Arctic Change 2014: Sharing Our New Knowledge with the World

In December, Canadian Museum of Nature scientists took part in Arctic Change 2014, an international scientific conference that took place in Ottawa about all fields of Arctic research.

There, we joined over 1200 delegates representing a diversity of disciplines, perspectives, nationalities and cultures. Hundreds of presentations were delivered that reported the latest research findings on diverse aspects of Arctic science and policy.

A blooming plant grows in rocky ground near water.

At Arctic Change 2014, museum researchers shared their new knowledge about plants, algae, diatoms and Arctic phytoplankton. Here, we see purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia). Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature

Several blooming plants mingle in rocky ground.

Small-flowered anemone (Anemone parviflora) and mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna). Image: Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature

One of the goals of the Canadian Museum of Nature is to advance understanding of Canada’s Arctic and its relationship with Canada. We achieve this through research, both in the field and in our laboratories, and have recently created a new Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration to increase our capacity in that domain.

We also achieve our goal by sharing our new knowledge widely. One of the ways that scientists share new information is through participation in scientific conferences such as Arctic Change 2014, where new findings are presented formally and informally to others.

A man digs an ice core.

Researcher Michel Poulin extracts an ice sample near Resolute, Nunavut, during Arctic fieldwork. Image: © Canadian Museum of Nature

At the conference, Michel Poulin, Ph.D., an expert on Canada’s marine diatoms, phytoplankton and ice algae, was a co-author on two poster presentations. One poster reported changes in phytoplankton taxonomic composition over time in the Canadian Arctic Ocean. The other assessed the ability of sea-ice algal communities to produce compounds for protection again UV radiation. These compounds may be important for photoprotection—like a sunscreen—as the Arctic marine ecosystem responds to a changing climate.

I delivered a presentation on floristic discoveries and biodiversity of the Canadian Arctic vascular plant flora, based on ongoing research with my museum colleagues Lynn Gillespie, Ph.D., Paul Sokoloff and Roger Bull. The main points of my talk were that the plant diversity of many Arctic areas is poorly known and that each of our field expeditions results in substantial new knowledge about plant distributions.

A man stands among willows.

Botanist Jeff Saarela and his colleagues have made several Arctic research expeditions in recent years. Here, he takes notes among one of the Soper River’s large tea-leaved willow (Salix planifolia) stands on Baffin Island, Nunavut, in 2012. Image: Lynn Gillespie © Canadian Museum of Nature

This new knowledge is documented by collections—the hard evidence of a species occurring in a time and place—that are housed in our National Herbarium of Canada and are part of the permanent scientific record. I also presented a poster, reporting our work on the Arctic Flora of Canada and Alaska project.

Three Arctic plants.

Some Arctic plants observed by museum researchers during their expeditions. Top left: Hood’s phlox (Phlox hoodia). Top right: Marsh cinqufoil (Comarum palustre). Bottom: lance-leaved mare’s-tail (Hippuris lanceolata). Images : Laurie Consaul, Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature

Scientific meetings are often organized around a particular group of organisms or subject areas, like plants, animals or fossils. But Arctic Change 2014 was focused on all issues related to the Arctic, a region that is undergoing major transformation. This interdisciplinary meeting allowed policy makers to interact with biological scientists, zoologists to interact with botanists, and social scientists to interact with physical scientists.

These sorts of interactions do not occur frequently, though it is increasingly recognized that broad, interdisciplinary approaches are needed to address some of the planet’s most difficult challenges.

Understanding and responding to the effects of climate change on Canada’s Arctic certainly qualifies as a “difficult challenge”.

A key message at the meeting, delivered by Scott Vaughan (International Institute for Sustainable Development), was that “almost all the indicators related to a global ecological crisis are going in the wrong direction”.

View from the audience.

A presentation at the Arctic Change 2014 conference. Image: Daniel Lamhonwah © Daniel Lamhonwah

The museum’s Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration is contributing to our growing understanding of the Arctic, its ecosystems and species—all part of the natural heritage of the country we call home.

Check out the excellent short videos summarizing each day of activities at Arctic Change 2014:

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