Research in Action : Across the Bay – Working to address climate change

By: Kari Klassen

Dr. Chris Murray, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at Lakehead University, is in his third year of the Beausoleil First Nation wind and water monitoring project. The main focus of the project is to help the Beausoleil community address climate change and the lack of information around changing weather.

“As an island community they’re isolated,” Murray said, “and they’re very susceptible to changes. The Office of Indigenous Initiatives reached out to me and what had initially interested me was an ice road that was no longer used.”

Residents of the island had previously been able to go back and forth to the mainland from Cedar Point over the ice road, but due to weather changes, they haven’t been able to use it for about a decade. “It’s a function of the unpredictable ice. It might be 20 feet thick on one side of the island, because the wind has piled it up, or it might not be there at all on the other side of the island. It’s just the way things are changing and becoming more erratic.”

Ice used to be measured by drilling a hole into it, putting a stick down and then measuring the depth on the stick, but that can only be done on the shore. It wouldn’t tell anyone how deep the ice is enroute or at the other end. “That was what intrigued me, so I helped develop an ice thickness monitor that is still a prototype, but we haven’t gotten it to a user-friendly version yet,” he said “That’s why I got involved.”

Somewhat unexpectedly, Murray ended up spending much more time on setting up weather stations. “It was a learning experience, for sure, as I am not a field scientist.”

The stations provide information to the community, in real time, about the weather in and around the island. They measure wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, air temperature, humidity, as well as the water level. The information supports the community directly with accurate weather information, but also allows them to track trends, combined in a digital file with their traditional ecological information, which is essentially oral history.

Information from the weather projects is also woven into the education of K-12 students on the island. “I take the research that we’ve been doing for two years and make that into a science outreach project. We’ve been to the elementary school, through Zoom, something like 50 times this semester. Every class has had at least seven visits from me or my students.” Not every class focuses on the weather stations, but many do.

“The teachers are amazing. Everything we’ve asked them to do is enthusiastically embraced. Hopefully this will keep going, year after year, and we’ll eventually get to a point where the community is much more aware of what we’re doing because their kids are coming home and talking about it.”

During Lakehead University’s Research and Innovation Week in 2021, Murray and Nancy Assance, Department of Education at Beausoleil First Nation, were the recipients of the Indigenous Partnership Research Award.

Man wearing blue plaid jacket works from his home garage lab