Louis Fortier, D.Sc., October 17, 2007

Louis Fortier
B.Sc., M.Sc.(Laval); Ph.D.(McGill)

It is with pleasure that I give this citation for Dr. Louis Fortier. Professor Fortier has worked on various Canadian led international research networks which have systematically re-invigorated Canada's leadership role in polar marine science. The media is full of accounts of how fast we are transforming our Canadian Arctic due to the devastating effects of global warming. Dr. Fortier anticipated these problems well over a decade ago and acted upon them to create one of the most highly integrated multidisciplinary science teams ever designed to investigate and inform the world of this emerging crisis.

When I was beginning my career at the University of Manitoba, it was a dismal prospect to be a young academic working on sea ice and climate change in northern Canada. In the early 1990's, Canada was downsizing federal research and universities were not adequately funded to fill the gap left by departing federal colleagues. I remember attending a planning meeting of a team of Canadian universities proposing a Canadian-led international effort to study the North Water Polynya (NOW), located in northern Baffin Bay.

At this meeting, I found two things significant: Dr. Fortier, the leader of this initiative, was a dynamic francophone from Quebec City who had a remarkable grasp of the breadth and depth of Arctic System Science. He was a bright young biologist with knowledge and enthusiasm for all the sciences that make up the polar marine system. He was a true Renaissance Man for the Arctic. The other notable impression was the way in which Professor Fortier proposed to merge university labs with federal government departments and the international community into an integrated team. To the uninitiated this multidisciplinary-team approach to science was revolutionary!

In the mid 1990's, a tri-council (NSERC, SSHRC, and CIHR) task force report suggested that without immediate action on the part of our Federal Government, Canada would run the risk of forever being deemed inadequate to manage its own Arctic affairs. In answer to this, Professor Fortier led the North Water Polynya study (NOW), one of the most successful polar marine programs ever conducted in Canada. Well over 200 papers were published resulting in a quantum leap in our understanding of how this unique Arctic polynya functioned. This significantly enhanced our reputation internationally and also proved Professor Fortier's concept that the multidisciplinary team approach to science can and does work.

With the success of NOW, Fortier created a second even larger multidisciplinary team. The Canadian Arctic Shelf Exchange Study (CASES) sought to examine how carbon moves between the continental shelves and the deep Canada Basin in the western high Arctic. When it came time to defend the well-structured proposal, we were informed by the Canadian Coast Guard that they were unable to provide an icebreaker to support the science. After much debate, Fortier's team convinced the adjudication committee to make a conditional award of $10 million to conduct the CASES project. The one condition was that the team would have to find a suitable research icebreaker.
Professor Fortier contacted the Coast Guard in Quebec City and suggested a solution
a partnership between ten Canadian universities, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Canadian Coast Guard. The result was a $37 million award to create the CCGS Amundsen, a 'state of the art' research icebreaker dedicated for polar marine science. Several months later the Amundsen left Quebec City to conduct the CASES project with a full annual cycle study of the Mackenzie Shelf ecosystem. Over 14,544 scientist days were logged during this over-wintering study with scientists from nine countries (about half were international and half Canadian). This effort made the CASES program the single largest research effort ever mounted to understand the complex response of the Arctic marine ecosystem to global climate change.

Having won the accolades of the international science community, Professor Fortier realized that we needed a way to ensure the continued operation of this infrastructure for ongoing research in Canada's north and to marshal a scientific team to continue to monitor the metamorphosis of our Arctic under a changing climate. Again under his leadership, we made an application for a Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) known as ArcticNet. This application was funded and Canada became the proud owner of the only large scale system science study dedicated to unravelling the impacts and adaptation of Arctic climate change. The model became the envy of several other nations with European and American funding agencies trying to emulate the unique merging of natural, social and medical sciences. ArcticNet brings together over 100 investigators from 27 Universities and five Federal Departments; 220 graduate students and PDF's; 100 research associates and technicians; 100 partner organizations (many of which are northern based); and over 40 scientists from 9 different countries.

The NCE also allowed Professor Fortier to engage Inuit in the process by making members of Inuit organizations management equals on the Board of Directors. Agencies such as the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) and Inuit Tapirlit Kanatami (ITK) have become full partners in the planning and organization of the ArcticNet research program. Again a 'first' for Canada and for the world.

The Canadian Government recently invested $150 million into the Canadian International Polar Year (IPY) program. After a two-year competitive process, the majority of successful projects saw funding go to ArcticNet investigators, including the Circumpolar Flaw Lead (CFL) system study which is lead by the University of Manitoba. This $40 million project will overwinter the Amundsen in the flaw lead of the Southern Beaufort Sea staring in October and continuing until the end of August, 2007. CFL is the largest IPY project in the World.

The above is a synthesis of the work involved in taking an idea from dream to reality. Canada is now respected internationally in the field of polar marine science and Fortier's team is laying the knowledge foundation required to make informed decisions at multiple policy levels in Canada. We have a national network which is able to lead large research programs, we have the required logistical support and technology. This network is managed by a board of directors that has the strong voice of the Inuit, Federal/Territorial Governments, and the private sector.

Dr. Fortier, the Renaissance Man, has made a significant difference, not only for the scientists of Canada, but also for her people. Above all else this makes him worthy of the distinction which an honorary Doctorate from our University bestows. After all, it has been his vision, perseverance and dedication to polar marine science which is now being put to work to help our Industry, Federal, Provincial and Territorial governments to understand, prepare for, and adapt to, global climate change.

-citation delivered by Dr. Dave Barber, Association Dean (Research), Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources

 



Louis Fortier