Marine Systems

Current research projects (2019-2023)

Fate of kelp forests in a rapidly changing Arctic

Human-driven changes are occurring at an alarming rate on global scales and threaten coastal habitats in the Arctic. Kelps are large brown seaweeds that form unique habitats along many rocky Arctic coasts. Many fish and other animals use these lush underwater forests or shelter and food, which are particularly striking along Arctic coasts where ice scour and harsh climate leave the nearby land barren with little vegetation. Kelp forests have been recorded throughout the Canadian Arctic, yet we know little of these habitats, and their fate in this era of rapid change represents a critical gap in our knowledge of Arctic coastal ecosystems. Research to date suggest that a warmer Arctic with less sea ice may increase the extent of kelp by providing extended periods of light and warmer waters for growth. However, melting sea ice and permafrost may offset this benefit by freshening and increasing water color and turbidity in coastal areas. This project will combine coastal surveys, scientific dive experiments, laboratory tests, community meetings, remote sensing, research cruises, and modelling approaches to map kelp forests in the Arctic, assess their importance for coastal ecosystems and coastal societies, and predict climate-driven impacts on them. Knowledge on Arctic kelp forests will help northern communities and societies anticipate and prepare for coastal changes and possibly even benefit from these new ecosystems.