Environmental Sensitivity Introduction

The Canadian Arctic is a very unique, yet fragile environment. The majority of biological activity is limited to a very short window of time. As a result, any interference, such as shipping activities, can have a huge impact on the natural ecological and biological patterns of the Arctic.

In order to determine areas of high concern, environmental sensitivity maps have been compiled. These maps provide a composite overview of those species in the Arctic which are most sensitive to shipping activity, as well as areas of human movement. The maps are intended for the use of mariners traversing the Arctic. Using these maps, it is possible, in most cases, to plot routes which minimize environmental impact. Mitigating factors have also been compiled to aid mariners in their choice of routes.

The areas outlined on the sensitivity maps represent an integration of six different components: sensitivity (S), vulnerability (VI), relative density (RD), harvesting (H), endangered species index value (E) and travel routes (TR).

ESa = (S * VI * RD * H * E) + TR

ESa - Aggregate environmental sensitivity value for area "a".

The smallest area of land for which information is available in the GIS database. In this application, the unit area was 250 meters x 250 meters (this happens to be the area equivalent to a "pixel" on the screen at the resolution used on computer monitor to display a map scale of 1:250 000).
Sensitivity (S)
An index with a relative value between 1 (least) and 5 (most) is assigned to each species to reflect the degree to which a species reacts to disturbance by a ship or aircraft. For example, the sensitivity index for cliff nesting seabirds could be 5 for aircraft (low overflights can cause panic reactions leading to death of the young) and 2 for ships. In most cases, sensitivity is not dependent on time and location.
Vulnerability (VI)
An index with a relative value between 1 (least) and 5 (most) is assigned to each species to reflect the potential for interaction with ships and aircraft. A value of 5 means that the species has a large potential for interaction and that the interaction can occur at a great distance from the source. For example, narwhal and belugas at ice edges show observable reactions to icebreakers at distances greater than 50 km. In most cases, vulnerability is time and location specific.
Relative Density (RD)
An index with a value of 0 (not likely to be found here), 1 (possible presence), 3(usually present) and 5 (concentration) was assigned to each species.
Harvesting (H)
An index of 1.0 (low activity), 1.5 (some activity) and 2.0 (high activity) was assigned to each species to indicate the economic importance of the area in terms of harvesting that species. This factor reflects the direct interference which would occur if an animal that is being actively hunted reacts to aircraft or ships in such a way that it becomes inaccessible to the hunter.
Endangered Species (E)
An index value of 1 was assigned for species which are not endangered and a value of 1.5 for species that are rare, threatened, or endangered. The species flagged as endangered are: Bowhead whales and Peary caribou.
Travel Routes (TR)
A component that represents the contribution, to the overall sensitivity, of the area used as on-ice travel routes by local communities.
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