The Arctic region extends from the Arctic Ocean (surrounding the North Pole) to the tundra and northern boreal forest of North America and Eurasia. It is home to ecosystems and peoples uniquely adapted to extreme conditions, and is a harsh and challenging environment at the best of times. Due to the direct and diverse effects of climate change, the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the globe and changes are already underway. The rise in sea level, loss of multiyear sea ice, and rapid warming trend seen in recent decades are changing the face of the Arctic faster than predicted. As a result, species that live there year-round, or are reliant on the Arctic for much of their life cycle, are at serious risk.
Program Director: Iain Stenhouse
Even without large-scale development in the region, Arctic species are increasingly exposed to environmental contaminants, such as mercury, due to long-range atmospheric transportation, which tends to deposit more in the Arctic than elsewhere.
Climate change can further exacerbate the risks of mercury contamination to Arctic wildlife. As temperatures rise, mercury previously sequestered in permafrost is released, and the rate of mercury methylation is increased, making it more bioavailable for uptake by Arctic species.
Since its inception, BRI has studied the exposure and effects of mercury in many species of fish and wildlife around the world.
BRI contaminant projects in the Arctic include:
Many species that rely on the Arctic for a critical part of their life cycle migrate to other regions of the globe. In doing so, these species are often exposed to a series of threats along their migratory routes and on their wintering grounds. Conserving these species requires a detailed understanding of their annual movements.
With the advent of new and miniaturized technologies, we have the ability to track even small birds across the face of the globe, from their Arctic breeding grounds to distant wintering areas. The Arctic Tern, for example, migrates from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again over the course of an annual cycle.
BRI tracking projects in the Arctic include:
Many bird species are considered good indicators of overall ecosystem health. Evaluating the conservation status of bird populations can be difficult, but gathering reliable data on the trends in the abundance and distribution of birds breeding in remote Arctic regions is enormously challenging. BRI’s Arctic monitoring studies include:
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