Science China Earth Sciences

, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 46–60 | Cite as

The Changing Cold Regions Network: Observation, diagnosis and prediction of environmental change in the Saskatchewan and Mackenzie River Basins, Canada

  • Chris M. Debeer
  • Howard S. Wheater
  • William L. Quinton
  • Sean K. Carey
  • Ronald E. Stewart
  • Murray D. MacKay
  • Philip Marsh
Research Paper Special Topic: Watershed Science


Climate change is causing rapid and severe changes to many Earth systems and processes, with widespread cryospheric, ecological, and hydrological impacts globally, and especially in high northern latitudes. This is of major societal concern and there is an urgent need for improved understanding and predictive tools for environmental management. The Changing Cold Regions Network (CCRN) is a Canadian research consortium with a focus to integrate existing and new experimental data with modelling and remote sensing products to understand, diagnose, and predict changing land, water, and climate, and their interactions and feedbacks over the geographic domain of the Mackenzie and Saskatchewan River Basins in Canada. The network operates a set of 14 unique and focused Water, Ecosystem, Cryosphere and Climate (WECC) observatories within this region, which provide opportunities to observe and understand processes and their interaction, as well as develop and test numerical simulation models, and provide validation data for remote sensing products. This paper describes this network and its observational, experimental, and modelling programme. An overview of many of the recent Earth system changes observed across the study region is provided, and some local insights from WECC observatories that may partly explain regional patterns and trends are described. Several of the model products being developed are discussed, and linkages with the local to international user community are reviewed—In particular, the use of WECC data towards model and remote sensing product calibration and validation is highlighted. Some future activities and prospects for the network are also presented at the end of the paper.


climate change cryosphere hydrology atmospheric science ecology modelling Canada 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Supplementary material

11430_2014_5001_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (228 kb)
Supplementary material, approximately 176 KB.


  1. Baltzer J L, Veness T, Chasmer L E, et al. 2014. Forests on thawing permafrost: Fragmentation, edge effects, and net forest loss. Glob Chang Biol, 20: 824–834CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barry R, Serreze M. 2012. The changing climate. In: French H, Slaymaker O, eds. Changing Cold Environments: A Canadian Perspective. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons Ltd. 89–104Google Scholar
  3. Beilman D W, Robinson S D. 2003. Peatland permafrost thaw and landform type along a climate gradient. In: Phillips M, Springman S M, Arenson L U, eds. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Permafrost. Zurich, Switzerland. 61–65Google Scholar
  4. Best M J, Pryor M, Clark D B, et al. 2011. The Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES), model description-Part 1: Energy and water fluxes. Geosci Model Dev, 4: 677–699CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bolch T, Menounos B, Wheate R. 2010. Landsat-based inventory of glaciers in western Canada, 1985–2005. Remote Sens Environ, 114: 127–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bonsal B R, Zhang X, Vincent L A, et al. 2001. Characteristics of daily and extreme temperatures over Canada. J Clim, 14: 1959–1976CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown R D, Braaten R O. 1998. Spatial and temporal variability of Canadian monthly snow depths, 1946–1995. Atmos-Ocean, 36: 37–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brown R D, Mote P W. 2009. The response of northern hemisphere snow cover to a changing climate. J Clim, 22: 2124–2145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brown R D, Robinson D A. 2011. Northern hemisphere spring snow cover variability and change over 1922–2010 including an assessment of uncertainty. Cryosphere, 5: 219–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burgess M M, Smith S L. 2003. 17 years of thaw penetration and surface settlement observations in permafrost terrain along the Norman Wells pipeline, Northwest Territories, Canada. In: Phillips M, Springman S M, Arenson L U, eds. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Permafrost. Zurich, Switzerland. 107–112Google Scholar
  11. Burn C R, Kokelj S V. 2009. The environment and permafrost of the Mackenzie Delta area. Permafrost Periglacial Process, 16: 355–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Burn C R, Zhang Y. 2010. Sensitivity of active layer development of winter conditions north of treeline, Mackenzie Delta area, western arctic coast. In: Proceedings of the 6th Canadian Permafrost Conference. Calgary, Alberta. 1458–1465Google Scholar
  13. Burn C. 2012. Permafrost Distribution and Stability. In: French H, Slaymaker O, eds. Changing Cold Environments: A Canadian Perspective. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons Ltd. 126–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Burn D H, Cunderlik J M, Pietroniro A. 2004. Hydrological trends and variability in the Liard River basin. Hydrol Sci J, 49: 53–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Burn D H, Fan L, Bell G. 2008. Identification and quantification of streamflow trends on the Canadian Prairies. Hydrol Sci J, 53: 538–549CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chasmer L, Quinton W, Hopkinson C, et al. 2011. Vegetation canopy and radiation controls on permafrost plateau evolution within the discontinuous permafrost zone, northwest territories, Canada. Permafrost Periglacial Process, 22: 199–213Google Scholar
  17. Clark D B, Mercado L M, Sitch S, et al. 2011. The Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES), model description—Part 2: Carbon fluxes and vegetation dynamics. Geosci Model Dev, 4: 701–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Comeau L E, Pietroniro A, Demuth M N. 2009. Glacier contribution to the north and south Saskatchewan Rivers. Hydrol Process, 23: 2640–2653CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Connon R, Quinton W, Craig J, et al. 2014. Changing hydrologic connectivity due to permafrost thaw in the lower Liard River valley, NWT, Canada. Hydrol Process, 28: 4163–4178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. DeBeer C M, Pomeroy J W. 2009. Modelling snow melt and snowcover depletion in a small alpine cirque, Canadian Rocky Mountains. Hydrol Process, 23: 2584–2599CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. DeBeer C M, Pomeroy J W. 2010. Simulation of the snowmelt runoff contributing area in a small alpine basin. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci, 14: 1205–1219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. DeBeer C M, Sharp M J. 2007. Recent changes in glacier area and volume within the southern Canadian Cordillera. Ann Glaciol, 46: 215–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Demuth M N, Keller R. 2006. An assessment of the mass balance of Peyto Glacier (1966–1995) and its relation to recent and past-century climatic variability. In: Demuth M N, Munro D S, Young G J, eds. Peyto Glacier: One Century of Science. National Hydrol Res Institute Sci Report, 8: 83–132Google Scholar
  24. Demuth M N, Pietroniro A. 2003. The Impact of Climate Change on the Glaciers of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Eastern Slopes and Implications for Water Resource-related Adaptation in the Canadian Prairies, “Phase 1”—Headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River Basin. Report to the Climate Change Action Fund—Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative, PARC. Project P55. Geological Survey of Canada Open File 4322, 162 and technical appendicesGoogle Scholar
  25. Demuth M N, Pinard V, Pietroniro A, et al. 2008. Recent and Past-century Variations in the Glacier Resources of the Canadian Rocky Mountains—Nelson River System. Terra Glacial, 11: 27–52Google Scholar
  26. Demuth M N, Wilson P, Haggarty D. 2014. Glaciers of the Ragged Range, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada. In: Kargel J, Leonard G J, Bishop M P, et al, eds. Global Land Ice Measurements from Space. Springer-Praxis Books. Berlin: SpringerGoogle Scholar
  27. Derksen C, Brown R, MacKay M. 2008. Mackenzie Basin snow cover: Variability and trends from conventional data, satellite remote sensing, and Canadian regional climate model simulations. In: Woo M K, ed. Cold Region Atmospheric and Hydrologic Studies: The Mackenzie GEWEX Experience. Berlin: Springer. 213–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Derksen C, Walker A, Goodison B. 2003. A comparison of 18 winter seasons of in situ and passive microwave-derived snow water equivalent estimates in western Canada. Remote Sens Environ, 88: 271–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Duguay C R, Prowse T D, Bonsal B R, et al. 2006. Recent trends in Canadian lake ice cover. Hydrol Process, 20: 781–801CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Environment Canada. 2014. Canadian Climate Normals., website accessed February 2014Google Scholar
  31. Goetz S J, Epstein H E, Bhatt U S, et al. 2011. Ecent changes in arctic vegetation: Satellite observations and simulation model predictions. In: Gutman G, Reissell A, eds. Eurasian Arctic Land Cover and Land Use in a Changing Climate. Springer Science + Business Media, doi: 10.1007/978-90-481-9118-5_2, 9–36Google Scholar
  32. Hall F G. 1999. Introduction to special section: BOREAS in 1999: Experiment and science overview. J Geophys Res-Atmos, 104: 27627–27639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hanesiak J M, Stewart R E, Bonsal B R, et al. 2011. Characterization and summary of the 1999–2005 Canadian prairie drought. Atmos-Ocean, 49: 421–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Harvey K D, Pilon P J, Yuzyk T R. 1999. Canada’s reference hydrometric basin network (RHBN). In: Partnerships in Water Resource Management. CWRA 51st Annual Conference, Canadian Water Resources Association.Google Scholar
  35. Halifax Hinzman L D, Bettez N D, Bolton W R, et al. 2005. Evidence and implications of recent climate change in northern Alaska and other Arctic regions. Clim Change, 72: 251–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hogg E H, Brandt J P, Michaelian M. 2008. Impacts of a regional drought on the productivity, dieback, and biomass of western Canadian aspen forests. Can J For Res, 38: 1373–1384CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In: Stocker T F, Qin D, Plattner G K, et al., eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1535Google Scholar
  38. Jorgenson M T, Shur Y L, Pullman E R. 2006. Abrupt increase in permafrost degradation in arctic Alaska. Geophys Res Lett, 33: L02503, doi: 10.1029/2005GL024960CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kelly R. 2012. Remote sensing and Canadian snow climatology. In: French H, Slaymaker O, eds. Changing Cold Environments: A Canadian Perspective. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons Ltd. 66–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lantz T C, Marsh P, Kokelj S V. 2013. Recent shrub proliferation in the Mackenzie Delta uplands and microclimatic implications. Ecosystems, 16: 47–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lenormand F, Duguay C R, Gauthier R. 2002. Development of a historical ice database for the study of climate change in Canada. Hydrol Processes, 16: 3707–3722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lloyd A H, Bunn A G. 2007. Responses of the circumpolar boreal forest to 20th century climate variability. Environ Res Lett, 2, doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/2/4/045013Google Scholar
  43. MacDonald G M, Szeicz J M, Claricoates J, et al. 1998. Response of the central Canadian tree-line to recent climatic changes. Ann Assoc Am Geogr, 88: 183–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. MacDonald G. 2012. Climate change and the central Canadian treeline. In: French H, Slaymaker O, eds. Changing Cold Environments: A Canadian Perspective. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons Ltd. 185–199Google Scholar
  45. MacKay J R, Burn C R. 2002. The first 20 years (1978–1979 to 1997–1998) of active layer development, Illisarvik experimental drained lake site, western Arctic coast, Canada. Can J Earth Sci, 39: 1657–1674CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Marshall S J, White E, Demuth, M N, et al. 2011. Glacier water resources on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Can Wat Res J, 36: 109–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mekis E, Vincent L A. 2011. An overview of the second generation adjusted daily precipitation dataset for trend analysis in Canada. Atmos-Ocean, 2: 163–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mekonnen M A, Wheater H S, Ireson A M, et al. 2014. Towards an improved land surface scheme for prairie landscapes. J Hydrol, doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2014.01.020Google Scholar
  49. Moore R D, Fleming S W, Menounos B, et al. 2009. Glacier change in western North America: Influences on hydrology, geomorphic hazards and water quality. Hydrol Process, 23: 42–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Naz B S, Frans C D, Clarke G K C, et al. 2014. Modeling the effect of glacier recession on streamflow response using a coupled glaciohydrological model. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci, 18: 787–802CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Olthof I, Pouliot D. 2010. Treeline vegetation composition and change in Canada’s western Subarctic from AVHRR and canopy reflectance modeling. Remote Sens Environ, 114: 805–815CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Pietroniro A, Fortin V, Kouwen N, et al. 2007. Development of the MESH modelling system for hydrological ensemble forecasting of the Laurentian Great Lakes at the regional scale. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci, 11: 1279–1294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pomeroy J W, de Boer D, Martz L W. 2005. Hydrology and water resources of Saskatchewan. Center for Hydrology, Report #1, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 25Google Scholar
  54. Pomeroy J W, Gray D M, Brown T, et al. 2007. The cold regions hydrological process representation and model: A platform for basing model structure on physical evidence. Hydrol Process, 21: 2650–2667CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Price D T, Alfaro R I, Brown K J, et al. 2013. Anticipating the consequences of climate change for Canada’s boreal forest ecosystems. Environ Rev, 21: 322–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Prowse T D, Bonsal B R. 2004. Historical trends in river ice break-up: A review. Nord Hydrol, 35: 281–293Google Scholar
  57. Prowse T D, Furgal C, Melling H, et al. 2009. Implications of climate change for northern Canada: The physical environment. Ambio, 38: 266–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Prowse T. 2012. Lake and River ice in Canada. In: French H, Slaymaker O, eds. Changing Cold Environments: A Canadian Perspective. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons Ltd. 163–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Quinton W L, Baltzer J. 2013. Changing surface water systems in the discontinuous permafrost zone: Implications to stream flow. In: Cold and Mountain Region Hydrological Systems Under Climate Change: Towards Improved Projections. IAHS Publ, 360: 85–92Google Scholar
  60. Quinton W L, Hayashi M, Chasmer L E. 2009. Peatland hydrology of discontinuous permafrost in the Northwest Territories: Overview and synthesis. Can Wat Res J, 34: 311–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Quinton W L, Hayashi M, Chasmer L E. 2011. Permafrost-thaw-induced land-cover change in the Canadian subarctic: Implications for water resources. Hydrol Process, 25: 152–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rood S B, Pan J, Gill K M, et al. 2008. Declining summer flows of Rocky Mountain rivers: Changing seasonal hydrology and probable impacts on floodplain forests. J Hydrol, 349: 397–410CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sauchyn D, Barrow E, Fang X, et al. 2009. Saskatchewan’s natural capital in a changing climate: An assessment of impacts and adaptation. Report to Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment from the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative. 162Google Scholar
  64. Sellers P J, Hall F G, Kelly R D, et al. 1997. BOREAS in 1997: Experiment overview, scientific results, and future directions. J Geophys Res-Atmos, 102: 28,731–28,769CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Serreze M C, Walsh J E, Chapin III F S, et al. 2000. Observational evidence of recent change in the northern high-latitude environment. Clim Change, 46: 159–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Smith R E, Veldhuis H, Mills G F, et al. 1999. Terrestrial ecozones, ecoregions, and ecodistricts of Manitoba: An ecological stratification of Manitoba’s natural landscapes. Land Resource Unit, Brandon Research Centre, Research Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 14Google Scholar
  67. Smith S L, Burgess M M, Riseborough D W, et al. 2005. Recent trends from Canadian permafrost monitoring thermal monitoring network sites. Permafrost Periglacial Process, 16: 19–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Smith S L, Romanovsky V E, Lewkowicz A G, et al. 2010. Thermal state of permafrost in North America: A contribution to the International Polar Year. Permafrost Periglacial Process, 21: 117–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Smith S L, Wolfe S A, Riseborough D W, et al. 2009. Active-layer characteristics and summer climatic indices, Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories, Canada. Permafrost Periglacial Process, 20: 201–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Smith S. 2011. Trends in permafrost conditions and ecology in northern Canada. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 5. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. iii, 22Google Scholar
  71. St. Jacques J M, Sauchyn D J, Zhao Y. 2010. Northern Rocky Mountain streamflow records: Global warming trends, human impacts or natural variability? Geophys Res Lett, 37, doi: 10.1029/2009GL042045Google Scholar
  72. St. Jacques J M, Sauchyn D J. 2009. Increasing winter baseflow and mean annual streamflow from possible permafrost thawing in the Northwest Territories, Canada. Geophys Res Lett, 36: doi: 10.1029/2008GL 035822, 2009Google Scholar
  73. Stewart R E, Leighton H G, Marsh P, et al. 1998. The Mackenzie GEWEX Study: The water and energy cycles of a major North American River Basin. B Am Meteorol Soc, 79: 2665–2683CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Stewart R E, Pomeroy J, Lawford R. 2011. he Drought Research Initiative: A comprehensive examination of drought over the Canadian prairies. Atmos-Ocean, 49: 298–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Sturm M, Racine C, Tape K. 2001. Climate change: Increasing shrub abundance in the Arctic. Nature, 411: 546–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Tape K, Sturm M, Racine C. 2006. The evidence for shrub expansion in Northern Alaska and the Pan-Arctic. Glob Chang Biol, 12: 686–702CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Tedesco M, Brodzik M, Armstrong R, et al. 2009. Pan arctic terrestrial snowmelt trends (1979–2008) from spaceborne passive microwave data and correlation with the Arctic Oscillation. Geophys Res Lett, 36: L21402, doi: 10.1029/2009GL039672CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Tenant C, Menounos B, Wheater R, et al. 2012. Area change of glaciers in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Cryosphere, 6: 1541–1552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Verseghy D L. 2000. The Canadian land surface scheme (CLASS): Its history and future. Atmos-Ocean, 38: 1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Vincent L A, Mekis E. 2006. Changes in daily and extreme temperature and precipitation indices for Canada over the twentieth century. Atmos-Ocean, 44: 177–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Vincent L A, Wang X L, Milewska E J, et al. 2012. A second generation of homogenized Canadian monthly surface air temperature for climate trends analysis. J Geophys Res, 117, doi: 10.1029/2012JD017859, 2012Google Scholar
  82. Whitfield P H, Moore R D, Shook K S. 2013. Summary and Synthesis of Workshop break Out Group Discussions. In: Pomeroy J W, Whitfield P H, Spence C, eds. Putting Prediction in Ungauged Basins into Practice. Canadian Water Resources Association. 271–304Google Scholar
  83. Woo M K, Rouse W R, Stewart R E, et al. 2008. The Mackenzie GEWEX Study: A contribution to cold region atmospheric and hydrologic sciences. In: Woo M K, ed. Cold Region Atmospheric and Hydrologic Studies, the Mackenzie GEWEX Experience, Volume 1: Atmospheric Dynamics. Heidelberg: Springer. 1–22Google Scholar
  84. Woo M K. 2012. Permafrost hydrology. New York: Springer. 563CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Zhang X, Brown R, Vincent L, et al. 2011. Canadian climate trends, 1950–2007. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010. Technical Thematic Report No. 5. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. iv, 21Google Scholar
  86. Zhang X, Harvey K D, Hogg W D, et al. 2001b. Trends in Canadian streamflow. Wat Resour Res, 37: 987–998CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Zhang X, Hogg W D, Mekis E. 2001a. Spatial and temporal characteristics of heavy precipitation events over Canada. J Clim, 14: 1923–1936CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chris M. Debeer
    • 1
  • Howard S. Wheater
    • 1
  • William L. Quinton
    • 2
  • Sean K. Carey
    • 3
  • Ronald E. Stewart
    • 4
  • Murray D. MacKay
    • 5
  • Philip Marsh
    • 2
  1. 1.Global Institute for Water SecurityUniversity of Saskatchewan, National Hydrology Research CentreSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Cold Regions Research CentreWilfrid Laurier UniversityWaterlooCanada
  3. 3.School of Geography and Earth SciencesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  4. 4.Department of Environment and GeographyUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada
  5. 5.Science and Technology BranchEnvironment CanadaTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations