Tier 1 CRC-Water, Environment, and Sustainability - Research Environment

Tier 1 CRC-Water, Environment, and Sustainability - Research Environment

  1. Background

The University of Regina (UofR) is a global leader in environment and sustainability, particularly in the area of aquatic resources. Historically, the UofR has invested heavily and successfully in these themes, with four Canada Research Chairs, the $13-million Institute of Environmental Change and Society (IECS; www.iecs-uregina.ca), seven successful grants from Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) in partnership with the province of Saskatchewan, three centrally-funded PhD-level research staff at IECS, and a consistently-strong alignment with the UofR Strategic plan for over 20 years. IECS maintains 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, UofR environmental researchers have produced over 500 scientific publications, while training over 250 graduates, undergraduates, and post-doctoral students. The Tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) 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 CRC with resources in the form of IECS and dedicated research funding, we facilitate the success of the candidate in scholarship, grant acquisition, and student training.

Water research at the UofR uses laboratory investigation, field experiments, modeling, paleoecological analyses, and multi-decadal environmental monitoring to quantify the factors that regulate the structure and function of freshwaters, and improve strategies for their protection. Below is a summary of select themes and advances of UofR scientists that are relevant to the CRC:

Nutrient pollution and water quality – UofR research demonstrates that the regulation of the structure and function of lakes is in part by the influx of nutrients, such as nitrogen (N), from natural and cultural sources. For example, we have 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 – UofR 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 in 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 – UofR researchers are global leaders in the use of subfossils 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 6 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 – UofR aquatic scientists apply fundamental knowledge to protect aquatic ecosystems worldwide. Our studies help many stakeholders 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). 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 Tier 1 CRC 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 new CRC will 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 paleoecological analyses to study aquatic ecosystems. Candidates should be highly ranked in terms of research productivity and be interested in conducting research to address regional, national and international environmental issues. Successful candidates should exhibit leadership skills suitable for directing IECS.

  1. Description of the Research Environment

The UofR provides a superb home for the Tier 1 CRC in Water, Environment and Sustainability because of its long-standing commitment to, and substantial expertise in, the allied fields of Environment, Water and Energy. The UofR is a leader in these topics, which are well supported by on-going provincial, national and international initiatives.

2.1 Local – In a 2017 analysis by Thomson Reuters InCites tool, the UofR ranked in the top one per cent in the world for academic citations in five out of 22 research fields (www.uregina.ca/external/communications/feature-stories/current/2017/07-13.html). To facilitate collaboration and team development, the CRC will be housed in IECS within the $100M Research and Innovation Centre. As Director of IECS, the CRC will be supported by the UofR through the continued provision of three 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 CRC can also develop collaborations with UofR scientists in Biology (which has many environmental researchers) Environmental Systems Engineering, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Geography & Environmental Studies, and Geology. Finally, the UofR has several Centres of Research Excellence that complement and support the CRC, including the Geomodelling and GIS Research Laboratory (www.uregina.ca/science/about/specialized-labs-folder/geomodelling-gis.html), the Petroleum Technology Research Centre (ptrc.ca/), the Institute for Microbial Systems and Society, and the Institute of Energy, Environment and Sustainable Communities (www.ieesc.ca/home). Importantly, the CRC will have unprecedented capability to turn research findings into effective governance through collaborations with members of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (schoolofpublicpolicy).

2.2 Provincial & National – Saskatchewan is home to several research agencies with a long history of collaboration with UofR researchers on environmental issues. In particular, faculty and IECS staff have a 20-yr history of collaboration and funding with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, Saskatchewan Water Security Agency, Saskatchewan Environment, Saskatchewan Agriculture, Manitoba Sustainable Development, Nature Saskatchewan, Alberta Environment and Parks, BC Environment, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment & Climate Change 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 CRC program. In addition, the CRC should be able to form effective collaborations with members of the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Institute of Water Security, Toxicology Centre, and Centre for Hydrology, as well as the National Hydrology Research Centre in Saskatoon.

2.3 International – All Tier 1 CRC candidates are international scholars with mature collaborative networks. Consequently, it is expected that techniques and research developed by the CRC at the UofR 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.

  1. Strategic Research Plan

The proposed CRC aligns with the one of the five UofR “research clusters” (designated area of research priority): ‘Water, Environment and Clean Energy’ www.uregina.ca/research/research-expertise/research-strengths/index.html). Research in this cluster investigates environmental threats to semi-arid regions of Saskatchewan and elsewhere, informs decision makers on how to alleviate impacts of climate, land-use and pollution on aquatic and terrestrial resources, and develops adaptive management strategies and policies to address challenges associated with climate change, population growth, and development of natural resources.

The CRC in Water Environment and Sustainability will advance these objectives by renewing the UofR’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 CRC with an annual operating grant, as well as the infrastructure of IECS, the UofR will enable the successful CRC candidate to expand their research on how human activities affect the health and sustainability of global aquatic resources. In particular, the ability of the CRC 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/nutrient pollution, land-use change, urbanization, water extraction for potash mining, and invasive species in the coming decades. Similarly, as Director of IECS, the CRC will continue to develop IECS as a critical training and recruitment tool for the UofR (faculty, students, collaborators), a source of research revenue ($15M to date), and a portal for public outreach. As interdisciplinary collaboration is a hallmark of a Tier 1 CRC, we anticipate that the new CRC in Water, Environment and Sustainability will continue the traditions of broad-based and representative leadership in Environmental Sciences at the UofR.

  1. Recruitment Strategy and Sustainability

The UofR 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, we are seeking a mid-career female scientist with an international reputation.

Several features of this proposal increase the likelihood of recruiting a superior nominee. First, provision of resources represented by IECS ($7M in equipment, three centrally-funded PhD researchers, 25 years 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 CRC. Third, the Faculty of Science has committed to reduce the CRC’s teaching load by 50%, consistent with past practice in Science.

For further information, see: