• Green alder shrubs in Canada's Arctic. Katherine Black was awarded the W. Garfield Weston Award for Northern Research for her work on the expansion of the shrub and its impact on the Arctic tundra. (Photo: Corry Wallace)

A Masters student at Wilfred Laurier University has been awarded the prestigious W. Garfield Weston Award for Northern Research for her work on green alder shrubs in Canada’s Arctic.

Under the supervision of Laurier associate professor Dr. Jennifer Baltzer, Katherine Black is working to better understand the implications associated with the spread of these shrubs across the Arctic tundra.

“A lot of Arctic ecosystems are experiencing greening of the tundra, where systems previously dominated by low shrubs are increasingly becoming dominated by tall shrubs like green alder,” says Baltzer.

“This has a huge impact on energy balance and many other factors, so getting a better understanding of why these alders are where they are and what might constrain their expansion is very important.”

Previous research suggests greening of the tundra may have an impact on local warming, water and nutrient cycles, and plant variety. Black will look to test these hypotheses at a remote field site in Trail Valley Creek, N.W.T.

“What happens in the Arctic impacts the whole world, so getting a better understanding of changing conditions in the tundra is critical,” says Baltzer.

The W. Garfield Weston Award for Northern Research is presented by the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies (ACUNS) and honours academic excellence and a high calibre research proposal committed to northern research.