A research team out of the University of Lethbridge is headed to the Northwest Territories to study the impacts of forest fires on the northern environment.
Dr. Laura Chasmer an assistant professor will be leading the ground team on the study as they study the effects of permafrost thawing in areas of forest fire burn from the area surrounding Hay River up to the Mackenzie Delta.
“I’ve been working in the NWT for a number of years, almost about 10 years now and we decided that we were very interested in permafrost thaw,” said Chasmer. “We noticed that some of the permafrost was burned and other parts we’ve flown over hadn’t so we noticed some of the burn was quite drastic.”
Chasmer, who has been conducting research in the territory over the past decade, said that the research can be used in a number of different practical ways across different sectors of life.
“Basically it can tell us how our environment is changing, so for roads and infrastructure we can tell where there’s places of instability. It is important for pipe and gas lines because if we know somewhere is unstable we can monitor these places closer,” said Chasmer. “It’s also more important for food security, so places where people used to hunt (they) may not be able to hunt because the environment is different.”
Chasmer said the results they have already seen in the NWT shows a changing environment in the North due to a number of thawing permafrost areas. She said that thawing is causing a lot of different plant destruction. Now Chasmer’s team will look at just what that means in terms of a broader picture in the territory.
“What we’re very interested in is how biomass is changing so you know when the forest dies how carbon is being used in the environment,” said Chasmer. “We saw some permafrost thawing by 50 centimetres to a metre of horizontal thaw or contraction per year. We were seeing a lot of vegetation mortality. That’s something you see anyways, but its quite striking how much we’ve seen.”
The study is being conducted in two parts, Chasmer is leading the ground team while Dr. Christopher Hopkinson, another professor out of the university, will be conducting what is known as LiDAR research. LiDAR is essentially a laser that is attached to the bottom of an aircraft that is used to create a three-dimensional map of the environment.
“LiDAR maps the ground in 3D, it basically shoots a laser from the bottom of the plane and measures all the shrubs and vegetation in the environment,” said Chasmer. “The one we’re using is state of the art, there’s only maybe four in the world.”
The first results to come from the study will be published in late August, said Chasmer. She also noted that her team is constantly working with the Government of the Northwest Territories to make their information readily available to the public. A member of the team also plans to publish up to five different research papers based off of these studies over the next three years.