Making 70 years of snow and ice data in the Central Canadian High Arctic accessible

February 23, 2023 by Tina Adamopoloulos

Since 1979, the Arctic has warmed almost four times faster than the rest of the globe, attributed to oceanic heating, melting sea ice and rising global temperatures. 

Photograph of Brianna smiling.

Brianna Lane, a second-year master's student studying physical geography, is developing an accessible method for snow and ice data quantification using ground-based trail cameras in the Central Canadian High Arctic — making vital research underway easier for experts to assess. 

Along with Laura Brown, an associate professor in U of T Mississauga's department of geography, geomatics and environment, Lane is monitoring lake ice and snow in the Central Canadian High Arctic, which includes the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut. Her research will provide insight into the historical changes in the region with climate data from 1953 to the present day. 

"If the air temperatures are getting warmer, then we will expect that the lake ice duration is shrinking, so less time that the lakes are staying frozen. If it's staying the same, that may just be an indication that nothing has changed in the area."

Lane is one of five recipients of the 2022 Black Graduate Scholar Award in Geography and Planning. The initiative, a partnership between the Black Research Network and the university's tri-campus Graduate Geography and Planning, recognizes the exceptional academic and professional achievements of Black graduate students.

Lane is conducting research on five lakes: Hunting Camp Lake in the Nanuit Itillinga National Wildlife Area; Resolute Lake, Small Lake, Plateau Lake, and North Lake near the community of Resolute/Qausuittuq, Nunavut. 

The lakes — each about one-square-kilometer — are located near the town of Resolute, one of Canada's northernmost communities. Typically, the lakes are used by local communities for fishing and transportation, when frozen. 

Photograph of people standing by arctic lake.
Students install a ground-based camera in the Central Canadian High Arctic near Resolute, Nunavut. (Photo submitted by Brianna Lane)

In the Central Canadian High Arctic, lakes stay frozen for up to a 10-month period, starting in September and melting in June. 

The ground-based cameras Lane is utilizing allows for image classification, based on how much of the lake is snow, ice or water. The cameras take pictures twice daily, which allows Lane to time when lake ice forms and melts, including the spatial distribution of the snow and the ice. Rather than manually reviewing images from the trail cameras, the method digitizes data. A Shallow Water Ice Profiler (SWIP) is also used to measure lake ice. 

"Ground-based camera provide a way for us to consistently monitor the lakes," Lane says. 

The field sites we are looking at are inaccessible and hard to get to. A lot of recent research is using satellite imagery, but the lakes that I'm looking at are small and it's hard to distinguish what is happening on the lakes because resolution isn't great.

There are two vital periods that Lane is measuring — the freeze-up and break-up of a lake. Lane explains that kale features such as size and depth drives the freeze-up period to a few months before the event. Meanwhile, the break-up period happens when temperatures rise above 0 degrees celsius and is controlled by various lakes features, such as its size and depth. 

With a surface area of 540-square-kilometers, Lake Hazen, the High Arctic's largest freshwater ecosystem and world's biggest High Arctic lake is rapidly responding to climate changes — experiencing warming and shorter lake ice cover over the last 10 years. 

While Lane says there hasn't been too much dramatic changes in her research sites so far, she is currently sorting through data to defend her thesis in August. 

"In the past few years, there haven't been any drastic changes. We aren't seeing that the timing is changing dramatically, which over a long period of time is what we respect with climate change and the warming temperatures." 

Learn more about this year's recipients. 

By Tina Adamopoloulos. 

The article was originally published by the Black Research Network, to access the original article please see here