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International Polar Year Canadian Science Report


The collection of

Science Abstracts

From the Special Issue of Climatic Change "Science Results from the Canadian International Polar Year 2007-2008"

November 2012




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Table of Contents






Message from the Minister

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Photo of the Honourable John DuncanCanada’s North is a fundamental part of Canada’s history and our future. The North is undergoing many changes and science and research is helping us better understand those changes so that we can have informed and effective leadership on the path ahead. I am pleased to present this volume of abstracts of “Science Results from the Canadian International Polar Year 2007-2008” which highlights the important work and recent advances made in understanding the impacts of climate change in the Arctic and the health and well-being of Northern Canadians.

Science and research form an important foundation for Canada’s Northern Strategy and provide the knowledge necessary for sound policy and decision-making. At $156M, Canada’s investment in IPY was one of the largest in the world and underscores Canada’s commitment to Arctic science and better understanding our world, our North and our Northern communities. The Government of Canada worked closely with Northern and Aboriginal communities, scientists, researchers, and other domestic and international partners to ensure International Polar Year delivered important results for Canadians. Many of the results from this effort are contained within these abstracts; but as the analysis of collected information continues, results will continue to be published.

Engaging leading experts on critical areas, the final report will describe the key findings of the Canadian International Polar Year project activities, and highlight the critical role that Northern Communities played for the first time in IPY. This final report on the results of the Canadian International Polar Year will be published as a Special Issue of the journal Climatic Change available electronically in summer 2012 and in the print edition in the November 2012 issue.

The Science Program of Canada’s IPY contributed to our ongoing global leadership role through the support of multi-national research collaborations, the participation of leading Canadian scientists and as host to top research teams from around the world.

The Canadian IPY program’s accomplishments were the result of many successful collaborations and I would like to extend my gratitude to the many scientists, research organizations and northern communities for their work. Together, we have made a significant, lasting contribution to International Polar Year and developed a wealth of knowledge about the Canadian Arctic. Let us continue to build on this work and that of other scientists and researchers as we look forward to the innovative research that lies ahead.

Message from the Honourable John Duncan, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development


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1. Results of the Canadian International Polar Year: An Introduction to Northern Science

As part of the 2007-2008 International Polar Year (IPY), Canada supported 52 research projects  to provide data and information that will assist in addressing the impacts of climate change on the north, and to improve the health outcomes and well-being of Northern communities.  Working with northern partners and communities, projects focused on interdisciplinary research of biophysical and socioeconomic systems.  This volume presents an overview of much of this research as it relates to the atmosphere and weather, human health, marine ecosystems, cryosphere, oceans, sea ice, terrestrial ecosystems, and wildlife.  This introductory paper highlights the contributions made by the Canadian IPY program to science and research, data management and supporting capacity development.  The legacy of the Canadian IPY program includes advancing international scientific cooperation, improved research capacities in Northern Canada, and meaningful partnerships with northerners.

T Kulkarni - Northern Policy and Science Integration, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada;
S Nickels - Inuit Qaujisarvingat: The Inuit Knowledge Centre, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami;
D Lemmen - Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Division, Natural Resources Canada;
J Watkins - Oceanography and Climate Branch, Department of Fisheries and Oceans


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2. Community Involvement in the Canadian IPY Science Projects

The Arctic is one of the regions of the world where the impacts of climate change are most evident.  An important theme of Canada’s IPY 2007-2008 was to better understand these impacts on the inhabitants of this region.  Northern communities are aware of the need to adapt to changes that are occurring due to shifts in climate, the environment and society more broadly.  However, the differing requirements and resources of communities can make responding to change challenging.

The projects supported by IPY primarily collected information on how Arctic societies have historically adapted to change, the influence of societal and environmental factors on community development and decision making, and how traditional knowledge contributes to a fuller understanding of environmental change.  Projects used case studies and community-based research methods to look at communities across the North to determine how environmental and socio-economic changes shape sensitivity to threats, resiliency, and the ability to adapt.

Successful projects used a variety of techniques, including: engaging communities early in the planning process; employing culturally specific methodologies that built on existing relationships; and, producing results in which communities could see their contributions.

T Kulkarni - Northern Policy and Science Integration, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development


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3. Selected Topics in Arctic Atmosphere and Climate

This paper summarizes the main elements of four IPY projects that examine the Arctic Atmosphere. All four projects focus on present conditions with a view to anticipating possible climate change. All four investigate the Arctic atmosphere, ocean, ice, and land interfacial surfaces. One project uses computer models to simulate the dynamics of the Arctic atmosphere, storms, and their interactions with the ocean and ice interface. Another project uses statistical methods to infer transports of pollutants as simulated in large-scale global atmospheric and oceanic models verifying results with available observations. A third project focuses on measurements of pollutants at the ice-ocean-atmosphere interface, with reference to model estimates. The fourth project is concerned with multiple, high accuracy measurements at Eureka in the Canadian Archipelago. While the four projects are distinctly different, led by different teams and interdisciplinary collaborators, with different technical approaches and methodologies, and differing objectives, they all strive to understand the processes of the Arctic atmosphere and climate, and to lay the basis for better projections of future changes.  Key findings include:

  1. Decreased sea ice leads to more intense storms, higher winds, reduced surface albedo, increased surface air temperature, and enhanced vertical mixing in the upper ocean.

  2. Arctic warming may affect toxic chemicals by remobilizing persistent organic pollutants and augmenting mercury deposition/ retention in the environment.

  3. Changes in sea ice can dramatically change processes in and at the ice surface related to ozone, mercury and bromine oxide and related chemical /physical properties.

  4. Changes in the structure and properties of the Arctic atmosphere –troposphere to stratosphere – and tracking of the transport of pollution and smoke plumes from mid-latitudes to the poles.

W Perrie, Z Long - Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Fisheries and Oceans Canada;
H Hung, A Cole, A Steffen, A Dastoor, D Durnford, J Ma, JW Bottenheim, S Netcheva, R Staebler - Environment Canada;
JR Drummond - Deptartment of Physics  and Atmospheric Science, Dalhousie University;
NT O'Neill - Déptartement de géomatique appliquée, Université de Sherbrooke


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4. Variability and Change in the Canadian Cryosphere

During the International Polar Year (IPY), comprehensive observational research programs were undertaken to increase our understanding of the Canadian polar cryosphere response to a changing climate. Cryospheric components considered were snow, permafrost, sea ice, freshwater ice, glaciers and ice shelves. Enhancement of conventional observing systems and retrieval algorithms for satellite measurements facilitated development of a snapshot of current cryospheric conditions, providing a baseline against which future change can be assessed. Key findings include:

  1. A consistent pan-cryospheric response to warming air temperatures at the surface and in the lower troposphere is evident through the analysis of longer-term data sets;

  2. The IPY period marked an acceleration of trends observed over the previous decades including warming permafrost, reduction in snow cover extent and duration, reduction in summer sea ice extent, increased mass loss from glaciers, and thinning and break-up of the remaining Canadian ice shelves. These changes illustrate both a reduction in the spatial extent and mass of the cryosphere and an increase in the temporal persistence of melt related parameters.

  3. The observed changes in the cryosphere have important implications for human activity including the vulnerability of northerners and their close ties to the land, access to northern regions for natural resource development, and the integrity of northern infrastructure.

C Derksen, S Howell, R Brown, A Walker - Climate Research Division, Environment Canada;
SL Smith, J Bourgeois - Geological Survey of Canada, Natural Resources Canada;
M Sharp - Department of Atmospheric Science, University of Alberta;
L Brown,   C Fletcher, C Duguay - Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo;
L Copland, CR Burn - Department of Geography, University of Ottawa;
DR Mueller, AG Lewkowicz - Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University;
Y Gauthier, M Bernier - Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique;
A Tivy - National Research Council Canadian Hydraulics Centre;
P Kushner - Department of Physics, University of Toronto;
A Langlois, A Royer - Département de géographie et télédétection, Université de Sherbrooke


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5. The Arctic Ocean: A Canadian Perspective

Canada’s IPY program funded seven marine projects. They spanned arctic waters from Bering Strait to Davis Strait and from mainland Canada to the High Arctic. The focus was ocean variability and change. Work embraced oceanography; air-sea interactions; ocean storm response; paleo-climate; the geochemistry of trace elements in seawater and sediment. Notable discoveries are emerging. IPY documented unprecedented conditions in the Beaufort in 2007; atmospheric pressure was very high; ice drift was unusually fast; winter ice was thin; shelf-edge upwelling was enhanced; shelf salinity was high, while basin salinity was low salinity and the basin’s freshwater store was at maximum. Data suggest that the mid-depth circulation of Arctic Ocean recently reversed direction to clockwise, possibly in response to the unusual atmospheric condition. Analyses of sediment extended our view of Arctic change back through the Holocene and the Quaternary. A new manganese fingerprint in sediments can now track changing sea level during the ice age, while biota in overlying sediment reveal the large millennial-scale fluctuations in summertime ice extent and sea-surface temperature, linked to the atmospheric Arctic Oscillation. Almost every study revealed wind as a potent agent of change in the marine Arctic. IPY has provided the first complete description of Canadian arctic through-flow - at least 1.4 million cubic metres per second in response to sloping sea level and wind. IPY has prolonged observations that track sea-ice variation, providing ample demonstration that sea ice is the key variable in arctic seas. New IPY data have shown that the biological impact of decline in seawater alkalinity is aggravated in the Canadian Arctic by low temperature and freshening surface water. Careful experimentation has shown that phytoplankton growth in the Canada Basin is constrained by scarcity of dissolved iron if light levels are low, as in deep (50 m) plankton layers or in autumnal polar twilight. One project demonstrated that multi-tasked vessels could maintain a watch on changing conditions in Canada’s oceans within a reliable and cost-effective logistic framework. Another developed and evaluated a wave forecast model suitable for operational use in the Beaufort. All projects have been international in coordination, participation, scope and impact.

H Melling - Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada;
R Francois - Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of British Columbia;
PG Myers - Department Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta
W Perrie - Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Fisheries and Oceans Canada;
A Rochon - Institut des sciences de la mer de Rimouski (ISMER), Université du Québec à Rimouski


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6. Causes of Change and Variability in Sea Ice during the 2007-2008 Canadian IPY Program

In this paper we focus on the ‘cause’ of sea ice change and variability during the Canadian International Polar Year (IPY) program. In a companion paper we present an overview of the ‘consequences’ of this observed change and variability on ecosystem function, climatically relevant gas exchange, habitats of primary and apex predators, and impacts on northern peoples. Sea ice-themed research projects within the fourth IPY were designed to be among the most diverse international science programs.  They greatly enhanced the exchange of Inuit knowledge and scientific ideas across nations and disciplines. This interdisciplinary and cultural exchange helped to explain and communicate the impacts of a transition of the Arctic Ocean and ecosystem to a seasonally ice-free state, the commensurate replacement of perennial with annual sea ice types and the causes and consequences of this globally significant metamorphosis. This paper presents a synthesis of scientific sea ice research and traditional knowledge results from Canadian-led IPY projects between 2007 and 2009.  In particular, a summary of sea ice trends, basin-wide and regional, is presented in conjunction with Inuit knowledge of sea ice, gathered from communities in northern Canada.  We focus on the causes of the observed change in sea ice including atmospheric and oceanic forcing of both dynamic and thermodynamic forcing on the ice. Pertinent results ‘caused’ by sea ice change and variability include:

  1. In the Amundsen Gulf, at the western end of the Northwest Passage, open water persists longer than normal and winter sea ice is thinner and more mobile. 

  2. Large areas of summer sea ice are becoming heavily decayed during summer and can be broken up by long-period waves being generated in the now extensive open water areas of the Chukchi Sea.

  3. Cyclones play an important role in flaw leads — regions of open water between pack ice and land-fast ice. They delay the formation of new ice and the growth of multi-year ice.

  4. Feedbacks involving the increased period of open water, the long-period wave generation, the increase in open ocean roughness, and the precipitation of autumn snow are all partially responsible for the observed reduction in multiyear sea ice.

DG Barber, MG Asplin, R Raddatz, L Candlish, K  Hochheim, J Lukovich, R Galley - Centre for Earth Observation Science, Faculty of Environment, University of Manitoba;
S Nickels, S Meakin - Inuit Qaujisarvingat: Inuit Knowledge Centre, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami;
S Prinsenberg - Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Fisheries and Oceans Canada


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7. Consequences of Change and Variability in Sea Ice during the 2007- 2008 Canadian IPY Program

Change and variability in the timing and magnitude of sea ice geophysical and thermodynamic states have consequences on many aspects of the arctic marine system. The changes in both the geophysical and thermodynamic state, and in particular the timing of the development of these states, have consequences throughout the marine system.  In this paper we review the ‘consequences’ of change in sea ice states on primary productivity, marine mammal habitats, and sea ice as a medium for storage and transport of contaminants and carbon exchange across the ocean-sea-ice-atmosphere interface based upon results from the International Polar Year.  Pertinent results include:

  1. Conditions along ice edges can bring deep nutrient-rich 'pacific' waters into nutrient-poor surface waters along the arctic coast, affecting local food webs;

  2. Both sea ice thermodynamic and dynamic processes ultimately affect ringed seal/polar bear habitats by controlling the timing, location and amount of surface deformation required for ringed seal and polar bear preferred habitat;

  3. The ice edges bordering open waters of flaw leads are areas of high biological production and are observed to be important beluga habitat.

  4. Exchange of climate-active gases, including CO2, is extremely active in sea ice environments, and the overall question of whether the Arctic Ocean is (or will be) a source or sink for CO2 will be dependent on the balance of competing climate-change feedbacks.

DG Barber, MG Asplin, T Papakyriakou, B Else, J Iacozza, CJ Mundy, N Asselin, S Ferguson, J Lukovich, G Stern, A Gaden, M Pucko, F Wang - Centre for Earth Observation Science, Department of Environment and Geography, University of Manitoba;
L Miller - Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada;
CJ Mundy, M Gosslin - Institut des sciences de la mer (ISMER), Université du Québec à Rimouski;
N Asselin, S Ferguson, G Stern - Freshwater Institute, Fisheries and Oceans Canada


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8. Current State and Changing Trends in Canadian Arctic Marine Ecosystems: I. Primary Production

During the International Polar Year (IPY), large international research programs provided a unique opportunity for assessing the current state and changing trends in major components of arctic marine ecosystems at an exceptionally wide spatio-temporal scale: sampling covered most regions of the Canadian Arctic (IPY-Canada’s Three Oceans project), and the coastal and offshore areas of the southeast Beaufort Sea were monitored over almost a full year (IPY-Circumpolar Flaw Lead project). The general goal of these projects was to improve our understanding of how the response of arctic marine ecosystems to climate warming will alter the productivity and structure of the food web and the ecosystem services it provides to Northerners. The present paper summarizes and discusses six key findings relating to primary production (PP), which determines the amount of food available to consumers.

  1. Offshore, the warming and freshening of the surface layer is leading to the displacement of large nanophytoplankton species by small picophytoplankton cells, with potentially profound bottom-up effects within the marine food web.

  2. In coastal areas, PP increases as favourable winds and the deeper seaward retreat of ice promote upwelling.

  3. Multiple upwelling events repeatedly provide food to herbivores throughout the growth season.

  4. A substantial amount of pelagic PP occurs under thinning ice and cannot be detected by orbiting sensors.

  5. Early PP in the spring does not imply a trophic mismatch with key herbivores.

  6. The epipelagic ecosystem is very efficient at retaining carbon in surface waters and preventing its fall to the benthos. While enhanced PP could result in increased fish and marine mammal harvests for Northerners, it will most likely be insufficient for sustaining large-scale commercial fisheries in the Canadian Arctic.

J-É Tremblay, D Robert, C Lovejoy, G Darnis - Québec-Océan, Département de biologie, Université Laval;
DE Varela - Department of Biology and School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria;
RJ Nelson - Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada;
AR Sastri - Département des sciences biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal


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9. Current State and Changing Trends in Canadian Arctic Marine Ecosystems: II. Secondary Production, Pelagic-Benthic Coupling, and Biodiversity

As part of the Canadian contribution to the International Polar Year (IPY), several major international research programs have focused on offshore arctic marine ecosystems. The general goal of these projects was to improve our understanding of how the response of arctic marine ecosystems to climate warming will alter food web structure and ecosystem services provided to Northerners. At least three key findings from these projects relating to secondary production and biodiversity have emerged:

  1. Contrary to a long-standing paradigm of dormant ecosystems during the long arctic winter, major food web components showed relatively high levels of winter activity, well before the spring release of ice algae and subsequent phytoplankton bloom. Such phenological plasticity among key secondary producers like zooplankton may thus narrow the risks of extreme mismatch between primary production and secondary production in an increasingly variable arctic environment, although benthic productivity may be affected.

  2. In contrast with another widely shared assumption of lower biodiversity, arctic marine biodiversity is comparable to that reported off atlantic and pacific coasts of Canada, albeit threatened by the potential colonization of subarctic species.

  3. The rapid decrease of summer sea-ice cover allows increasing numbers of killer whales to use the Canadian High Arctic as a hunting ground. The stronger presence of this species, bound to become a new apex predator of arctic seas, will likely affect populations of endemic arctic marine mammals such as the narwhal, bowhead, and beluga whales.

G Darnis, D Robert, M Geoffroy, J-É Tremblay, C Lovejoy, L Fortier - Québec-Océan, Département de biologie, Université Laval;
C Pomerleau, H Link, P Archambault - Institut des sciences de la mer de Rimouski, Université du Québec à Rimouski;
RJ Nelson - Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada;
SH Ferguson - Freshwater Institute, Fisheries and Oceans Canada;
BPV Hunt - Department of Earth and Oceans Sciences, University of British Columbia


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10. Effects of Climate Change on Terrestrial Ecosystems in Northern Canada: Results from the International Polar Year (2007-2010)

Tundra and taiga ecosystems comprise 35-40% of the terrestrial landscapes of Canada. These permafrost ecosystems have been used by humans for more than 4500 years, and are currently home to ca. 115,000 people, nearly 60% of whom are First Nations, Inuit and Métis. The responses of these ecosystems to the regional warming over the past 30-50 years were the focus of four Canadian IPY projects. Northern residents reported changes in climate and weather patterns and noted shifts in vegetation and other environmental variables. Increased shrub density was found near low Arctic communities, in long-term measurements at the plot and landscape scale, and were supported by experimental warming results.  In tree line areas seed cone production increased but with no change in viable seeds, and radial growth patterns have not yet shown a regional response. Experimental warming increased vegetation cover and N availability in some tundra soils; however, resistance to warming was also found in plant and soil communities. Soil microbial diversity in tundra was no different than in other biomes, although there were shifts in mycorrhizal diversity in warming experiments. All sites measured were sinks for carbon throughout the growing season, with expected seasonal and latitudinal patterns.  Modeling NEP in mesic tundra showed that the sink status will likely continue for the next 50-100 years, after which ecosystem respiration is expected to equal or exceed photosynthesis.  These IPY studies were the first comprehensive assessment of the state and change in Canadian northern terrestrial ecosystems and showed that the inherent variability in these systems is reflected in their responses to the changes in climate. They also show the importance of using traditional knowledge and science in monitoring ecosystem change, and have provided extensive data sets, sites and researchers needed to study and manage the inevitable changes in the Canadian North.

GHR Henry - Department of Geography, University of British Columbia;
J Bhatti - Northern Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada;
W Chen - Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing, Natural Resources Canada;
J Deslippe - Department of Forest Science, University of British Columbia;
R Grant - Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta;
K Harper - Institute for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University;
P Lafleur - Department of Geography, Trent University;
E Lévesque - Département de chimie-biologie, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières;
S Siciliano - Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan;
S Simard - Department of Forest Science, University of British Columbia


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11. Vertebrate Time Series Data for the Canadian Arctic: From Science to Management to Policy

Long-term data are critically important to science, management, and policy formation. Here we describe a number of datasets from Arctic Canada that monitor vertebrate population trends of freshwater and marine fish, marine birds, marine and terrestrial mammals. These series cover the last ca. 30 years and capture a period from the onset of global changes affecting the Arctic up to recent years with a rapid increase in temperature. While many of these data collections were initiated through a variety of government and university initiatives, they also include a surge in polar research launched with the recent International Polar Year (IPY) (2007-2008). The long-term vertebrate index derived from our data indicated a continuous decline of about 30% in population abundance since the 1990s. Though most datasets are biased towards few taxa, we conduct some time-series analyses to show that the potential value of long-term data emerges as individual monitoring sites can be spread across space and time scales. Despite covering a handful of populations, the different time series covered a large spectrum of dynamics, cyclic to non-cyclic, including coherence with the North Atlantic Oscillation, lag effects, and density dependence. We describe a synthesis framework to integrate ecological time-series research and thereby derive additional benefits to management, science, and policy. Future requirements include:

  1. Continuation of current observation systems;

  2. expansion of current monitoring sites to include additional trophic links and taxonomic indicators;

  3. expansion externally to include greater spatial coverage into less-sampled ecosystems and key representative locations; and

  4. integration of circumpolar observations and comprehensive analyses. Development of a circumpolar observation system is necessary for innovative science, large-scale adaptive management, and policy revision essential to respond to rapid global change.

SH Ferguson, J Reist, X Zhu - Fisheries and Oceans Canada;
D Berteaux, N Lecomte - Canada Research Chair in Conservation of Northern Ecosystems, Université du Québec à Rimouski;
AJ Gaston - Canadian Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Research Centre, Carleton University;
JW Higdon - Consulting Wildlife Biologist;
N Lecomte - Department of Environment, Government of Nunavut;
N Lunn - Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada;
ML Mallory - Biology Department, Acadia University;
D Russell - Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada;
N Yoccoz - Department of Arctic Ecology, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Polar Environmental Centre


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12. Global Changes and Public Health in the Canadian Arctic

The contributions of six IPY health projects are highlighted in the context of population health indicators for Inuit Nunangat. Food and housing are two critical social determinants of health contributing to health issues on many levels. The nutritional deficit associated with food insecurity and the transition away from traditional and towards market foods represents a dual risk with profound consequences. Knowledge of the physiological benefits associated with traditional food consumption is increasing, including for mental health and chronic disease. Ensuring the safety of traditional foods in terms of zoonotic diseases is thus highly valuable and strides in addressing knowledge gaps and building capacity have occurred. Acute respiratory disease among the young remains a significant public health issue with potential long term effects. The human papilloma virus is manifesting itself among women across northern Canada with high risk types that are more similar to profiles observed in Europe than in North America with possible implications for immunization programs. Despite a high prevalence of Hepatitis B virus infections among residents of Inuit Nunangat, the outcomes appear to be relatively benign. Communication of new knowledge on the manifestation of this virus among northern populations is provided to health care providers in the North through modern technology.

S Owens, É Dewailly - Axe santé des populations et environnementale, Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier universitaire de Québec;
P De Wals - Département de médecine sociale et préventive, Université Laval;
G Egeland - Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment (CINE) and School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, McGill University;
C Furgal - Departments of Indigenous Studies and Environment and Resource Studies/Science Gzowski College Trent University;
Y Mao - Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, Public Health Agency of Canada;
GY Minuk - Department of Internal Medicine, University of Manitoba;
PA Peters - Health Analysis Division, Statistics Canada;
M Simard - Nunavik Research Center, Makivik Corporation



Research Subject and Total Number of Study Locations
Research Subject and Total Number of Study Locations Text description of this map is available on a separate page.

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