Hails from: I am a “Haweater:” born and raised on Manitoulin Island, Northern Ontario. Grew up in the small village of Little Current.
Chose Geography: I used to joke that I “never took a geography course in my life, but they hired me.” I actually did take geography in grade 13, though I don’t remember much. I also took a climatology course at U of T (from Scott Munro) during my Ph.D., and learned how to work with microclimate data and do some interesting programming in Fortran. That said, I have always been a geographer, certainly at heart. I grew up outside, wandering the woods and paddling and sailing the North Channel of Lake Huron. I have always been a naturalist, interested in the plants and animals around me, so I was naturally attracted to ecology/ biogeography. I was also always interested in the Arctic, reading everything I could in high school around exploration of Northern Canada. I knew early on that I wanted to become an arctic scientist of some type and had a strong interest in marine biology, so I thought I would end up working on life under the sea ice. However, an opportunity to work for the Canadian Wildlife Service in 1978 conducting sea bird studies in northern Labrador was followed in 1980 by an opportunity to conduct my PhD research on the tundra of Ellesmere Island. I have been going to the Arctic ever since.
Years at UBC: Since 1992 = 19 in July. “Time’s fun when you’re having flies!”
Greatest success: Raising two sons, although this is an ongoing project, and we will need to wait to see how successful I may have been! Greatest research success, besides mentoring and supervising the amazing graduate students I have been honoured with over the years, has been leading the largest terrestrial research group funded by the Canadian International Polar Year program. Through this project we have been able to train a number of excellent young researchers in a wide variety of disciplines and involve northern communities in research that will help ensure the continued success of northern research in Canada.
Strangest Geography experience: Not sure what would qualify as the strangest – there are lots of stories. I do recall the strangeness of the first time I had to deal with 24 hours of daylight in the High Arctic. I did not sleep for three days as my biological clock tried to cope without night. Now, I cannot imagine summer without 24 hour daylight.
Current research: My research interests are rather broadly based on the structure and function of tundra ecosystems. I am fascinated by the patterns, at all scales, that ecosystems present and by the processes that underlie these patterns. Hence, I have conducted research at the treeline, where forests give way to tundra and in the High Arctic, where the changes in vegetation types can be very abrupt and occur over a few metres. I am also very interested in the interactions between tundra plants and the animals that graze them, such as muskoxen and caribou. I have also followed the development of new tundra ecosystems as they build on land exposed as glaciers melt in the High Arctic. I am also interested in the past environments of the Arctic and have helped to develop a method to reconstruct temperature and precipitation records from the annual growth in Arctic shrub species. Of course, much of my research is on the effects of environmental change and the responses of these northern systems. My students and I have been examining the responses of tundra to experimental and observed changes in climate since the early 1990s. These studies involved warming experiments and combinations of warming with snow manipulations, watering or fertilizer. I have managed to maintain a set of experiments at a site on Ellesmere for nearly 20 years – long enough to see changes in the control plots!
Favourite research destination: The Arctic – anywhere.
Little known fact: I am actually a semiprofessional musician. I have made whole tens of dollars playing guitar and stand-up bass in a amateur bluegrass band based on Bowen Island called the “Lawn Dogs.” I tend to be the one singing the high tenor parts in the tight bluegrass harmonies. Great fun.
Favourite book or film: My favourite book recently was “ Three Day Road” by Joseph Boyden. An incredible story and great writing. However, as a kid I was a fan of the Arctic stories by Farley Mowat such as: “People of the Deer” , “Lost on the Barrens” and “Never Cry Wolf.” Mowat’s writing helped form my desire to see the Arctic.
-Published in UBC Geographer Mar 2010