Climate Change Is Sabotaging Climate Change Research

Last month marked the commencement of a four-year, $11 million project called the Baysys Study in the Hudson Bay of Canada. The project is being led by the University of Manitoba to study the contaminants, carbon cycling, climate systems, and marine ecosystems of the Hudson Bay, and to contribute to the understanding of climate change and regulation on the Hudson Bay system. But thanks to warmer waters allowing ice flows to inundate the Bay, it seems climate change is keeping scientists from doing any research on climate change.

The irony isn’t lost on chief scientist David Barber. “We’re doing a large-scale climate change study, and before we can even get going on it, climate change is conspiring to force us to cancel that study,” he said in a report from The Guardian.

In the first leg of the research, expedition icebreaker boats were forced to turn around after dense ice mobilized and filled the waters surrounding the northern coast of the island of Newfoundland, where the team was beginning their study. The ice trapped ferries and fishing boats — causing dangerous situations that make rescue missions for the Coast Guard nearly impossible. That’s when Barber and company decided to pull the plug. “It was a really dramatic situation,” he said. “We were getting search-and-rescue calls from fishing boats that were stranded in the ice and tankers that were stranded trying to get fuel into the communities. Nobody could manage this ice because it was far too heavy to get through.”

But not all was lost. Barber and company were able to analyze the ice floating in the bay and discern just why there was so much of it getting in the way. Turns out, more ice in the Bay does not mean that temperatures are dropping. According to the research the team was able to conduct, the ice filling up Hudson Bay is multiyear ice usually seen above the Arctic Circle. Warming temperatures are causing the ice to thin and break in the ice caps, and ocean currents sweep the fragments — some that are 26-feet thick — to overwhelm ocean waters farther south. In field studies conducted by the team in January, the ice naturally found in the bay around Cape Churchill measured in at 16 feet in width. This multiyear ice clogging up the Bay’s water is “not something you would expect to see there and not something we’ve seen there before,” according to Barber.

Although this initial obstacle in the project has cost the team hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding, Barber and his colleagues are more determined now than before to push on with the study. The second field expedition is scheduled to begin on July 6, with the team conducting a bay-wide survey aboard the NGCC Amundsen research vessel.