A south view of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf breaking apart is seen from Ward Hunt Island, Nunavut, in an Aug. 20, 2011, handout photo. The remote area in the northern reach of the Nunavut Territory, has seen ice cover shrink from over 4 metres thick in the 1950s to complete loss, according to scientists, during recent years of record warming. Scientists are urging the federal government to permanently protect a vast stretch of Canada's remotest High Arctic called the Last Ice Area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CEN/Laval University, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Scientists urge permanent protection of Last Ice Area in Canada’s High Arctic

Tuvaijuittuq has the thickest and oldest ice in the Arctic

Derek Mueller, a senior researcher at Carleton University, cut his scientific teeth studying mats of microbes on some of Canada’s oldest, thickest and most remote sea ice.

“They have some very interesting pigments in their cells to fend off harmful UV radiation,” Mueller said in an interview.

“It’s kind of a tricky thing to do, physiologically. You never know. It could very well be that someday we discover something useful out of that life.”

That’s one reason why he, along with colleagues and Inuit groups, are calling for stronger protections for Canada’s northernmost waters as the so-called Last Ice Area rapidly lives up to its name.

“It’s so poorly understood,” said Mueller, co-author of an article in the journal Science that urges the federal government to expand and make permanent the conservation of Tuvaijuittuq, 320,000 square kilometres of frozen ocean off the northern coast of Ellesmere Island.

Tuvaijuittuq, which means “the place where ice never melts” in Inuktut, has the thickest and oldest ice in the Arctic. Because of how ice moves in ocean currents, Tuvaijuittuq is likely to be the last place it remains.

The region is provisionally protected until 2024. But Mueller said the pace of Arctic warming argues for permanent status as a Marine Protected Area connected to Quttinirpaaq National Park on Ellesmere’s north coast.

Just last July, 40 per cent of the area’s Milne Ice Shelf collapsed within two days — 80 square kilometres of ice that had been stable for millennia now adrift. It happened so quickly an uninhabited research camp was lost.

“(The area’s) under threat and we’re hoping for conservation measures to mitigate that,” Mueller said.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association is working with the federal and Nunavut governments to determine if Tuvaijuittuuq should be permanently protected and, if so, how.

“QIA is leading an Inuit knowledge study which will really try to tackle what is current and historical Inuit use of the area,” said Andrew Randall, the association’s director of marine and wildlife stewardship.

“(We’re) looking at cultural sites, some of the impacts associated with climate change.”

Inuit want to understand what resources might lie in the area, Randall said. They also want to ensure Inuit play a role in managing and studying it, he added.

“(Research) doesn’t only mean bringing in more western scientists,” he said.

The Arctic sea ice ecosystem may seem desolate, but it’s anything but, said Mueller. The ice supports a whole range of life important to humans and animals a long way away.

As the rest of the circumpolar world shifts under climate change, ensuring that a piece of the frozen Arctic remains free of human disturbance is key to understanding both how things used to be and what they are becoming, said Mueller.

Just this year, scientists discovered a whole ecosystem of shellfish, anemones, starfish and brittle stars living on shelves in pockets within the ice.

“What a wonderful surprise!” said Mueller. “We are now just beginning to understand this environment.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2020.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders. (Photo by Advocate staff)
AHS granted injunction against café and event organizers

AHS receives court order against all other organizers of illegal COVID-19 gatherings and rallies

Kris Sturgess with Calgary Ghostbusters. (Photo from GoFundMe)
GoFundMe account salutes Red Deer prop builder

Kris Sturgess died unexpectedly April 28

If you're heading out to the West Country have a plan in case things go wrong, says Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services fire chief Steve Debienne.
(Photo from CRFRS Facebook)
West Country visitors should have an emergency plan: regional fire chief

Cellphones can’t be relied on in many back country areas

Rode
Sarcevic leads an impressive list of additions to RDC Kings soccer

In 2019 the RDC Kings soccer program took a major step forward… Continue reading

The Red Deer PCN Women's Fun Run will take on a different look this weekend with rising COVID-19 numbers.
Women’s Fun Run goes ahead this weekend in Red Deer

With new public health measures in place because of rising COVID-19 case… Continue reading

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)
UPDATED: AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Justice minister promises to get tough with those ignoring public health orders

LtE bug
Letter: Security company can help with shelter

Why don’t we leave Safe Harbour temporary shelter where it is and… Continue reading

LtE bug
Letter: Good job on K-6 curriculum

Many are questioning the quality of the draft K-6 curriculum. It amazes… Continue reading

Treena Mielke
COVID becomes all too real when someone you love is ‘positive’

The third wave of the pandemic is hitting us hard. It is… Continue reading

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Toronto Blue Jays' Teoscar Hernandez (37) hits a single to drive in two runs against the Oakland Athletics during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Canada's Sports Hall of Fame 2019 inductee Jayna Hefford speaks in Toronto on Wednesday, October 23, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Three Canadian teams to play in women’s hockey Dream Gap Tour in Calgary

Three Canadian teams to play in women’s hockey Dream Gap Tour in Calgary

Rugby Canada says some members of women’s sevens team have tested positive for COVID

Rugby Canada says some members of women’s sevens team have tested positive for COVID

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson, centre, makes a shot as lead Briane Meilleur, left, and second Shannon Birchard sweep against Denmark at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, May 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Einarson’s five-game win streak ends with loss to Japan at world curling playdowns

Einarson’s five-game win streak ends with loss to Japan at world curling playdowns

Most Read