Artash Nath. RISE 100 Global Fellow, Schmidt Futures and Rhodes Trust. Grade 11 Student. Toronto. ArcticNet is a Network of Centres of Excellence in Canada to study the impacts of […]
Artash Nath. RISE 100 Global Fellow, Schmidt Futures and Rhodes Trust. Grade 11 Student. Toronto.
ArcticNet is a Network of Centres of Excellence in Canada to study the impacts of rapid natural, climate, health and socio-economic changes in the Arctic. It does so by partnering with Inuit organizations, northern communities, federal and provincial governments, and international research teams throughout Denmark, Finland, France, Greenland, Japan, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Every year it organizes its flagship ArcticNet Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) at a different Canadian location to highlight Arctic and northern research happening in Canada. The meeting brings together thousands of researchers, community leaders, engineers, officials from the government and the private sector, young professionals, students, and the media.
ArcticNet Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) 2022, Toronto
The 2022 ArcticNet Conference was held from December 4-8 at the Beanfield Centre in Toronto, Ontario. The objective of ASM2022 was to advance our collective understanding with an inclusive view of the North spanning from Inuit Nunangat across the Canadian territories and provinces, circumpolar Arctic regions, and beyond.
It was my first time participating in an ArcticNet conference. In 2020 and 2021, the ArticNet Conference was organized virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a gap of two years, it physically brought together over 1200 people interested in Arctic-related research. As Toronto is far from the Arctic and the oceans, it is uncommon to have such an eclectic and distinguished community with experience working on Arctic and northern issues gathered here. Almost 35 % of the participants were from indigenous and northern communities.
Why I Decided to Participate in ArcticNet?
I learned about ArcticNet through some of the virtual events last year. Inspired by some of the research poster presentations I came across, especially those on shipping and tourism in the Arctic, piqued my interest.
My ongoing research on Anthropogenic Ocean Noise had an Arctic component. I used several years of open data from a hydrophone operated by Ocean Networks Canada in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, to monitor changes in ocean noise in the Arctic. This data was used in my webApp www.MonitorMyOcean.com, endorsed by IOC- UNESCO as a UN Ocean Decade activity. As I plan to keep adding newer data points to this App and expand it to other oceanic regions, participating in ArcticNet would help me connect with researchers who could provide feedback and connect me with more data repositories.
In addition, the venue of the 2022 conference was the Beanfield Centre in Toronto – just a few kilometres from my home and school. I could attend the conference every weekday afternoon after attending school. All these reasons motivated me to apply to the 2022 ArcticNet Conference.
Talk Accepted at ArcticNet 2022
I submitted an abstract for the conference based on my research project on ocean noise. It was very encouraging when my abstract was accepted. I was invited to deliver an oral talk at the ArcticNet conference in the session: MAR55-Shipping and Transportation in the Arctic.
Student Day: Early Career Northern Researchers (ECNR) Annual Meeting
The conference opened on the afternoon of 4 December 2022 (Sunday). Participants were invited to collect the registration material and the lanyard to provide them entry to the conference venue.
Day 1 was also the start of the inaugural two-day Early Career Northern Researchers (ECNR) Annual Meeting organized by ArcticNet and the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies (ACUNS). These organizations created a joint Student Day program to support the next generation of Arctic and northern studies researchers.
I was apprehensive about giving a talk at the esteemed ArcticNet as this was my first time participating in the conference. While I knew many people, organizations and networks in the ocean community, the Arctic community was new to me. However, the opportunity to meet new people and learn from them, make new connections, participate as a speaker and present my research to a broader audience gave me the encouragement I needed. I accepted the invitation and went ahead with the registration for the conference.
As the main conference events were to start the next day, it was a relatively smaller gathering – most of them early careers researchers present for Student Day. The “Student Day” allowed me to become familiar with the surroundings, explore different rooms where events would be held, and introduce myself to early career researchers who were present from various universities. I found it amazing that many of them also spoke French, which was a great way to make connections to Arctic research happening in the Francophone world.
I got the opportunity to meet ASM Scientific Directors Jackie Dawson and Phillipe Archambault, who were kind enough to welcome me to ArcticNet and introduce me to some other researchers.
Key Learnings from the ArcticNet Conference
I attended several events over the next few days. As I did not want to miss school, I was only able to participate in afternoon events – rushing to the venue from school but staying until late to be able to participate in all the remaining events.
Merging Indigenous Knowledge with Modern Technologies
Indigenous knowledge accumulated over generations is critical for preserving the Arctic habitat and marine mammal conservation. For instance, observations made by indigenous hunters are being used to create statistical spatial maps of ring seals on the shoreline and to improve the accuracy of population forecasting models.
Many northern researchers are applying digital technologies such as crowdsourcing to map local knowledge of Inuits during their regular visits to the field, such as collecting data points on ice thickness, cracks on ice, hazards, weather patterns, or wildlife sightings. For instance, community-based Monitoring in Nunatsiavut combines indigenous observations with simple measurements to characterize the arctic char fish ecosystem. Seasonal winter camps are set up to monitor fisheries and undertake stock assessments.
Arctic-specific technologies, such as low-bandwidth Apps, Apps that can culturally annotate data, or those incorporating features and indicators that are meaningful to communities, can support the community-based efforts to preserve and manage the Arctic habitat.
Transboundary Pollution in the Arctic: Investigating sources of pollutants and their abatement
One of the fascinating sessions I attended was the plenary panel discussion on the “Sensitivity of Arctic Regions to Contaminants and Pollutants” held on the last day of the conference. It featured presentations from several arctic researchers.
I learned how black carbon — a particle produced in combustion emitted primarily in Europe and Asia drifts to the polar cap due to the arctic heat flux and ends up in the snow. The presence of these particles significantly reduces the spectral albedo of the snow, meaning less solar radiation is reflected into the atmosphere — speeding up the melting of glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic. It is a clear example of how pollutants do not respect national boundaries. Often, the communities that must adapt the most to the presence of pollutants in their environment contributed the least to it. We need to strengthen policy regimes and undertake pollution abatement projects at the source to ensure pollutants emitted from industrialization in Eurasia do not end up in the Arctic.
But how to identify the source of the pollutants? A research presentation focused on an innovative way of using lead isotopes to trace harmful pollutants to their origin. While lead occurs naturally in the environment, the high levels in the Arctic regions come chiefly from human activities. It is a byproduct of industrial processes and urban sources and is often found alongside other contaminants. By measuring the concentration of lead isotopes in the environment, it is possible to investigate where the other contaminants came from and trace their route from the South to the Arctic.
Other tools to measure the concentration of heavy metals could be biomarkers, as I learned from a research study focused on long-term contaminant monitoring in sea birds in Canadian Arctic. The researcher studied the archived egg tissue from 1975 – 2017 to track the presence of these harmful substances.
I also learned about new pollution-related terminologies such as POPs or Persistent Organic Pollutants. These are harmful soluble compounds that can travel via atmospheric winds and oceans. The more soluble a POP is, the less likely it will sink and can travel long distances. International regulations and conventions, such as the UNEP Stockholm convention to measure traces of 12 harmful compounds in different fluids such as air, ocean and drinking water, have effectively reduced the concentration of these pollutants over the past decades. However, climate change and the volatility of secondary replacements of these harmful chemicals pose new challenges, and their levels are not declining at the expected rate.
Open Data and Data Standardisation
Petabytes of new Arctic data are generated daily via local communities and sensors placed on the ground, in space and in oceans. While data generated increases exponentially, the research community that can process and produce timely analysis from this data does not grow at the same rate.
To bridge the gap between data and its analysis, we need to make data available in an open-access but ethical manner. Any data archival system should guarantee the right of indigenous communities to control and access their data at every stage.
Respecting local knowledge, ethical data collection, standardization of data, annotation, attribution, ensuring accuracy, and archiving in an interoperable format will make the data more usable and speed up analysis, benefiting local communities, decision-makers and the public. It will also draw a broader community of researchers, data scientists, youths, and data entrepreneurs to use this data and create useful products and services.
There is a spectrum for data standardization. On one end, we have the researchers for whom correct terminologies and data annotation is essential for research and publications. Then we have the national governmental and international agencies. Creating national policies and meeting requirements set under international agreements require consistency in data collection, measurement and monitoring methodologies. And finally, we have the local communities and the public, who should be able to understand the terminologies and draw meaningful conclusions from the data.
Climate Change and the Arctic
Rising temperatures, melting polar ice caps, thawing of the permafrost, year-round shipping: it is clear that climate change is rapidly affecting the Arctic. As the ArcticNet 2022 conference had many sessions, posters and exhibits prepared by the northern researchers, it was like getting a firsthand account of changes happening in the Arctic. The impact of these changes is felt most by the northern communities and the next generations who have to adapt their livelihoods, food, culture and lifestyles. It is exacerbating the existing disparities in health issues and year-round food security.
I attended some sessions on technical monitoring of the Arctic ecosystem, including on the melting of northern hemisphere glaciers and the increase in permafrost temperatures triggering large-scale changes, including reshaping landscapes and ecosystems. I learned about Glacier hypsometry or the science of assessing a glacier’s response to climate change. It involves measuring changes in the mass balance and the volume of the glaciers. Comparing results over the years yields important information, such as how much melting ice masses contribute to rising sea levels and the relationships between ice masses and climate.
Climate change is also increasing ocean temperatures leading to an inflow of freshwater from melting glaciers, a reduction in sea ice cover and shifts in atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns. These directly impact marine diversity, including changes in fish stocks and disruption in return migration patterns of Arctic char to the lakes they spawned in.
Shipping in the Arctic
The shipping traffic in the Arctic is increasing: the number of ships entering the Arctic waters grew by 25 percent between 2013 and 2019. This increase poses potential risks and benefits to the Arctic region. Some of the traffic serves the needs of remote communities in the Arctic. Disruptions in their environment due to climate change mean that the northern communities are more dependent on exports from the South for their food security.
The Arctic region is impacted by the rise in energy demand for oil, gas and minerals, and economic imperatives to increase trade, open up new supply chains and reduce shipping time and costs. Combined with climate change reducing sea ice, making year-round shipping possible puts additional stress on the Arctic. The increased geopolitical and strategic importance of the circumpolar Arctic is also bringing unique challenges to the Arctic region.
All these factors amplify risks for Arctic communities and the ecosystem. Increased shipping traffic means slow-swimming baleen whales are at risk of being struck by ships and other marine vessels. Some measures have been adopted to manage shipping fleet traffic in the Arctic, including setting up no-go zones, limits on the number of vessels in the summers, low-impact shipping corridor initiatives, and speed restrictions to reduce underwater noise. However, many of these are voluntary measures that need to be studied for effectiveness.
Research studies are also being conducted on the migration paths of bowhead whales, their population densities, and the identification of potential hotspots of vessel strike risk using Automated Identification System (AIS) data for ships in the region. Concerns of northern and Inuit communities regarding growing marine tourism and increased cruise ship and pleasure craft activities also need to be addressed.
My Talk on Ocean Noise at the “MAR55-Shipping and Transportation in the Arctic” session
My talk was scheduled on 8 December 2022 in the MAR55-Shipping and Transportation in the Arctic session (13:30 – 14:45). The session aimed to encourage critical discussion on the state of marine shipping and transportation in the Arctic, potential impacts and future policy directions. It was co-chaired by Jean Holloway, University of Ottawa and Nicolien van Luijk, Memorial University.
There were three other speakers: Stephen Howell, Alison Cooky and Madeline Vainionpää. While Stephen talked on “Multi-Year Sea Ice Conditions in the Northwest Passage: 1968-2020”, Alison presented on “Shipping season length variability in the Canadian Arctic based on POLARIS: 2007 to 2021,” and Madeline on “Examining open-source web GIS methods for public dissemination of Arctic seafloor mapping data.”
Low-frequency noise from marine shipping is an underwater acoustic pollutant. The noise spectrum overlaps with frequencies marine mammals use to communicate, leading to stress, and disruptions in foraging, mating, and migrating behaviours. My research established a model to measure the effects of anthropogenic activities on underwater noise. The COVID-19 lockdown led to a decline in marine traffic. The model quantified the reduction in noise levels before and during the lockdown in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. The analysis revealed that global oceans quietened by an average of 4.5 dB, or the peak sound intensity decreased 2.8 times during the lockdown period. The maximum decrease was at locations close to major shipping channels and cruise tourism destinations. The findings were validated by comparing shipping traffic using the Automated Identification System. The study proved that strategic “anthropauses” could reduce underwater noise levels giving marine mammals a chance to reverse the population decline.
A webapp MonitorMyOcean.com was created to provide updated anthropogenic ocean noise levels. The App, endorsed as a UN Ocean Decade Activity, allows policymakers to determine if measures such as shifting existing shipping routes or moratorium on new shipping routes are leading to “Quieter Oceans.”
The session was well attended. There were 50-60 people present in the session. I enjoyed fielding the questions on my research at the end of the session. Questions included differences in noise produced by the machinery on the ship (broadband) versus noise produced by propeller cavitation (lower frequency), difficulties in acquiring hydrophone data from so many oceanic regions, and how I created the open source algorithm for data analysis and for designing the WebApp. Through my presentation, I connected with many people, including those from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Government of Canada), Natural Resources Canada and several universities. Several opportunities to collaborate came up and which I plan to pursue.
Posters and Exhibits
There were over 200 posters in the exhibit room, published by ocean scientists, students, indigenous researchers, and citizen scientists. They covered wide-ranging topics, from impacts of climate change on the Arctic ecosystem and melting of glaciers to ocean acoustics, contaminants in Arctic waters, and work being carried out by Inuit researchers in their communities. During the evening, the authors of the posters were often present, providing an opportunity to meet them, discuss their research, network, and ask questions.
In addition to the posters, there were exhibitor stalls demonstrating products and services related to Arctic research. I got an opportunity to meet representatives of several organizations with whom I had interacted before and whose products and services I had used in my research. These included Ocean Sonics which produces the ICListen hydrophones. Many of the ocean observatories whose data I had used for my research had deployed “IC Listen” hydrophones to capture underwater sound. I interacted with many researchers at the Ocean Networks Canada exhibit and learned about new research publications and data products from their ocean observatories.
It was wonderful to see Early Careers Ocean Professionals (ECOP) Canada well represented at the ArcticNet. ECOP had put up an exhibitor stall, and several network members presented talks and posters at the conference. I enjoyed visiting the exhibits by community organizations from the northern communities showcasing their community projects and research.
My objective to participate in the ArcticNet 2022 Conference was fully met. I learned firsthand from community leaders and researchers from the North about the changes they are observing in the Arctic region over the years, the challenges they are working on, and the solutions they are proposing.
At the conference, I presented my research on monitoring underwater ocean noise in the Arctic and the impact of anthropogenic activities. I explored collaborations to add more dimensions to my research (such as assessing marine mammals’ movements and population and undertaking fieldwork) and expand it to oceanic regions in the Arctic. It would allow me to advocate for ocean noise monitoring as a long-term monitoring tool to measure changes happening the in the Arctic.
Finally, I was able to rapidly build up my knowledge of Arctic-centered research encompassing polar ecological habitats, marine biodiversity, long-range transport of pollutants, sea ice monitoring, shipping, changes in livelihoods and lifestyles of indigenous communities, and transformations in the Arctic within the wider geopolitical lens. This knowledge would allow me to explore other areas of research.
I hope to be at ArcticNet 2023 to be held in Iqaluit, Nunavut!
I take this opportunity to thank the RISE – Schmidt Futures for funding my participation in ArcticNet by paying my registration fees. I also thank the session chairs, Jean Holloway, University of Ottawa and Nicolien van Luijk, Memorial University, for accepting my abstract for an oral talk at the ArcticNet 2022.
Best of the Fair Award and Gold Medal, Canada Wide Science Fair 2022. RISE 100 Global Winner, Silver Medal, International Science and Engineering Fair 2022, Gold Medal, Canada Wide Science Fair 2021, NASA SpaceApps Global 2020, Gold Medalist – IRIC North American Science Fair 2020, BMT Global Home STEM Challenge 2020. Micro:bit Challenge North America Runners Up 2020. NASA SpaceApps Toronto 2019, 2018, 2017, 2014. Imagining the Skies Award 2019. Jesse Ketchum Astronomy Award 2018. Hon. Mention at 2019 NASA Planetary Defense Conference. Emerald Code Grand Prize 2018. Canadian Space Apps 2017.