OOE scientists joins movement to solve arctic challenges

Jackie Dawson takes in the beauty of the Canadian far north. The ship both she and Bronwyn Keatley travelled on, the Ocean Endeavour, is seen in the distance. Photo by Jackie Dawson

By Mereditch Newberry

This fall, while Old Ottawa East enjoyed rising temperatures among falling leaves, Jackie Dawson was sailing through the Northwest Passage among icy waves, narwhals, belugas and polar bears.

“It’s a fascinating time to be a scientist in the North” said Dawson. “There is a scientific movement to work more collaboratively, to include traditional Inuit knowledge and western scientific techniques, to solve nationally and globally relevant challenges.”

Dawson is a Canada Research Chair in Environment, Society and Policy and an Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa. As ‘Scientist in Residence’ for Adventure Canada’s ship, the Ocean Endeavour, she flew north to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, then boarded the ship to make her way through the southern route of the Passage, across the Davis Strait to Greenland.

While on board Dawson gave lectures to a range of highly-educated and passionate passengers about climate change and the implications of new shipping corridors through Canada’s North.

“The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average and most Canadian’s don’t even realize how dramatic these changes will be and what it could mean for two-thirds of our nation’s land mass,” said Dawson. “Should the Northwest Passage become a global trade route, as has been fabled for over 200 years and is becoming increasingly a reality because of climate change, the opportunities and challenges for Canada and Canadians will be enormous.”

There is a stark difference in the region from 1845 when Sir John Franklin and 128 of his crew were lost while searching for the fabled Arctic trade route connecting Europe to Asia, to now in 2017, when thousands of tourists visit and travel the passage aboard comfortable expedition passenger vessels each year.

Shipping traffic in the region has almost tripled in the past decade. Climate change has caused the sea ice to melt which in turn extends the travel season and increases open water areas which allows ships to travel in new areas.

Discovery of the H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror, Franklin’s ill-fated expedition vessels, which sit completely preserved under 11- and 24-meters of water respectively, will only serve to increase more shipping traffic to the region. One of the many issues around increased traffic to the region is that there are not enough resources to handle any emergency issues, such as fuel leaks or ship groundings, let alone to mitigate the environmental effects of increased commercial ships in the area.

This fall, Dawson wasn’t the only Old Ottawa East scientist to make a journey through part of the Northwest Passage. In August, Bronwyn Keatley, a senior advisor on Arctic science with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, made a similar voyage also aboard the Ocean Endeavour.

Keatley joined the Students on Ice 2017 Arctic expedition, an annual journey that helps youth understand and engage in the changing circumpolar world, foster a new understanding and respect for the planet, and gain some hands-on experience and the motivation needed to help lead us to a healthy and sustainable future.

Keatley, who participated as part of the science education staff, said the youth who joined the voyage were incredibly inspiring. They each had many stories to share and were so eager to learn. She encourages any youth in OOE to research the Students on Ice program if they are interested in joining an adventure such as this.

It is through the research and education that Dawson and Keatley are involved in that people can learn more about the northern places many people won’t be able to visit, yet can have such a large impact on their lives.

To learn more about Dr. Jackie Dawson’s research or the Students on Ice Foundation, check out www.espg.caand