How does climate change impact Inuit trail use? Check out this new publication to find out!

In an article published in Nature Climate Change, we use 30 years of instrumental data in combination with Inuit knowledge to examine how access to trails could be impacted via climate change. We find that climate impacts on trail access is modified by trail user’s risk tolerance and skill level.


Inuit trail use in a changing climate

New article published in Nature Climate Change



Arctic climate change has the potential to affect access to semi-permanent trails on land, water and sea ice, which are the main forms of transport for communities in many circumpolar regions. Focusing on Inuit Nunangat (the Inuit homeland in northern Canada), trail access models were developed drawing upon a participatory process that connects Indigenous knowledge and science. We identified general thresholds for weather and sea ice variables that define boundaries that determine trail access, then applied these thresholds to instrumental data on weather and sea ice conditions to model daily trail accessibility from 1985 to 2016 for 16 communities. We find that overall trail access has been minimally affected by >2 °C warming in the past three decades, increasing by 1.38–1.96 days, differing by trail type. Across models, the knowledge, equipment and risk tolerance of trail users were substantially more influential in determining trail access than changing climatic conditions.


Ford, J.D., Clark, D., Pearce, T., Berrang-Ford, L., Copland, L.,. Dawson, J., New, M., Harper, S.L. (2019) Changing access to ice, land and water in Arctic communities. Nature Climate Change. 9: 335–339. Click here to access the article.

Reflections on the 2018 ACUNS Conference in Edmonton

Written by Isaac Bell, Undergraduate Thesis Student


What’s an Arctic research conference without some snow? The Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies (ACUNS) Student Conference, held from November 1-3 at the University of Alberta, perfectly coincided with a generous, multi-day serving of snow, setting the tone for three days of engaging discussions on Northern research.

Isaac Presents his Research

Isaac Presents his Research

Personally, I had the exciting opportunity to present my first poster at an academic conference, entitled ‘Indigenous knowledge integration and community-based research practices among Northern researchers’. The poster session was a very enjoyable experience, and my project will definitely benefit from the conversations I had with researchers hailing from a wide variety of disciplines.

Dr. Martin Raillard, the Chief Scientist of Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR), delivered the opening day’s keynote lecture. He spoke passionately about Canada’s leadership position in Arctic research, and the capacity for POLAR to guide other nations towards Indigenous-identified research gaps in Arctic contexts. Among other things, he emphasized the importance of relationships; specifically, that meaningful relationships are what matter the most when it comes to research in the North.

On the topic of relationships, ACUNS 2018 was also an opportunity for several members of the Harper Lab, be they based out of Edmonton, Guelph or elsewhere, to reconnect in a fairly informal setting. David Borish, fresh off the plane from the North American Caribou Workshop in Ottawa, gave an incredible presentation on exploring Inuit-caribou relationships through community-led audio-visual methods. Spoiler alert: David won the award of top oral presentation among PhD students! Outside of the conference, there were several fun activities planned for the Harper Lab, including attending an Oilers game (they won 4-0!), splitting forces to compete in an escape room, and going out for a nice meal.

Back at the conference, Mr. Duane Ningaqsiq Smith, the Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, delivered a powerful keynote lecture wherein he referenced some personal experiences with research in the Inuvialuit region. He offered a simple but wise recommendation to do your research (about the region and its people) before you head North to do your ‘actual’ research. Aside from the keynote speakers, the program was packed with research presentations covering an immensely broad range of topics, from traditional Inuit sewing and beading practices, to changes in lichen biomass.

Despite the breadth of content covered in the conference’s three days, there were indeed some unifying themes. Notably, an emphasis on active, mutual learning with Northern community members and/or local representatives appeared to be emerging across essentially all domains of Northern research. Even projects that were seemingly unrelated to humans often took place on the territories of Indigenous communities and served to benefit from the Indigenous knowledge of that region, but more importantly, had a duty to ensure constant consent and approval from the local populations. Several presenters also mentioned a shift towards Indigenous-led research and ownership of results as a method of enhancing the local relevance of research practices. The concept of the Arctic being large in geography but small in ‘feel’ was also an underlying thread throughout the conference’s presentations and coffee break discussions. Many individuals have lived or worked in the same communities and thus knew lots of the same people!

Wrapping up the conference, the Guelph-born explorer extraordinaire James Raffan delivered the keynote lecture at Saturday night’s closing gala. He spoke of his latest adventure: Travelling around the Arctic Circle at 66.6 degrees latitude to engage with locals and learn how they’re being affected by climate change. Despite his own decision to leave the world of academia, James offered high praise for the passion and commitment to meaningful research on display at ACUNS 2018.

Overall, this conference was a wonderful opportunity to learn from the future generation of Arctic researchers, and allowed many members of the Harper Lab to reconnect at the University of Alberta!

How can integrated health & environmental monitoring support climate change adaptation? Check out our new publication to find out!

Congratulations to Alexandra Sawatzy on her recent publication. Alex reviewed integrated surveillance used for responding to climate and environmental change impacts on human health in the Circumpolar North. The article can be accessed, for free, at:

Key Messages:


Key Message 1:

The wide range and diversity of integrated surveillance systems described in the literature can help guide and target evidence-based public health responses in support of climate change adaptation in the North.


Key Message 2:

2: Findings offer insight into how these systems can be designed to be more responsive to public health concerns within rapidly shifting Northern environments.

What are key components of integrated surveillance?


Recommendations & Next Steps:


Article citation:

Sawatzky, A., Cunsolo, A., Jones-Bitton, A., Middleton, J., Harper, S.L. (2018). Responding to Climate and Environmental Change Impacts on Human Health via Integrated Surveillance in the Circumpolar North: A Systematic Realist Review. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health.15(12), 2706. Click here to access the article (free open-access)


Environments are shifting rapidly in the Circumpolar Arctic and Subarctic regions as a result of climate change and other external stressors, and this has a substantial impact on the health of northern populations. Thus, there is a need for integrated surveillance systems designed to monitor the impacts of climate change on human health outcomes as part of broader adaptation strategies in these regions. This review aimed to identify, describe, and synthesize literature on integrated surveillance systems in Circumpolar Arctic and Subarctic regions, that are used for research or practice. Following a systematic realist review approach, relevant articles were identified using search strings developed for MEDLINE® and Web of Science™ databases, and screened by two independent reviewers. Articles that met the inclusion criteria were retained for descriptive quantitative analysis, as well as thematic qualitative analysis, using a realist lens. Of the 3431 articles retrieved in the database searches, 85 met the inclusion criteria and were analyzed. Thematic analysis identified components of integrated surveillance systems that were categorized into three main groups: structural, processual, and relational components. These components were linked to surveillance attributes and activities that supported the operations and management of integrated surveillance. This review advances understandings of the distinct contributions of integrated surveillance systems and data to discerning the nature of changes in climate and environmental conditions that affect population health outcomes and determinants in the Circumpolar North. Findings from this review can be used to inform the planning, design, and evaluation of integrated surveillance systems that support evidence-based public health research and practice in the context of increasing climate change and the need for adaptation.

The article can be accessed, for free, at:

New Publication: Wastewater treatment and enteric illness in the Arctic

The article is freely available for 50 days: Anyone clicking on this link before February 03, 2019 will be taken directly to the final version of this article:


Daley, K., Jamieson, R., Rainham, D., Hansen, L. T., Harper, S. L. (2018). Screening-level microbial risk assessment of acute gastrointestinal illness attributable to wastewater treatment systems in Nunavut, Canada. Science of the Total Environment. 657(20): 1253-1264.


Most arctic communities use primary wastewater treatment systems that are capable of only low levels of pathogen removal. Effluent potentially containing fecally derived microorganisms is released into wetlands and marine waters that may simultaneously serve as recreation or food harvesting locations for local populations. The purpose of this study is to provide the first estimates of acute gastrointestinal illness (AGI) attributable to wastewater treatment systems in Arctic Canada. A screening-level, point estimate quantitative microbial risk assessment model was developed to evaluate worst-case scenarios across an array of exposure pathways in five case study locations. A high annual AGI incidence rate of 5.0 cases per person is estimated in Pangnirtung, where a mechanical treatment plant discharges directly to marine waters, with all cases occurring during low tide conditions. The probability of AGI per person per single exposure during this period ranges between 1.0 × 10−1 (shore recreation) and 6.0 × 10−1 (shellfish consumption). A moderate incidence rate of 1.2 episodes of AGI per person is estimated in Naujaat, where a treatment system consisting of a pond and tundra wetland is used, with the majority of cases occurring during spring. The pathway with the highest individual probability of AGI per single exposure event is wetland travel at 6.0 × 10−1. All other risk probabilities per single exposure are <1.0 × 10−1. The AGI incidence rates estimated for the other three case study locations are <0.1. These findings suggest that wastewater treatment sites may be contributing to elevated rates of AGI in some arctic Canadian communities. Absolute risk values, however, should be weighed with caution based on the exploratory nature of this study design. These results can be used to inform future risk assessment and epidemiological research as well as support public health and sanitation decisions in the region.


How can understanding hospital admission patterns inform climate change adaptation for the healthcare sector in Uganda? Read more to find out!

Kate Bishop-Williams and co-authors recently published an article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The article explored how understanding hospital admission patterns can promote climate change adaptation. Through this article, we illustrate how analyzing hospital data alongside meteorological parameters may inform climate-health planning in low-resource contexts.

How do non-climatic factors reinforce maladaptation trajectories? Check out this new publication to find out.


Congratulations to Dr. Carol Zaveleta for her recent publication in PLoS One.  Her participatory, community-based study was conducted in collaboration with Shawi communities. Together, they worked to characterize the food system of the Shawi in the Peruvian Amazon, climatic and non-climatic drivers of their food security vulnerability to climate change, and identify potential maladaptation trajectories. They found that transformational food security adaptation should include consideration of Indigenous perceptions and priorities, and should be part of Peruvian food and socioeconomic development policies.  Click here for free article (open access).


Zavaleta, C., Berrang-Ford, L., Ford, J., Llanos-Cuentas, A., Carcamo, C., Ross, N., Lancha, G., Sherman, M., Harper, S.L., IHACC Research Team. (2018) Multiple non-climatic drivers of food insecurity reinforce climate change maladaptation trajectories among Peruvian Indigenous Shawi in the Amazon. PLoS ONE 13(10): e0205714. Click here for free article (open access).


Background: Climate change is affecting food systems globally, with implications for food security, nutrition, and the health of human populations. There are limited data characterizing the current and future consequences of climate change on local food security for populations already experiencing poor nutritional indicators. Indigenous Amazonian populations have a high reported prevalence of nutritional deficiencies. This paper characterizes the food system of the Shawi of the Peruvian Amazon, climatic and non-climatic drivers of their food security vulnerability to climate change, and identifies potential maladaptation trajectories.

Methods and findings: Semi-structured interviews with key informants (n = 24), three photovoice workshops (n = 17 individuals), transect walks (n = 2), a food calendar exercise, and two community dissemination meetings (n = 30 individuals), were conducted within two Shawi communities in Balsapuerto District in the Peruvian Loreto region between June and September of 2014. The Shawi food system was based on three main food sub-systems (forest, farming and externally-sourced). Shawi reported collective, gendered, and emotional notions related to their food system activities. Climatic and non-climatic drivers of food security vulnerability among Shawi participants acted at proximal and distal levels, and mutually reinforced key maladaptation trajectories, including: 1) a growing population and natural resource degradation coupled with limited opportunities to increase incomes, and 2) a desire for education and deforestation reinforced by governmental social and food interventions.

Conclusion: A series of maladaptive trajectories have the potential to increase social and nutritional inequities for the Shawi. Transformational food security adaptation should include consideration of Indigenous perceptions and priorities, and should be part of Peruvian food and socioeconomic development policies.

PhD position in participatory climate modeling, ethnoclimatology, and human health in the Arctic


Looking for a great PhD research project with an interdisciplinary research team?  Apply today! Position is co-supervised by James Ford (Leeds University) and Sherilee Harper (University of Alberta). The position is primarily based in the UK.

Apply by 31 October 2018.

For more details:

David leads a National Geographic Student Expedition in Alaska

Written by David Borish, PhD Student Over the past two weeks I was incredibly fortunate to co-lead a National Geographic Student Expeditions (NGSE) trip in Alaska. NGSE offers photo and video-oriented programs for High School and Middle School students worldwide. Hired as the video-focused trip leader, my role was to provide guidance and support to six students from various parts of the US and China who were interested in producing some form of video for their final “on assignment” project.

I wore many hats during my time in Alaska. I planned day activities, organized events, facilitated a positive environment for all levels of learning, drove over 1,500kms, cooked, listened when students needed someone to talk to, dealt with both positive and negative group dynamics, and, most importantly, became a friend and mentor to some amazing, smart, and passionate youth.

Simply put, the trip was a blast. We hiked in Denali National Park, went on an Arctic wildlife safari, ice climbed, trekked on the Matanuska Glacier, kayaked in Kachemak Bay, went tide pooling, interacted with a National Geographic wildlife-tracking expert, and visited the Alaska Native Heritage Center, among other things.

Relating to my personal PhD research, I had an opportunity to see and photograph Alaskan caribou in Denali National Park. I also received some insight into the diverse connections between caribou and Alaskan Natives across the state, from Inupiat to Aleut. I hope to learn more about these connections in Alaska as they can inform my research moving forward.

Photo credits: David Borish

Computer Science Meets Public Health: 2018 CPHAZ Symposium

Written by Isaac Bell The Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses (CPHAZ) held their 2018 symposium in Rozanski Hall at the University of Guelph this past Friday (June 8th). The keynote speaker at the symposium was Dr. Craig Stephen, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and executive director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative. Harper Lab collaborators Dr. Dan Gillis and MSc student Nic Durish, from the school of computer science, were also featured presenters.

Dr. Stephen’s talk, entitled ‘Can OneHealth Save the World?’,set the tone for the day’s agenda, with themes of systems-thinking and transdisciplinarity continuously emerging across a range of topics. He challenged us to reconsider our perceptions of health by emphasizing the interplay of humans and the so-called natural environment. For instance, should the health of a salmon population be defined as simply having enough fish for humans to kill at a steady rate? Salmon provide numerous ecosystem services - the effects of which undoubtedly benefit humans - so ascribing a definition of health based on short-term economic returns may prove harmful in the not-so-long term.

In the following session, Dr. Gillis spoke to the ‘Potential Health Aspects of the Digital Divide’. Focusing on Rigolet, an Inuit community in Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Gillis highlighted how dialup-level internet speeds and the absence of cellphone service can serve as a barrier to accessing information, collecting data, and addressing health concerns. Rigolet is representative of much of Inuit Nunangat in this respect, where the digital divide is yet another aspect in which primarily Indigenous communities face continued disparities when compared to national standards. In response, Gillis’ research is undertaking a two-step approach: the first step is to quantify the extent of the digital divide using strategically placed Raspberry Pi’s (essentially mini computers) to measure upload and download speeds. The second step is to connect Northern communities to the internet using a technology called RightMesh ( An immediate benefit of this initiative would be, for example, the ability for residents to deposit cheques via their mobile phones, as opposed to paying a deposit fee at the local grocery store.

Nic Durish, a masters student with Dr. Gillis, presented a poster on ‘A Community-Led Approach to Contextualizing Gamification’. This work is centered around the eNuk program (, whose “mobile and web applications allow users to track and share changes in weather, climate, environment, wildlife, and plants, as well as the resulting cultural, physical, and mental health impacts”[1]. eNuk, while still in the development phase, is being piloted in Rigolet led by local researchers Inez Shiwak and Charlie Flowers, alongside Ashlee Cunsolo, Sherilee Harper, and Dan Gillis, and its usage will be facilitated by the RightMesh network. After the lunch break, Nic participated in the 2-minute student challenge, and delivered an excellent speech to win third place (and $100!) out of all the contestants. Congrats to Nic and Dr. Gillis, and thanks to the CPHAZ organizers for administering yet another successful symposium!

To view all of the conference presentations, click here.


[1]Durish, N. et al. A Community-Led Approach to Contextualizing Gamification. Poster presented at: 3rd CPHAZ Symposium; 2018 Jun 8; Guelph, Ontario.

America Adapts! The Climate Change Podcast

Congratulations to Kate Bishop Williams, PhD Candidate, for her recent interview on the America Adapts, the Climate Change Podcast.

Listen to the podcast by clicking here!

In this episode, Kate talks about how she used an America Adapts episode, “Deconstructing a Climate Change Skeptic” as part of her class curricula at the University of Waterloo. Specifically, in this interview, "Kate discusses why she chose this episode to use a tool to teach her students effective climate communication."

Kate touches on the following topics in her interview:

  • Using podcasts in the classroom to promote environmental change;

  • Learning that climate skepticism is more prevalent than many realize;

  • Developing guidelines for listening to a podcast and talking climate change;

  • Understanding the role of open access educational materials, especially climate resources;

  • Students explain how listening to a climate skeptic enhanced their ability to communicate climate change.

New Publication Exploring the Hidden Costs of Enteric Illness in the North

Congratulations to Nia King for her recent publication in PloS One.  In the north, per capita healthcare costs are high. However, given Inuit communities’ unique cultural, economic, and geographic contexts, there is a knowledge gap regarding the context-specific indirect healthcare costs borne by Inuit. Therefore, Nia worked with Northern partners to identify the major indirect costs of enteric illness, and explore factors associated with these indirect costs, in Rigolet, Canada.


King, N., Vriezen, R., Edge, V.L., Ford, J., Wood, M., IHACC Research Team, Harper, S.L. (2018). The hidden costs: Identification of indirect costs associated with acute gastrointestinal illness in an Inuit community. PloS One, 13(5), e0196990.  Click here for free article (open access).


Background: Acute gastrointestinal illness (AGI) incidence and per-capita healthcare expenditures are higher in some Inuit communities as compared to elsewhere in Canada. Consequently, there is a demand for strategies that will reduce the individual-level costs of AGI; this will require a comprehensive understanding of the economic costs of AGI. However, given Inuit communities’ unique cultural, economic, and geographic contexts, there is a knowledge gap regarding the context-specific indirect costs of AGI borne by Inuit community members. This study aimed to identify the major indirect costs of AGI, and explore factors associated with these indirect costs, in the Inuit community of Rigolet, Canada, in order to develop a case-based context-specific study framework that can be used to evaluate these costs.

Methods: A mixed methods study design and community-based methods were used. Qualitative in-depth, group, and case interviews were analyzed using thematic analysis to identify and describe indirect costs of AGI specific to Rigolet. Data from two quantitative cross-sectional retrospective surveys were analyzed using univariable regression models to examine potential associations between predictor variables and the indirect costs.

Results/Significance: The most notable indirect costs of AGI that should be incorporated into cost-of-illness evaluations were the tangible costs related to missing paid employment and subsistence activities, as well as the intangible costs associated with missing community and cultural events. Seasonal cost variations should also be considered. This study was intended to inform cost-of-illness studies conducted in Rigolet and other similar research settings. These results contribute to a better understanding of the economic impacts of AGI on Rigolet residents, which could be used to help identify priority areas and resource allocation for public health policies and programs.

New Publication! Examining adaptation projects targeting food systems funded by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Congratulations to Aleksandra, member of James Ford's Climate Change Adaptation Research Group, for her new publication in Climate Policy. In her article, Aleksandra documents and examines adaptation projects targeting food systems financed through funding bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Based on her results, Aleksandra recommends that projects should assess the entire food system to ensure future food security.


Conevska, A., Ford, J., Lesnikowski, A. and Harper, S.L., 2018. Adaptation financing for projects focused on food systems through the UNFCCC. Climate Policy 


Investments in adaptation are required to reduce vulnerability and strengthen the resilience of food systems to the impacts of climate change. For low-income nations, international financing plays a central role in supporting adaptation. In this article, we document and examine adaptation projects targeting food systems financed through funding bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). We find that between 2004 and 2015, 3% (n = 96) of adaptation projects supported through the UNFCCC explicitly focused on the production, processing, distribution, preparation and/or consumption of food, with US$546 m mobilized through funding bodies directly and US$1.44bn through co-financing. Agriculture is the most common sector supported, with extreme weather events the primary climate change-related impact motivating nations to apply for adaptation financing. The majority of actions are documented to adapt the food production component of food systems, with limited focus within projects on the full range of food system vulnerability and the implications on food security.

Key policy insights:

  • Enhanced international adaptation financing targeting food systems is needed, and in particular financing to address limited adaptation readiness

  • Supported food system projects should include holistic assessments of the entire food system in order to prioritize sector and food system component issue areas for short- and long-term efficiency

  • To better analyse food system linkages and aid in the prioritization of adaptation activities, adaptation-directed funds should consider placing a higher emphasis on a cross-sectoral approach within projects

  • Linkages between official development assistance and adaptation-directed funds could help optimize financing for food systems and mainstream food system adaptation efforts

New Publication! Understanding source water protection in Indigenous communities

Congratulations to Rachael Marshall for her new publication in the Journal of Hydrology.  The implementation of source water protection programs is relatively recent in Canada and the United States. Although protecting water at the watershed scale has been a focus of many of these programs, few Indigenous communities located within these watersheds are involved in the process. Therefore, we wanted to examine and map the extent, range, and nature of the published peer-reviewed literature on the adoption, implementation, and outcomes of source water protection programs involving Indigenous populations in Canada and the United States.

Rachael Marshal led the paper; she is a PhD Candidate in Environmental Engineering at the University of Guelph. She has worked in partnership with Indigenous communities in Guatemala, Nunatsiavut, northern and southern Ontario, and Saskatchewan to promote clean drinking water, appropriate water infrastructure, and healthy socio-ecological systems.


Marshall, R., Levison, J., McBean, E., Brown, E., Harper, S.L. 2018. Source water protection programs and Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States: a scoping review. Journal of Hydrology.


The implementation of source water protection programs is relatively recent in Canada and the United States. Although protecting water at the watershed scale has been a focus of many of these programs, few Indigenous communities located within these watersheds are involved in the process. The purpose of this scoping review was to examine and map the extent, range, and nature of the published peer-reviewed literature on the adoption, implementation, and outcomes of source water protection programs involving Indigenous populations in Canada and the United States. This review followed a systematic process to identify and evaluate the literature. Searches were conducted in three aggregator databases (Web of Science™, ProQuest®, and GreenFILE™). Two independent reviewers conducted a systematic two-stage screening process using inclusion and exclusion criteria in the software DistillerSR©. Articles that met inclusion criteria were analyzed using thematic qualitative and descriptive quantitative methods. The findings indicate that: a) there is a lack of peer-reviewed studies focusing on the ecological outcomes of source water protection programs that are inclusive of Indigenous populations in Canada and the United States; b) the depth to which the literature describes Indigenous involvement in source water protection programs is minimal; and c) Indigenous involvement in source water protection programs is generally not reported as substantial. This review provides several recommendations to improve both the peer-reviewed literature on the topic and source water protection programs. There is a need to improve reporting in the literature on quantitative program results, the nature of Indigenous involvement in source water protection programs, and Indigenous-inclusive inter-jurisdictional success stories. It is also recommended that source water protection programs recognize Indigenous peoples as more than stakeholders groups, and that future studies pull from innovations in other fields to address complex problems and provide new insights to the field of source water protection. The methodology presented in this paper provides a template for researchers in engineering and environmental fields, such as hydrology, to identify and review published literature in a systematic, transparent, and rigorous manner.