Environmental Science and Engineering Program

The Environmental Science and Engineering Program (www.unbc.ca/ensc/index.html) has 13 faculty members—their research interests range from large-scale global climate to regional environmental issues.

Stephen Déry leads the Northern Hydrometeorology Group (NHG), which, with funding primarily from the NSERC, investigates the role of climate variability and change on the high-latitude and alpine water cycle. Most group members are graduate students within the Environmental Science and Engineering Program or research staff.

In collaboration with Marc Stieglitz (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Jessie Cherry (University of Alaska Fairbanks), Déry is developing a climatology of the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research station at Toolik Lake (see Witness Volume 12, Number 2) and the North Slope of Alaska. Using data from about 20 meteorological stations, snow survey measurements, and global climate model output, the contemporary (1988–2004) and potential future (21st century) climate of the area is being established.

Déry also recently worked with Ross Brown (Ouranos) to develop an updated analysis on snowcover extent trends in the Northern Hemisphere. The results of this study show that the extent of the continental snowcover has decreased by about 9% and 3% in North America and Eurasia, respectively, from 1972 to 2006. The analysis also reveals that decreases in snowcover extent are amplified in northern continental regions during spring.

An extension of this work examines the ecological implications of a changing snowcover. Déry works with a team of researchers led by Nils Christian Stenseth at the University of Oslo to investigate the impacts of climate change on the state of the snowpack in the Yukon and other regions of Canada and how it may affect the ability of lynx to capture snowshoe hares in winter. Preliminary results show that changes in snowpack conditions, including hardness, have a direct impact on lynx's ability to capture prey.

NHG member Marco Hernandez-Henriquez contributes to an IPY project, Arctic Freshwater Systems, by providing updated discharge records for 45 major rivers in the Canadian Arctic, as well as information on recent trends and variability. Analysis of the interannual variability in the streamflow records has provided some of the first observational evidence of an intensifying hydrological cycle in the Canadian pan-Arctic.

Building on this project, Theodore Mlynowski has assembled and analyzed observational hydrometric data for about 90 Canadian rivers that have their outlets near the Arctic Ocean to assess the effectiveness of Canada's hydrological monitoring in the pan-Arctic.