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Cargo ship at the entrance of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, in July 2019. Image courtesy of Captain Ivan Oxford.
Research Project

Marine Shipping Trends in the Canadian Arctic


In this Project, You’ll Learn About

  • Shipping trends from 1990 to 2018 in the Canadian Arctic including vessel distribution, marine traffic patterns, and the number of nautical miles sailed
  • Shipping-based risk in the Canadian Arctic
  • Northern and Inuit communities’ concerns regarding marine shipping, including managing the growing marine tourism and increased cruise ship and pleasure craft activity in the Canadian Arctic
  • Proposals for the development of management strategies for the Government of Canada’s Low Impact Shipping Corridors initiative
  • Implications of underwater noise from vessel traffic in Kitikmeot Region and Lancaster Sound, Nunavut


Vessel traffic in the Canadian Arctic has tripled over the last 25 years, with more growth expected as the climate continues to change, and sea ice is lost – along with increased tourism and resource development in the region. To understand what this means for Arctic ecosystems, the Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR) and Clear Seas funded a two-year research project to explore marine vessel traffic in the area. Understanding historical trends, evolving risks, environmental challenges, and the concerns of Northern and Inuit communities is vital to effectively managing commercial shipping and tourism-related marine traffic in the coming years.

The project’s objectives included an evaluation of past marine shipping traffic trends from 1990 to 2018 in the Canadian Arctic as well as a projection of future trends. The project also sought to review best practices for ship traffic management and assess visitors’ impact on protected marine areas as tourism in the region grows. Critically, the project aimed to centralize the input of Inuit and Northern communities during the process of establishing new shipping traffic management systems.

Learn more about the project and its objectives here.

Project Benefits

  • Support academics and policymakers with information to guide recommendations to governments and decision-making bodies
  • Improve scientific and technical skills of individuals in Northern communities who participated in the research
  • Better understand benefits humans receive from healthy ecosystems (ecosystem services), thereby facilitating environmental protection and sustainable development
  • Increase understanding to enhance resource security and mitigate environmental risks

Project Reports

Shipping Trends in Tallurutiup Imanga (Lancaster Sound), Nunavut, from 1990–2018.
By Zuzanna Kochanowicz, Jackie Dawson, Olivia Mussells, (2020).

This report looks at shipping activities within Tallurutiup Imanga, Nunavut. It highlights a dramatic increase in marine traffic over a 29-year period, with vessel traffic almost tripling. Other density and movement patterns are also shifting.

Tourism Development Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, and around the Wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site.
By Melissa Weber, Jackie Dawson, Natalie Ann Carter, (2021).

The Gjoa Haven community would like to see tourism increase, particularly around the Franklin Wrecks sites; however, increased infrastructure and preparation for the community are needed to facilitate greater visitation numbers. This report underlines the needs expressed by the Gjoa Haven community to better meet the growing tourist demand in the region.

Academic Publications

Infusing Inuit and local knowledge into the Low Impact Shipping Corridors: An adaptation to increased shipping activity and climate change in Arctic Canada (2019) Reference number:

The Arctic Corridors and Northern Voices (ACNV) project was established to ensure local and Indigenous knowledge are incorporated into the Low Impact Shipping Corridors. This paper outlines perspectives from 13 Canadian Arctic communities across Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homeland) who were involved in the project.

Using western science and Inuit knowledge to model ship-source noise exposure for cetaceans (marine mammals) in Tallurutiup Imanga (Lancaster Sound), Nunavut, Canada (2021) Reference number:

Ship-source underwater noise was modelled then combined with Inuit knowledge and western science observation of the habitats of belugas, bowheads, and narwhals to determine their noise exposure around the eastern entrance of the Northwest Passage in Lancaster Sound, in Nunavut.

The full set of reports and publications from the project are available here.

Project Partners

MEOPAR is an independent not-for-profit network of excellence that funds research to create a culture of collaboration. MEOPAR links marine researchers, qualified personnel, partner organizations, and communities to train the next generation of scientific leaders.

The Environment, Society, and Policy Group (ESPG) is a research lab in the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics at the University of Ottawa. The group focuses its research on Arctic shipping, Arctic economic development, and coastal communities and climate change. In particular, the human and policy dimensions of environmental and economic change and the connection between natural and social science guide what research questions are explored.   

Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping is an independent not-for-profit that supports safe and sustainable marine shipping in Canada through inclusive research and knowledge mobilization. It supported the project financially and provided assistance to help disseminate the research’s results, impacts, and publications.

Research Team

Nathalie Carter, Ph. D.

Olivia Mussells, Ph. D.

Jackie Dawson, Ph. D.

Melissa Webber, Doctoral Student

Zuzanna Kochanowicz. M.Sc.

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