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Trent University’s Dr. Derek Mueller Embarks on Unprecedented High Arctic Research Mission


International Polar Year Scientists Join Canadian Rangers to Survey Disappearing Ice Shelves on Remote Northern Coast of Ellesmere Island

Thursday, March 27, 2008, Eureka, Nunavut

On March 31, 2008 Trent University’s Dr. Derek Mueller, who was recently appointed the Roberta Bondar Fellow in Northern and Polar Studies, will join a team of scientists to embark on a two-week, 1000-kilometer research expedition in the high Arctic with the Canadian Rangers. The scientists will survey the last remaining ice shelves in North America, found along the remote northern coast of Ellesmere Island.

These ancient masses of floating ice have undergone several significant break-up events in recent years, including the fracturing of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf in 2002 and the loss of the Ayles Ice Shelf in 2005. “One of the most important aspects of this expedition is that despite these dramatic changes to the coastline, little is known about even the most basic physical and biological characteristics of these ice shelves”, Dr. Luke Copland of the University of Ottawa explained. This expedition will provide a comprehensive survey of the physical structure and stability of the ice shelves and their associated aquatic microbial ecosystems.

This region has warmed significantly for the past six decades, which has likely weakened the ice shelves that have been a feature of the Canadian landscape for over 3,000 years. These thick masses of floating ice respond by breaking-up once critical temperature thresholds are crossed, and are widely viewed as indicators of climate change. More than 90% of Canada’s ice shelves have disappeared in the last century, and there is no evidence that they will recover in the foreseeable future. Scientists will measure the thickness, internal structure and extent of the Ellesmere ice shelves during this expedition, which will provide a better understanding of how climate is impacting them. An automated weather station will be installed near one ice shelf to keep track of warming temperatures in real time — with data publicly available on the internet.

Ice break-ups along this coastline impact several ecosystem types that depend on ice to maintain the physical structure of these habitats. Ice shelves and thick sea ice can dam meltwater runoff creating a freshwater lake (an epishelf or ice-dammed lake) that floats directly on top of seawater due to its lower density — an extremely rare habitat harbouring an equally rare ecosystem. Scientists will collect samples of microbial DNA to assess the biodiversity and community structure in these unique ecosystems and in the Arctic Ocean below. “The fascinating part of sampling this remote region is that we are likely to discover new microscopic life forms of importance to ecology that will provide clues to the evolution and limits of life on Earth,” said Andrew Hamilton of Université Laval.

Just prior to the start of the expedition scientists will fly to and install a satellite tracking beacon on a fragment of the Ayles Ice Island. This will be used by the Canadian Ice Service to follow the movements of the ice mass and to warn ships if it becomes a hazard to navigation. The Ayles Ice Island was formed when the Ayles Ice Shelf calved in 2005 and has traveled over 600 km and broken in two main pieces since then.

The International Polar Year (IPY) is a large scientific programme focused on the Arctic and Antarctic involving thousands of scientists from over 60 nations examining a wide range of physical, biological, and social research topics. This study will form part of the IPY projects State and Fate of the Polar Cryosphere and Microbiological and Ecological Responses to Global Environmental change in the Polar Regions (MERGE).

Lying less than 800 km from the North Pole the northern coast of Ellesmere Island is extremely remote and difficult to access. It is only through the help of Canada’s experts in Arctic travel and survival, the Canadian Rangers, that this extensive ice shelf survey can be undertaken. The Rangers, reservists with Joint Task Force North of the Department of National Defence, are made up of volunteers from Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon. They have unique knowledge gained from travelling thousands of kilometres across the Arctic in some of the harshest weather on the planet. “For the first time scientists have been invited on a Ranger sovereignty patrol, so this expedition represents an unprecedented partnership between Canadian Forces, Environment Canada and Canadian universities”, said Dr. Derek Mueller of Trent University. Operation NUNALIVUT 08, as it is called, promises to be a unique expedition.

For further information, please visit the project website:


For further information, please contact:

Brittany Cadence
Communications Officer
Trent University
(705) 748-1011, ext. 6185

Summer Halliday
Senior Communications Advisor
Joint Task Force (North)
Ph: 867-873-0700 ext. 6922
Cell: 867-765-8624
Email: halliday.sd@forces.gc.ca

Alternatively, please contact Canadian IPY project leaders:

Warwick Vincent (Lead Investigator – Canada)
Université Laval
Ph: 418-656-5644
Email: warwick.vincent@bio.ulaval.ca

IPY Fate and State of the Polar Cryosphere
Anne Walker (Lead Investigator - Canada)
Environment Canada
Ph: 416-739-4357
Email: anne.walker@ec.gc.ca

Or please contact the Canadian Ice Service:

Trudy Wohlleben
Meteorologist, Sea Ice Forecaster and IPY Lead
Canadian Ice Service
Ph (613) 996-0816
E-mail: Trudy.Wohlleben@ec.gc.ca
Web: http://ice-glaces.ec.gc.ca