Marine Systems

Current research projects (2019-2024)

Ecosystem Shift in Hudson Bay and James Bay: Causes, Consequences, and Prospects for the Future

Cree and Inuit, in low Arctic areas like Hudson Bay and James Bay, describe how noticeable climate change “started” in the late 1990s. Communities experienced unusual ice conditions, witnessed arrival of new species, and noted changes in the diets of seals and other wildlife, while Cree in east James Bay saw abrupt and drastic declines in eelgrass. Scientists documented numerous ecological changes over the same period including slower growth of seabird chicks, changes in fish communities, and poor body condition in ringed seals and polar bears. Although the late 1990s broke heat records across Canada, the suite of ecological changes in Hudson Bay and James Bay is striking and raises the questions of why so much change occurred and so abruptly? Does it signal that an oceanographic regime shift occurred? If so, was the strong response due to changes to the seasonal ice cover and river discharge, or perhaps their inland character and position downstream of the changing Arctic Ocean? The answers to these questions are critical to predict the likely impacts and ecosystem stability in the face of future climate change both within the HBMR and more broadly across the Canadian Arctic. We will prepare three high-impact scientific publications i) synthesizing documented ecological changes from across Hudson Bay and James Bay, ii) combining oceanographic observations and modelling results from past and ongoing programs to characterize the timing of change, the mechanisms, and the associated marine environmental conditions; and iii) describing likely future impacts and ecosystem stability based on the past and present system states, and our understanding of mechanism(s) of past change. The main findings will be shared with northerners via videos shared over the web and at regional meetings. The observations of ecological change will be catalogued in a user-friendly, geo-database that can be linked to the various web platforms already used to share information in various regions (e.g., SIKU, Cree Nation Government geoportal, CEOS’ CanWIN, and CCADI).

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