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OnCampus Weekly...APRIL 8/05

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student walking

Exploring the Arctic Paradise

Benoit Beauchamp takes over as the new executive director
of the Arctic Institute of North America

Wandering through mosquito-infested swamps of Northern Quebec as a summer student wasn’t Dr. Benoit Beauchamp’s idea of a good time. He soon discovered he would much rather study in areas less prone to nasty little critters and full of bare rock.

beauchamp“When I got the chance to come out here to work in the Rocky Mountains during my master’s degree, I thought it was paradise here. I just fell in love with the outdoors and the landscape.”

After completing his master of geology at Université de Montréal, he chose to leave his home province of Quebec and complete his doctoral degree in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Calgary. The move had many motivations: he wanted to master English; attend a well-known university; and Calgary intrigued him because of its reputation as the geological capital of Canada. After he completed his PhD in 1987, Beauchamp was hired at the Geological Survey of Canada in Calgary. In 1999, he became head of the Arctic Islands Section, Regional Geoscience Subdivision.

The Arctic is of primary interest to Beauchamp, and over several years, he led many groups to study in the north. Although government funding of such field studies wasn’t always easy to secure, and declined steadily over the past decade, Beauchamp continued his Arctic exploration by building relationships with people interested in his Arctic work.

Now, 18 years later, he is leaving the Geological Survey of Canada and has been appointed executive director of the Arctic Institute of North America (AINA)— a non-profit research institute of the University of Calgary. The institute’s mandate is to advance the study of the North American and circumpolar Arctic.

ice cliffBeauchamp, who also holds adjunct professorships at the University of Calgary and at Queen’s University in Kingston, plans to use the networking skills honed in his last position to give the institute a new boost of energy, and ideally attract more support from partners.

“ There’s a lot of work to be done,” says Beauchamp. “We need to talk to people and show them we (AINA) have something to offer, and that they have something to offer as well. I see this appointment as an opportunity — an opportunity to do something else but also to use essentially everything I’ve done in the past to really tackle a challenge. That challenge is to make sure the Artic Institute of North America grows at the same pace as the interest for the North is growing.”

flowersFor multiple reasons, the Arctic is back on the public’s radar. Beauchamp points to talk about melting land and sea ice due to global warming and an increased interest from the oil and gas industry. Whatever the reason, he is excited about the Arctic’s growing popularity.
There are plans to install one or two pipelines to tap into the large gas deposits of the north, says Beauchamp. Billions and billions of dollars would go into a project like this, and with this money comes ramifications on the surrounding communities, environment and economy.

Beauchamp says it’s crucial northerners have a say in these kinds of developments. People living in the Far North are concerned about issues such as caribou populations and the fragile environment, however, at the same time they need economic opportunities — and due to their surroundings these opportunities are often resource-based.

With his networking skills, Beauchamp hopes to acquire more funding and create new links between departments. He hopes to show researchers that research in the North is exciting and potentially well-funded. In the future, the institute could be the primary funding gatherer and that funding would be redistributed internally, says Beauchamp.

He hopes the institute will continue to deal with various faculties, including social sciences, humanities and fine arts. Beauchamp also wants to include more “hard” science researchers, such as those connected with geology, geophysics, geomatic engineering, astronomy and physics.

mountain“ I’d like the institute to be the prism through which all Northern research goes through at the University of Calgary, but I’m going to have to convince those researchers that I’ve got something to offer in return.”

Beauchamp says he would also like to explore the possibility of the University of Calgary offering students a degree in northern studies.

“ I think many students will be called upon to work in the north in the future because that’s where the money will be, and they will need to acquire a thorough understanding of the North, not just geography or geology but all aspects. They’ll need to understand the area’s societal, political, economic and environmental contexts.”

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