Both traditional knowledge and scientific investigations suggest that the vegetation in the Mackenzie Delta region is changing. These shifts are likely the result of warming and increased disturbances (e.g. fires, permafrost slumps, roads, and infrastructure). The combined effects of disturbance, both natural and from industry, and climate change on vegetation will have significant consequences for delta wildlife and the environment. Because both warming and altered disturbance regimes are expected to increase in the future, there is a critical need for base-line data and long-term environmental monitoring that can inform decision-making in the region.
In 2010, the Inuvialuit Joint Secretariat, the Mackenzie Delta Hunters’ and Trappers’ Committees (HTCs), researchers from the University of Victoria (UVic) and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), and summer students from the Aurora Research Institute worked together to implement and test a community-based monitoring protocol for both vegetation and permafrost, and to expand an existing network of monitoring sites.
In February 2010, researchers from UVIC and INAC met with the HTCs of Inuvik, Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk to discuss priority monitoring areas. Based on these discussions, the following monitoring sites were chosen: along the proposed all-weather road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, along the proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline corridor, and along the proposed mountain road near Aklavik.
To evaluate the potential of the sampling design as a community-based monitoring protocol, a number of monitors and monitor trainees (community youth, Inuvialuit land users, and university and government researchers) used the protocol to assess both vegetation and permafrost conditions in the summer of 2010. Work in 2010 also focused on creating local capacity to continue the monitoring and expand the network of baseline sites. This fieldwork provided critical insight regarding the elements of the sampling design that can be included in a community-based protocol. Vegetation structure, functional group abundance, berry productivity, permafrost active layer depth, and snow sampling can be readily implemented by community-based monitors who have received appropriate training.
The longer-term goal of this project is to use ongoing community-based monitoring to track changes in vegetation and permafrost at sites of historical disturbances, undisturbed sites, and sites that will be impacted by future development. Ongoing monitoring at these sites will enable us to test hypotheses about the drivers of changes in vegetation and permafrost conditions in the Mackenzie Delta region. For example, continued monitoring of sites adjacent to the proposed all-weather road south of Tuktoyaktuk will be used to test the hypothesis that road dust drives long term alterations in the plant community composition and vegetation structure. Sampling in the tundra north of Inuvik will allow us to test the hypothesis that continued warming will increase the abundance of upright shrubs.
Preliminary data analysis suggests that this sampling design will be capable of detecting changes in vegetation structure and permafrost over decades. Although large changes can be detected using the protocol, additional work to characterize variability in space and over time is required, and will drive future research and fieldwork in the Mackenzie Delta region.
For more information, please check out our CIMP Progress Report.