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Northern sustainability

Health, environment, culture, Native law, marine ecosystems, materials and technologies adapted to northern infrastructures. These are all areas where our community is consolidating and developing the sustainable North.

Background and issues

The complex challenges of northern sustainability can only be tackled when academics from a wide range of disciplines work together with community partners. These challenges encompass everything from remote sensing, autonomous marine monitoring, and the development of materials and technologies adapted for northern infrastructure to questions of public policy, culture, health, and Indigenous rights, all of which are informed by the central issue of climate change and its impact on the economy, community life, and flora and fauna of the North.

The North has gained in strategic importance in recent decades, in no small part due to the vast economic potential of its subsurface resources. The responsible harvest of these resources, especially in marine environments, poses sizeable technical challenges due to environmental risks. Climate change, already much more evident in the North, will have sweeping repercussions. As northern residents’ lives change rapidly, much work will be required to manage growth, particularly in critical areas like the economy, education, housing, and health.

Strategic priorities

  • Refine our understanding of northern ecosystems and human geography
  • Develop effective strategies for adapting to climate change and reducing environmental risks
  • Comprehend the technological and economic aspects of northern development
  • Clarify the human and social challenges related to northern development
  • Facilitate access to the North

Expertise at Université Laval

In June, 2012, Université Laval committed to the following objectives:

  • Leverage its research strengths and those of its partners to meet northern development challenges
  • Develop and enhance knowledge by conducting research projects in a manner that respects northern communities’ needs, cultures, and ways of life
  • Transfer knowledge and technology to better equip current and future generations to address the challenges of the North
  • Foster multidisciplinarity in northern research to better deal with the complexity of sustainable northern development

For over half a century UL professors have been doing outstanding oceanography research on topics such as phytoplankton, marine and continental ecosystems, and northern human geography. UL faculty members are also doing important work to develop effective strategies to adapt to climate change and environmental risks, including studies on northern and Arctic flora and fauna, thawing permafrost, and assessing the risks and impacts of contaminants released into the northern ecosystem.

The flagship of Université Laval’s northern research endeavours is the Amundsen icebreaker, a veritable floating laboratory. The ship, the only one of its kind in Canada, helps UL professors and researchers remain at the forefront of Arctic Ocean research.


Université Laval research teams are prominent in fields as diverse as glaciology, the study of carbon flow, soil characterization, safe environmental rehabilitation, environmental law, and the sociology of Indigenous peoples.
With 140 professors and teams in nine faculties, Université Laval will continue to lead the way nationally and internationally in research on northern sustainability.
Institut nordique de Québec (INQ) is an outstanding example of the university’s vision and strategy with respect to northern sustainability.

For over 50 years Université Laval has been developing unique, wide-ranging expertise in northern science, as reflected in research into economic, social, and environmental issues facing the North. Today the university is a world leader in northern research. At a time when the sustainable development of the North is imminent, yet many unique challenges persist, scientific engagement with the North is of vital importance. Université Laval is building on its longstanding leadership in this area and has partnered with 2two other renowned Québec research institutions, McGill University and INRS, to create Institut nordique du Québec.

By bringing key partners like Québec universities and northern communities to the table, INQ will combine the strengths of traditional knowledge, scientific knowledge, and technological know-how to provide northern residents and decision makers with the expertise needed to ensure the North is developed in an ethical and harmonious manner. This partnership assembles top experts and reaches beyond the walls of academia while at the same time reasserting Québec’s international role as a driving force in scientific research. Both today’s northern residents and future generations stand to benefit greatly from INQ’s work in developing and disseminating new knowledge.

Bringing Québec centres of excellence together under the ArcticNet umbrella has had a spectacular impact on northern research in Québec. One important benefit is the shared use of the Amundsen, a Canadian research icebreaker that has breathed new life into Canadian Arctic research and propelled Québec to the forefront of polar science. On the strength of ArcticNet, Université Laval secured the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Remote Sensing of Canada's New Arctic Frontier, and welcomed the Takuvik joint UL/CNRS laboratory program (a partnership with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France) in 2010. In 2011, Québec ArcticNet researchers were awarded an Arctic Development and Adaptation to Permafrost in Transition grant under the NSERC Discovery Frontiers program.


  • Raise Université Laval’s profile
  • Promote new areas for research
  • Develop top-level partnerships