Honouring home and land

Posted on Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Robert Way leaning against a bridge railing above the winding Pinware River in Labrador.

Robert Way (BA ‘10), seen here at Pinware River in Labrador, first met his PhD supervisor, Professor Antoni Lewkowicz of the University’s geography department, as a uOttawa undergraduate. “I think he took a chance on this work with me and I’m always going to appreciate that,” says Way. Photo: Caitlin Lapalme

By Robert Way

Robert Way is of Inuit descent and a researcher on permafrost, the permanently frozen ground that covers much of Canada’s north. He will receive his PhD in physical geography at uOttawa’s fall convocation on November 5.

I wanted to study something with practical implications for northern communities, and that’s where studying permafrost comes in. In some ways, my region of central Labrador was ignored in previous permafrost work.

Permafrost is essentially ground that remains below zero degrees for two consecutive years. If it thaws, roads and other structures built on it could be damaged. If you’re told an area has a lot of permafrost, it’s probably not the best place to build without detailed planning.

The impacts of climate change will be greater in the north, whether or not greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. Warming will continue to occur, and northerners will have to adapt. It’s important we get a better idea about the existing environment and how it responded to climate change in the past. Knowing this will help us predict what type of changes we may see in the future.

The north will always be a part of my work, although finding permanent positions studying northern environments might be a bit challenging.

To be honest, earning a PhD was not something I had ever envisioned. It’s funny how things work out!

For convocation, I’m wearing a traditional Inuit jacket called a silapâk [pronounced si-la-puck]. It’s sort of a windbreaker that’s typically worn outside in winter by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. They’re very practical garments. Mine will be a formal one for wearing indoors, made by a talented family friend from Labrador

I’ll do my best to represent my home and heritage proudly at convocation!

Robert Way is currently a W. Garfield Weston Foundation postdoctoral fellow at Memorial University’s Labrador Institute in his home town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. His research and studies have taken him to many of the world’s cold spots, including the Arctic and Antarctic, Svalbard and Patagonia. He is pictured above at work in Torngat Mountains National Park, Labrador. Photo: Darroch Whitaker

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