Uncovering the Chemical Clues of Climate Change
Boreal forests are the source of more than half of the watersheds that drain into the Arctic ocean—and many contain bodies of water whose colours have deepened due to rapid landscape changes. The organic materials causing these colour changes provide new sources of nutrients and energy, but they also reduce light and carry metals—some of them toxic—to the aquatic environment, with unknown consequences. The good news is that these organics also carry clues that can help us trace their origins and understand the changes happening upstream.
Dr. Susan Ziegler, Canada Research Chair in Boreal Biogeochemistry, is investigating the chemical clues contained in organics in soils, streams, rivers and coastal ecosystems. This will help her to determine how boreal landscapes are responding to climate change, and what impacts those responses may be having on the aquatic and marine ecosystems downstream. By combining measures of carbon and nutrients with specific chemical markers of source and environmental processes, she and her research team are quantifying watershed scale transfers of carbon and nutrients and their sources. By applying these tools and measures to the boreal watersheds they are studying, they can link ecosystem changes to climate factors and their aquatic consequences.
This research will provide key information to support the development of the Earth system models we rely on for climate prediction. It will also be used to develop management strategies for water, forestry and fisheries resources.