Winterpeg in summer

Why glaciology is strong in Winnipeg

On Aug. 19, several hundred glaciologists (scientists who study snow and ice) gathered at the Fort Garry Hotel for the International Glaciological Society’s (IGS) Sea Ice Symposium. While the IGS selects a different location for each of their symposiums, Winnipeg’s selection as host for the Sea Ice Symposium was not arbitrary.

“They have a very, very strong research centre here” for studying sea ice, Magnús Már Magnússon, secretary general of the IGS, says.

Adrian Schimnowski, CEO and director of the Arctic Research Foundation, says Winnipeg’s location makes it an important place for studying ice and snow.

“If you look at it geographically and think about how place influences people, Winnipeg is the geographic centre of the continent,” he says.

“We are exposed to extreme weather … we are an arctic province, we have an ocean coastline, all our water flows from the centre of the continent through Manitoba up to Churchill, so there’s an interesting connection with the land and the people here and the environment that creates, maybe, a sensitivity to
environmental issues.”

Schimnowski says both the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg also have a strong research presence in the glaciology field. He expects to see an influx of research in the area in the next few years, as climate consciousness increases and climate change radically alters the arctic landscape.

“On a global scale, there’s going to be attention drawn to the north for a lot of reasons,” he says. “We’ll have the opportunity to be research leaders.”

Már Magnússon says these rapid changes may require more frequent topic-specific symposiums. Currently, symposiums on specific fields of glaciology, like sea ice, happen every five years.

The IGS publishes an issue with the symposium’s featured research shortly afterwards, in addition to their regularly published journal covering all areas
of glaciology.

“Things are just happening so fast that we need to have a major conference more often,” he says. “The thematic glaciology work that is published is state of the art right now, but we need to get that out much more frequently.”

Glaciology, in comparison to other areas of environmental and climate study, has a very strong research presence in Winnipeg. Ryan Smith, senior research associate at the Prairie Climate Centre, says that compared to other cities, Winnipeg does not have a particularly large climatologist community.

“From my perspective, I’ve always looked at other parts of the country and (seen a much larger climate science community),” he says.

“The prairies in general perhaps go a little under-appreciated for their role, when you consider all the industries that exist on the prairies, and the prairies are pretty unique when it comes to climate zones.”

The International Glaciological Society can be found at igsoc.org. The Arctic Research Foundation is at arcticfocus.org, and the Prairie Climate Centre is at prairieclimatecentre.ca.

Published in Volume 74, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 5, 2019)

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