Environmental Monitoring and Research
The purpose of the Environmental Monitoring and Research subprogram of the Northern Contaminants Program (NCP) is to:
- Monitor contaminant levels and trends in the Arctic environment.
- Conduct research into the influence of environmental change on levels and trends of contaminants in the Arctic environment.
- Conduct research into the effects of contaminants on the health of Arctic ecosystems.
- Support the assessment of human health risks using information on levels and trends of contaminants in traditional/country foods.
- Support, through collaboration and mentorship, projects that are funded under Community Based Monitoring and Research, and other NCP subprograms.
- Produce scientific information supporting domestic and international chemical management initiatives.
The funding envelope for the 2017-2018 Environmental Monitoring and Research subprogram is $1,075,000 of which approximately $850,000 will be allocated to ongoing trend monitoring projects and $225,000 will be allocated to research projects.
This Blueprint outlines environmental monitoring and research priorities for the Northern Contaminants Program (NCP).
Additional monitoring activity is being planned in cooperation with the Human Health subprogram and regional health authorities that will involve the measurement of contaminant levels in traditional/country foods to assess the dietary exposure of Northerners. Under the Human Health subprogram, the NCP is developing a long-term human biomonitoring plan that includes the collection and analysis of traditional/country food items to conduct these dietary exposure assessments. It is intended that dietary exposure assessments will be carried out cooperatively by the Environmental Monitoring and Research, Community-Based Monitoring and Research, and Human Health subprograms. Doing so will strengthen the links between the three subprograms and ensure that knowledge about contaminants in Arctic ecosystems will be transferred to the assessment of human health risks.
Priorities for monitoring and research are described separately for the Atmosphere and three major ecosystem types: Terrestrial, Freshwater, and Marine. The majority of ecosystem monitoring and research is to be carried out in a limited number of defined “focal ecosystems” so that the related activities are closely coupled and complementary. By concentrating monitoring and research on focal ecosystems, the NCP hopes to develop detailed conceptual models of contaminant dynamics in these ecosystems. Monitoring plans have been designed for optimal detection of temporal trends and build on ongoing monitoring projects, with robust timeseries datasets and sample archives. Research priorities are designed to improve our understanding of contaminant related ecological risks, including: how contaminants enter Arctic ecosystems and cycle within them; how contaminant cycling is influenced by environmental change and the resulting effect on biological exposure; and the combined biological effects of contaminants and climate change on arctic wildlife.
In the current Blueprint Schedule A POPs (formerly known as legacy POPs, see Appendix A) will continue to be measured on a biennial basis (i.e. every other year), however, Schedule B POPs (i.e. new POPs and chemicals of emerging concern see Appendix A) will be analyzed annually to ensure the rapid detection of trends. Annual analysis of chemicals of emerging concern, i.e. those not yet considered POPs by the Stockholm Convention, is important for demonstrating their presence in the Arctic in the least number of years possible.
New for 2017-2018 is the inclusion of microplastics as a contaminant of emerging concern. Microplastics have emerged as a global pollutant of concern for which there is very limited Arctic data (AMAP 2016). Microplastics exhibit many of the same characteristics of POPs that make them a risk to Arctic ecosystems and people. The NCP is well positioned to fill critical data gaps on microplastics in the Canadian Arctic, including their presence (concentrations), distribution (geographic and ecosystemic), long-range transport (marine and atmospheric), and ecological risks. The NCP will be taking a stepwise approach to assessing microplastics in the Canadian Arctic as outlined in section 2.4. and focussing first on assessing their presence and distribution in Arctic air and the marine environment.
The Arctic is a remote environment, far from major emission sources, with environmental characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to long-range contamination by persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals. Furthermore, some Indigenous peoples in the Arctic who rely on traditional/country foods, particularly marine mammals, as an essential part of their diet are exposed to elevated levels of contaminants in a scenario that is unique to the Arctic. The successful implementation of international conventions to reduce contaminant emissions is the best method available for reducing levels of human exposure in the Arctic. Arctic monitoring and research are among the most important sources of information for supporting current agreements, including the Stockholm Convention on POPs and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) Protocols on POPs and heavy metals. The results from Arctic science were a key driver for the development of these international agreements. Negotiations on mercury that were initiated under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2009 produced a global legally binding treaty on mercury named the Minamata Convention, which was formally adopted in 2013. Again, scientific results generated by the NCP and AMAP were critical to the negotiations of this new agreement. Each of these international and global agreements has requirements for ongoing monitoring and research, with a particular need for Arctic data and information. Results from NCP monitoring and research will be particularly important for the global monitoring plans being established under both the Stockholm and Minamata Conventions, and for periodic effectiveness evaluations of both Conventions.
The Environmental Monitoring and Research subprogram is also intended to support ongoing assessments of human health risks. Information related to temporal trends in traditional/country food species can be used to forecast potential changes in dietary exposure to contaminants. Similarly, the identification of new chemical contaminants in the environment provides an indication of possible future risks to human health and may lead to preliminary screening of human tissues (e.g., blood) and assessment of dietary exposure.
Contaminants of concern to the NCP include POPs, mercury, and other chemicals of emerging concern for which there is a reasonable probability of Arctic contamination resulting from long-range atmospheric and oceanic transport (see Appendix A for more information on contaminants of concern). One of the main objectives of monitoring POPs, which are already regulated under the Stockholm Convention, is to assess how the environment is responding to actions taken under the convention and to assess the effectiveness of these actions. Similarly, monitoring related to mercury is also aimed at assessing how the environment will respond to global actions to reduce emissions under the new Minamata Convention once it enters into force. Because the Arctic accumulates contaminants primarily from long-range transport, monitoring data on new chemicals in the Arctic are regarded as critical evidence when assessing the need to add new substances to the Stockholm Convention. The NCP needs to ensure that it can provide the most complete dataset possible for substances being considered (see Appendix A for more information on contaminants of concern).
Microplastics have emerged as a global pollutant of emerging concern for which there is very limited Arctic data (AMAP 2016). Microplastic particles, as well as larger pieces of plastic, can travel long distances across oceans, are extremely persistent in the environment, and accumulate in marine organisms. They also have the ability to be transferred up the food chain. Microplastic particles also carry toxic chemicals inherent to the plastic material, as well as persistent organic pollutants and metals that accumulate from ambient water. The risk to wildlife is two-fold: the microplastics can inflict physical damage and clog digestive systems, causing pathological injury or starvation, and/or delivering co-transported toxic chemicals including POPs to predators and other high trophic level organisms. In many ways microplastics exhibit all the characteristics of POPs and other globally regulated pollutants. For this reason in 2017-2018 the NCP will begin assessing microplastics as long-range pollutants in the Canadian Arctic. The first step of this assessment will focus on measuring the presence and distribution of microplastics in the marine environment and evaluating long-range atmospheric transport through measurements in Arctic air.
Interpreting temporal variability in monitoring data and explaining the potential causal influence of global contaminant emissions and their sources can be very difficult. Contaminant concentrations in environmental media may be influenced by numerous factors in addition to global emission sources. For example, environmental changes brought on by climate shifts have been shown to influence temporal records of contaminant levels quite dramatically. Discerning the sources (anthropogenic or natural) and understanding the dynamic processes responsible for uptake and accumulation in Arctic food webs presents a particular challenge to the interpretation of trends in mercury. Source apportionment and consideration of changing environmental processes (e.g. with the use of environmental models) for all contaminants will continue to be important topics for NCP research and monitoring.
Levels of contaminants reported in Arctic wildlife can exceed reported thresholds for effects that were established mainly through laboratory-based dosing studies. Since the last time risks to wildlife associated with contaminants were reported in the Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report III (CACAR III; available on-line: http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/ncp/79027.pdf), a number of important considerations have come to light which may warrant additional assessment. As already noted, climate change can influence contaminant pathways and processes that will result in modulating levels of exposure among Arctic wildlife. Wildlife are also being put under increasing stress because of climate-related changes in their environment that will make them more vulnerable to the potential risks posed by exposure to contaminants. Comparison of tissue residues to published guidelines and thresholds for effects will continue to be an important aspect of NCP assessment reports; however, it is recognized that these comparisons are of limited value given the lack of thresholds developed specifically for Arctic species. The direct investigation of toxic effects in Arctic wildlife (i.e., toxicological studies) is, therefore, an important element in the ongoing assessment of contaminant-related ecological risks.
The NCP is Canada’s main contributor of contaminants-related science to the circumpolar Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) under the Arctic Council. The NCP works very closely with AMAP and other Arctic nations on collaborative monitoring and research activities, as well as on the preparation of scientific assessments. Further information on AMAP can be found on their website. The participation of NCP project leaders in circumpolar monitoring networks and collaboration with other Arctic nations on NCP and AMAP priority research is encouraged.
To the greatest extent possible, NCP monitoring and research projects must be carried out in cooperation with Northern communities. In the case of wildlife sampling, collections should be carried out in association with regular community harvesting. In cases where harvesting has been limited because of weakness in a particular population (e.g., polar bear) then project leaders should work with community members to develop non-destructive techniques for sampling wildlife, such as collection of fat biopsies or snagging of fur. Project leaders are asked to work with community members to utilize traditional knowledge in their projects. This might, for example, include the documentation of observations made through the course of sampling and related to the state of individual specimens being collected and the environment from which they are collected, including the Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates of the location. These observations must be reported and the information attributed to the individual that provided it. The development of projects under the Community Based Monitoring and Research Subprogram is also encouraged, including projects that complement the priorities of this Blueprint, and that make use of indigenous knowledge.
2.4 Research and Monitoring Plan
Monitoring contaminant levels in the atmosphere over the Arctic continues to be a priority under the NCP. Data collected since 1992 will be used to evaluate temporal trends of atmospheric input of contaminants, monitor current source regions and validate global long-range transport models. Monitoring will contribute key data to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the provisions outlined in the Stockholm Convention and the CLRTAP protocols on POPs and heavy metals. Another priority for atmospheric monitoring will be measuring new substances that demonstrate a reasonable probability of Arctic contamination as a result of long-range transport. These data are critical to the assessment of potential new POPs and their possible incorporation into international conventions. Temporal trend data will also be used to provide a general indication of whether or not contaminant input to the Arctic ecosystem is increasing or decreasing, a critical question for consumers of traditional/country foods.
The NCP will participate in internationally coordinated air monitoring activities through the Arctic Council’s AMAP. Air monitoring data collected at Alert and Little Fox Lake continues to be a major contribution to AMAP by the NCP.
The current program incorporates continuous automated monitoring of mercury and passive air sampling of POPs using a flowthrough sampler at Little Fox Lake, Yukon, and POPs and mercury at Alert, Nunavut, which is the longest running air monitoring station in the Arctic.
Since 2014 the NCP has expanded the air monitoring network with the addition of 7 passive monitoring stations distributed across all 5 Arctic regions. This expansion will be extremely valuable in providing a more geographically complete picture of atmospheric contamination, including POPs and mercury, and assessing global transport pathways and sources. The NCP’s passive sampling network is integrated with the Global Atmospheric Passive Sampling (GAPS) network which is one of the primary sources of POPs monitoring data to the global monitoring plan under the Stockholm Convention. The use of models, or other methods, in collaboration with other programs/projects (e.g., ArcticNet), should be employed to evaluate global atmospheric pathways and potential sources associated with the trends observed at Alert and Little Fox Lake. Models may also be used to provide more detailed information on atmospheric contaminant distribution and deposition across the Canadian Arctic. These efforts should now be enhanced by integration of data from the 7 new passive monitoring stations being incorportated into the NCP air monitoring network.
2.4.1 Priorities for atmospheric monitoring
The following priorities have been established for atmospheric monitoring:
- Mercury in the atmosphere: Monitoring of atmospheric concentrations and deposition of mercury at Alert and Little Fox Lake will allow assessment of the temporal trends for mercury deposition and advance our understanding of atmospheric processes that may influence levels and trends being observed throughout the Arctic environment. This project is led by Alexandra Steffen, Environment and Climate Change Canada.
- POPs in the atmosphere: Monitoring atmospheric concentrations of POPs (including new chemicals, see Appendix A) at Alert will allow for the assessment of temporal trends and the advancement of our understanding of atmospheric processes that may influence levels and trends being observed throughout the Arctic environment. Samples should continue to be collected weekly; however, only one out of four weekly samples will be analyzed for routine trend analysis and the remaining samples will be archived. Passive air sampling with a flowthrough air sampler should continue at the Yukon site of Little Fox Lake to assess long-range transport from the Pacific Rim. This project is led by Hayley Hung, Environment and Climate Change Canada.
- Passive air sampling: Expand the geographic coverage of the air monitoring program by developing, installing and operating passive air sampling devices capable of operating remotely under Arctic conditions. This will be complementary to the work at Alert and Little Fox Lake. A network of passive air samplers in the Arctic could be an important contribution to a global monitoring network being established to evaluate the effectiveness and sufficiency of the Stockholm Convention and CLRTAP. Passive air sampling can be used to determine latitudinal gradients in air concentrations from which empirical estimates of characteristic travel distances (CTDs) can be made. Such information can be used to verify and improve the CTD estimates of long-range atmospheric transport models. Proposals for passive air sampling may be submitted as part of the core air monitoring for POPs proposal. This project is led by Hayley Hung, Environment and Climate Change Canada.
2.4.2 Priorities for atmospheric research
- Assess long-range atmospheric transport of microplastics to the Canadian Arctic.
2.5 Ecosystem-based monitoring and research
Under the Blueprint, ecosystem-based monitoring and research will focus on several geographic areas encompassing locations of past monitoring and research activity on which the current Blueprint aims to build. A number of focal ecosystems have been chosen among Arctic marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. It is intended that monitoring and research in focal ecosystems will complement one another and will contribute to future synthesis and integration studies to further refine our understanding of contaminant cycling in these specific ecosystems, and notably, consider the influence of climate change. While much of the ecosystem research and monitoring should concentrate on the focal ecosystems, research at other locations that contributes to a general understanding of contaminant pathways, processes and effects will also be considered. This section describes monitoring and research priorities for each of the ecosystem types and specific focal ecosystems. There are, however, a number of common elements to monitoring and research across all ecosystem types which are described below.
The focus of the current ecosystem monitoring plan is to measure long-term trends and variability in contaminant concentrations in Arctic biota. The plan builds on projects to monitor temporal trends established in 2004 whereby samples from a number of key species at a few locations across the Canadian Arctic are collected and analyzed annually to maximize the statistical power of the temporal datasets. Species were selected based on the important role they play in their respective ecosystems and their importance to indigenous human communities (see Section 2.7).
As the temporal datasets become longer and more robust, the monitoring objective has been improved from the detection of a 10% change over 10–15 years, to detection of a 5% change over a 10–15 year period with a power of 80% and confidence level of 95%. This also aligns the NCP monitoring objectives with AMAP objectives. The annual collection and analysis of 10 samples per species and location is felt to be sufficient to achieve this goal; however, the inclusion of more samples may be acceptable if it significantly improves the trend analysis and is not cost prohibitive (e.g., mercury).
Along with monitoring contaminant trends in biota, the long-term monitoring plan for marine ecosystems includes annual monitoring of seawater for POPs and mercury. Vertical profiles are collected for contaminant concentrations and include standard oceanographic data (e.g., salinity, temperature, nutrients, particulate organic carbon (POC), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), ∂18O, tracers such as SF6, and inorganic carbon), as well as data for zooplankton and forage fish where possible. In the case of mercury, data collection should include full speciation (Hg(II), methylmercury, particulate mercury) and for POPs, it should include the full suite of POPs and chemicals of emerging concern.
The recently completed CACAR III POPs report demonstrates that nearly all of the monitoring projects have produced some statistically significant trends for most POPs. The results show that most POPs covered by international regulations (i.e. legacy POPs) are decreasing in the environment. It was therefore decided that the frequency of legacy-POPs monitoring would be decreased to every other year (biennial). It is felt that this decrease in monitoring frequency will have a minimal impact on the program’s ability to measure temporal trends of legacy-POPs. Since sampling will continue on an annual basis, sample archives could be used in future years on a case by case basis to investigate certain trends with annual data, this could include research on climate related drivers of contaminant trends. The analysis of legacy-POPs will be staggered among the different monitoring projects to even out the analytical budget.
Schedule B POPs require annual monitoring to quickly detect trends and, in the case of new chemicals, to definitively establish their presence in Arctic ecosystems over several consecutive years.
In order to update contaminant information on caribou herds from across the Canadian Arctic, of which there are 14, the Blueprint now provides for periodic monitoring of the 12 herds that are not already monitored for temporal trends. Additionally, deca-BDE, total PBDEs, PFOS and PFCAs, have been measured in caribou at concentrations similar to what is measured in marine mammals. Given the relatively high concentrations in caribou, particularly fat and liver, they represent a good opportunity to assess temporal trends in a species for which a rich archive of samples exists. Caribou may also represent an important dietary source of these contaminants to humans (Ostertag et al. 2009, Chemosphere 75:1165-1172).
One or two additional caribou herds will be sampled each year as part of the NCP core program. The choice of herds will be determined in consultation with Regional Contaminants Committees and based on 1) Level of use, 2) length of time since the last sampling campaign and 3) ease of sampling. Ideally, sampling would occur as part of ongoing body condition or community monitoring programs (i.e. supported by territorial governments), which would minimize the cost to NCP.
For the assessment of temporal trends in biota every effort should be made to explain, and control for, variance components by considering confounding factors such as age, sex and time of collection. Ancillary data such as lipid content, stable isotope ratios and body condition may also be required to account for variance in the dataset.
Ecosystem-based contaminants research is intended to improve our understanding of contaminant pathways, processes and the effects of contaminants on the health of Arctic wildlife. Research projects should be formed around a set of clearly rationalized hypotheses related to the priorities described in this Blueprint. Results of this research will contribute to our interpretation of temporal trends and/or variability, particularly as they relate to the influence of climate change and changing sources (i.e., global emissions). While building on our current understanding of legacy POPs and mercury remains a priority, there is also a need to learn about newer chemical contaminants, such as fluorinated and brominated organic chemicals and current-use pesticides that have the potential for long-range transport and Arctic contamination. Studies related to ecosystem pathways and processes are required in each of the ecosystem types (i.e., terrestrial, freshwater and marine).
Microplastics have been identified as a global pollutant of concern that are capable of long-range transport and can cause adverse effects in wildlife, yet for which there is very little Arctic data. For this reason, the NCP has identified assessing the presence and distribution of microplastics in marine ecosystems as a priority for the current call for proposals.
The investigation of contaminant-related effects in wildlife should focus on those species that, based on the best available information, are at greatest risk. The most important considerations should be the current level of exposure, the expected changes in exposure (i.e., are levels increasing or expected to increase), the potential vulnerability of a given population to toxic effects (e.g., diminished health status as a result of climate-related stresses), and whether or not the species is consumed by people. Based on these considerations, species that might be considered for effects studies include polar bear, beluga and, to a lesser extent, seabirds and ringed seal.
Wildlife effects studies should include the measurement of a suite of endpoints designed to provide a comprehensive assessment of contaminant related biological effects. These endpoints should be designed to detect changes in key biological systems (e.g., immune, reproductive, metabolic and neurological) that could be compromised by contaminants. It is recognized that studies on wildlife in their natural environment can at best establish associations between contaminant exposure and effects. A weight-of-evidence approach, which considers multiple lines of evidence from both wildlife studies and laboratory studies where causative relationships between contaminants and effects can be established, is a sound approach to assess the impact of contaminants on wildlife and ecosystem health. Ultimately, the health of northern Indigenous populations is intimately linked to the health of Arctic ecosystems, which represent a source of traditional/country foods and social and cultural well-being.
2.5.1 Terrestrial ecosystems
The focal ecosystem for the purpose of research is: Range of the Porcupine caribou herd.
The Porcupine caribou herd (sampled in Yukon) and the Qamanirjuaq Caribou herd (sampled from Arviat) are monitored annually for mercury and inorganic elements. NEW – samples will also be analyzed for PBDEs (including deca-BDE), PFOS and PFCAs. One or two other herds will be monitored each year for mercury, inorganic elements, PBDEs, PFOS and PFCAs This monitoring is led by Mary Gamberg, Gamberg Consulting, Whitehorse, Yukon.
The following bullets outline research priorities in terrestrial ecosystems:
- Uptake and accumulation of contaminants in terrestrial food webs with a focus on new contaminants that display a high potential for accumulation in terrestrial food webs
- Influence of climate-induced changes on terrestrial ecosystem contaminant cycles
- Physical-chemical processes related to mercury in Arctic soils, with a focus on fluxes to and from the atmosphere and characterization of soils as source or sink in the Arctic mercury cycle under a variety of climatic conditions.
2.5.2 Freshwater ecosystems
The Focal ecosystems are: Kusawa Lake, Yukon; Great Slave Lake, NWT; and High Arctic lakes on Cornwallis and Ellesmere Islands, Nunavut
The following freshwater ecosystems areas are the priority areas being monitored:
- Kusawa Lake and Lake Laberge: lake trout are monitored annually for mercury and new POPs. Biennial monitoring of legacy POPs will take place during even numbered sampling years (i.e. 2014, 2016,...). , This project is led by Gary Stern, University of Manitoba, and Mary Gamberg ( Gamberg Consulting) on behalf of the Yukon Contaminants Committee.
- Great Slave Lake: lake trout and burbot are monitored annually for mercury and new POPs. Biennial monitoring of legacy POPs will take place during odd numbered sampling years (i.e. 2015, 2017,...). This project is led by Marlene Evans, Environment and Climate Change Canada.
- Fort Good Hope burbot are monitored annually for mercury and new POPs. Biennial monitoring of legacy POPs will take place during odd numbered sampling years (i.e. 2015, 2017,...).,This project is led by Gary Stern, University of Manitoba.
- High Arctic lakes: land-locked arctic char are monitored annually for mercury and new POPs. Biennial monitoring of legacy POPs will take place during odd numbered sampling years (i.e. 2015, 2017,...).This project is led by Derek Muir and Jane Kirk of Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The following bullets outline research priorities in freshwater ecosystems:
- Ecosystem changes in focal ecosystem lakes and impact of these changes on contaminant dynamics in the system, particularly how change might influence levels and trends in key monitoring species (i.e. lake trout, char and burbot).
2.5.3 Marine ecosystems
The Focal ecosystems are: Beaufort Sea/Amundsen Gulf, Barrow Strait/Lancaster Sound, Cumberland Sound/Davis Strait, Hudson Bay, Labrador Sea (coastal waters).
The following bullets outline species and sampling locations for monitoring in marine ecosystems.
- Ringed seal: Sachs Harbour (Beaufort Sea/Amundsen Gulf), Resolute (Barrow Strait/Lancaster Sound), Arviat (Hudson Bay), and Nain (Labrador Sea) are monitored annually for mercury and new POPs. Biennial monitoring of legacy POPs will take place during even numbered sampling years (i.e. 2014, 2016,...).This project is led by Derek Muir and Magali Houde of Environment and Climate Change Canada.
- Beluga: Hendrickson Island (Beaufort Sea/Amundsen Gulf), Pangnirtung (Cumberland Sound), and Sanikiluaq (Nunavut) are monitored annually for mercury and new POPs. Biennial monitoring of legacy POPs will take place during odd numbered sampling years (i.e. 2015, 2017,...). This project is led by Lisa Loseto, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Gary Stern, University of Manitoba.
- Polar bear: Hudson Bay Population (Hudson Bay) are monitored annually for mercury and new POPs. Biennial monitoring of legacy POPs will take place during even numbered sampling years (i.e. 2014, 2016,...). This project is led by Robert Letcher, Environment and Climate Change Canada
- Seabird eggs: thick-billed murres and northern fulmars from Prince Leopold Island (Barrow Strait/Lancaster Sound), thick-billed murres from Coats Island (Hudson Bay) are monitored annually for mercury and new POPs. Biennial monitoring of legacy POPs will take place during even numbered sampling years (i.e. 2014, 2016,...). This project is led by Birgit Braune, Environment and Climate Change Canada
- Sea-run arctic char: Cambridge Bay (Beaufort Sea/Amundsen Gulf) are monitored annually for mercury. This project is led by Marlene Evans, Environment and Climate Change Canada.
- Ship-based monitoring of POPs in seawater with concurrent air monitoring. This project is led by Liisa Jantunen and carried out in conjunction with ArcticNet aboard the CCGS Amundsen.
- Community centred monitoring of POPs and Mercury. Currently based in Resolute, Nain, Sachs Harbour and Cambridge Bay. This project is led by Derek Muir.
The following bullets outline research priorities in marine ecosystems.
- Contaminant distribution in marine food webs with a focus on marine fishes and other species that represent forage for key monitoring species.
- Ecosystem changes in focal marine areas and the impact of these changes on contaminant dynamics in the system, particularly how change might influence levels and trends in key monitoring species (e.g., ringed seal)
- Contaminant-related effects in wildlife with a focus on those species that, based on the best available information, are at greatest risk or may serve as early warning indicators of effects in humans. Important considerations should be level of contaminant exposure and expected changes in exposure, and the potential vulnerability of a given wildlife population to potential effects (e.g., diminished health status as a result of climate-related stresses).
- Assess the presence and distribution of microplastics in marine ecosystems.
2.6 Contaminants of Interest
Researchers are asked to rationalize an analytical program and schedule that best suits the proposed project. Substances that are either currently included in or are being considered for inclusion in international conventions are identified and discussed in Appendix A. An important function of the NCP is to provide monitoring data on substances that are already covered by these conventions. However, the NCP needs to ensure that it can provide the most complete dataset possible for substances under consideration, particularly those substances that are of concern in the Arctic environment.
Samples should also be screened for new chemicals that demonstrate the potential for Arctic contamination but have yet to be identified in the Arctic environment. Because the presence of a chemical in a remote environment such as the Arctic automatically implies that it is persistent and subject to long-range transport, this evidence is critical to domestic and international chemical assessment activities. Analytical proposals to measure new contaminants should be well justified, using physicochemical properties, modelling results and existing data to demonstrate the potential for long-range transport and Arctic contamination.
Microplastics have been identified as a global pollutant of concern that are capable of long-range transport and can cause adverse effects in wildlife, yet for which there is very little Arctic data. For this reason, the NCP has identified assessing the presence and distribution of microplastics as a contaminant of concern for the current call for proposals.
2.7 Selection of Species for Long-Term Trend Monitoring
It should be noted that the vast majority of samples collected for NCP research and monitoring are collected by hunters from nearby communities as part of their subsistence hunting activities. When possible, GPS coordinates should be captured when samples are collected.
2.7.1 Ringed seal
Ringed seal, a widely distributed species found throughout the circumpolar Arctic, is an important traditional/country food species for Inuit. Contaminants have been measured in samples of ringed seal collected near Arctic communities, such as Resolute, over the past twenty-five years and represent an excellent opportunity to study temporal trends. A number of other Arctic countries also maintain ringed seal monitoring programs which provides the opportunity for international comparisons, particularly through the NCP’s participation in AMAP. Ringed seals will be sampled annually under this program with the help of hunters from the communities of Sachs Harbour, Resolute, Arviat and Nain. These four locations represent very different regions in the Canadian Arctic that are experiencing varying degrees of climate change and contaminant input.
2.7.2 Beluga whales
Beluga whales are an important traditional/country food species for many Arctic communities. Samples of beluga have been collected from places such as the Mackenzie Delta, Hudson Bay and Pangnirtung at various times over the past twenty-five years and analyzed for contaminants. The existing temporal dataset for this species will be augmented with annual sampling at Hendrickson Island in the Mackenzie Delta, Cumberland Sound and Hudson Bay by hunters from Tuktoyaktuk, Pangirtung, and Sanikiluaq. This monitoring plan will allow researchers to compare beluga from the western and eastern Arctic as well as Hudson Bay. These areas have regional differences with respect to the impacts of climate change and contaminant inputs.
2.7.3 Polar bear
Polar bears are the top predators in the Arctic marine food chain and have the highest concentration of some contaminants found in the Arctic. Polar bear meat is consumed by Inuit and the animal has special socio-cultural and economic importance (through commercial hunts) to Inuit communities. As with other species, polar bears have been sampled periodically in the past and analyzed for contaminants. The most extensive temporal dataset for contaminants in polar bear has been collected for Hudson Bay, which is also Canada’s most southerly Arctic sea and is expected to undergo the most rapid climate change. Recent results from ongoing monitoring of polar bear in Hudson Bay suggest that the dietary habits of polar bear may already be changing as a result of climate change.
2.7.4 Seabird eggs
The eggs of seabirds have been used for long-term monitoring of contaminants since the 1970s. The Arctic is an important breeding ground for a large number of seabirds that nest on the rocky shores and cliffs of Arctic islands. During the nesting season seabird eggs are a popular food item for Inuit, for whom collecting and consuming eggs is an important spring tradition and source of nutrition. Since 1975, eggs have been collected periodically from Prince Leopold Island and Coats Island by Environment and Climate Change Canada and represent one of the best temporal contaminant datasets. Eggs of thick-billed murre and northern fulmar are collected once a year from each of these colonies to build on the past data and improve our assessment of temporal trends. Eggs are ideal for monitoring because they are relatively easy to collect and do not involve killing an adult bird. Seabird eggs are also collected as part of monitoring programs in other Arctic countries, allowing for international comparisons. The two colonies selected for monitoring are located in the High Arctic: Prince Leopold Island and, further south in the mouth of Hudson Bay, Coats Island. These two sites provide opportunities to examine changes over time in two different ecosystems undergoing varying degrees of change. This program samples eggs for three additional species (black-legged kittiwake, black guillemot, glaucous gull) every five years, and adult birds of four species (thick-billed murre, northern fulmar, black-legged kittiwake, black guillemot) every ten years.
2.7.5 Sea-run arctic char
This type of Arctic char is widely distributed throughout the Arctic and is one of the most important traditional/country food species for Arctic people. Char represent a widely available and highly nutritious source of food and is promoted by public health authorities. Char is promoted because contaminant levels are thought to be relatively low in char compared with other traditional/country foods, and it is an excellent source of protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids and other micronutrients. Sea-run char have been collected from communities across the Canadian Arctic and the results confirm that contaminant levels are quite low, particularly in comparison with marine mammals. One location in the central/western Arctic (Cambridge Bay), has been selected for continued annual monitoring to ensure that contaminant levels remain low.
2.7.6 Land-locked arctic char
This species of char is also widely distributed in Arctic lakes and rivers. The NCP has been monitoring land-locked char in High Arctic lakes around the community of Resolute and on Ellesmere Island for the past twenty years and has built strong temporal datasets on contaminant levels. The lakes receive contaminants from the atmosphere and, therefore, are good indicators of changing atmospheric inputs of contaminants. High Arctic lakes are also undergoing significant changes related to climate change which could also influence contaminant levels in the fish.
2.7.7 Lake trout and burbot
Lake trout and, to a lesser extent, burbot are also important traditional/country food species for many northern communities and like char both are excellent sources of nutrition. Lake trout and burbot can, however, contain fairly high levels of mercury, especially older fish, which can be a significant source of mercury to people who consume it frequently. As with all of the species in the temporal trends program, trout and burbot have been monitored for over twenty years in Yukon and the NWT and represent valuable temporal trend datasets. The program will continue to monitor lake trout and burbot annually in the important fishery of Great Slave Lake; burbot caught in the Mackenzie River near Fort Good Hope; and lake trout in Lake Laberge and Kusawa Lake in Yukon.
Caribou were selected for temporal trends monitoring because of their importance as a traditional/country food and because there is good historical information on contaminant levels in some herds. Contaminant levels in caribou, however, are among the lowest of any traditional/country food species, and the monitoring program has verified this over the past five years by sampling and analyzing several herds across the Arctic for heavy metals. Two distinct caribou herds were selected for continued annual monitoring of heavy metals: the Porcupine herd and the Qamanirjuaq herd. The range of the Porcupine herd is northern Yukon and Alaska; these areas may be exposed to atmospheric deposition of contaminants originating in Asia, whereas the range of the Qamanirjuaq herd is from eastern NWT to southern Nunavut and the shores of Hudson Bay, which is more likely to receive atmospheric contaminant input from North America
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