Researchers from the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa are in Cape Dorset, Nunavut studying local plant life.

Jeff Saarela and Roger Bull are spending a month in and around the hamlet as part of a larger multi-year research project. Their ultimate goal, Saarela said, is to produce a comprehensive catalogue of all plants that exist across the Canadian Arctic.

Jeff Saarela

Researcher Jeff Saarela collects cottongrass near Kugluktuk, Nunavut, in 2014. (Submitted by Jeff Saarela and Roger Bull)

"We just published a paper," said Saarela. "It came out a couple of weeks ago of several new species — or not new to science, but new to the Canadian Arctic Archipelago — that had not been found on the Arctic islands.

"But how many, or what percentage of the Arctic has not been explored in detail? I would say, probably, over 75 percent of the land mass."

According to Saarela, documenting the biodiversity of the Arctic is important as it represents part of Canada's natural history. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, environmental conditions are changing quickly, and building a baseline knowledge of Arctic flora will be important for scientists in the future.

"There are models that have been produced based on various climate parameters that show if the climate warms up 5 to 7 degrees by the end of the century, the tree line, for example, could potentially move substantially northward," said Saarela. 

Saarela and his colleagues have already spent four years documenting Arctic flora. He expects the project will take another five years — at least — to finish.