Inuit Research Advisors

Current Projects (2015-2018)

Integrated Regional Impact Studies

ArcticNet’s 41 research projects contribute to four Integrated Regional Impact Studies (IRISes) that each underpin an Integrated Regional Impact Assessment (IRIA). Each of the four IRISes corresponds to one of the main political-physiographic-oceanographic regions of the coastal Canadian Arctic.

Many ArcticNet projects operate across the Canadian Arctic and therefore contribute to several of the four assessments. Along with results of other Arctic studies and assessments, and the expertise of ArcticNet’s partners, the scientific conclusions and recommendations produced by the Network’s projects are compiled in the assessments developed for each region.

  • IRIS 1: Western and Central Arctic
  • IRIS 2: Eastern Arctic
  • IRIS 3: Hudson Bay
  • IRIS 4: Eastern Sub-Arctic

IRIS 1: Western and Central Arctic

The Western and Central Arctic IRIS focuses on the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and, for reasons of ecosystem continuity, extends into the SW sector of the Canadian Archipelago for the study of marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Demographically, the ISR Land-Claim Region is home to about 3000 Inuvialuit distributed in six communities. Among all regions of the Canadian Arctic, climate warming has been most intense in the Western High Arctic with temperature increases of 2 to 3°C in the last 50 years. The relatively productive ecosystem of the Mackenzie River Delta contrasts with the low-diversity coastal plain and islands which belong to the Southern Arctic ecozone (rolling uplands and lowland plains; long cold winters and short cool summers; dwarf shrub decreasing in size northward; musk ox, wolf, arctic fox, grizzly and polar bear, and caribou (Furgal et al. 2003). Throughout the region, the silty clays and organic terrain are rich in massive ice and the unlithified coast is subject to intense erosion as ground ice melts and the protection afforded against waves by landfast sea ice declines. The coastal ISR borders the south-west Beaufort Sea, including the shallow Mackenzie Shelf which is strongly influenced by the Mackenzie River plume, and the deeper Amundsen Gulf that connects to the Canadian Archipelago. The Beaufort sea is home to the largest stock of beluga whales in the world, a large population of bowhead whales in summer, polar bears and ringed and bearded seals. Marine diversity is generally low and productivity is weak to moderate except in a few biological hotspots such as the Cape Bathurst polynya on the eastern margin of the Mackenzie Shelf. Marine ecosystems north of the Amundsen Gulf remain largely unexplored.

Navigation on the Mackenzie River system, hard minerals mining (e.g. around Kugluktuk) and exploration for oil in the Delta region dominate the industrial sector. Exploration for oil was extended offshore in 2007 and 2008 with the sale of concessions at the continental margin of the Beaufort Sea.

Leader: Gary Stern

Coordinator: Ashley Gaden

IRIS 2: Eastern Arctic

Nunavut ("our land" in Inuktitut) is the ancestral home of the Inuit of the Central and Eastern Arctic. It is the largest, least populous, and newest federal territory of Canada, having been separated officially from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999 (Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act). Nunavut comprises the greater part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and the islands of Ungava, Hudson and James Bay. The territory covers 1,932,255 km2 of land and 160,935 km2 of water. Several islands in the Archipelago are divided between Nunavut and the Inuvialuit Land Claim Settlement, notably Victoria, and Melville Islands. The landscape has been shaped by ice sheets and glaciers, which carved out deep valleys and fjords. Today, it is being altered by climate-related changes such as rising temperatures, retreating sea ice, and thawing permafrost. Ecosystems vary widely, from the flat tundra west of Hudson Bay to the rich North Water polynya in northern Baffin Bay. Of great scientific interest is the south-north gradient in terrestrial coastal arctic ecosystems from the northern limit of the taiga to the arctic desert of Ellesmere Island.

Nunavut is currently home to approximately 30 000 residents, 85 percent of whom are Inuit (Nunavummiut), distributed in 26 coastal communities. The population is young (35% under 18 years of age) and is projected to increase from 32 183 in 2009 to 44 581 by 2036. The economy is a mix of wage-based economy (mining, exploration, tourism, fisheries, art) and land-based economy, an integral part of the Inuit cultural and social way of life. Activities such as harvesting caribou, seals and Arctic char provide a healthy diet, education, community cohesion, and cultural identity. Nunavut's economy is still highly dependent on employment in the public sector (Government of Nunavut, municipal, education, health and security). Vast distances, a small but growing population, the high cost of materials, energy, transport and labour, and extreme and changing climate challenge the Nunavut's government and people.

Government in Nunavut co-exists with a number of public bodies directly and indirectly related to the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) represents Inuit beneficiaries, manages federal funding resulting from the claim, offers services and programs, and oversees co-management bodies such as the Nunavut Planning Commission, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and the Nunavut Water Board.

Leader: Trevor Bell

Coordinator: Tanya Brown

IRIS 3: Hudson Bay

The Hudson Bay marine ecosystem encompasses Hudson Bay, Foxe Basin and Hudson Strait and, at 1 240 000 km2, is the largest inland sea in the world. It connects to the Arctic Ocean through Fury and Hecla Strait and to the Atlantic Ocean through Hudson Strait. The surrounding Hudson Bay Lowlands are low, permafrost-laden plain characterized by marshes, peat and ponds. The land surrounding the Bay is slowly rising due to isostatic rebound, slowly exposing more and more coast. Its relatively southern location supports the most southern Arctic marine ecosystem in the world. This leaves the Hudson Bay system highly susceptible to climate change. The Bay experiences complete annual sea ice cover in the winter, and becomes ice-free each summer. Ice cover starts in late October in the northern parts of the Bay, while the maximum ice coverage occurs in April. Several polynyas recur in the Bay predominantly along the north-west and east coasts. The Bay is fed by numerous large rivers on its western, southern and eastern shores. This freshwater influx strongly affects the general counter-clockwise coastal circulation. The Hudson Bay watershed covers over a third of the Canadian landmass, from southern Alberta to central Ontario to Baffin Island, as well as parts of North Dakota and Minnesota.

The Bay is home to several species of fish, seals, whales, migratory birds, sea birds, as well as mammals such as the polar bear and caribou. The bioregion has been traditionally inhabited by Cree in the south, occupying parts of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, while Inuit have long inhabited the north, including the eastern shores of Hudson Bay, north Nunavik, and the Nunavut, including the island communities of Coral Harbour and Sanikiluaq. As part of their traditional subsistence hunting, Cree harvest waterfowl and terrestrial mammals like moose. Inuit traditional subsistence includes the harvesting of fish, seals, whales, while caribou are also important in some communities. The shores of Hudson Bay are shared by the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, and the territory of Nunavut. The islands within Hudson Bay are part of Nunavut, including the Belcher Islands in the south, while the waters of the Bay are under exclusive federal jurisdiction. Hydroelectric development is extent in the Hudson Bay watershed, and plays a significant role in the water flow and timing of several of the large rivers draining into the Bay. Other commercial activities in Hudson Bay include mining and shipping in summer via the Port of Churchill, the only deep water port of the Canadian Arctic.

Leader: David Barber

Coordinator: Lauren Candlish

IRIS 4: Eastern Sub-Arctic

The Eastern Subarctic IRIS encompasses the Inuit territories of Nunavik (northern Quebec) and Nunatsiavut (northern Labrador). Both territories have a form of self-government that is evolving towards greater autonomy. Population size is about 10800 residents in Nunavik and 10550 in Nunatsiavut. Demographic growth from 2001 to 2006 was very high in Nunavik at 10.4 % while the population of Nunatsiavut was decreasing at a rate of -6.0 %.

The region is bounded by seas on three sides (Hudson Bay to the west, Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay to the north, and the Labrador Sea to the east). This geography results in a continental-type climate with higher precipitation, particularly snow, than at similar latitudes west of Hudson Bay. The region lies totally within the Canadian Shield. Highest elevations are in the Torngat mountains along the boundary between Nunavik and Nunatsiavut, where the only glaciers east of the Rockies are found in continental Canada. Both transitions from forest to tundra and from discontinuous to continuous permafrost occur across the region.

The climate of the region has been warming rapidly since the early 1990s and models project an increase of temperatures by 3-4°C and precipitations by 10 to 25% for the middle of the century relative to the 1960-1990 period. Current climate change already impacts the thermal regime of permafrost and the dynamics of the active layer. A 2°C temperature increase 4 m deep over the whole territory, affects transportation infrastructures and communities. Stakeholders support ongoing research targeted at improved land planning and technical solutions for adaptation. Thaw lakes are forming in great numbers in areas of ice-rich, fine-grained soils and wetlands, with a feedback on the generation of greenhouses gases. Changes in vegetation cover are reported both by Inuit and researchers. Shrubs, particularly, are expanding in the forest-tundra. Trees, mostly larch in the eastern Ungava bay region, are extending the tree-line upwards on hillsides. Expected impacts on key animal resources such as the large caribou herds and the Arctic charr populations will likely be through a series of complex interactions between climate factors, food availability, vegetation dynamics, water temperature, ice cover duration and thickness on lakes, population dynamics, herbivory and predator-prey relationships. Therefore, adaptation processes for humans living on these resources will require multiple approaches over the geographical domain.

Leader: Michel Allard

Coordinator: Mickaël Lemay