Mapping the future of research in the Canadian North
Canada’s polar regions are under siege. Temperatures are warming more rapidly than elsewhere on Earth and model projections see this trend persisting well into the future. Ecosystems are being degraded and permafrost is melting. The effects of climate change and other global environmental phenomena, such as toxic containments, are drivers that challenge the integrity of the landscape and as a result impact the diet and health of Northerners.
Sea-ice and glaciers are also melting at an alarming rate and are accelerating the warming of the planet and the rise of global sea-levels. Vast reservoirs of frozen carbon locked in the seabed and peatlands are beginning to seep into the atmosphere augmenting the greenhouse effect. Gaseous contaminants emanating from human activities outside the Arctic accumulate resulting in an increase in the ozone hole over the Arctic, which admits harmful ultra-violet radiation to the tundra surface. North flowing rivers serve as conduits for waste that accumulate in the Arctic Ocean and marine food-webs.
The Inuit and Northern First Nations have long served as stewards of this land and have developed a remarkable culture incorporating their surroundings into distinctive customs, language, clothing, diet, recreation, music, art and design. Can this culture survive and flourish in the face of powerful forces driving Northern development? Northern residents are only now regaining some control over their land and institutions and developing a voice in how the future will unfold. Are we listening to those voices?
These issues form the basis for Northern Research and studies by EUC faculty members like Richard Bello, Kathy Young, Gregory Thiemann, and adjunct professor Kaz Higuchi. Their focus is to increase awareness of the importance of Canada’s North and to help address the issues facing its people and environment by facilitating Northern research and education.
For the past three decades, Bello’s graduate students have driven his Northern field research program which focuses on the water balance and greenhouse gas exchange from the peatlands and ponds in the Hudson Bay Lowlands based out of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in Manitoba. His particular interest lies on how climate change is altering sea-ice on Hudson Bay and, in turn, modifying the permafrost and vegetation in the Hudson Bay Lowlands.
In a 2019 article with Higuchi (cartography and data processing by Connie Ko) on “Changing surface radiation and energy budgets of the Hudson Bay Complex,” the authors used estimates from the North American regional reanalysis (NARR) model to examine the surface radiation and energy balance components of the Hudson Bay Complex. Accordingly, over 94% of the increases in ocean heat gain during the melt season are due to increases in absorbed sunlight. The entire complex shows a reduced rate of ocean warming over the past two decades with the observation that all water bodies are experiencing enhanced losses of energy during extended ice-free winters exceeding enhanced gains of energy during the extended ice-free summers. The authors discussed the implications of seasonal changes in ice cover for future climate trends requiring further analyses of other climatological data sets for the Hudson Bay Complex.
Recently, Bello has developed a new research program examining the hydrology and carbon dynamics of Eastern white cedar forests of the Bruce Peninsula. In another article with Alex Kent and Taly Drezner on climate warming and influx of potentially invasive species into boreal forest and tundra of the Hudson Bay Lowlands, their study suggests that if disturbance and nutrient enrichment are reduced in the Canadian Arctic, the potential for introduced plant species to establish and possibly become invasive is still limited but will most likely change as warming continues.
Bello is a climatologist specializing in the measurement of greenhouse gas exchange and the potential for climate change in the Hudson Bay Lowlands and Toronto's urban environment with particular interest on global/climate change, geography, carbon dynamics, climate science, as well as Northern environments. He is also part of York University’s Ontario Climate Data Portal, that is, a user-friendly portal of Ontario-specific climate projections.