A Twin Otter aircraft on the snow.
The Twin Otter that transports the team to sampling stations. Image: Michel Poulin © Canadian Museum of Nature

Researcher Michel Poulin writes from the Arctic hamlet of Resolute, where he has been participating in a research project since May 4, 2011.

Well, the two-week BIOTA project (Biological Impacts of Trends in the Arctic) is off to a great start, under the direction of Dr. Christine Michel of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Winnipeg.

The project researches microscopic algal communities that grow in the subsurface of sea ice. We want to observe the extent to which and in what ways the biodiversity of these communities varies in the Canadian High Arctic.

We can then use this information in the future to make a better assessment of the impact of climate change on the region and the Canadian Arctic as a whole. Research will be conducted around Resolute, Nunavut, where the Polar Continental Shelf Program research facility is located.

The multi-disciplinary research programme calls upon the skills and knowledge of a group of Canadian, British and Polish scientists to meet a set of objectives. Our primary aim is to

  • compare the species of biological communities in the annual and multi-year ice
  • study how the composition of species and the productivity of microscopic algal communities vary in different biochemical conditions of the High Arctic
  • determine the characteristics of the organic carbon components in the annual ice, and in a variety of biochemical conditions of the High Arctic
  • identify within the food web the ties between microscopic algal communities and zooplankton.

Sample-taking is planned at a maximum of 25 stations around Cornwallis Island, including Barrow Strait, Resolute Passage, Wellington Strait and McDougall Strait, among others. If we are lucky, we will also head to Lancaster Strait, which is located much further to the east.

We will travel to these sites by helicopter or a small aircraft known as a Twin Otter, which has excellent ice-landing capabilities. Otherwise, the stations closest to Resolute will be reached by snowmobile. All in all, it’s an ambitious program, but realistic, too, because ambient weather conditions will be taken into account as an essential safety precaution. And the decision to fly or not is up to the air traffic manager here at the Polar Continental Shelf Program base.

The field team comprises six people who will share the work to be done over the course of the two-week sampling programme. As a general rule, four people will sit back and enjoy the ride by Twin Otter or helicopter to take ice samples from the designated stations, while the two others stay behind to perform lab work in the newly expanded Polar Continental Shelf Program facility.