The Canadian Boreal Forest is the country’s largest ecosystem and stretches through all territories and most provinces. It is a diverse system of wetlands, peatlands, lakes and rivers. Boreal ecosystems contain over 80 per cent of the world’s liquid freshwater, and are a vital carbon sink for the planet. Over 200 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in the forest’s trees, soils, water and peat.
The Saskatchewan Boreal Forest covers the northern portion of the province and an area of 410,000 km2. Seventy-five percent of the forest is free from industrial development, making it a valuable baseline to compare how boreal ecosystem carbon and water balances respond to development such as oil sands and uranium mining. Human activity is concentrated to the southern portion of the boreal forest, with extensive land-use change caused by agriculture and resource extraction industries.
The Boreal Ecosystem Research and Monitoring Sites (BERMS) are located in the southern Boreal Plains of Saskatchewan. Originally part of the Boreal Ecosystem and Atmosphere Study, the BERMS project began in 1996 and was operated and funded by Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Parks Canada until 2012 when the Global Institute for Water Security took over the operation and funding of select sites. The goal of the institute program at BERMS is to improve understanding of the interactions between climate, hydrology and vegetation in the southern boreal forest, and the sensitivity of the ecosystem to climate change.
The main sites within BERMS are mature Jack Pine, Black Spruce, and Aspen stands, as well as Fen, and reference stations in nearby burned and cleared forest stands. The monitored area also covers a number of watersheds in the southern Boreal Forest, including White Gull Creek, Torch River, Garden River and White Fox Creek. Four of the active flux towers used to measure the energy, water and carbon balance between land and atmosphere are located within or near the gauged White Gull Creek watershed. This provides a valuable test bed for the institute to develop and evaluate coupled hydrological-ecological models.
Current scientific focus:
- Maintenance and extension of the integrated monitoring of the water, energy and carbon cycles at the BERMS sites.
- Characterization of ecosystem resilience of southern boreal forests in relation to variation in climate averages and extremes, with particular emphasis on the effects of hydrology and soil properties.
- Analysis of the climatic, hydrologic and biophysical processes that govern water, energy and carbon balances at the stand level.
- Synthesis, integration and upscaling of stand scale processes to watershed scales by developing improved hydrological models for application to the Boreal Plains ecozone and within the wider Saskatchewan River Basin model.
- Simulation of ecosystem responses of upland forest stands to environmental stressors such as climate change and air pollution using a dynamic coupled biogeochemical-vegetation model.
- Engagement of local stakeholders in the application and dissemination of research results.
Research group members: Alan Barr, Warren Helgason, Andrew Ireson, Jill Johnstone, Bing Si, Garth van der Kamp, Colin Whitfield.