and according to an arctic expert, not only has the warming climate resulted in the disappearance of ponds, but new vegetation is forming and animals are appearing where they have never been seen before.

“The Inuktitut language doesn’t have a word for robin,” said Marianne Douglas, director of the Canadian Circumpolar Institute at the University of Alberta, said, citing one example of the change in the animal distribution.

Speaking at McGill’s Redpath Museum last week, Douglas described how every summer for the past 26 years she has hauled out her gumboots and made her way to various northern islands in the Arctic to collect data. Her research has brought her to lakes and ponds that have been left untouched by humans.

At her research camp Douglas measures diatoms, tiny plant-like organisms, that she collects in vials of sediments found in these various bodies of water. The measurements have allowed her to understand the life cycle and activity found in the areas over the span of millenniums, and draw conclusions on how this environment has changed.

“Over the last century there has been a complete species changeover,” Douglas said.

Due to the increase in temperature and the decrease in ice coverage, Douglas found that the composition of water system is changing, noting a higher concentration of heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury in the ponds and lakes. She also said her data is being affected by the increase of seabirds in the area.

Douglas admitted that Arctic measurements cannot go back millions of years. It is still a fairly new study, she added, since many scientists did not have access to the Arctic in the past and therefore little data to which it can be compared.

However, there is no denying that the permafrost is melting, infrastructures are being destroyed and native people living in the area are noticing how the Arctic warming is changing their environment, hunting and fishing patterns according to Douglas. Also, ponds that are not close to melting glaciers are drying up due to the warmer climate.

“There is evidence that there is warming,” Douglas said, and one needs to only look at the ponds for proof.

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