Nova Scotia grad student to help study disappearing Arctic island

A master’s student from Saint Mary’s University is heading on an Arctic adventure to study one of the world’s fastest-eroding islands.

Pelly Island is one of the fastest-eroding islands in the world

About 40 metres of land from Pelly Island is washed into the sea every summer. (CBC)

A student from Saint Mary's University is heading on an Arctic adventure to study one of the world's fastest-eroding islands. 

But he'll have to watch his step, because the uninhabited Pelly Island loses up to 40 metres of land each summer to the sea.

"Pelly Island is undergoing a lot of erosion. It's one of, if not the fastest-eroding islands in the world. And what we're doing is we're trying to understand some of the processes going on," said Francois Malenfant, a master's student working on his degree in applied science. 

Francois Malenfant is a graduate student at Saint Mary's University who will be heading to the Northwest Territories next month to study the erosion of islands. (David Laughlin/CBC)

The Dartmouth man is going north for three and a half months to work with Natural Resources Canada as part of a co-op program for his degree. 

He'll be based out of the community of Inuvik, N.W.T., and will going on three two-week expeditions into the field. One of the places he'll visit is the subject of his master's thesis, Pelly Island. 

The uninhabited island is 100 kilometres away from the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk.

Understanding what's happening to Pelly Island will help researchers better grasp the more subtle erosion that's happening on other Arctic islands. 

Researchers like Malenfant are trying to use drones to better map Pelly Island. This drone was in use on the island in the summer of 2017. (CBC)

Malenfant will help measure how Pelly Island changes by using seabed instruments and drones. 

"Drones are great. They allow us to make 3D models, and by using GPS we can ground those models within space and compare them year to year," said Malenfant.   

The island has been hit hard by a number of factors, including sea-level rise and a longer season with ice-free water, said Malenfant. When the sea is covered in ice it helps guard the island from coastal erosion.

Researchers are amazed by the erosion on Pelly Island. Other islands in the area are only losing about 1.5 metres of land a year compared to Pelly's 40 metres. (CBC)

"That sort of protects the shoreline against a lot of the environmental forcings like the waves and storm surges. So what we're seeing is the extension of the open water season, which is allowing more environmental forces and driving coastal change," said Malenfant. 

He'll see that coastal change first-hand when he heads to Pelly Island in August. Malenfant leaves for the Arctic in early June. 

With files from Preston Mulligan