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A warming climate is causing new stream systems to develop through previously frozen areas of the Canadian High Arctic. Scientists are looking at how freeze-thaw dynamics and the delivery of surface water by floods, snow and ice melt are converging to transforming this fragile landscape. 

Simon Fraser University (SFU) environmental science professor Shawn Chartrand is a geophysical and environmental scientist who studies how rivers form and co-evolve with the land. His particular interest is mountain rivers and cold regions of the Arctic. His research is used to improve how professional scientists approach and develop river restoration plans, including the removal of dams.

Chartrand was a member of an international research team that visited the island of Axel Heiberg, Nunavut to document how climate change is altering the region—and to learn how similar changes may occur in other parts of the world.

For the field study the team focused on the Muskox Valley, east of the Muller Ice Cap. Using aerial photographs from 1959, and field observations and state-of-the-art Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data from 2019 they observed how the Axel Heiberg Island landscape has evolved over the past 60 years. Their observations, High Arctic channel incision modulated by climate change and the emergence of polygonal ground, were published in Nature Communications.  

The research team included scientists from the University of British Columbia, the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute, Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géosciences (UMR CNRS 6112), University of Western Ontario and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.