Manitoba heads toward world leadership in Arctic research

Grad students as well as professors and post-doctoral fellows are being hired at the U of M to work on a $45 million Arctic project on geomicrobiology and climate change. The project is led by Ottawa-appointed Canadian Excellence Research Chair Dr. Soren Rysgaard, a world expert on climate change.

Arctic research is being rapidly ramped up at the University of Manitoba, building on the existing Arctic system science pool of experts headed by Canada Research Chair Dr. David G. Barber, at the Centre for Earth Observation Science. This growth is largely connected with the recent arrival at CEOS of Dr. Søren Rysgaard, one of the world’s foremost experts on climate change in the Arctic.

Dr. Rysgaard is founder of Greenland’s Climate Research Centre and continued to head the centre as he took on his new duties in Manitoba. The federal government last year named him a Canada Excellence Research Chair in Arctic geomicrobiology and climate change, awarding him a $10 million grant over seven years for his research. The Manitoba government is putting up an additional $3.5 million, with an added $30 million being put forward by the U of M and other funding agencies.

These funds will support major teamoriented research initiatives at the university, including the hiring of three new faculty members focused on Arctic marine sciences in the faculty of environment, earth and resources and also numerous research associates, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and technicaland administrative staff. It’s expected 30 new positions in total will be established.

A government release notes that Dr. Rygaard’s recent research has suggested sea ice is key to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Rygaard’s work, it says, “promises to position Canada as the global leader in understanding changing Arctic ecosystems.” The new work will be done in teams, enabling the group to get a comparatively complete picture of the Arctic sea ice and better predict how it will respond to climate change.

Dr. C.J. Mundy is one of the newly hired faculty members as the Arctic system science node (a pool of experts) takes on its new shape and responsibilities at the university. Dr. Mundy, assistant professor at the Arctic Research Centre, is a biological oceanographer who focuses on microscopic algae that grow in the sea ice and underlying ocean.

Dr. Mundy is also leading one of the new research initiatives called Arctic-ICE. This project based at Resolute Bay, Nunavut, is examining the response of the Arctic ice-covered ecosystem to our warming climate, one of the most noticeable changes associated with it being the thinning and disappearing ice cover.

Imagine being in the Arctic with your research team and suddenly awoken by a polar bear tickling your feet. Dr. C.J. Mundy has been there. He wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world. Of course, the sociable wildlife is just one of the oddities of working in the remote setting. “This work never ceases to be interesting,” Dr. Mundy says.

His current work with the Arctic-ICE project has a team of students and himself visiting Resolute Bay, Nunavut, on an annual basis. In combination with climate change, the eroded sea ice cover has made the Arctic marine ecosystem unpredictable. Dr. Mundy’s research is focused on the region’s primary producers in the arctic waters, including sea ice algae, meltwater algae and phytoplankton.

By studying this material, Dr. Mundy and his team aim to improve our understanding of variability in the polar marine ecosystem. The work may help shed some light on the workings of climate change and, Dr. Mundy says, provide enough insight to allow scientists to predict future climate situations.

How do you carve out for yourself a career like Dr. Mundy’s? A look at this scientist’s credentials should be some guidance. Though he began his academic life planning to pursue a career in dentistry, his bachelor’s degree in honours ecology in 1997 in the U of M’s department of zoology. In 2000 he obtained his masters in physical geography.

It was during his time in graduate school that Dr. Mundy answered the call from CEOS’ Dr. David Barber who needed graduate students to join him on a preliminary Arctic expedition. Dr. Mundy credits the CEOS chief with sparking his formal interest in Arctic research.

In 2007, Dr. Mundy added a PhD to his academic achievements. After that, he took on a four-year tenure as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institut des sciences de la mer at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, northeast of Québec City.

From his first expedition, Dr. Mundy has been fascinated with ice algae, which exist as virtually the only source of food in the north during early spring, a notoriously barren time of year. This unique organism was the basic cause for his making a leap into fullltime research. He is now planning an Arctic expedition of his own, a further investigation into the primary producers of the ecosystem, for which he is currently seeking out graduate students.

The University of Manitoba is one of the leaders in Arctic research in Canada. However, it is far from alone; many Canadian university faculties both English- and French speaking engaged in Arctic studies. “In many ways, biological investigation of the Arctic is still in its infancy,” Dr. Mundy says. Whatever challenges he may encounter in the isolated locale, this scientist is prepared to confront them. And that includes polar bears.

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