© 2008 Ellesmere Ice Shelves

Map of proposed sample locations along the northern coast of Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada. © D. Mueller

Project Summary

Over the last 5 years, we have noticed substantial climate-related impacts along the northern coast of Ellesmere Island.  Ice shelves that have been attached to the shore for thousands of years have been breaking-up, leading to the drainage of massive bodies of freshwater and the creation of new ice islands. Hundreds of square kilometers of 50 to 70 year-old land-fast sea ice has also broken away from the coast, suggesting that the ice shelves which used to occupy this coastline will not regenerate in the foreseeable future. These physical changes are also causing major transformations in polar ecosystems that are associated with ice. These ecosystems are composed mostly of micro-organisms and are poorly understood so it is not yet clear how they will adapt to current and projected climate change.

The aim of this research program is to provide a comprehensive survey of the current characteristics and stability of the northern Ellesmere Island ice shelves and multiyear land-fast sea ice. This will focus on measurements of ice thickness and internal structure using ice-penetrating radar transects and shallow ice cores. We will take salinity profiles in the fiords and bays along the coast as well as measure surface melt rates using stakes drilled into the ice surface. We plan to install a semi-permanent automated climate station (on a small tripod) that will provide temperature data in the vicinity of Serson Ice Shelf. Data will be uploaded daily via a satellite connection, and made publicly available on the internet. Samples will be taken for water quality and DNA analysis to examine the microbial ecosystems and habitats in freshwater fiords and bays, and on the surface of the ice shelves.

Satellite image of northern Ellesmere Island. Courtesy of NASA

Satellite image of northern Ellesmere Island showing the break-up of the Ayles ice shelf Aug 2005. Courtesy of NASA