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Good ReadsGreenstream Series: Polar Expert – Dr. Peter Harrison

Greenstream Series: Polar Expert – Dr. Peter Harrison

Greenstream Series: Polar Expert –  Dr. Peter Harrison

Dr. Peter Harrison has devoted his career to understanding Canada’s northern and Arctic oceans. As global warming threatens the planet, his knowledge on the subject is needed now more than ever.

Harrison, a professor at Queen’s University who specializes in ocean and coastal management, has run the gamut of his career learning all there is to know about Canada’s Arctic. As a senior member of the public service of Canada for 30 years, Harrison has held a number of key posts associated with ocean management. As Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and, later, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Dr. Harrison was responsible for a significant amount of the northern and polar research and policy development for the Government of Canada. As a Senior Associate Deputy Minister of (then) Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), Dr. Harrison played a key role in directing current northern and Arctic policy. And, as an aside, Dr. Harrison is a Fellow, Governor and Vice-President of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

The International Polar Year 2012 (IPY 2012)

Harrison’s importance to the preservation of Canada’s Arctic environment is hard to overestimate. For instance, one of Harrison’s shining moments was his instrumental role in signing Canada on to the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) in 2003. Ratification of the treaty ties Canada to United Nation’s rules on the world’s oceans on everything from pollution to mining. Given the Arctic ice melt, UNCLOS III limits on claims to the ocean floor are of crucial importance. Canada shares the central Arctic Ocean with four other states – Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the United States. As a result of this and other efforts, Dr. Harrison was awarded the Gold Medal celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his contributions. He is also the recipient of the J.B Nicholls award for a lifetime of contributions to ocean and coastal management in Canada and around the world.

But it is Dr. Harrison’s role as chair of the world’s largest gathering of polar scientists in Montreal this April which may make the biggest impact. The International Polar Year 2012 (IPY 2012) will examine scientific research to tackle issues crucial to polar environments and the planet at large. More than 2,500 delegates including scientists, policy makers, representatives of business and industry and residents of the circumpolar north from more than 40 countries will attend the conference. They will translate the world’s most significant scientific findings into concrete action on climate change.

Harrison, who holds a PhD in Geography, says he hopes a key outcome of IPY 2012 is “a greater distribution of knowledge about the polar regions.” This is especially important in the context of Inuit and other circumpolar peoples who stand to be most directly affected by climate change.

IPY 2012 will examine scientific research to tackle issues crucial to polar environments and the planet at large.

“Understanding the rapid pace of polar change will help those who are affected to develop strategies to cope with or benefit from the change,” Dr. Harrison says. Of pressing concern, according to Harrison, are shorter sea-ice seasons, melting permafrost and the changing migration patterns of different species.

“Canada has played a lead role in the International Polar Year by providing significant funding for research in all disciplines,” says Harrison. “More importantly, Canada has been at the forefront in ensuring the focus on the human dimension and on traditional knowledge developed by Arctic indigenous people over millennia.” Dr. Harrison, along with his Canadian peers in the Arctic, are set to ensure Canada remains a world leader on Arctic issues for decades to come.

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