The multi-year research project High Arctic 1997 - 2016 is investigating the effects of short-term and long-term climate change on freshwater ecosystems in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and in the Austrian Alps. The study illustrates that fish from Arctic and alpine lakes are sensitive bioindicators of the interactive effects of pollution and climate change.
The long-range transport of pollutants and global warming are processes causing fundamental changes even in regions far from direct anthropogenic impact. High-altitude and high-latitude lakes are very sensitive ecosystems, where even slight environmental changes will possibly substantially affect ecosystem function. Studies on fish (Arctic char Salvelinus alpinus) from Austrian high mountain lakes have shown that the combination of both types of processes tends to endanger fish populations by leading to highly elevated metal accumulation. Water temperature has been shown to be the driving force of excessive metal accumulation in these fish.
The ongoing study High-Arctic, coordinated by myself and Derek Muir (Environment Canada, Burlington ONT), is carried out in cooperation with scientists from various Canadian and Austrian research institutions. Since 1997 land-locked Arctic char are collected annually from lakes near the community of Resolute Bay (Qausuittuq) on Cornwallis Island and lakes on other islands (e.g. Somerset Island, Devon Island, Ellesmere Island).
The research group is conducting detailed studies of the interactions between the bioaccumulation of metals in land-locked populations of Arctic char and lake water temperature and physico-chemical parameters, seasonality, and inter-annual climatic trends. Investigations include analysis of metals (e.g. cadmium, mercury) and organotoxicants, various biochemical indicators of stress in the fish, stable isotopes and population genetics. Furthermore, sediment cores are taken from a number of lakes. The temporal trend information, combined with information on food web accumulation of mercury and methyl mercury, water and sediment data, will be used to infer whether warming trends are currently influencing or will influence observed mercury concentrations. Results are compared with data from ongoing studies in Austrian high-alpine lakes.
Another aspect of High Arctic, the "Lake Hazen Depth Sounding and Sediment Coring Project (HAZCOR)" has started in 2004. The aim of this project was the development of a bathymetric map of Lake Hazen (Quttinirpaaq National Park, Ellesmere Island) in order to obtain sediment cores from the deepest spot of this lake as archive of temporal trends of pollution in the Arctic.
This Austrian-Canadian research cooperation carried out within the framework of IGBP - International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme is supported by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research, Polar Continental Shelf Project – Canada, Northern Contaminants Program – Canada, Parks Canada and many other sponsoring bodies. Members of the Inuit community of Resolute Bay (in part. Debbie Iqaluk) have supplied invaluable help during sampling, sample preparation and shipping.
Günter Köck´s Research Page