Terrestrial Systems

Current research projects (2019-2023)

Understanding and predicting future coastal climate-vegetation-cryosphere interactions in coastal Labrador

Climate change and natural climate variability are impacting northern communities and landscapes. Across Labrador and northern Québec (including Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut), rapid regional warming observed over the past several decades1,2 has significantly impacted the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples and Northerners by reducing access to traditional lands and the availability of resources, including firewood and wildlife3,4. Coastal Labrador and Nunavik include unique ecosystem clusters in Canada5 and contains the southernmost portions of the Canadian Arctic5,6; however, these regions have been historically understudied. Further, in coastal Labrador and Nunavik, observed and projected changes to the region’s plants, trees, snow cover, and permafrost pose unique challenges for Inuit and other Indigenous Peoples who rely on suitable snow and ice conditions for accessing traditional grounds for subsistence hunting, foraging and cultural activities4. Satellite and field-based data have shown that regional shrub growth has accelerated due to warming summer air temperatures with coastal Labrador and Nunavik having the fastest greening trends in North America7. Prior studies have also shown that increasing shrub height and density can degrade permafrost by changing how snow accumulates across the landscape impacting surface energy fluxes8,9. Thus, the recent greening of coastal Labrador and Nunavik suggests that permafrost in this region is likely susceptible to thaw. This project aims to improve our understanding of how observed and projected changes in plants, trees, snow cover, and permafrost will interact, and how this may impact people and northern ecosystems. We will work with communities in Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, and NunatuKavut to identify species of cultural importance and landscape features that may be most susceptible to change. Using a multi-scale approach which integrates culturally important species and landscapes, field data collection and advanced modelling techniques will allow us to predict how landscapes in Nunatsiavut, Nunavik and NunatuKavut will respond to future changes in air temperature, precipitation and snow cover. This interdisciplinary project will allow us to better assess habitat vulnerability to future environmental changes, permitting regional policy-makers to make better informed decisions on adaptation, management and infrastructure initiatives. Across the Circumpolar Arctic, the improved understanding of linkages between snow, trees, plants and permafrost is highly transferable and will give other communities access to conservation and planning tools needed to better manage changing northern landscapes due to climate change.