Scientists from Queen's and Carleton universities head a national multidisciplinary research team that has uncovered startling new evidence of the destructive impact of global climate change on North America's largest Arctic delta.
"One of the most ominous threats of global warming today is from rising sea levels, which can cause marine waters to inundate the land," says the team's co-leader, Queen's graduate student Joshua Thienpont. "The threat is especially acute in polar regions, where shrinking sea ice increases the risk of storm surges."
By studying growth rings from coastal shrubs and lake sediments in the Mackenzie Delta region of the Northwest Territories – the scene of a widespread and ecologically destructive storm surge in 1999 – the researchers have discovered that the impact of these salt-water surges is unprecedented in the 1,000-year history of the lake.
"This had been predicted by all the models and now we have empirical evidence," says team co-leader Michael Pisaric, a geography professor at Carleton. The Inuvialuit, who live in the northwest Arctic, identified that a major surge had occurred in 1999, and assisted with field work.
The researchers studied the impact of salt water flooding on alder bushes along the coastline. More than half of the shrubs sampled were dead within a year of the 1999 surge, while an additional 37 per cent died within five years. A decade after the flood, the soils still contained high concentrations of salt. In addition, sediment core profiles from inland lakes revealed dramatic changes in the aquatic life – with a striking shift from fresh to salt-water species following the storm surge.
"Our findings show this is ecologically unprecedented over the last millennium," says Queen's biology professor and team member John Smol, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change and winner of the 2004 NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal as Canada's top scientist. "The Arctic is on the front line of climate change. It's a bellwether of things to come: what affects the Arctic eventually will affect us all."
Since nearly all Arctic indigenous communities are coastal, the damage from future surges could also have significant social impacts. The team predicts that sea ice cover, sea levels and the frequency and intensity of storms and marine storm surges will become more variable in the 21st century.
Other members of the team include Trevor Lantz from the University of Victoria, Steven Kokelj from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Steven Solomon from the Geological Survey of Canada and Queen's undergraduate student Holly Nesbitt. Their findings are published in the prestigious international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Queen's University: http://www.queensu.ca
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Two injured Sherpas recount the horrific avalanche on Mount Everest.
Two new studies help determine age of Antarctic ice and former climate
It was an extra special Earth Day for 31 endangered sea turtles which were released back into the wild at Little Talbot Island near Jacksonville, Fla. The animals had spent months in rehabilitation at New England Aquarium's rescue center, being treated for hypothermia.
The Pakistani government hopes to turn a desolate stretch of sand into a state-of-the-art solar energy park, in a bid to tackle the country's chronic power shortages
On Earth Day, we celebrate a planet that has nurtured human life. But it wasn't always so nice—and as the climate changes, it may get worse
Let people who love sore backs and dirty fingernails painstakingly tend their gardenias. Today’s backyard should be a maximized, automated, hyperefficient system of caloric production. With a little science—and some engineering prowess—you can keep your plot tidy, pest-free, and healthy while barely lifting a finger. So kick back with a gin-spiked kombucha and let your self-maintaining yard crank out the zero-mile arugula.
James Day Winemaking may conjure images of sun-dappled vineyards and grand châteaus. But a typical bottle of Napa Cabernet owes more to lab-coat-wearing chemists than to barefoot grape stompers. Like most foodstuffs, wine has been thoroughly industrialized.
A group of researchers in Florida may have found a way to control the weather, through the use of dual lasers
Environmentalists have long worried about biofuels like corn ethanol. But a new study shows that even advanced biofuels, which use waste from crops like corn to make fuel, may hurt the climate
Animals sometimes sleep inside the hollows of giant 2,000-year old baobab trees inside Kruger Game Preserve in South Africa. Humans too, sometimes use the trees, for more dubious purposes -- a jail, a toilet, a pop-up bar -- as photographer Rachel Sussman discovered when she toured the park to photograph the trees for her new book, The Oldest Living Things in the World.