March 19, 2007

Feds support International Polar Year with $150M for Arctic research projects

The federal government has launched International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 in Canada with an ambitious scientific research program, backed by $150 million in confirmed funding.

Involving the participation of thousands of scientists from more than 60 nations, International Polar Year 2007-2008 is the largest-ever international program of scientific research focused on the Earth's polar regions. In outlining Canada's contribution, Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Jim Prentice said that 44 Canadian science and research projects have been selected to receive IPY funding from the federal government.

All of these projects are aligned with one of two priority areas for Canada's IPY science program: climate change impacts and adaptation, and the health and well-being of northern communities. Other program areas will ensure that valuable data is managed, and that support is provided for research licensing bodies and processes targeting all Canadians, particularly youth and northerners.

"Changes in the Arctic due to climate change are a signal, an early warning to Canadians," said Environment Minister John Baird. "These projects will give us a better understanding of the effects of climate change and other pollution falling on the North and that will lead to further actions we need to protect our water, land and citizens."

All Canadian research proposals had to meet strict criteria to promote northern participation, including skills training to build long-term northern research capacity and foster a new generation of northern scientists. With nearly 25% of the entire Arctic located within its boundaries, Canada is set to be a major centre of activity for IPY 2007-2008. Examples of projects to be carried out include the following.

*Canada's Three Oceans (C3O): Fisheries and Oceans department researchers will use two Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers to obtain a snapshot of large-scale ocean and ecosystem properties, covering approximately 12,000 kilometres of ocean track from Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia. This will establish a scientific basis for sustained monitoring of Canada's sub-Arctic and Arctic seas in the wake of global warming.

*Changing Forests and Peatlands in the Mackenzie Valley: The Northwest Territories' Mackenzie Valley is experiencing the most significant warming trend of any region. This five-year study will examine changes in the region's forests and peatlands to determine how thawing permafrost will affect greenhouse gas emissions and how the warming trend will affect vegetation.

*Permafrost Conditions and Climate Change: This project is also intended to provide a snapshot of permafrost conditions during International Polar Year, and so enable predictions to be made about future changes and the challenges they may create. Such research is needed to understand how quickly change is happening and to help prepare northern communities, as well as industry and governments, to adapt to and deal with these changes.

*Constructed Wetlands for Wastewater Treatment in Arctic Communities: These systems are an example of a sustainable, environmentally progressive technology that is still in its early development stage in the Arctic. Researchers from Fleming College's Centre for Alternative Wastewater Treatment will develop new engineering and technologies to arrive at a prototype system designed specifically to respond to Arctic needs and conditions.

*Investigation of the Effect of Climate Change on Nutrient and Carbon Cycles in the Arctic Ocean: This study will yield data that will enable better prediction of the effects of changes in temperature, ice cover and freshwater discharge on the Arctic Ocean's productivity, ecosystem structure and capacity for carbon sequestration.

*PEARL Near the Pole-Atmospheric Research in the High Arctic: The Arctic atmosphere is forecast to undergo many changes in years to come, many of them larger and occurring faster than at lower latitudes. During International Polar Year, observation work will be intensified at PEARL, a new atmospheric research laboratory at Eureka, Nunavut, and several specific research projects will be conducted.

*Pollutants Travelling in the Air to the Arctic: This study of long-range transport of airborne pollutants will measure toxic chemicals produced through human activity to determine their origin and how weather conditions influence their presence in the Arctic.

IPY 2007-2008 is the first initiative of its kind in 50 years and is only the fourth such undertaking in history. The first IPY, in 1882-83, involved only 12 nations, but resulted in the establishment of 14 research stations in the Arctic (three in Canada), amassed an enormous amount of information and set an important precedent for international scientific co-operation. The most recent similar endeavour, International Geophysical Year (1957-1958), helped pave the way for the space age with the launch of the world's first satellites, and ultimately resulted in the ratification of the Antarctic Treaty in 1961.

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