University’s Northwest Passage Stations to Study Polar Bears

Published on: 2010/11/18 - in News

Queen’s University will soon have a strategic polar presence along the increasingly important Northwest Passage.

With colleagues from the Gjoa haven, Cambridge Bay and Taloyoaks Hunters and Trappers Organization, a team led by Queen’s biologist Peter V.C de Groot is renovating three polar bear monitoring stations to assess the impact of changing conditions and increased sea traffic.

“Our location is significant for two reasons,” says Dr. de Groot “This particular bear population has had little or no harvest for nearly 10 years, so its dynamic will be nearly natural. The increasing ice melt means the bears’ feeding opportunities are going to change, and they will also be disturbed by an increasing number of boats in the Passage. Monitoring the response of this relatively undisturbed population is critical.”

Along with an existing station built in 2009, the four sites will form a diamond shape straddling the Passage, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and is becoming navigable for longer periods each year due to shrinking pack ice.

Queen's Arctic research stations (circled) will be located on both sides of the Northwest Passage.

He adds that from a sovereignty perspective, the research stations are the only Canadian infrastructure in the Northwest Passage between Gjoa Haven in the south and Resolute Bay in the north.

“This project ushers in a new era of collaboration between northern Canada’s original inhabitants and one of Canada’s leading universities,” says Queen’s Director of Policy Studies Peter Harrison, an expert in polar policy and chair of the pivotal 2012 International Polar Year conference. “The proximity of the Queen’s field sites to the Canadian government’s new High Arctic Research Facility, coupled with their location in the Northwest Passage make them of great national and international significance.”

The bear population will be studied by using traditional knowledge of Inuit hunters and state-of-the-art genetic DNA analysis. This unique approach has been developed by Dr. de Groot, Queen’s scientists Peter Boag (biology) and Roel Vertegaal (computing), Inuit hunters and international collaborators.

“By developing these techniques in which hunters from various communities are compensated for their knowledge and skills on the land, they may feel they have a larger stake in the conservation and management of polar bears,” Dr. de Groot suggests.

This week, 1 Canadian Rangers Patrol Group confirmed the deployment of 20 Rangers from local Arctic communities to help assemble and move critical infrastructure to the cabin sites, two of which are on Inuit-owned land. When the new and refurbished cabins – each with rooftop satellites, generators, heaters and beds – aren’t being used for research, Inuit hunters may bring in eco-tourists to observe the bears in a natural setting.

The $550,000 project is funded by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs through their Arctic Research Infrastructure Funding program. This initiative forms part of a national strategy to exercise Canada’s Arctic sovereignty, protect the North’s environmental heritage, promote social and economic development and improve northern governance.


Map and release by Queen’s University News Centre and reprinted with permission.
Polar Bears photo source: Wikipedia.