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Strong Memorial contingent at International Polar Year conference

Memorial's expertise in Arctic and northern regions will be highlighted in a number of presentations at the International Polar Year 2012 conference in Montreal, Que. Running April 22-27, the conference brings together more than 2,000 researchers, policy makers and stakeholders to examine issues related to polar regions.

The International Polar Year (IPY), 2007-08, was sponsored by the International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Organization to advance understanding of the globe's polar regions through an intensive burst of internationally co-ordinated, interdisciplinary scientific research and observations.

The 2012 conference looks to build on the knowledge gained during the International Polar Year and to contribute to the development of an evidence-based agenda for action.

More than 20 representatives from Memorial will be on hand to participate in the conference. See related stories below.



Science researchers contribute to climate change research

By Kelly Foss

The Faculty of Science's research contributions to the 2012 International Polar Year conference program has added valuable information to our understanding of climate change impacts on land, sea and air.

Biologist Luise Hermanutz was involved in two land-based International Polar Year (IPY) projects. The first, titled Present Processes, Past Changes and Spatiotemporal Dynamics, or IPY-PPSA, was international in scope and studied treeline change across the globe. Dr. Hermanutz's lab provided data from the Mealy Mountains of Labrador along with Drs. John Jacobs, Paul Marino, Trevor Bell and Alvin Simms.

"The Mealys are a very different system from the one in western Canada and previously all of this type of work had been done in the west," said Dr. Hermanutz. "Not much was known about how vegetation and treeline are going to change in the east where the coastal dynamic is different."

PhD student Andrew Trant and a number of M.Sc. students examined how the shrubline and treeline are changing, and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Xiongbing Jin is integrating biological, climatological and geographic information system data collected into a meaningful model of treeline change in coastal Labrador.
The lab's second project, Climate Change Impacts on Canadian Arctic Tundra (IPY-CiCAT), studied tundra change in Northern Labrador, specifically the Torngat Mountains. Companion projects involved monitoring tundra vegetation, berry biology and shrubline change.

PhD student Laura Siegwart Collier got involved through an ArcticNet partner project.

"We are looking at observations of change by Inuit elders from eight different communities across Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut to determine the relationships between geographically close communities in terms of climate change with respect to berries, vegetation, seasons, animals and climate," said Ms. Siegwart Collier.

Most of the funding allocated through IPY went towards covering the cost of conducting fieldwork in Labrador.

Dr. Richard Rivkin, a University Research Professor at the Ocean Sciences Centre, has had two major ship-based programs funded by IPY.

One, the Canadian Surface Ocean Lower Atmosphere (SOLAS) project, deals with understanding how exchanges between the atmosphere and ocean influences ocean biogeochemistry and controls fluxes of climate-active properties.

"The ocean transfers elements, gasses, heat and momentum between the two medium," said Dr. Rivkin. "All of this has an influence on climate and on biology."

His group investigated the microbial food web and how it was influenced by ocean related processes, and how changes in ice cover resulting from climate changes would influence the microbial dynamics and carbon cycling.

The second project, Canadian Geotraces, characterized the elemental transformation of major trace elements and isotopes from the surface down to a depth of 4,000 metres.

"There was very little known about the biological processes which occur below the first couple of hundred metres of the surface in the polar regions," explained Dr. Rivkin. "What's interesting, and indeed unique is we were able to characterize the biological and trace metal interactions in up to seven different layers of water. Once you have a robust physical hydrographic framework you can understand the distribution of these organisms and some of the very fundamental questions about functionality in these environments."

Laura McFarlane Tranquilla, a PhD student of cognitive and behavioural ecology, works with Dr. Bill Montevecchi, University Research Professor, to study seabirds as indicators of changing Arctic climate.

Their IPY project involved analyzing tracking data of closely-related high Arctic thick-billed murres and low Arctic common murres from seven breeding colonies ranging from Prince Leopold Island to Witless Bay.

The bulk of the IPY funding paid for geolocators, which Memorial University and Canadian Wildlife Service scientists attached to the birds during their breeding season at each of the colonies. The devices determine a bird's location using levels of light and timing of sunset and sunrise to give a position.

"The geolocators indicate where the birds are during winter in the open ocean where previous knowledge was very limited," said Ms. McFarlane Tranquilla. "The loggers archive the information and since the birds return to the same nesting site year after year, we return the following year to catch the murres and remove the geolocators from their legs."

The devices have provided novel information on where the birds go in the open ocean during winter. The analysis phase is continuing, and Ms. McFarlane Tranquilla will compare the colonies for differences between the two species and between the two sexes in terms of departure from colonies, migration timing and wintering area.



Interdisciplinary arts presentations at polar conference

By Janet Harron

Faculty members and students in the Faculty of Arts are looking forward to participating in the third and final conference for International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-08.

The IPY 2012 From Knowledge to Action conference will highlight the latest polar research and discuss how this new knowledge can be used to advance programs, politics and actions on critical global issues.

Dr. Trevor Bell, together with graduate students and collaboraters in the Department of Geography, will make a total of 13 presentations. Wide-ranging in scope, interdisciplinary in context and pan-Arctic in geographical focus, these multi-authored presentations represent both remote and community field research supported by Canada's IPY program, ArcticNet, and federal and provincial governments.

Graduate student Rudy Riedlsperger's project examines the vulnerability of winter trails in northern communities, most specifically Nunatsiavut.

"Winter trails are critical to the livelihoods of northern communities," said Mr. Riedlsperger, who recently returned from four weeks of field work in Labrador. "The results of this research will provide regional decision makers with important information on the sensitivity and adaptive capacity of communities to changes in trail networks."

Dr. Arn Keeling, also of the Department of Geography, will be presenting a jointly authored paper that examines how contemporary ideas about "cultural adaptation" shaped federal government policies around settlement life, industrial labour and social relations at Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.

"These are important historical lessons which are relevant to the current debates about the sustainability of large-scale mineral development in Nunavut," said Dr. Keeling, who is also the co-author of a poster with MA student Tara Cater, titled Exploring Mining Encounters: Adaptation, Cultural Identity Formation, and the Negotiation of Cross-cultural Relationships in the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut.

History professor Dr. John Sandlos is presenting a paper on socio-economic and cultural diversity in Rankin Inlet from 1956-63, which was primarily written by MA student Patricia Boulter. The paper includes the actions, experiences and voices of local policy makers and Inuit, tracing their varied responses to the introduction of mining at Rankin Inlet.

Ms. Boulter won't be attending the conference but is pleased Dr. Sandlos will be presenting her paper.

Posters are also being presented by Heather Green (MA, history) and Scott Midgley (MA, geography).