College class confirms climate warming

It's not every day that a first-year college class makes a significant contribution to the academic conversation. But a Statistics 101 class at Yukon College has done just that.

It’s not every day that a first-year college class makes a significant contribution to the academic conversation.

But a Statistics 101 class at Yukon College has done just that. As part of a final project, students have analyzed 100 years of temperature data across Yukon communities that has never been looked at before.

Their results are perhaps not surprising: Across the Yukon, temperatures are getting warmer, on average.

What was surprising was how consistently the data held up that conclusion, said instructor Mark Shumelda.

In addition to confirming Yukon’s warming climate, the student’s work has added real data to the conversation, where none was available before.

“There’s a missing piece of the puzzle that is being fit in here, because while we have very good data from about the 1950s on from Environment Canada that they’ve stored, we don’t have that consistent, or in some cases any data from the first half of the 20th century,” said Shumelda.

But that changed thanks to a project by the Yukon Research Centre to digitize weather data available in White Pass and Yukon Route logbooks that date from 1902 to 1957.

The data, which include temperature and other weather observations, were collected at 30 points along Yukon’s railway and river highway system.

It took two students two years, working about three hours per day, to compile almost 80,000 data points from the logbooks into spreadsheets.

It’s that digitized information that allowed Shumelda’s class to do the work they did.

The class was divided into five groups, each looking at a different community.

They married temperature data from the logbooks with that available from Environment Canada to get a 100-year record of temperatures in that area.

Adam Mickey’s team looked at data from Carmacks. They found that average temperatures for each month except May have increased over the last 11 years.

The difference was statistically significant for six of the months, he said. Statistical significance is a way of testing how likely an observation – in this case warming temperatures – could be the result of random chance.

“The rest of them weren’t statistically different, but if the trends continue as they are, very soon they will be statistically different,” said Mickey.

The students said it made the math lessons more interesting because it was applicable to where they live.

“The White Pass and Yukon Route had some really cool historical data and we were able to see the trends in our own territory, and I think that’s what kind of made it stand out, as opposed to any other kind of project that we could have done in this class,” said Emilie Hamm, another student in the class.

“It’s one thing to analyze a bunch of data that you don’t really know where it’s coming from, or it’s not really of any relevance to you, but we were able to make it really local.”

And the skills they learned are applicable to all kinds of different careers, the students said.

“I’m looking into psychology, and I find this helps with the whole research data part of the field,” said Vishnu Kolothumkattil.

Learning how to crunch numbers and analyze graphs using Excel was a really useful skill, he said.

Hamm, who is studying environmental and conservation sciences, said she currently uses the skills she learned in the class in her job working for the Yukon government in their mine remediation division.

“I’m doing it all at work now, too. I had to crunch a bunch of Stats Canada data and build a whole whack load of graphs from it, so it’s definitely real-life-applicable, that’s for sure.”

And James Tlen, who is interested in law, said a basic understanding of statistics will help him to avoid drawing inappropriate conclusions from misleading data.

“They’re really easy to just muddy around with,” he said.

Kolothumkattil echoed the sentiment.

“Statistics can be a bit misleading if you want them to be. When you have the basic knowledge you can avoid that to a good degree.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at