Marine Baseline Studies of Wager Bay (Ukkusiksalik National Park) and Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, Canada

Location or Study Area: Wager Bay (Ukkusiksalik National Park) and Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut  Canada
Submitted by: Michelle Kamula and Zou Zou Kuzyk

Background

The coastal domain of the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas such as Hudson Bay remains acutely understudied despite its vulnerability to ongoing and projected impacts of climate change. This project provides a unique opportunity for university researchers to work with federal and regional agencies as well as Inuit to investigate two coastal sub-arctic inlets, oceanographically and ecologically distinct, which also experience very different levels of human and industrial activity. The coastal domain of the Hudson Bay region is facing rapid environmental changes from ongoing climate change and may in some cases provide an early warning of changes and impacts to be experienced in the future in the Arctic Ocean. Additionally, baseline data collected in this study may be applied as benchmarks to assess any changes to these particular systems in the future.

Oceanographically, Wager Bay (Ukkusiksalik National Park (UNP)) and Chesterfield Inlet provide an interesting comparison because they differ in origin and geomorphology, water depth and degree of exchange with the offshore, influence of river runoff and possibly productivity. Wager Bay is an extremely understudied, large, complex, and uncharted Bay, with complex currents, nutrient cycling, and biological productivity supporting abundant marine mammals and other wildlife, which warrant scientific investigation. The initial one-year study collected the first ever baseline marine data of Wager Bay (UNP) including tidal, bathymetry, biological, and sedimentological/geochemical data. 

In Chesterfield Inlet, shipping has increased in recent years due to mining activities inland. Community members have voiced their concerns about impacts of ship traffic on the marine environment near the community. In contrast, shipping and human activity has been limited to Inuit traditional harvesting and recent Park-related activities in Wager Bay (UNP). However, there are concerns of possible future increases in tourism and mining operations based outside of the park that could increase ship traffic through the Bay.

Project Description

The marine baseline study project in Chesterfield Inlet and Wager Bay in Ukkusiksalik National Park (UNP) began in 2016 with a one year, multi-disciplinary research project designed as a first assessment of important aspects of the marine environment. This project, initiated and funded by Parks Canada Agency and Government of Nunavut’s Department of Environment Fisheries and Sealing Division, was a collaboration between Federal government agencies like DFO and the Universities of Manitoba, Québec à Rimouski, and Memorial University of Newfoundland. Research efforts are continuing with support from Nunavut’s Department of Environment Fisheries and Sealing Division and a University of Manitoba-led project funded by POLAR Knowledge Canada (PIs: Ehn/Kuzyk).

One aspect of the project led by Université du Québec à Rimouski and Memorial University of Newfoundland focuses on increasing knowledge of the benthic community and supporting habitats, including the overlying water column and seafloor, against which future assessment of biodiversity and potential stressors, such as ship traffic and climate change can be evaluated. This research is continuing with emphasis on sites near Chesterfield Inlet.

University of Manitoba researchers led the collection and interpretation of baseline oceanographic data (salinity, tracers of freshwater including CDOM and oxygen isotopes, particulate and dissolved nutrients) in the coastal waters. With support from POLAR, we are undertaking a community-based oceanographic research based at Chesterfield Inlet and Naujaat (beginning in winter 2017). In 2016, University of Manitoba researchers (Kuzyk/Stern) also began researching the recent sedimentary record (~last 100 years) in these inlets. They are assessing sedimentation rates, organic carbon burial rates, applying biomarkers to study organic matter sources, and assessing the concentrations of contaminants including hydrocarbons, metals, and total mercury.  Further detailed studies of certain aspects of the system are intended for the coming years.

Participants

Principal Investigators (CEOS): Zou Zou Kuzyk, Gary Stern, Robie Macdonald, Jens Ehn

Program Lead:  Michelle Kamula
UM Participants: Samantha Huyghe, Mina Armah, Jake Ritchie

Funding/Other Support

Government of Nunavut, Department of Environment, Fisheries and Sealing Division; Parks Canada Agency; Nunavut Contaminants Program; Polar Knowledge Canada

For more information contact:
Michelle Kamula (michelle.kamula@umanitoba.ca)

Wager Bay - Fig. 1
FRV Nuliajuk in Wager Bay (Ukkusiksalik National Park) was the main platform for collecting data in 2016. © Ben Misiuk, MUN.

 

Wager Bay - Fig. 2
Samantha Hughye (left) and Michelle Kamula (right) using a boxer in Chesterfield Inlet to collect sediment cores for analyses of historical contaminants. © Noemie Froscart, UQAR

 

ager Bay - Fig. 3
Sediment-laden sea ice from Foxe Basin was encountered in Roes Welcome Sound in August 2016, © Michelle Kamula, UManitoba/CEOS.