Beaufort Sea Project for Climate Change

Impact and Adaptation to Climate Change for Fish and Marine Mammals in the Canadian Beaufort Sea

The Beaufort Sea Project for Climate Change is being implemented in various stages and locations. There has been an initial research period in Canada from 2002 to 2007, an European research period from 2004 onwards, and a second research period in Canada beginning in 2008. Written and oral reports and GIS analysis occurred throughout this period and an interactive website was developed and maintained. Funding and in-kind support for the initial period of the research came from the Climate Change Adaptation Fund, the Fisheries Joint Management Committee, the Arctic Institute of North America, and the University of Calgary Department of Geography. European research was supported by various UK and European parties. Funding and in-kind support and participation is now being sought for the second period of research in Canada.

Beaufort Sea Project for Climate Change:

Initial Canadian Research from 2002 to 2007
The initial period of the Beaufort Sea Project for Climate Change was implemented by Magdalena A.K. Muir, biological and GIS specialists in cooperation with the Fisheries and Joint Management Committee, Inuvialuit and government organizations, research scientists, academic institutes and interested parties.

The research examined climate change and its impacts on fish and marine mammals in the Beaufort Sea region, subsistence uses by the Inuvialuit and the management of these species by the Fisheries Joint Management Committee and other government departments and agencies.

This initial period of the Beaufort Sea Project for Climate Change used existing scientific research and data on environmental impacts in the Beaufort Sea. The research:

  • Identifies impacts of climate change and interactions with other environmental factors,
  • Illustrates these impacts and interactions with GIS analysis, and
  • Develops interactive web-based communications to discuss results and recommend adaptive strategies.
  • Climate impacts for the Beaufort Sea include change in:
  • Ice cover and thickness,
  • Break up and freeze up for the Mackenzie River,
  • Atmospheric and ocean circulation, and
  • Potential interaction between these impacts and air and marine contaminants.


One focus of the research and GIS analysis are the inter-related topics of climate change, trans-boundary airborne and water-borne contaminants, changing ocean circulatory patterns and hydrology changes for the Mackenzie River. Another focus is the relationship between ice cover, climate change and ice-dependent marine species in the Beaufort Sea. For example, seal and polar bears are dependent on ice cover for habitat. Ring seals are the major food species for polar bears and an important subsistence species for the Inuvialuit. While the beluga population is large and healthy, climate change may affect their feeding and migration patterns.

For the GIS analysis in the initial stage, a literature review was conducted and the use of GIS analysis was considered to explore relationships between the Mackenzie River watershed, ice cover in the Beaufort Sea, and fish and marine mammals. This included a GIS analysis of relationships between ice cover and the movements of beluga whales, with an additional related GIS analysis being completed using subsequently acquired data sets.

The website for the project,, communicates results of the research. The website includes web-based applications to communicate and exchange information and observations for climate change in the Beaufort Sea. It also includes relevant links to further information, databases and organizations.

Beaufort Sea Project:

European Research from 2004 onwards

For 2004 and following, European research and applications were developed, including European Coast and Marine Management and GIS Applications, and European Climate Change: Impact and Adaptation. Since 2004, Ms. Muir has been an Advisory Board Member, Climate with the Coastal and Marine Union (EUCC), and has conducted some research in that role. Information on European applications is located on the Beaufort Sea Project for Climate Change website and the website of the Coastal Marine Union (EUCC).


Beaufort Sea Project:

Further Canadian Research from 2008

Beginning in 2008, a further stage of the Beaufort Sea Project for Climate Change was developed, which has a focus on marine migratory species that may now or in the future be at risk, considering those species already listed under the Canadian Species-at-Risk Act, and the inclusion of traditional knowledge and subsistence harvesting. This research examines the impacts of climate change on fish or marine mammals in or migrating through the Canadian Beaufort Sea Large Ocean Management Area (LOMA), and develops monitoring and adaptive management strategies to address those impacts. 

The Inuvialuit, Inupiat and Inuit are engaged in the management of all the targeted marine species under domestic and international arrangements. This management includes aboriginal traditional knowledge, subsistence harvesting with recognized limits, monitoring, and participation in joint management agencies and processes. The species are migratory with extensive geographical ranges and may be harvested by different people. The focus on the Beaufort Sea LOMA provides an opportunity to compare and contrast regimes and approaches, and Inuvialuit, Inupiat and Inuit participation for Alaska and the eastern Arctic region of Canada.

The research will look at several key climatic factors that will affect ice dependent species in or migrating through the deltaic, coastal and marine environment of the Beaufort Sea, such as changes to:

  • Fresh water, biological and sediment inputs from the Mackenzie River,
  • Sea and land fast ice, and
  • Coastal and circulatory patterns.

Climate change and the role and importance of the Cape Bathurst polynya, which functions as a biological oasis and feeding locale for marine mammals and seabirds, will also be examined.

All these climate factors will be used to evaluate and illustrate specific impacts on ice dependent species, including major impacts on their at-risk status, and to support discussion and dialogue with aboriginal and joint management organizations and processes, government departments and scientists, hydrocarbon, shipping and tourism sectors, and the broader academic community. The Beaufort Sea Partnership and Beaufort Sea Forum will play key roles in this discussion and dialogue through their annual meetings, specific sub-groups and projects, and web-based communications and interactions.

Research and management outcomes will be communicated through the Beaufort Sea Partnership, the Beaufort Sea Forum, the Canadian Ocean Management Research Network, academic and web-based conferences and publications, and the Beaufort Sea Project for Climate Change website. Depending on interest and available funding, communications and outreach will occur in Alaska, the circumpolar Arctic and Europe.

Investigator: Magdalena A.K. Muir, Project Leader

Research Associate, Arctic Institute of North America