The project "Fluxes from Land to Ocean: How Coastal Habitats in the Arctic Respond" (FLO CHAR) focuses on the biogeochemical effects of climate change on the most rapidly evolving ecosystem on Earth, the shallow Arctic coastal environment.
Background of Project FLO CHAR:
Accelerated climate change in the Arctic is dramatically altering terrestrial and marine environments and will have cascading influences on all ecosystems and infrastructure on which local communities rely. Particularly Arctic coastal waters and shelves are impacted strongly as they sit at the interface between the warming land and ocean. At the same time coastal and near-shore zones are the most understudied regions of the Arctic marine realm. One critical area that has been affected by climate change is the Canadian Beaufort Sea, which borders the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) of northern Canada. Within the ISR lies the Tarium Niryutait Marine Protected Area (TNMPA), which is facing ecosystem shifts due to changing air temperatures, sea ice conditions, and most importantly, land-to-ocean fluxes of organic carbon and nutrients. The impacts of climate change in this region are already evident, with reduced availability of harvestable species and reports of invasive salmon species.
The overall objective of this project is to determine the impact of changing land-ocean matter fluxes and coastal subsea permafrost on nearshore ecosystems and biodiversity in the Beaufort Sea. This project will build on recent terrestrial and marine campaigns and close an important gap in the shallow water zone (0-20 m) surrounding the Mackenzie Delta.
Goals of FLO CHAR:
FLO CHAR aims to achieve three key objectives:
- Determine the changing seasonality, magnitude, and composition of fluvial and coastal fluxes (carbon, nitrogen, sediment, contaminants) from the land to the ocean and its impact on the marine biodiversity.
- Assess the fate of this material in the shallow coastal zone, focusing on how it is impacted by climate change.
- Investigate the role of recently submerged permafrost in sediment-water gas exchange.
In this project, we plan to conduct two campaigns in the spring and summer 2024 to collect non-invasive water and sediment samples. Correlations between permafrost distribution and sediment characteristics will help determine the role of subsea permafrost in ecosystem dynamics. Furthermore, the project will provide baseline data on present and past coastal biodiversity, including responses of Arctic coastal ecosystems over the past ~300 years, using sedaDNA approaches. Key investigations will focus on the impacts of sea ice reductions on population connectivity and range expansion of key vertebrate resources (Beluga whale and salmon) and the effects of increased organic matter input on benthic microbial and planktonic communities (archaea, bacteria, phytoplankton). Collaboration with local research assistants will bridge the gap between newly obtained scientific data and indigenous Inuit knowledge of ecosystem change and nearshore marine biodiversity.