John England  Ph.D., University of Colorado, 1974

Office: HMT 3-125 
Phone: (780) 492-5673 

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NSERC Northern Chair: Environmental change in Arctic Canada: Ice age to present
An.NSERC Northern Chair was awarded to me on July 1, 2002 and will run for the next five years, based at the University of Alberta. This award will generate a substantially expanded research project in Arctic Canada, building on related projects presented below. There are immediate opportunities for a PDF and several (up to 4) new PhD positions, all involving Arctic fieldwork.

The NSERC Northern Chair project at the U of A will entail a multidisciplinary collaboration with nine colleagues (six internal and three external), and includes a new faculty appointment (Dr. Duane Froese, Quaternary geoscientist, Yukon), plus graduate students and PDF=s. Internal collaborators include: Drs. Sharp (glaciology), Bush (climate modelling), Wolfe (lacustrine environments/diatoms), Catuneanu (sedimentology), Heaman (geochronology), and Myers (oceanography). The three external collaborators are: Drs. Lamoureux (lake coring/paleohydrology, Queen=s), Marshall (glaciological modelling, Calgary), and James (geophysical modelling, GSC-Pacific). Fieldwork will focus on: past ice sheet dynamics; relative sea level change, the nature of postglacial environmental change (both terrestrial and marine); and a reconstruction of the Little Ice Age (LIA,1600-1900). This will be integrated with glaciological, geophysical, climate and ocean modelling.

The NSERC Northern Chair Program at the University of Alberta has developed strong partnerships in both the eastern and western Arctic. In Iqaluit, tpartnerships include the Environmental Technology Program (ETP), Nunavut Arctic College, and the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office (C-NGO). During the fall term (2004), Chantel Nixon (PhD student, EAS) taught for ETP after being awarded one of the inaugural NSERC Northern Student Internships. Fieldwork is planned with C-NGO during the summer (2005) as part of their North Baffin Project. In Inuvik, partnerships have been established with the Aurora Research Institute and the Natural Resources Technology Program (NRTP), Aurora College. I was involved in teaching at both Nunavut and Aurora colleges during the fall of 2004 and plans are being made to involve students from both programs in our Arctic fieldwork during 2005.

Claude Labine, President of Campell Scientific Canada is also a partner in this Northern Chair Program and will be contributing equipment for climate monitoring in conjunction with educational linkages between the Chair and northern colleges.

Research under the Northern Chair Program now includes four PhD's (G. Wolken; C. Nixon; R. Coulthard; and A. Pienkowski-Furze) and two PDF's (J. Doupe and M. Furze). These projects are described below and essentially extend from Melvile to prince Patrick islands in the western Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Research on the chronology of past glacial activity across this region will be complemented by the construction of a cosmogenic isotope preparation lab, scheduled for completion in early January, 2005. The lab is currently being installed on the top floor of the EAS department. Another important development is that the NSERC Northern Chair and the Canadian Circumpolar Institute will jointly host the 35th International Arctic Workshop, to be held March 9-13, 2005, at the Timms Centre.

This webpage concerning the new NSERC Northern Chair will be expanded in the New Year (2003) and the text below provides an overview of our current research and the resources upon which it is based. Specific research projects involved in this Northern Chair program will be outlined and a more extensive photo page will be used to highlight their themes.

Research Interests

Each summer, I head a diverse group of field projects involving graduate and undergraduate students in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. This research is concerned with the nature of environmental variability at high latitudes and focuses on a range of proxy records including: the chronology, style, and dynamics of past ice sheets, sea level changes in response to these former ice loads, and the nature of Holocene environmental change recorded by the entry and distribution of driftwood and whale bone on raised marine shorelines, and sedimentation in lake basins many of which have recently emerged from the sea. Publications pertaining to these themes are listed below.

I have conducted more than 25 field seasons throughout Arctic Canada, including Greenland. I have also conducted research in the Karakoram Mountains, Northern Pakistan, another tectonically-active, arid, glaciated mountain region which shares many similarities to Arctic environments.

Currently, I am extending the past two decades of research in the alpine sector of the Queen Elizabeth Islands (predominantly Axel Heiberg and Ellesmere islands) into the lower terrain of the westernmost archipelago where the history of glaciation and sea level change is poorly documented. Virtually all of the alpine sector was inundated by the Innuitian Ice Sheet during the Late Wisconsinan, and we have recently mapped regional dispersal trains (one ~ 600 km in length) showing that the Innuitian Ice Sheet extended westward across the archipelago to the polar continental shelf. In the southwestern sector of these islands we are investigating the relationship between the Innuitian Ice Sheet, the northwest margin of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, and local, island-based ice caps that may have separated or extended from them. In addition to documenting the terrestrial record for late Quaternary and Holocene environmental change, we also plan to connect our research increasingly with studies being conducted on the depositional history of the Arctic Ocean Basin.

Current Projects

During the field season of 2001, three field projects were operating, involving myself, a PDF, two PhD students, and an MSc student These included:

1) Laurentide-Innuitian Ice Sheet interaction

Project one included myself, Michelle Hanson (MSc) and Patrick Lajeunesse ( PDF, funded by FCAR Postdoctoral Fellowship, Province of Québec). This work concerns the relationship of the former Innuitian and Laurentide ice sheets, as well as local ice caps, and related sea level adjustments caused by their passage. Michelle Hanson focused on the nature of postglacial sea level adjustments, surveying raised beaches and deltas, and obtaining fossil material for radiocarbon dating these former shorelines. This work was conducted on Sabine Peninsula, eastern Melville island, Nunavut, and will continue this summer (2002) along eastern Melville Island.

2) Western Innuitian Ice Sheet: ice dynamics and chronology.

This project involved Nigel Atkinson (PhD candidate) who completed the last of three field seasons on Ellef and Amund Ringnes islands in the western archipelago. Nigel is mapping a prominent granite dispersal train emanating from the Canadian Shield of S. Ellesmere Island hundreds of kilometers to the east. This work is providing new insights concerning the configuration and dynamics of the central and western parts of the Innuitian Ice Sheet, including its subsequent chronology of breakup and the ensuing sea level changes caused by that glacial unloading. Nigel's work willalso contribute to a better understanding of the clastic sediment supply from the Innuitian Ice Sheet to the adjacent Arctic Ocean Basin.

3) Little Ice Age signature and climatic implications, High Arctic Canada

Gabriel Wolken (PhD student) is conducting research on the extent of snow and ice throughout the Canadian High arctic during the Little Ice Age (LIA,1600-1900 AD). This former ice and snow cover has been mapped extensively by other researchers using aerial photographs and satellite imagery of the Canadian Shield on Baffin Island and parts of Devon Island. In these areas, the removal (retreat) of this LIA ice cover has left prominent lighter-toned patches or trimlines often referred to in the literature as "lichen-kill zones". Gabriel's work will focus on reconstructing this former snow cover on the predominantly Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary terrane of the Canadian High Arctic. The objective is to document the reduction of ice cover since the LIA and to determine the possible climatic forcing for both the initial buildup and its subsequent removal throughout the 20th century to present.

Research Opportunities

My Arctic research is funded by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Circumpolar Institute (CCI, University of Alberta). All logistical support (lodging and equipment storage in Resolute Bay, Cornwallis Island), and transportation from there into the field (by helicopter and Twin Otter), is provided by Polar Continental Shelf Project (Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa).

The Department has a strong Arctic research program and several faculty complement my research interests and ensure strong supervision. These individuals include: Drs. Martin Sharp (glaciology), Alexander Wolfe (limnology/paleoenvironmental change), Paul Myers (oceanography); Andrew Bush (climatology/climate modelling); Octavian Catuneanu (sedimentology), Larry Heaman (geochronology) and Karlis Muelhehbachs (stable isotopes). Currently, the combined Arctic project of England and Sharp involves 3 PDF's and 13 graduate students. Collaboration with the Geological Survey of Canada in Arctic research is also ongoing primarily through Dr. A.S. Dyke who is an Adjunct Professor in the department. Furthermore, the university is home to the Canadian Circumpolar Institute (CCI) which provides seed grants for graduate student research and acts as a focal point for interdepartmental northern interests.

Opportunities for fieldwork at the MSc, PhD and PDF level are available. Research will continue to focus on the glacial and sea level history of the westernmost Canadian Arctic Archipelago where large areas remain uninvestigated adjacent to the Arctic Ocean Basin. During the next five years I anticipate that field work will extend to western Melville, Prince Patrick, Brock, Mackenzie King, Meighen and Banks islands. In addition to surficial mapping of glacial landforms and sediments, and the surveying and dating of raised marine shorelines, my research also will involve two other related components: firstly, the application of cosmogenic surface exposure dating to mapped till sheets whose absolute ages remain undetermined; and secondly, the coring of selected lake basins from which dateable deglacial sediments can be obtained together with high resolution records of subsequent environmental changes (extending to present). Students with relevant experience and an interest in these topics are encouraged to apply.

Recent theses from this project

Morrison, C.A. 2000. Late Quaternary glacial and sea level history of west-central Axel Heiberg Island, High Arctic Canada. MSc thesis, University of Alberta, 70p.

Ó Cofaigh, C. 1999. Late Quaternary glaciation and postglacial emergence, Southern Eureka Sound, High Arctic Canada. PhD thesis, University of Alberta, 153p.

Atkinson, N 1999. The Last Glaciation and Relative Sea Level History of Central Baumann Fiord, southwest Ellesmere Island, Canadian High Arctic M.Sc thesis, University of Alberta, 97p

Smith, I.R. 1998. Late Quaternary glacial histories and Holocene paleoenvironmental records from northeast and southwest Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada. PhD thesis, University of Alberta, 215p.

Lamoureux, S.F. 1998. Distinguishing between the geomorphic and hydrometeorological controls recorded in clastic varved sediments. PhD thesis, University of Alberta. 146p.

Selected Publications:

England, J. H., Atkinson, N., Dyke, A.S., Evans, D.J.A., and Zreda, M. 2004: Late Wisconsinan buildup and wastage of the Innuitian Ice Sheet across southern Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 41, 39-61.

Atkinson, N., and England, J. H. 2004. Postglacial emergence of Amund and Ellef Ringnes islands, Nunavut: implications for the northwest sector of the Innuitian Ice Sheet. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 41, 271-283.

Ó Cofaigh, C., Evans, D.J.A., and England.J.H., 2003. Ice-marginal terrestrial landsystems: sub-polar glacier margins of the Canadian and Greenland high arctic. In Glacial Landsystems, Editor DJA Evans. Arnold, London, 44-64.

Dyke, A. S. and England, J. H. 2002. Canada’s most northly occurrence of postglacial Bowhead whales (Balaena mystectus): Holocene sea-ice conditions and polynya development. Arctic,

Copyright © Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta.
Last updated: December 20, 2002.