C150RC-Water, Environment, and Sustainability - Research Environment

1.  Background

            The University of Regina (UR) is a global leader in environment and sustainability, particularly in the area of aquatic resources.  Historically, UR has invested heavily and successfully in these themes, with four Canada Research Chairs, the $13-million Institute of Environmental Change and Society (IECS), seven successful grants from Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) in partnership with the Province, three centrally-funded PhD-level research staff at IECS, and a consistently-strong alignment with the UR Strategic plan for over 20 years.  IECS is home to the Canadian Institute of Ecology and Evolution (CIEE), a national consortium of 30 Canadian universities which use existing environmental research for the benefit of Canada, and houses the Qu’Appelle Valley Long-Term Ecological Research Program (QU-LTER), Canada’s longest-running non-governmental freshwater research program.  During the past 20 years, UR environmental researchers have produced over 500 scientific publications, while training over 250 graduates, undergraduates, and post-doctoral students.  The Canada 150 Research Chair (CRC150) in Water, Environment and Sustainability will build on this tradition of research and educational excellence to provide visionary leadership for the next quarter century.  By providing the CRC150 with unparalleled resources in the form of IECS and dedicated research funding, we assure the success of the candidate in scholarship, grant acquisition, and student training.

            Water research at UR uses laboratory investigation, field experiments, modeling, retrospective (fossil) analyses, and multi-decadal environmental monitoring to quantify the factors that regulate the structure and function of lakes and improve strategies for their protection.  Select themes and advances of UR scientists that are relevant to the CRC150 are summarized below.   

            Nutrient pollution and water quality - UR research demonstrates that the structure and function of lakes are regulated in part by the influx of nutrients, such as nitrogen (N), from natural and cultural sources.  For example, we’ve demonstrated that N from industrial sources has polluted remote polar lakes for over 120 years, degrading their health and altering their fundamental structure.  Importantly, our experimental, long-term and fossil research has resulted in a new global framework for the study of water-quality degradation.  In it, we demonstrate for the first time that pollution of productive lakes with N increases the abundance and toxicity of water-borne microbes by 500% on scales from days-to-decades and lakes-to-continents.  This work resulted in the 2011 Save Lake Winnipeg Act to regulate pollution with N and other nutrients (Dr. G. Selinger, MB Premier, pers. comm.).  

            Climate and Lakes – Here UR investigators have shown how lakes regulate climatic processes and how, in turn, climate influences lakes and human society.  The QU-LTER program reveals that climate warming since 1990 has turned prairie lakes from greenhouse gas (GHG) sources to carbon sinks that offset ~35% of all agricultural GHG emissions.  Our whole-lake and field research since 1993 reveals that variation winter precipitation, rather than summer drought, is the main mechanism regulating the presence of prairie water bodies.  IECS researchers have also developed historical climate reconstructions to predict the risk of catastrophic droughts on the Prairies.  This information is being used by crop insurance, agricultural and hydroelectric corporations in all Prairie Provinces to evaluate their susceptibility to climate extremes and resulted in an invited meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada.

            Paleoecology - UR researchers are global leaders in the use of fossils from plants and animals as indicators of past environmental change.  Our methods have been adopted by >15 international institutes and research groups, as well as six Canadian universities.  Our invited papers have been cited over 1000 times and used to establish a global network of aquatic researchers.  For example, IECS is currently collaborating with researchers from four continents to develop new methods to reconstruct past nutrient inflow, causes of ecosystem instability, past water temperature, and diverse forms of lake contamination.

            Ecosystem Sustainability and Management- UR aquatic scientists apply fundamental knowledge to protect aquatic ecosystems worldwide.  Our studies help many and include research on the Athabasca Oilsands, First Nation’s territories, coastal estuaries, prairie lakes, northern freshwater deltas, salmon nurseries, high latitude ecosystems, alpine lakes, and iconic sites worldwide (e.g., Baltic Sea, Sea of Galilee, Lake Winnipeg, Laurentian Great lakes, Lake Windermere, Great Salt Lake, etc.).  In all cases, we balance novel scientific discovery with clear management recommendations to initiate legislative change and enable sustainable management.  Our leadership has resulted in the Energy-mass (Em) flux framework, a new conceptual paradigm adopted by 15 international research groups to determine how humans and climate interact to affect surface waters.  This work has been cited by both the Society of Canadian Limnologists (SCL) and the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) for outstanding contributions to aquatic science.

            We propose that the Canada 150 Research Chair in Water, Environment and Sustainability will renew this history of excellent and important research for the benefit of Canadians.  Specifically, it is envisioned that the CRC150 replace CRC Leavitt as director of IECS after a suitable period of co-direction.  Ideal candidates should be global experts in the topics of water, environmental change and sustainability, and use a combination of process-based experimentation, modeling, and retrospective (fossil) analyses to study aquatic ecosystems.  Candidates should be highly ranked in terms of research productivity (top 5-10% globally as evaluated by ResearchGate, Google Scholar, etc.) and be interested in conducting research to address regional, national and international environmental issues.  Successful candidates should exhibit leadership skills suitable for directing IECS.   

2. Description of the Research Environment

            UR provides a superb home for the CRC150 in Water, Environment and Sustainability because of its long-standing commitment to, and substantial expertise in, the allied fields of Environment, Water and Energy.  In particular, CRC150 candidates are all global leaders in climate change, human-environmental interactions, and adaptive management strategies.  These topics which are well supported by on-going provincial, national and international initiatives in which UR is a leader on diverse scales. 

2.1  Local – The CRC150 will be housed in Biology, an academic unit whose research was ranked in the top 1% of all institutions worldwide by ThomsonReuters (Clarivate) ScienceWatch.  Environmental science forms one of two areas of research excellence in Biology and includes people with substantial complementation to the Chair, including those in freshwater biology (B. Wissel, G. Simpson), aquatic biogeochemistry (B. Hall, K. Finlay), applied ecology (M. Brigham, M. Vanderwel), aquatic physiology (H. Weger, R. Manzon), and environmental microbiology (J. Stavrinides, A. Cameron).  In addition, UR has 4 relevant CRCs in this area, including C. Yost (Environ. Microbiology), C. Somers (Conservation Ecology), P. Leavitt (Environ. Change), and G. Huang (Environ. Eng.). To facilitate collaboration and team development, the CRC150 will be housed in IECS within the new $100M RIC complex.  As Director of IECS, the CRC150 will be supported by UR through the continued provision of 3 centrally-funded PhD-level research positions (total salary ca. $400,000/yr), including an Associate Director and Environmental Analyst, an Environmental Molecular Biologist, and a Numerical Scientist.  The CRC150 can also develop collaborations with UR scientists in Environmental Engineering (CRC D. McMartin), Chem/Biochem (R. Raina), Geography (K. Hodder, J. Piwowar), and Geology (M. Velez, H. Qing).  Finally, UR has several Centres of Research Excellence that complement and support the CRC150, including Geography’s Geomodelling and GIS Research Laboratory, the Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC), and the Institute of Energy, Environment and Sustainable Communities.  Importantly, the CRC150 will have unprecedented capability to turn research findings into effective governance through collaborations with members of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. 

2.2  Provincial - Saskatchewan is home to several research agencies with a long history of collaboration with UR researchers on environmental issues and to whom the CRC150 will form an important element of their climate change response strategies.  In particular, faculty and IECS staff have a 20-yr history of collaboration and funding with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, SK Water Security Agency, SK Environment, SK Agriculture, Manitoba Sustainable Development, Nature SK, Alberta Environment and Parks, BC Environment, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, Ducks Unlimited, Ontario Hydro, Canadian Wildlife Service, City of Regina, EPCOR, and Stantec Consulting, among others.  These well-established relationships remain at the heart of the proposed CRC150 program.  In addition, the CRC150 should be able to form effective collaborations with members of the U. SK Global Institute of Water Security, Toxicology Centre, and Hydrology Institute, as well as the National Hydrology Research Institute in Saskatoon.

2.3  National – During the period of co-direction of IECS, Leavitt will introduce the CRC150 to his collaborative partners in federal, provincial and local agencies.  Space limitations preclude detailing each interaction, although we note that in each case, organizations have participated in past collaborative research on climate and environmental impacts on lake ecosystems.  Further, it is expected that the superb resources at IECS will allow the CRC150 to establish diverse and productive collaborations with other scholars in Canada.

2.4  International – All CRC150 candidates are international scholars with mature collaborative networks.  Further, as each candidate has conducted research in western Canada, they are fully aware of the opportunities and challenges presented by our country.  Consequently, it is expected that techniques and research developed by the CRC150 at UR will provide critical new insights to improve the management of aquatic resources and continue the tradition of excellence in regional, national and global environmental research and education.

3. Strategic Research Plan

            The proposed CRC150 is aligns perfectly with the UR thematic area of research priority, ‘Water, Environment and Clean Energy’.  This cluster seeks to identify environmental threats to semi-arid regions of Saskatchewan and elsewhere, inform decision makers on how to alleviate impacts of climate, land-use and pollution on aquatic and terrestrial resources, and develop adaptive management strategies and policies to address challenges associated with climate change, population growth, and development of natural resources. 

            The CRC150 in Water Environment and Sustainability will advance these objectives by renewing UR’s leadership in water and environmental research using a combination of experiments, modeling, retrospective research, and multi-decadal study of prairie lakes.  By providing the CRC150 with an annual operating grant derived from the federal award ($350,000 less salary+benefits), as well as the infrastructure of IECS, UR will enable the successful CRC150 candidate to expand their research on how climate change and human activities affect the health and sustainability of global aquatic resources.  In particular, the ability of the CRC150 to continue the QU-LTER program will be essential to help Saskatchewan protect its freshwater resources against the multiple threats posed by climate change, chemical pollution, land-use change, urbanization, water extraction for potash mining, and invasive species in the coming decades. Similarly, as Director of IECS, the Chair will continue to develop IECS as a critical training and recruitment tool for UR (faculty, students, collaborators), a source of research revenue ($15M to date), and a portal for public outreach (e.g., 100 unique media interviews since 2009).  As interdisciplinary collaboration is a hallmark of each candidate, we anticipate that the new CRC150 in Water, Environment and Sustainability will continue the traditions of broad-based and representative leadership in Environmental Sciences at UR. 

4. Recruitment Strategy and Sustainability

            University of Regina seeks top-tier candidates to advance our goal of equitable, excellent and representative faculty appointments.  Given program requirements and the global demographics of scientists in the fields of water, environment and sustainability, it is anticipated that the formal nominee will be a mid-career female scientist of foreign nationality.

            Several features of this proposal increase the likelihood of recruiting a superior nominee.  First, provision of resources represented by IECS ($7M in equipment, 3 centrally-funded PhD researchers, 25 yr of environmental data) make this a ‘start up’ package which is unlikely to be matched by any other university, thereby increasing national competitiveness.  Second, by selecting a candidate with a similar research agenda, portfolio, and skills as the current Director, we maximize the value of existing infrastructure and human resources to the CRC150.  Third, by providing the residual (non-salary+benefits) portion of the CRC150 award as an annual grant (ca. $125,000/yr) to the Chair, the Faculty of Science assures adequate resources to immediately conduct globally-important research with little timelag or inefficiency. Fourth, Science agrees to reduce the CRC150’s teaching load by 50%, consistent with the current CRC agreements.  Fifth, because the target profile of the CRC150 is essentially the same as that of CRC Leavitt, it should be possible to use narrative already developed in his most recent award (May 2017) to meet the 15 Sept 2017 deadline.  

            Leavitt’s retirement (expected 2024) will release both a faculty appointment in Science and a Tier I NSERC CRC in Environment prior to the end of the 7-year CRC150 award.  Consequently, there is no anticipated difficulty in sustaining a new CRC150 in Water, Environment and Sustainability. 

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