Project "High-Arctic"

Fish from sensitive ecosystems as bioindicators of global climate change

The multi-year research project High Arctic 1997 - 2023 is investigating the effects of short-term and long-term climate change on freshwater ecosystems in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and in the Austrian Alps. The study illustrates that fish from Arctic and alpine lakes are sensitive bioindicators of the interactive effects of pollution and climate change.

The ongoing study High-Arctic, coordinated by myself and Derek Muir (Environment Canada, Burlington ONT), is carried out in cooperation with scientists from various Canadian and Austrian research institutions. Since 1997 land-locked Arctic char are collected annually from lakes near the community of Resolute Bay (Qausuittuq) on Cornwallis Island and lakes on other islands (e.g. Somerset Island, Devon Island, Ellesmere Island).

The research group is conducting detailed studies of the interactions between the bioaccumulation of metals in land-locked populations of Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) and lake water temperature and physico-chemical parameters, seasonality, and inter-annual climatic trends. Investigations include analysis of metals (e.g. cadmium, mercury) and organotoxicants, various biochemical indicators of stress in the fish, stable isotopes and population genetics. Furthermore, sediment cores are taken from a number of lakes.

The temporal trend information, combined with information on food web accumulation of mercury and methyl mercury, water and sediment data, will be used to infer whether warming trends are currently influencing or will influence observed mercury concentrations and biometric parameters of fish. Results are compared with data from ongoing studies in Austrian high-alpine lakes.

Another aspect of High Arctic, the "Lake Hazen Depth Sounding and Sediment Coring Project (HAZCOR)" has started in 2004. The aim of this project was the development of a bathymetric map of Lake Hazen (Quttinirpaaq National Park, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut) in order to obtain sediment cores from the deepest spot (267 m) of this lake as archive of temporal trends of pollution in the Arctic.


This Austrian-Canadian research cooperation is supported by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research, Polar Continental Shelf Project – Canada, Northern Contaminants Program – Canada, Parks Canada and many other sponsoring bodies. Members of the Inuit community of Resolute Bay (in part. Debbie Iqaluk) have supplied invaluable help during sampling, sample preparation and shipping. The Embassy of Canada to Austria in Vienna is acknowledged for their continous support.