The Research Program

The focus of the Environmental Innovation will be at the interface of natural sciences research and environmental policy. The research component will aim at the formidable challenge of fostering environmental research that 1) engages local communities, 2) is excellent by national and international scientific standards, and 3) is highly relevant to environmental management and policy. We will study regions characterized by a gradient of industrial intensity, from the oil sands and commercial forests of northern Alberta to early-phase mineral exploration and mine development in Nunavut.

Environmental Innovation will concentrate on three research aspects:

  1. Assessing the cumulative environmental and health impacts of industrial activities. Our program will encompass: i) different forms of resource development including mining, forestry, hydroelectric development, oil and gas, and the cumulative impacts of multi-resource development, ii) the full range of impacted landscapes from intensively developed landscapes to undeveloped, but proposed-to-be-developed landscapes and a wide berth of considered impacts including the abundance of a single species, biodiversity, whole ecosystems, ecosystem services, and contaminants in fish, wildlife and humans. A key emphasis will be placed on quantifying and communicating impact uncertainty and scale-dependence.
  2. Monitoring impacted and non-impacted landscapes and communities using new technology and ecoinformatic techniques. There is increased recognition of the need for rigorous, regional monitoring of new and ongoing resource development projects, including baseline data from undeveloped regions. At the same time, new technology creates unprecedented opportunity in remote monitoring of air and water quality, remote sensing of primary productivity and the detection and monitoring of wildlife. As a result we are in the midst of a transformation in how we monitor the local and regional effects of resource development.
  3. Managing sustainable development based on future scenarios of ecosystem services. Maximizing the volume and profitability of resource extraction, while minimizing environmental and health impacts requires good data and difficult decisions. The concept of sustainable development is fundamentally about ensuring that the values society currently derives from landscapes, encompassing everything from employment to enjoyment, continue to be available to future generations. Effective northern resource development requires comprehending the complexity of development issues, envisioning alternative northern futures, and making informed decisions among these alternatives. This research component will focus on adaptive management of existing and proposed industrial development, accomplished through the integration of impact assessment, post-development monitoring, and future scenarios. We will approach this integration through an ecosystems services framework, expanded to include the economic and long-term geological processes centrally involved in the formation and exploitation of petrochemical and mineral reserves. Our approach will also incorporate plausible contaminant risk scenarios, including air pollution, water contamination, and food chain transfers.

The composition of our Environmental Innovation team of co-researchers and collaborators situates our natural sciences emphasis on the cumulative impacts of resource development on fish, wildlife, forests, and waters, within a broader context of human health, social drivers of environmental policy, modelling and scenario development, adaptive management, indigenous rights, and environmental economics. The opportunity for collaboration among co-researchers and host institutions arises from the necessity of bridging this diverse expertise to achieve effective assessment, monitoring, and management of northern resource development.

 

Funding provided by the NSERC CREATE program.