Issue: 2016-12-14, PHOTO: Tanya Handley
Communicating science is a big part of the puzzle for the Northern Climate ExChange
If viewed on their own, the Hazards Maps produced by the Northern Climate ExChange might look like something inspired by a cartoon – which the project coordinator Dr. Bronwyn Benkert informs me is indeed the case.
Coloured in with traffic light shades of red, yellow and green, they are designed to be easily interpreted by any audience. However, the 150-plus page reports that accompany the maps are a far cry from that initial inspiration – they are packed with information and each is clearly the product of a large amount of work with contributions by people with a wide range of expertise.
Benkert is quick to underline this aspect of the project. “The Yukon Geological Survey has been really critical (to the project) all the way through,” she says, and goes on to cite the important roles played by the Universities of Ottawa and Montreal as well as each of the seven communities that participated in the project.
Benkert joined the Northern Climate ExChange – which is part of the Yukon Research Centre at Yukon College – in 2010 and took on the coordinator role for the Hazards Mapping project shortly after it had gotten underway.
The cartoon mentioned earlier was seen at a conference and sparked the idea of creating a product to provide decision-makers with information on hazards relating to climate change.
“We wanted to come up with a solid, user-friendly deliverable,” she says, “for anyone making decisions about land use at the community level.”
This means local governments including First Nations and municipalities, and also regulatory regimes like the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board (YESAB).
The group came up with idea of a map that clearly differentiates areas within a community based on the level of risk of due to projected permafrost melting. They sought and received funding from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (previously INAC) and approached Mayo as the first community in 2010.
When this initial project wrapped up in 2011 the team went straight for another round of funding and approached more communities, finishing up with Old Crow earlier this year. In between, maps were completed for Dawson City, Faro, Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay, and Pelly Crossing and Ross River.
The main hazard reviewed so far is the melting of permafrost and the regions of the territory covered to date reflect this. Benkert says the Northern Climate ExChange would like to expand to further communities - Whitehorse is in discussion - and explains that this would require new team members to encompass expertise on flood, fire and other hazards related to climate change.
She welcomes the opportunity to further expand the capacity of the Northern Climate ExChange, which has already experienced significant growth as a result of the mapping project.
“At first we relied a lot more on equipment and technical expertise from our collaborators,” she says. Now they have a permafrost scientist in-house: Louis-Philippe Roy.
Roy also lists “collaboration” as a highlight when I ask him about his experience with the project.
“We had a really good relationship with the communities, especially Old Crow,” he says. “We can do so much working together and it's good for both parties.”
From a technical perspective, he says the variation in ground conditions over small scales within the communities studied surprised him, which is the reason the reports and maps are designed to be used for high-level decisions and caution that development projects still require detailed site-specific assessment.
When I ask Dr. Benkert for something that stands out from her seven years of involvement she gets right back to that inspirational cartoon, that for her it's really about thinking of creative ways of communicating and making information available to those who can make use of it through a wide variety of formats.
To this end the maps and reports are available for download on the Northern Climate ExChange website, and the GIS files are available on request.
Even if you aren't making land use decisions, the reports have a lot of interesting long-term climate data and information on the physiography of the communities that this nerd thinks are really rather cool. If that isn't your cup of tea, download the comic they produced about their work in Burwash and you'll certainly get the picture.