uOttawa’s Jackie Dawson awarded 2020 SSHRC Impact Award for her climate change research

Posted on Monday, December 7, 2020

Ship in the Arctic

Award celebrates outstanding scholars in Canada's social sciences and humanities research community

As a child, Jackie Dawson developed a fascination with polar regions, mesmerized by their landscape and beauty. Her family introduced her to the stories of polar explorers like John Franklin, Roald Amundson and Ernest Shackleton, and a passion was born.

Now she is Dr. Dawson, PhD., the Canada Research Chair in Environment, Society and Policy and a professor in the department of Geography at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Arts, and she has been awarded the prestigious 2020 SSHRC Impact Connection Award for her work on the Arctic Corridors and Northern Voices project. The award is given to an individual or team whose project has engaged the campus and/or wider community, and has generated intellectual, cultural, social and/or economic impacts.

In her work, Dr. Dawson works closely with coastal communities affected by changing environmental and social conditions around the globe in Arctic Canada; New Zealand; Svalbard, Norway; Greenland; Hawaii; and the Caribbean.

Throughout her distinguished career, she has examined issues such as the human and policy elements of environmental change with a focus on Arctic oceans and maritime transportation.

We sat down with Professor Dawson to learn more about her and her award-winning Arctic Corridors project.


Please tell us about Arctic Corridors.

The Arctic Corridors Research Project is

  • 133 Northern research participants contributing local knowledge
  • 14 partner communities
  • 81 community-identified corridors management options documented
  • 1,095,382 kilometers travelled by ships in Arctic Canada in 2018

Our project developed a long-term, geo-spatial ship track database (from 1990-present) for Arctic Canada, documenting Inuit-identified Culturally Significant Marine Areas (CSMAs), and identifying potential management strategies for the low impact shipping corridors. It is amazing, and special, to be able to work with both Western scientific knowledge and Inuit knowledge. It is an honour to be part of projects like this, which leave me constantly amazed. 


Where does your interest for the Arctic stem from?

I have had a fascination with Polar regions ever since I was a child. Then, as a PhD student, I had the opportunity to do some research in the Arctic and, after that, I was hooked. I fell in love with the inspiring landscapes and the beautiful culture and people of the Canadian Arctic. Over the past 15-plus years I have made some wonderful friendships with people in communities across the global Arctic, which I cherish dearly.


Why study the impact of climate change in the North?

Climate is warming at three times the global rate in the Canadian Arctic and the impact of these changes will be transformational and profound. Changes in the Arctic climate will have widespread global implications at a macro climatic level plus significant implications for Canada and the people that live there.

Reductions in sea ice has opened the region – previously inaccessible to maritime transportation (including tourism and trade). This is an exciting economic development opportunity, but one that requires careful consideration, and which puts the needs and culture of local people first. The Northwest Passage is expected to see regular transit and trade sometime in the future, which brings important risks to a region with a fragile ecosystem, where development is new. It is vital that research is conducted in ways that include local and Inuit knowledge to ensure the best possible outcomes.


Do you enjoy these research expeditions?

Yes, I love them, although I miss my wife and kids while I am away. It is an amazing experience to explore the Canadian Arctic. My favorite recent journey was on a ship that traversed the Northwest Passage.


Can you share a few anecdotes that happened on your research trips?

There are many! One of the things that is different about doing research in the North is that there are not usually banks in these communities so, sometimes, I end up traveling there with several thousand dollars in my backpack. That feels odd but it is important to have cash on hand to pay translators and interpreters and knowledge holders.

Another thing about working in the Arctic is that you must be patient! Fog and other harsh weather conditions often prevent you from arriving or leaving your study sites when you planned to! Several years ago, I almost missed my sister’s wedding, where I was the Maid of Honour, because I got stuck in Pond Inlet for 11 days due to fog. I had a lovely time in Pond and, fortunately, I made it to the wedding – just on time. The hospitality of people in the North is amazing.

And while on a visit to Pond Inlet, I was on a walk with friend and research associate Natasha Simonee, who is an Inuit hunter and community member, on a beautiful blue-sky day when she suddenly said to me  ‘it’s time to go home for tea, snow is coming’. I have a PhD in climate change, and I looked out over the ocean and thought to myself there is no way it’s going to snow anytime soon – it’s totally clear! Sure enough, 10 minutes later it was snowing. Thanks to her foresight, we were cozy inside with the kettle boiling.


Is there anything you’d like to add?

I am very honoured to be awarded the 2020 SSHRC Impact Connection Award for my work. I love transdisciplinary research that looks at the big picture. I am also committed to research that makes a difference for society and, thus, I aim to tackle problems that are identified by project partners and that create new knowledge that can be used by our nation’s decision makers.


Learn more about the Impact Awards. To discover Dr. Dawson’s research, visit the Arctic Corridors and Northern Voices website.


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