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Adam wins a Weston WCS-Canada fellowship in northern conservation

Sam Hunter and Adam Kirkwood extract a permafrost cores from a palsa in Polar Bear Park

Sam Hunter and Adam Kirkwood extract a permafrost cores from a palsa in Polar Bear Park, Ontario.

Adam Kirkwood won a Weston Wildlife Conservation Society-Canada Fellowship for his M.Sc. project on The significance and vulnerability of carbon and mercury stores frozen in palsa mires of the Ontario Far North. He will be working on cores extracted from intact, partially degraded, and degraded palsas extending along a latitudinal gradient between Peawanuck and Attawapiskat. Adam will 1) characterize the microbial community in the cores with eDNA (targeting methanogens, SRB and Hg methylation genes with sequencing and qPCR); 2) incubate the samples to assess greenhouse gas production potential; and 3) analyzed them for total mercury and methyl mercury content.

This project is a collaboration with researchers from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, who have equipped the palsa gradient with climate stations, permafrost monitoring stations, and flux towers, and with the BIOTRON Institute for Experimental Climate Change Research at Western University, and the Vale Living with Lakes Center at Laurentian University.

Field work on a palsa

Adam Kirkwood, Mark Crofts, and Benoit Hamel take field notes and package a permafrost core before leaving a site.

Adam’s project directly addresses concerns and priorities identified by the Muskegowuk Council, which has given its support to the project, and we look forward to sharing information with Muskegowuk communities. A poster in Cree and English (Greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost in Polar Bear Provincial Park – ᑲᑎᑭᑌᐠ ᐱᑐᐡ ᑲᑎᑭᐠ ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᑭᔑᑲᐠ) with information on some aspects of this project was presented earlier this year at the Muskegowuk Climate Summit.

Permafrost degradation occurs beneath shallower water than expected in northern Yukon

Methane escapes from a hole drilled through lake bottom sediment  (photo credit: Z. Braul)

A paper published by Roy-Leveillee and Burn (2017)  in the Journal of Geophysical Research- Earth Surface  reports observations of permafrost degradation and talik development beneath water depths less than 15% of the maximum ice thickness in lakes of Old Crow Flats, northern Yukon.  This is surprising as,  in the near-shore zones of thermokarst lakes, it is generally assumed that permafrost is sustained where water depth is less than 60% of the local maximum ice thickness.

 

 

 

Jet-drilling to delineate the talik permafrost boundary  (Photo credit: P. Roy-Léveillée)

The paper investigates controls on permafrost degradation and reveals that sub-lake permafrost is sensitive to on-ice snow distribution where the water column freezes through. It shows the importance of the thermal offset where conditions are marginal for talik initiation and highlights the role of interannual variability for prompt talik initiation near receding shores.

These findings improve understanding of permafrost degradation beneath shallow water, a topic of  particular concern in the context of climatic warming as methane release from thaw lakes is concentrated near receding lake margins and is most active at the thaw front beneath the lake bottom.

Summer 2016 field season in the Blackstone Uplands

In July and August, Emma, Nathan, and Pascale visited the Blackstone Uplands, Yukon, to investigate field conditions at sites that showed signs of increased permafrost degradation between the 1950s and early 2000s. The data collected will be used for Emma’s honor thesis, as she will examine the distribution of thermokarst features in the Blackstone River valley and discuss terrain characteristics at the affected sites.

Photographs of thermokarst features in the Blackstone Uplands and some field work photos are found here, and more pictures of students hard at work in the field are found here. Nathan and Emma’s field work was made possible by funding from the Goodman School of Mines and the Northern Scientific Training Program. Thanks to the Na-Cho Nyak Dun and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nations for allowing us to conduct field work on their traditional territories.

Nathan and Emma 2016

Clockwise from top left corner: Degrading ice wedges and thermokarst tunnels; Expanding ponds; Active-layer detachment slides; Developping beaded streams. All photos taken in the Blackstone Uplands in 2016, by Pascale Roy-Leveillee.