Climate Change in the Mackenzie Mountains

Help find out how much, and how fast, climate change is affecting the Arctic - and the rest of the world.

At 1700 meters/5,577 feet above sea level, the Mackenzie Mountain Barrens offer a breathtaking alpine landscape. Bathed in more than 20 hours of arctic daylight during the summer, the western horizon features glacier-clad Keele Peak poking above the Continental Divide. Against this dramatic backdrop you’ll take measurements at study plots extending from the plateau down to the valley bottom.

You’ll use ground-penetrating radar, microclimate dataloggers, and soil coring to measure the permafrost’s organic carbon levels. You'll also evaluate growth rings in trees and shrubs to reconstruct past climate changes, and monitor plant development. Getting to the research sites will involve both four-wheel-drive vehicles and some hiking on foot.

In your recreational time, day hikes can bring you to landscapes as remote as any on Earth, where golden eagles and gyrfalcons soar and moose, elk, and caribou roam.

Meals and Accommodations
You’ll stay at Dechen la’ Lodge, the only naturalist's lodge in the vast northern wilderness of the Selwyn and Mackenzie Mountains, a staging area for backcountry sojourners. You’ll share a small cabin featuring large windows overlooking the barrens with one teammate; the cabin has an indoor dry toilet. The lodge has limited hot running water for showers, a sauna available on a limited schedule, and solar electricity with a gas generator back-up. Meals will be provided in the main lodge, which has a spectacular view of the alpine tundra and grazing caribou.

About the Research Area
The Mackenzie Mountains research area lies above the timberline in shrub and sedge tundra. The landscape in the area of the Dechen la’ Lodge, where the team will be based, is dominated by tundra that falls into an extensive shrub zone interrupted by patches of spruce and accentuated by alpine slopes and snow-capped peaks.

The world’s largest herd of mountain caribou lives here, as well as moose, sub-Arctic wolves, wolverine, grizzlies, and a host of smaller creatures such as marmots, ground squirrels, pikas, and voles. More than 130 species of birds have been recorded here, including such Arctic specialties as gyrfalcons, ptarmigan, wandering tattlers, long-tailed jaegers, long-tailed ducks, and Smith’s longspurs. Below the Barrens is the valley of the Tsichu River.

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What to Expect?

This remote and rugged range, part of the largest mountain wilderness in North America, is at the center of a global calamity in the making. Climate change is thawing the world's permafrost, which locks away at least 20 percent of the world's terrestrial carbon in the form of peat. When these peatlands thaw, they release carbon dioxide and methane, greenhouse gases that accelerate the warming trend—which in turn speeds the thawing and the release of more gases in a potentially catastrophic cycle.

These changes stand to alter the ecology of arctic plants and animals, as well as those in ecosystems around the world. Dr. Peter Kershaw has been conducting research here since the 1970s. You can help monitor ecosystem responses to global warming in this dramatic alpine environment—and maybe help provide answers to the many questions surrounding the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.



  • Program ID: # 2320
  • duration:
    1 to 2 Weeks
  • location:
    Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada Whitehorse , YT
    63° 24' 38.9988" N, 129° 36' 50.0004" W
    Yukon CA
  • Fitness level:
    Moderately Fit
  • Closest Airport:
    Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport
  • Costs From:
    Over $3000
  • Program Type:
    Community Development Projects
    Environmental & Wildlife Programs
    Learn Abroad
  • Click Here for More Info

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