Science & Technology

Evidence of climate change washing up on Arctic shores

Science Outreach’s Cutting Edge Lectures welcomed the University of Alberta’s Professor Marianne Douglas to McGill’s Redpath Museum last Thursday to present her research on climatic warming in the Canadian High Arctic. Her recent research suggests that environmental warming is occurring at an alarming rate in certain arctic regions.  

“I think many people are aware that High  Arctic regions are changing, and they are changing very quickly,” Douglas said as she went on to identify evidence of the various environmental effects of warming Arctic temperatures, which include: coastal erosion, shrinking of ice over, earlier onset of spring conditions, increased plant productivity, new animal distributions, and net evaporation of shallow bodies of water.

“Understanding these changes provides insight into what future arctic conditions may prevail,” Douglas said. She outlined the many consequences of a warming Arctic for infrastructure (pipelines), vegetation, and animal distributions.  

Douglas specializes in paleolimnology, a method of research which examines lake sediments as a way of comparing past Arctic environmental conditions to the present. For scientists like Douglas, reading the data stored in these sediments is like reading a storybook that tells how a particular region has changed through the decades.  

“It’s like going back through time,” she said.

According to Douglas’s findings, temperatures show greatest warming at high latitudes like the Canadian Arctic because as sea ice melts, the region absorbs more summer heat. Lake sediments on Ellesmere Island in northern Nunavut indicate that several thousand years of cold environmental conditions radically changed in the 1990s to conditions typical of a warmer environment.  

Douglas projected that warming at the end of the century will add roughly 30 days of growing season in places like Ellesmere Island.     “But, I think we are already there,” she contends.  

Third-year McGill political science student Caitlin MacDonald was surprised by the drastic environmental changes Douglas described in her lecture.  

“We always hear about the seriousness of climate change, but are rarely presented with these kinds of eye-opening statistics,” MacDonald said.  

MacDonald said it’s important to increase awareness of these issues among students, adding that “it is our generation that will be most affected by Arctic warming and other environmental changes.”

Science Outreach Coordinator Ingrid Birker viewed Douglas’ slecture as a chance for McGill students to learn about cutting edge research on important scientific breakthroughs on climate change. She hopes the lecture will increase awareness, and put into perspective the significance of past and present research in the field.

 “I hope students can take away greater understanding and appreciation on the complexity of work like Dr. Douglas’s in investigating climate issues,” Birker said.

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