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Research Priorities

Northern Water Futures (NWF) will focus on four main research themes:

Northern Water Resources and Security

The NWT Water Stewardship Strategy envisions that “Waters that flow into, within or through the NWT are substantially unaltered in quality, quantity and rates of flow.” However, the climate warming-induced changes to precipitation, ice/snow cover, permafrost and ground thermal regimes, wildfire regimes, habitats, river and stream flows, and lake levels severely challenge our ability to predict northern water futures. These changes call for new, coordinated action driven by user needs and new collaborations that span across disciplines and sectors.

The goals of this theme will be to synthesize existing data; initiate new, targeted interdisciplinary studies; develop new monitoring capacity including new monitoring tools; and apply new technologies for monitoring and predicting changes to ecosystems and water resources through implementation of Laurier's Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI)-funded Changing Arctic Network (CANet) infrastructure.

Integrated Ecosystem Change and Human Health

Water is crucial for:

  • Drinking and sanitation;
  • The production and quality of food;
  • Ecosystem processes linked to traditional modes of livelihood;
  • Transportation; and
  • Cultural and spiritual practices.

Users have identified an interest in better understanding how climate change will affect safety and security of drinking water and traditional foods. NWF will construct the crucial mechanisms of interaction and knowledge sharing that ensure communities can draw on scientific data in ways that support their own needs and decision-making processes to ensure community health and well-being.

NWF will build on existing efforts by Laurier researchers working in the North to generate a dialogue between scientists and traditional knowledge holders about the changing landscape. Indigenous communities in the NWT account for approximately 50% of the population and comprise a large majority in the towns outside the capital city of Yellowknife. These communities rely on the ecosystems they live in to support their traditional livelihoods. "Country" or subsistence foods are gathered and hunted to meet the community’s nutritional requirements. Therefore, intact headwater catchments provide the natural infrastructure for clean water and habitat for fish and wildlife.

This research theme addresses these needs through projects that link the vulnerability of human communities to climate warming induced changes affecting the state of water resources.

Energy Security and Impacts of Industrial Development on Water Resources

The development of energy resources within the NWT (i.e. oil, gas, biofuels) provides the simultaneous opportunities of enhancing economic prosperity and energy security. Most energy security issues are linked to water resource availability and water quality preservation.

This research theme addresses major challenges facing energy stakeholders and concerned communities pertaining to climate warming and the uncertainty concerning the ability of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems to support these activities.

Impacts of Climate Warming on Infrastructure

In much of the NWT, infrastructure including roads, buildings, pipelines, bridges and landing strips/airports are constructed on permafrost terrain, in many cases ice-rich permafrost. There is an expectation that this terrain will be stable and support infrastructure over the long term. Rapid climate warming is undermining this assumption and presenting a wide array of challenges to engineers and managers responsible for the maintenance of existing infrastructure and the location and construction of new infrastructure. Infrastructure that was once considered robust and secure has become unstable, unreliable, and often unsafe.

Climate warming directly challenges infrastructure by:

  • Reducing the seasonal duration and integrity of winter roads, including those that service mines and remote communities;
  • Increasing the aerial extent of wildfires that damage or threaten infrastructure; and
  • Indirectly undermining infrastructure integrity by inducing hydrological changes.

This research theme addresses our partners' requirements for improved regional climate change predictions, prediction of extreme flows and better tools for predicting terrain sensitivity in order to construct and maintain safe, reliable and cost-effective infrastructure for the 21st century.