A new report by researchers at Queen’s University, Laurentian University, and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, has determined that the Hudson Bay Lowlands have been warming dramatically since the mid-1990s. Researchers noted that the Hudson Bay Lowlands are one of few isolated areas thought to be unaffected by climate change, though this new evidence shows otherwise.

The study measured the concentration of samples of diatoms, a type of algae, from the bottom of four lakes surrounding the Sutton River. Certain diatoms prefer warm waters, while others are drawn to cold. The researchers found there had been little change in diatoms composition for over 200 years, but in 1995, warm-weather diatoms started to become markedly more abundant in the lakes. This reflects the warming that took place not only in the water, but also in the ecosystem as a whole. These changes in the water chemistry lead to a chain reaction of events in the environment. Researchers noted that some ponds will disappear completely, and some of the wetlands will dry up. 

What is unique about this area is the fact that some parts are relatively unaltered due to climate change, while other parts of the Arctic and sub-Arctic started warming up decades earlier. A bottleneck of ice locked into this region in the Hudson Bay kept annual temperatures stable up until about fifteen years ago. According to this new study though, the Hudson Bay Lowlands have warmed about three degrees since the mid-1990s.

Now that the Lowlands have warmed, there are all sorts of implications for the area and its residents. The region is home to Canada’s southernmost polar bear population. The population is completely dependant on sea ice, but there is a decreasing amount of ice because of the rising water temperatures. Hunting and fishing routes of the aboriginal populations in the area are likely to be affected by this change of temperature as well. The rising temperatures also caused mass die-offs of brook char, a sport fish, were recorded in the Sutton River in the early 2000s.

The research is coming out in the same month that an International Panel on Climate Change report stated that the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere has been less the past fifteen years than most climate models anticipated. In that same fifteen-year period, the Hudson Bay Lowlands have been witness to dramatic impact in temperature rise. Researchers in the Hudson Bay Lowlands study note that despite a slower warming in other parts of the globe, “we are witnessing the transformation of the Arctic at an exceptional pace.”

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