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Research Area 1 - Northern landscapes and ecosystems

Project leader: Martin Lavoie
Project leader: Esther Lévesque

A detailed understanding of the recent and ancient history of northern geo-ecosystems is essential to fully comprehend their current state. This includes the question of how northern systems were influenced by glacial and post glacial history, in particular during the Quaternary Period, and studies of land surface processes, biodiversity, interactions between species and the impacts of disturbances on the structure and composition of northern systems. The research is supported by data acquisition made possible through the use and development of CEN's extensive network of environmental monitoring stations, and application of advanced instrumentation and observation methods.

This research area includes three themes.

Researchers: Martin Lavoie, Esther Lévesque; Michel Allard, Dermot Antoniades, Dominique Arseneault, Simon Bélanger, Pascal Bernatchez, Monique Bernier, Dominique Berteaux, Joël Bêty, Najat Bhiry, Étienne Boucher, Stéphane Boudreau, Thomas Buffin-Bélanger, Karem Chokmani, Steeve Côté, Alexandre Culley, Florent Domine, France Dufresne, Daniel Fortier, Richard Fortier, Pierre Francus, Gilles Gauthier, Charles Greer, Bernard Hétu, Patrick Lajeunesse, Isabelle Laurion, Claude Lavoie, Alexandre Langlois, , Jean-Philippe Lessard, Connie Lovejoy, Taha M.J. Ouarda, Serge Payette, Fanie Pelletier, Reinhard Pienitz, Alain Royer, Monique Poulin, Milla Rautio, Line Rochefort, Nigel Roulet, Diane Saint-Laurent, Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, René Therrien, Jean-Pierre Tremblay, François Vézina, Warwick F. Vincent, Normand Voyer, Nicolas Lecomte, Oliver Sonnentag, Christophe Kinnard.

Theme 1.1 - Landscapes and geomorphological processes

Theme leader: Patrick Lajeunesse

This theme focuses on northern landscape transformations brought about by glaciation and post-glaciation geomorphological processes at various spatio-temporal scales. Two main aspects are studied: 1) the history and dynamics of the Laurentide and Innuitian Ice Sheets, specifically the limits of their maximum extent, their phases of stability and instability and the links between these events and past climate change; 2) the dynamics of post-glaciation geomorphological processes (variations in sea and lake water levels, river beds, sediment transport, watershed dynamics, etc.) and their impacts on northern landscapes in relation to climate change and natural disasters.

Researchers: Patrick Lajeunesse, Michel Allard, Dermot Antoniades, Pascal Bernatchez, Najat Bhiry, Étienne Boucher, Thomas Buffin-Bélanger, Daniel Fortier, Richard Fortier, Pierre Francus, Bernard Hétu, Jean-Michel Lemieux, Dominic Larivière, Guillaume Marie, John Molson, Reinhard Pienitz, René Therrien, Christophe Kinnard.

Theme 1.2 - Structure and function of northern terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems

Theme leader: Stéphane Boudreau

This theme focuses on the complex trophic interactions between the organisms found in various ecosystems as well as on the factors controlling these interactions. Ecosystem dynamics (terrestrial, aquatic, riparian and coastal) result from the combined effects of disturbances (fire, insect outbreaks, climate change, resource exploitation) and biotic interactions (competition, predation, herbivory), both acting on various spatial and temporal scales. For terrestrial ecosystems, this theme studies northern biocenoses through the examination of the dynamics occurring in various plant strata, animal populations and plant-animal interactions. For aquatic systems, we examine how physical and chemical variables influence productivity, biodiversity, trophic interactions and biogeochemical processes.

Researchers: Stéphane Boudreau, Michel Allard, Dermot Antoniades, Dominique Arseneault, Pascal Bernatchez, Dominique Berteaux, Joël Bêty, Najat Bhiry, Étienne Boucher, Thomas Buffin-Bélanger, Steeve Côté, Alexandre Culley, Marco Festa-Bianchet, France Dufresne, Pierre Francus, Gilles Gauthier, Bernard Hétu, Charles Greer, Jean-Philippe Lessard, Isabelle Laurion, Martin Lavoie, Esther Lévesque, Taha M.J. Ouarda, Serge Payette, Fanie Pelletier, Reinhard Pienitz, Milla Rautio, Nigel Roulet, Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, Jean-Pierre Tremblay, François Vézina, Warwick F. Vincent, Normand Voyer, Nicolas Lecomte, Oliver Sonnentag.

Theme 1.3 - Observation tools and indicators to monitor the northern environment

Theme leader: Dominique Berteaux

Recent and current changes in the environment are monitored and analysed in situ using CEN’s extensive network of field and climate stations. Systems for measurements and the monitoring of environmental variables using new generation sensors are developed, calibrated in laboratories and tested in the field to maintain the SILA network at the cutting edge and to broaden the scope of the environmental parameters measured. The research team applies new technologies and methods specifically developed and adapted for the characterisation of northern geo-ecosystems. Remote sensing allows the refined monitoring of changes on a temporal scale while covering vast territories for the study of coastal areas, aquatic systems and plant, snow and ice cover to better understand geo-ecosystem dynamics. Terrestrial, aerial and satellite telemetry allows wildlife monitoring in real-time, thereby helping us understand their use of land relative to other biotic and abiotic factors, in addition to enabling us to track eco-geosystem dynamics. Molecular, genetic and biochemical analyses quantify the variations in biodiversity and assess the physiological state of aquatic and land communities. With the use of these tools, field data collected at small scales can be extrapolated to regional and continental scales. A project in preparation aims to acquire and deploy aerial drones for regional aerial telemetry. Unique protocols for data gathering and standardization have recently been developed through the ADAPT program. The data collected are archived in CEN’s database and are now available to the international community thanks to the on-line publication Nordicana D.

Researchers: Dominique Berteaux, Michel Allard, Dermot Antoniades, Dominique Arseneault, Simon Bélanger, Pascal Bernatchez, Monique Bernier, Joël Bety, Najat Bhiry, Étienne Boucher, Thomas Buffin-Bélanger, Karem Chokmani, Steeve Côté, France Dufresne, Richard Fortier, Gilles Gauthier, Alexandre Langlois, Isabelle Laurion, Jean-Philippe Lessard, Esther Lévesque, Taha M.J. Ouarda, Reinhard Pienitz, Milla Rautio, Alain Royer, Nigel Roulet, Martin Simard, René Therrien, Jean-Pierre Tremblay, François Vézina, Warwick F. Vincent, Normand Voyer, Nicolas Lecomte, Oliver Sonnentag, Christophe Kinnard.



Research Area 2 - Responses to climate change in the past, present and future

Project leader: Gilles Gauthier
Project co-leader: Florent Dominé
Project co-leader: Alexandre Langlois

Northern environments have been subject to constant change throughout the last few thousand years, but the pace of change appears to have accelerated markedly over the last century. The aim of this theme is to determine the rate of change at different spatio-temporal scales, to evaluate the magnitude of present changes relative to the past, and to understand the consequences for northern land and coastal geo-ecosystem function. These studies focus on critical thresholds, feedback mechanisms at the ecosystem level, and on the effects of global warming. The research aims to identify the mechanisms by which these changes act on various geo-ecosystem variables, and to anticipate the magnitude and direction of change by understanding the causal processes and consequences.

This research area includes five themes.

Researchers: Florent Dominé, Gilles Gauthier; Michel Allard, Marc Amyot, Dominique Arseneault, Marcel Babin, Simon Bélanger, Pascal Bernatchez, Dominique Berteaux, Joël Bety, Najat Bhiry, Stéphane Boudreau, Étienne Boucher, Steeve Côté, France Dufresne, Marco Festa-Bianchet, Pierre Francus, Michelle Garneau, Bernard Hétu, Alexandre Langlois, Isabelle Laurion, Claude Lavoie, Martin Lavoie, Jean-Philippe Lessard, Esther Lévesque, Connie Lovejoy, Guillaume Marie, Serge Payette, Reinhard Pienitz, Milla Rautio, Line Rochefort, Nigel Roulet, Alain Royer, Martin Simard, Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, Jean-Pierre Tremblay, François Vézina, Warwick F. Vincent, Rosa Galvez, Nicolas Lecomte, Oliver Sonnentag, Christophe Kinnard.

Theme 2.1 - Paleo-environmental analyses for improved predictions of environmental change

Theme leader: Reinhard Pienitz

Models predicting the current and anticipated impacts of climate change on geo-ecosystem dynamics must be supplied by paleo-environmental reconstitutions derived from a variety of archives. These supply critical information on climate forcings and geo-ecosystem dynamics through time. We are carrying out long historical reconstitutions with fine temporal and stratigraphic resolutions to understand natural climate variation and better define the processes which shaped the changing environmental conditions during the Quaternary Period. The analysis of geo and bio-indicator databases (magnetic susceptibility, granulometry, geochemistry, diatoms, pollen, invertebrates, pigments, etc.) is undertaken to better define the transformation patterns of Northern Canadian landscapes to reconstitute the history of environmental change and to comprehend the evolutionary change in key species. The development of paleo-ecological reference points and historical environmental data help to define target zones for ecological restoration and to elaborate monitoring and conservation programs.

Researchers: Reinhard Pienitz; Michel Allard, Dermot Antoniades, Dominique Arseneault, Pascal Bernatchez, Najat Bhiry, Étienne Boucher, France Dufresne, Pierre Francus, Bernard Hétu, Claude Lavoie, Martin Lavoie, Milla Rautio, Line Rochefort, Nigel Roulet, Martin Simard, Warwick F. Vincent.

Theme 2.2 - Climate effects on aquatic ecosystems and their biogeochemical processes

Theme leader: Isabelle Laurion

This theme examines the impacts of climate change on the physical characteristics of northern aquatic environments (ice cover, stratification, thermal regime) and their implications on biogeochemistry, contaminant dynamics, plant and microbial biodiversity and biological productivity. Climate change affects river flow and expands aquatic thermokarst ecosystems associated with thawing permafrost and the acceleration of the hydrological cycle. These aquatic ecosystem types release more gaseous carbon into the atmosphere than permafrost, thus contributing to climate change-inducing mechanisms. On the other hand, carbon is sequestered in some thermokarst ponds. The main objective of this theme is to decipher the biogeochemistry, hydrology, and ecology of aquatic environments as well as our knowledge of their links with the terrestrial environment. The complexity of these important systems requires the development of optical, paleo-climatic, limnological, and molecular tools to estimate the emission of greenhouse gases as well as their transformation and responses to actual and future changes. We are contributing to the quantification of climate feedback and improving our ability to better predict the northern climate.

Researchers: Isabelle Laurion; Michel Allard, Marc Amyot, Dermot Antoniades, Marcel Babin, Najat Bhiry, Karem Chokmani, Florent Domine, Pierre Francus, Michelle Garneau, Connie Lovejoy, Taha M.J. Ouarda, Reinhard Pienitz, Milla Rautio, Nigel Roulet, Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, Warwick F. Vincent, Rosa Galvez, Oliver Sonnentag, Christophe Kinnard.

Theme 2.3 - Climate-vegetation-permafrost interactions and their inclusion in climate change models

Theme leader: Dominique Arseneault

Modeling the exchanges between the atmosphere, vegetation and permafrost using high spatial resolution (ex. cells of 40 x 40 km) requires parameters measured in the field and algorithms that reproduce the interactions between these three components of the environment. For example, the impact of vegetation growth on the physical properties of snow and thermal patterns of the permafrost is not yet represented in any models. The necessary parameterizations must be developed, based on observations, measurements and monitoring in the field from, amongst other things, our network of SILA-Qaujisarvik stations where the number of measured variables is increasing constantly. This data allows the quantification and formalization of the exchanges of energy and matter between the various environmental components in order to include them in the modeling and better predict the impacts on northern environments and infrastructures. A projection with advanced and accurate technology infers setting up a data bank of georeferenced data listing thermal parameters of geological surfaces and of plant, snow and ice cover necessary for the calculations. The data collected is available to the international community via Nordicana D.

Researchers: Dominique Arseneault; Esther Lévesque, Michel Allard, Pascal Bernatchez, Monique Bernier, Dominique Berteaux, Florent Domine, Richard Fortier, Pierre Francus, Gilles Gauthier, Alexandre Langlois, Isabelle Laurion, Reinhard Pienitz, Alain Royer, Nigel Roulet, Diane Saint-Laurent, René Therrien, Warwick F. Vincent, Oliver Sonnentag, Christophe Kinnard.

Theme 2.4 - Climate effects on terrestrial food web interactions and animal biodiversity

Theme leader: Steeve Côté

Climate change will affect the biocenosis of northern ecosystems, however, the response of the organisms will vary at all levels, from the individual to the ecosystem level. These varying responses could disrupt spatial and temporal synchronization between trophic levels, thereby affecting biodiversity. These phenomena are amplified in northern regions where the species diversity is low, thereby increasing the influence of a single species on ecosystem dynamics as a whole, and where species migrate great distances. This theme examines these dynamics for the key boreal forest and tundra herbivore species, including ungulates, geese, and lemmings across a 3000 km latitudinal gradient. Long term monitoring of these populations, their feeding habits and the predator-prey interactions are coupled with in situ experiments (artificial warming, variations in snow cover) and experiments in controlled environments (acclimation to varying temperatures) to evaluate the sensitivity of northern food webs to disturbances and to model the effects of these disturbances. In addition, field studies coupled with satellite-telemetry data allow us to evaluate the actual and future state of various animal populations.

Researchers: Steeve Côté; Dominique Berteaux, Joël Bêty, Marco Festa-Bianchet, Gilles Gauthier, Jean-Philippe Lessard, Esther Lévesque, Serge Payette, Fanie Pelletier, Line Rochefort, Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, Jean-Pierre Tremblay, François Vézina, Nicolas Lecomte.

Theme 2.5 - The changing water cycle in northern environments

Theme leader: Richard Fortier

In the dual context of climate warming and socio-economic change, water resources in the North are often difficult to access and are vulnerable to contamination. The cold temperatures make their exploitation complex as local communities depend on surface waters as their main source of drinking water and these freeze over the winter months, causing water shortages in the communities. In the context of permafrost thaw, the exploitation of underground water may become an alternative option since the water freed by permafrost thaw and the melting of land ice and snow could replenish aquifers and further increase groundwater supplies. In-depth knowledge of the water cycle in northern environments allows a better understanding of the feedback loop existing between climate warming, permafrost degradation, and geosystem dynamics. The evolution of the depth of the active layer is analyzed using satellite imagery coupled with field data. This allows us to closely monitor surface-layer temperatures as well as evaluate snow cover and its influence on the Earth’s energy balance. In the boreal zone, we also analyze the short and long term variability of the water supply in hydroelectric dams and natural systems.

Researchers: Richard Fortier; Michel Allard, Dermot Antoniades, Dominique Arseneault, Thomas Buffin-Bélanger, Simon Bélanger, Pierre Francus, Alexandre Langlois, Isabelle Laurion, Martin Lavoie, Jean-Michel Lemieux, Dominic Larivière, John Molson, Reinhard Pienitz, Milla Rautio, Alain Royer, Nigel Roulet, Martin Simard, René Therrien, Warwick F. Vincent, Rosa Galvez, Christophe Kinnard.



Research Area 3 - Environmental risk assessment and adapting to change

Project leader: Michel Allard
Project leader: Martin-Hugues St-Laurent

Inuit communities and northern natural systems are increasingly exposed to the risks associated with climate change and economic development. These issues affect civil security, the stability and integrity of geo-ecosystems, traditional food sources and safe access to these resources. In partnership with Inuit communities, government and industry, these projects assess the vulnerability of communities, geo-ecosystems, and terrestrial and coastal infrastructures in order to develop tools and practices adapted to the rapid change. The approaches include analysis of the frequency of risk, formulation of landscape restoration techniques, and mitigation strategies for natural resource extraction and exploitation. Historical and cultural practices are studied to evaluate community resilience and adaptation strategies. Knowledge exchange, science education and training, and the development of monitoring and outreach programs are important components of this theme.

This research area includes five themes.

Researchers: Michel Allard, Martin-Hugues St-Laurent; Dermot Antoniades, Dominique Arseneault, Monique Bernier, Pascal Bernatchez, Dominique Berteaux, Najat Bhiry, Stéphane Boudreau, Thomas Buffin-Bélanger, Joël Bety, Karem Chokmani, Steeve Côté, Guy Doré, Bernard Doyon, Marco Festa-Bianchet, Daniel Fortier, Richard Fortier, Pierre Francus, Michelle Garneau, Gilles Gauthier, Martin Grenon, Bernard Hétu, Patrick Lajeunesse, Alexandre Langlois, Claude Lavoie, Martin Lavoie Jean-Michel Lemieux, Dominic Larivière, Esther Lévesque, Guillaume Marie, John Molson, Serge Payette, Reinhard Pienitz, Monique Poulin, Line Rochefort, Alain Royer, René Therrien, Jean-Pierre Tremblay, Thierry Rodon, Nigel Roulet, Warwick F. Vincent, James Woollett, Rosa Galvez, Nicolas Lecomte.

Theme 3.1 - Modelling permafrost dynamics for landscape management and community adaptation

Theme leader: Guy Doré

Northern infrastructures in the communities of Nunavik are exposed to natural hazards such as ground subsidence and landslides which are triggered by thawing permafrost. We document the causal processes of these natural hazards, their frequency and their potential recurrence. Researchers then model coupled physical phenomena such as heat transfer, underwater flow regime, and thaw consolidation of permafrost. These simulations are based on extensive datasets obtained in the field including geomorphological, geotechnical and geophysical surveys, and continuous real-time monitoring. Climate change scenarios generated by the Ouranos Consortium are also integrated in the analyses. The aim is to develop efficient developmental tools and adaptation strategies to reduce the negative impacts of change on the communities and thereby increase the sustainability and viability of their infrastructures.

Researchers: Guy Doré; Michel Allard, Monique Bernier, Bernard Doyon, Daniel Fortier, Richard Fortier, Alexandre Langlois, Jean- Michel Lemieux, Dominic Larivière, John Molson, Alain Royer, René Therrien

Theme 3.2 - Hazard and extreme event assessment for northern territories and development of management tools

Theme leader: Pascal Bernatchez

Climate warming and socio-economic development increase the intensity and frequency of many natural hazards such as ice jams, ice pushes, submersion, erosion, avalanches, rock and landslides, thinning ice cover, forest fires and insect outbreaks. These hazards and industrial development already disrupt traditional and socio-economic activities of northerners and raise vulnerability and public safety issues. The accelerated development of the North generates new challenges. For example, the safe exploitation of mining resources resides on the detailed knowledge of the geomechanical properties of fractured rock masses and is based on a sound understanding of the short and long term evolution of the mines exploited in these areas. The objectives of this theme are to: 1) define the origins and the causes of these hazards; 2) evaluate present and future vulnerability of the northern populations and characterize the activities that take place on the territory, 3) develop adapted designs and exploitation methods, 4) develop tools for land and risk management as well as risk prevention, which can assist decision-makers, 5) transfer these tools to the local communities as well as to the governmental and industrial partners. We use a combination of traditional knowledge on natural hazards, environmental monitoring networks, climate models, coupled physical phenomena models, statistical analyses, and remote sensing to achieve these objectives.

Researchers: Pascal Bernatchez; Michel Allard, Dominique Arseneault, Monique Bernier, Thomas Buffin-Bélanger, Karem Chokmani, Guy Doré, Richard Fortier, Martin Grenon, Bernard Hétu, Patrick Lajeunesse, Alexandre Langlois, Jean-Michel Lemieux, Guillaume Marie, John Molson, Alain Royer, René Therrien.

Theme 3.3 - Sustainable practices for conservation, natural resource exploitation and ecological restoration of northern landscapes affected by human activities

Theme leader: Line Rochefort

In order to propose sustainable solutions, the decision-making processes related to the changes affecting northern regions in terms of the environmental, economic and social components must be based on a solid scientific foundation. Our aim is to improve the methods used in the management of renewable natural resources as well as in the mitigation strategies developed for the exploitation of these resources (e.g. mining and oil exploration and exploitation). We experiment with various strategies in order to minimize the impacts of human activities, sustain ecological services (e.g. traditional food sources, availability and quality of drinking water, long term carbon sequestration in bogs) and maintain the ecological integrity of protected northern areas. We use restoration ecology to develop new practices adapted to the extreme climate found in northern habitats, protected areas and villages.

Researchers: Line Rochefort; Dermot Antoniades, Monique Bernier, Dominique Berteaux, Joël Bêty, Stéphane Boudreau, Steeve Côté, Guy Doré, Marco Festa-Bianchet, Michelle Garneau, Gilles Gauthier, Claude Lavoie, Esther Lévesque, Serge Payette, Monique Poulin, Reinhard Pienitz, Nigel Roulet, Jean-Pierre Tremblay, Warwick F. Vincent, Rosa Galvez.

Theme 3.4 - Historical insights into the adaptability of northerners

Theme leader: James Woollett

The long history of northern land occupancy by aboriginal people provides a wide variety of empirical examples of their adaptability to environmental change in the past 5000 yrs. We identify periods of major environmental and ecological change in the past and define the relationship between these changes and environmental, economic and historical factors. We evaluate the historical impacts of human activity on the evolution of northern landscapes and resources (deforestation, bogs, and exploitation of animals). In order to do this, we use a combination of scientific disciplines (earth sciences, chemistry, archaeology, history, anthropology, remote sensing, and historical ecology) and traditional knowledge. We study the cause and effect of the variability of subsidence modes (fishing, hunting and farming) and land management practices over the past 1000 years in Icelandic study sites. Our work clarifies our understanding of the way land (forests, bogs, driftwood) and marine resources facilitated the survival of the various cultures. The data gathered assist the community in developing tools and practices of land use planning which are adapted to the environmental context, while allowing them to better assert their history and reinforce their cultural identity.

Researchers: James Woollett; Dominique Arseneault, Monique Bernier, Najat Bhiry, Martin Lavoie, Reinhard Pienitz, Milla Rautio.

Theme 3.5 - Tools and methods to enhance knowledge transfer and exchange

Theme leader: Thomas Buffin-Bélanger

We develop and use innovative methods to acquire, share, transfer and manage knowledge in order to make CEN’s fundamental and applied expertise available to other users. CEN contributes to the education and social health sectors in the North by developing outreach programs and sharing its research infrastructures and resources with the communities. In order to better interpret the processes operating in the natural environment, to predict their evolution, and develop relevant tools adapted to the North, we work in close collaboration with northern stakeholders and communities to assist them in the acquisition and assimilation of information emerging from CEN’s research. Our partners from the public and private sectors are involved in projects targeting specific research priorities and these partners have access to our expertise and infrastructures. Validation of the applied use of our data and expertise by these sectors is essential to train HQP, revise our methods, improve them, and become more efficient in our capacity to transfer and share knowledge. The creative use of knowledge transfer tools facilitates information sharing with the various users and makes the data and knowledge issued from our work readily accessible and easy to use.

Researchers: Thomas Buffin-Bélanger; Michel Allard, Monique Bernier, Pascal Bernatchez, Joël Bêty, Najat Bhiry, Esther Lévesque, Warwick F. Vincent, Nicolas Lecomte.


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