The official opening of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station

The official opening of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) campus in the vibrant Canadian Arctic community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut opens a new chapter in Canada’s polar research leadership. The state-of-the-art research facility is designed and built to optimize innovation in Arctic science and technology, to welcome visitors, and to provide researchers with the accommodation and technical services they need.

Business Elite Canada spoke with Dr. David J. Scott, President and CEO of Polar Knowledge Canada about what the CHARS campus will mean for all Canadians.

BEC: What is your vision for the CHARS campus?
DS: Polar Knowledge Canada’s (POLAR) vision for the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) campus is for it to be recognized as a world-class facility for science and technology in Canada’s North where academic, industry, Indigenous, Northern, government and international partners can create new knowledge that will benefit all Canadians and have positive impacts around the world. POLAR acknowledges the CHARS campus as critical infrastructure that adds to a Network of research facilities across the North.

POLAR recognizes the respectful inclusion of Indigenous knowledge as fundamentally important to the co-creation of new knowledge. The CHARS campus will continue to offer a rich, collaborative environment to generate new ideas and innovations that are needed to address the issues that Northerners and Canadians have identified as important in the context of a rapidly changing Arctic.

This innovative work, which is already taking place at the CHARS campus, will also continue to strengthen Canada’s pan-northern network of research facilities.

BEC: What was the sentiment around the grand opening?
DS: The opening of the CHARS campus represented a major achievement—the culmination of years of planning, discussion, development, design, construction, and a major investment in resources, time, and hard work. This event represented a joint celebration for federal government organizations, construction partners, local organizations and Cambridge Bay community members that worked collaboratively to develop the various components of the CHARS campus.

The opening was a tremendous accomplishment and a tribute to everyone in the community of Cambridge Bay and across the country who helped to make this state-of-the-art facility possible.

The opening ceremony, which included cultural performances, speeches from leaders, learning activities for kids and knowledge exchange opportunities, was wonderfully well-received by the community—so much so that the Main Research Building of the CHARS campus hit full capacity during the official opening. Participants, ranging from elders, hunters, local stakeholders, teenagers and young children came together to celebrate this significant milestone for the community.

BEC: What are the three main research topics currently prioritized by POLAR?
DS: POLAR supports research projects within its Science and Technology Program, which aims to create new knowledge for use in decision making throughout Canada’s Arctic regions. The current science focus has been set by understanding northern issues through engagement, and aims to build a knowledge base to support effective solutions to Arctic issues, northern policy and research development, and advances Canada’s position as a leading Arctic nation.

The goals of POLAR’s 2020-2025 Science and Technology Program are to:

a. Improve understanding of dynamic northern ecosystems in the context of rapid change.
b. Advance sensible energy, technology and infrastructure solutions for the North.
c. Increase understanding of the connections between northern community wellness and environmental health.

In April 2018, POLAR launched a public Call for Input to inform its 2020-25 Science and Technology (S&T) Framework and broader agency-wide Strategic Plan, which will help guide POLAR’s future funding, programs and activities.

BEC: Please talk to me about research on climate change done at the CHARS campus? What are some of your recent findings and how do they influence our country’s role in the fight against global warming?
DS: POLAR aims to help strengthen Canada’s leadership on addressing Arctic issues, particularly those that are most important to Northern and Indigenous Canadians, especially in the context of climate change: how Arctic ecosystems are changing and the effects on the wildlife species that represent a significant part of the diet in northern communities, and how changing ice, permafrost, and snow will affect communities.

Over the last five years, POLAR has been working in partnership with a wide variety of collaborators to understand the current state of the Arctic environment in the area surrounding the CHARS campus and has begun documenting how ecosystems there are changing. POLAR aims to make this new knowledge accessible to decision-makers at the local, territorial and national levels so that they can use it as they develop their responses to climate change.

Scientific reports based on numerous studies demonstrate that the Arctic regions are experiencing climate warming at an accelerated rate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2019 Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate indicates that the Arctic is warming at more than twice the global rate. The Changing air temperatures affect many components of the Arctic ecosystem, which in turn affects the wellbeing of Northerners. The Arctic is an enormous and complex region, and the central Canadian Arctic, where POLAR’s headquarters are located, is a relatively understudied region. Much of the research that POLAR conducts and supports involves obtaining baseline environmental data to develop a clearer understanding of Arctic environments as they are now—benchmarks which will allow future change to be measured and evaluated.

Below are some examples of POLAR-supported research:
• A weather station network to support safe travel and build environmental monitoring capacity in Nunavut (University of Calgary).

• SmartICE Pond Inlet: a sea ice information service to support local decision-making. The project deploys in-situ and mobile sea-ice thickness sensors in areas where Inuit travel and the ice are known to be dangerous (Memorial University of Newfoundland).

• Permafrost research, including monitoring of changes in the landscape. This project also provided opportunities for training local youth and community members in permafrost research by merging scientific techniques with Inuit Knowledge, ways of learning, and experience on the land (POLAR).

• Migrations of sea run Arctic char in a changing Arctic: Integrating acoustic telemetry, physiology, and genomics. This research provides information that will help keep the subsistence and commercial char fisheries healthy well into the future (DFO, Université Laval).

• Ecosystem research: Diverse field and laboratory studies on genomics, ecosystem mapping, bird and mammal dynamics, and permafrost monitoring. This includes baseline research that provides benchmarks that are crucial to understanding the effects of climate change (POLAR).

• Kitikmeot Caribou Inuit Knowledge Mapping and Monitoring Project: Document and facilitate access to and use of Inuit caribou expertise to improve understanding and management of caribou populations (Kitikmeot Region Wildlife Board).

• Biodiversity monitoring: Automated real-time monitoring of the wide variety of organisms in the Canadian Arctic, building upon scientific data and informed by local knowledge (POLAR and the Centre for Biodiversity Geonomics, University of Guelph).

In addition, 42 Science and Technology and Knowledge Management projects across Canada’s North were chosen to receive funding as a result of POLAR’s 2017-2019 Competitive Funding Process. You can find the list here.

BEC: How much, if any, international collaboration takes part at the CHARS campus?
DS: POLAR welcomes and is pleased by the participation of Arctic and non-Arctic states in research activities across Canada’s North. The CHARS campus is already attracting interest and participation from the international scientific community, and is providing a platform to leverage the capacities of international researchers to work on science and technology issues that improve the state of knowledge in Canada’s North.

POLAR serves as a first point of contact for the international polar research community to explore opportunities to pursue research in Canada’s Arctic. POLAR also liaises with research organizations and institutes throughout the circumpolar world, providing guidance for multilateral scientific projects relevant to Canadian interests.

In 2019, 42 research projects from a dozen countries were approved to work out of the CHARS campus, totalling over 700 field person days. Some of these activities included substantial in-field technical and research support from POLAR staff and resources.

BEC: “CHARS campus symbolizes a new chapter in Canada’s polar leadership.” What does this sentence mean to you?
DS: A new chapter in Canada’s polar leadership means that we will be working in close collaboration with Northerners to co-create the new knowledge that Arctic and Canadian communities need to understand pan-Arctic change ­— in order to adapt to today’s conditions and better plan for the future.

It also means facilitating inclusive collaboration between scientists and Indigenous knowledge holders. Science coupled with Indigenous knowledge is key to developing the best new knowledge to support evidence-based decisions needed to enable Northerners and all Canadians to adapt to today’s conditions and prepare for the future.

The CHARS campus will position Canada as a global polar player through enhanced partnerships with Arctic and Antarctic research partners that can assist in understanding a range of relevant issues for Canada and its northern communities, including climate change and sea-level rise, present and future. The welcoming spaces for teaching, training and community engagement spark opportunities for knowledge exchange that mark a new chapter in Canada’s polar leadership.

BEC: Where do you see POLAR in 10 years?
DS: At POLAR, we’re looking to a future with more Inuit employees working at the CHARS campus across all job groups and levels, aiming to increase overall Inuit representation, as per our Inuit Employment Plan. It is POLAR’s medium-term goal to achieve 64 per cent Inuit representation in all its positions at the CHARS campus, with 21 Inuit employees in 33 positions.

Over the next ten years, POLAR also plans to actively engage with local Inuit children and youth, inspiring them to become the next generation of scientists and researchers at the CHARS campus.

Since its inception, POLAR has embarked on a journey to address the unique challenges of climate change in Canada’s North and strengthen the resilience of northern communities. That journey is a big part of what is happening here at the CHARS campus. The Main Research Building has been designed with that journey in mind. Not only does it have state-of-the-art laboratories that will attract scientists from across Canada and around the world—it also has also places for those scientists and Indigenous knowledge holders to get to know each other, to share knowledge and perspectives, as well as to solve problems and make plans.

In ten years, additional new knowledge will have been created at this leading-edge facility on the issues that matter most to Northerners and to all Canadians, and ultimately the world.