Scientists investigating reports made by the Inuvialuit of the northwest Arctic of a massive storm surge in 1999 have been shocked at the devastating impact on the ecosystem and environment.
The researchers from Queen’s and Carleton Universities studied growth rings from coastal shrubs and lake sediment from the Mackenzie Delta, the location of the widespread 1999 storm surge. The researchers found that the impact of the salt-water storm surges is unprecedented in the thousand year history of the region.
“One of the most ominous threats of global warming today is from rising sea levels, which can cause marine waters to inundate the land,” says the team’s co-leader, Queen’s graduate student Joshua Thienpont. “The threat is especially acute in polar regions, where shrinking sea ice increases the risk of storm surges.”
“This had been predicted by all the models and now we have empirical evidence,” added team co-leader Michael Pisaric, a geography professor at Carleton
The results of the study into the impact the salt water flooding had on alder bushes along the Mackenzie Delta coastline shocked the researchers.
Within a year of the storm surge, half of the shrubs sampled were dead, with another 37% dying off within the next five years. In fact, after a decade, the soil is still contaminated with high concentrations of salt, and sediment cores from the inland lakes reveal massive changes in the ecosystems, including a “striking shift” towards a salt-water environment from a typically freshwater one.
“Our findings show this is ecologically unprecedented over the last millennium,” says Queen’s biology professor and team member John Smol, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change and winner of the 2004 NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal as Canada’s top scientist. “The Arctic is on the front line of climate change. It’s a bellwether of things to come: what affects the Arctic eventually will affect us all.”