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2014 ENVR 401 Project Sign-Up

About ENVR 401


Students work in an interdisciplinary team on a real-world research project involving problem definition, methodology development, ethical research approval, execution of the study, and dissemination of results to the research community and to the people affected. Students sign-up for projects in the summer prior to the course beginning, in order that they will be already aware of the project before the course begins, and will know who their other teammates will be.

Note: This course is restricted to BA, BSc, BA&Sc and BSc (Ag.Env.Sc.) Environment students in U3, and Diploma in Environment students.

Diploma students must contact kathy [dot] roulet [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Kathy Roulet) for permission to register for the course.

Project Sign-up:

Project sign-up, for those students registered in the course for Fall 2014, will take place from 5:00 pm Friday, July 11th 5:00 pm through to 11:59 pm Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Instructions for Choosing a Project:

You will find links to information about the 12 different group projects on this web page (see below). Please take the time to read through all the project descriptions, and select your top three topic preferences. Then send an email to Professor Gregory Mikkelson (gregory [dot] mikkelson [at] mcgill [dot] ca) outlining your top three options, in order of preference, and a paragraph describing your reasons for selecting each of these projects. Be sure to address the criteria below, in your submission.

The criteria that will be used for selecting students for certain projects are:

  1. Past and present work and/or volunteer experience or interest with the topic or project;
  2. Knowledge and skills that qualify you for the project (e.g. your ability to communicate in French, or Spanish, or your ability to use GIS)
  3. Motivation behind choosing a particular project (e.g. the professor, academic and career goals, your involvement in designing/suggesting the topic in the first place, your desire to work with certain other students who have chosen the same project as their first choice, etc.)
  4. Diversity of background and skills compared to other potential students in the group (ie. what will you add/contribute to the group? To this end, please indicate what faculty and domain you are in); and
  5. Being one of the 6 or 7 most suitable students during the initial sign-up period.

Submitting your preferences (as per the instructions above) before the end of the initial sign-up period is important because once the group is full, even past experience on the topic will not over-ride those who applied during the initial sign-up period. All sign-up emails received during the initial sign-up period (5:00 pm Friday, July 11th through to 11:59 pm Tuesday, July 15th, 2014) will be treated equally, so please take some time to make your choices. Suitability will be based on your email application. Do not assume that we know anything about you. We will do our best to ensure that you receive one of your top choices.

Project Options:

Group 1

Mapping and Improving the Trail Network for Hudson, Quebec

Client: Town of Hudson

Supervisor: Prof. Jeffery Cardille

Group 2

Improvement of services for the Gault Nature Reserve at Mont Saint-Hilaire, Quebec

Client: Board of Directors of the Gault Nature Reserve

Supervisor: Prof. Jeffery Cardille

Groups 3 and 4:

Lac Ouareau - Water Management Study

Client: Camp Ouareau

Supervisor: Prof. Frederic Fabry

Group 5:

Mandatory Reporting Standards for the Extractive Sector and their Significance for Canadian First Nations Communities

Client: Chiefs of Ontario

Supervisor: Dr. Julia Freeman

Group 6:

Investigating Inequality and Structural Racism in Montreal's Food System

Client: Justice Alimentaire Montreal

Supervisor:  Dr. Julia Freeman

Groups 7 and 8:

Changing environments, competing interests, and scenario planning for Prince Edward Island

Client: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Supervisor: Prof. Brian Leung

Group 9

McGill's greenhouse Gas Emissions

Client: McGill Facilities, Operations and Development

Supervisor: Mr. George McCourt

Group 10

Economy and ecology of the Missisquoi River bioregion

Client: Missisquoi River Basin Association (MRBA)

Supervisor: Prof. Gregory Mikkelson

Group 11

Walkability of new urban spaces in India: A case study of Greater Noida

Client: Shiv Nadar University, UP, India and Shiv Nadar Foundation-India

Supervisor: Prof. Raja Sengupta

Group 12

Divesting McGill Pension Funds from Fossil Fuel-Related Investments

Client: The Canadian Youth Coalition (CYCC)

Supervisor: Prof. Raja Sengupta

Group 1: Mapping and Improving the Trail Network for Hudson, Quebec 

Client: Town of Hudson

Supervisor: Prof. Jeffery Cardille

Project description

Hudson, Quebec is a village on the Ottawa River that traces its origins back to a mix of French and Scots settlers in the early 19th century. By the early 20th century the town was on a train line that still serves Montreal from the west and it became an important summer community for Montrealers. Through the years the town has maintained a stable population of about 5000 while the nearby towns of St-Lazare and Vaudreuil-Dorion have exploded in population and economic activity in recent years. Hudson has been a very environmentally conscious town with lots of green space.  The Hudson town bylaw against the cosmetic use of pesticides, which was challenged by the chemical companies but sustained by the Supreme Court of Canada, now has been copied by hundreds of towns and cities across Canada.  Unfortunately, like all towns at the periphery of greater Montreal, Hudson is experiencing increasing pressure to loosen zoning laws, flexibly interpret laws that exist, and develop green space to maximize tax revenue.

Hudson’s trail system is substantial but somewhat fragmented, and there is considerable interest in joining the bits of trail that exist and understanding the natural amenities along and near these trails. There are some options for expanding and connecting the trail system, but the town has no comprehensive assessment and plan for doing so. One very recent and substantial development concerns Pine Lake, an artificial lake created by damming of the Vivery River. The small dam holding the lake recently failed, creating “Pine Flats” with the river flowing through the drained lakebed to join the Ottawa River.  This open space may create an opportunity to link two parts of the existing trail system and create a public green space to replace the lake, but this is a subject of controversy in the town. 

With the town of Hudson as the client, students in this group will perform an assessment and explore the future extension of the Hudson trail system. Professor Martin Lechowicz (Biology), who is a resident of Hudson and serves on the Town Environment Committee, will help provide a liaison to the town and share his personal knowledge of the town trails. We will inventory trailside biodiversity and map habitat types to complement an existing database developed by the town. We will then combine information about trail and associated habitat (forest types, wetlands, etc) maps and enumerate scenarios for the extension, addition and management of current and future trails. 

Additional Information:  Skills needed:  GIS, Google Earth, and/or GPS use; Plant identification skills a plus; Bilingual students a bonus

Group 2 Improvement of services for the Gault Nature Reserve at Mont Saint-Hilaire, Quebec

Client: Board of Directors of the Gault Nature Reserve

Supervisor: Prof. Jeffery Cardille

Project description

The Gault Nature Reserve at Mont Saint-Hilaire is one of the great natural jewels of Quebec. Located 45 minutes east of Montreal, the Reserve Naturelle Gault has witnessed a rapid and continual expansion of eco-tourism: in the last 15 years, the number of annual visitors has nearly tripled from 70,000 to more than 200,000 per year. This has increased stress on visitors and the natural environment alike, and care must be taken to avoid diminishing this valuable resource. The board of Directors of the Gault Nature Reserve recently developed an ad-hoc committee with the challenge of improving the services for visitors. How can new services be provided to visitors, and how best can they be implemented without harming the park itself? The committee reported the following goals: 

  • Augmenter la sensibilisation des visiteurs à l’importance et à la fragilité des milieux naturels afin de diminuer leur empreinte écologique.
  • Améliorer la qualité de la visite et protéger la biodiversité en regard de la hausse de la fréquentation de la montagne
  • Harmoniser le contrôle des visiteurs de la Réserve naturelle Gault et de son périmètre pour assurer l’atteinte des objectifs de conservation

At this important time in its history, the Gault Nature Centre could benefit greatly from a clear understanding of its user base. How should visitors be made aware of the fragility of the environment? Do users of the reserve mostly have the same goals?  Should there be a different approach for occasional users vs regular users? What might the reserve look like in 10 or 20 years?  In this course, students will pursue these questions, principally through surveys of the users of the Gault Nature Reserve. By analyzing these results and making recommendations at a future board meeting, students will have the chance to directly influence the future of this great resource. In Autumn 2013, an MSE 401 group interviewed more than 150 Gault visitors. Their work was very well received, and students gave an hour-long presentation to the board to great interest. Despite the solid information gathered, one possibly crucial aspect was missing from their work. Students were beginning this work from scratch, and as they developed their questions, the heaviest visitation period of the year at Gault was underway. Their interviews missed this huge influx of once-per-year visitors. This year, students will begin from the base questions developed last year, improving some questions and develop new ones, with a target period of early in the semester for data gathering. Then, students will be able to analyze the two data sets together, asking whether the answers differed significantly by time period. 

Additional Information:

Statistical base understanding, with skills to analyze data gathered from a variety of sources; Access to transportation to reserve; Bilingual students; Meeting Locations: MacDonald campus

Groups  3 and 4: Lac Ouareau - Water Management Study

Client: Lac Ouareau - Water Management Study

Supervisor: Prof. Frederic Fabry  

Project description

Lac Ouareau is a large freshwater lake near Saint Donat, approximately 70 minutes north of Montreal in the Laurentians. The lake has in the past been affected by a variety of environmental problems such as shore erosion and blue-green algae outbreak. Our client, Camp Ouareau, would like us to help find a solution to some of these problems.

One of the challenges is that regulations controlling the lake's use, and ultimately its health, are complicated by virtue of the lake's location within the boundaries of two municipalities, Saint Donat and Notre-Dame de la Merci -- each with their own governing structures and policies. The lake level for example is controlled by a dam situated in Saint-Donat.

This project will be a follow-up of a past ENVR 401 project from 2011 (Adams et al. 2011).  At that time, focus was on comparing the health of Lac Ouareau with that of other lakes across Quebec and on suggesting improvements that could be made to the sewage treatment system to ensurwe that it is health in the future.  At this time we have not "nailed down" the specific problems that the two groups under Prof. Fabry will tackle, as contacts with the client are at their initial stages. There is interest in studying the periphyton levels in the lake which serves as an early indicator of perturbation in recreational lakes (Carignan et al. 2008).  

Adams, S.E., N. Al Tonobey, P. Kaukoranta, M. Lawrynowicz, B. Levenstein, S. Maniatakou, and L. Toth, 2011:  Sewage Treatment and Lake Eutrophication.  Final report for ENVR 401, 34 pp.

Carignan, R., A. Cattaneo and D. Lambert, 2008:  Periphyton as an early indicator of perturbation in recreational lakes.  Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 65, 258.

Group 5: Mandatory Reporting Standards for the Extractive Sector and their Significance for Canadian First Nations Communities

Client: Chiefs of Ontario

Supervisor: Dr. Julia Freeman

Project description

In light of changing legislation and widespread media coverage of the oil and gas industries in Canada, there is much to learn regarding the relationships and exchanges between the Federal Government, the extractive sector, and First Nations communities. The Government of Canada has committed to mandatory reporting standards for the extractive sector (those companies involved in the commercial development of oil, natural gas, and minerals) by June 2015. This is intended to increase transparency between companies and all levels of government, including Aboriginal entities. First Nations are supportive of increased transparency, however, it is not yet known what specific benefits or drawbacks this new legislation will hold for First Nations communities who will see a deduction in transfer payments from the Federal government whenever First Nations receive additional revenue (regardless whether this is in the form of currency, stocks, or in-kind services such as infrastructure improvements) from the extractive sector.

 A number of important questions emerge regarding the potential impact of new mandatory reporting standards for the extractive sector for Canadian First Nations communities. These include:

  • How have transparency initiatives in other countries affected indigenous peoples?
  • In what ways has impact benefit agreements helped or hindered resource development in aboriginal communities?
  • And at a fundamental level, how does the application of this legislation translate the international principles it seeks to articulate?

 This research will contribute to the Chiefs of Ontario (COO) preparation for their committee appearance regarding the new legislation over Fall 2014 and Winter 2015.

Additional Information:  http://www.chiefs-of-ontario.org/about-us and http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/media-room/backgrounder/2014/15565

Group 6: Investigating Inequality and Structural Racism in Montreal's Food System

Client: Justice Alimentaire Montreal

Supervisor: Dr. Julia Freeman

Project description

While geographic accessibility to food is not generally considered a concern for residents of Montréal (Apparicio, Cloutier and Shearmur, 2007) there may well be subtler dimensions of inequality in evidence regarding access to varied, healthy and affordable food for particular groups. The Solidarity and Structural Racism in Montréal Food Systems (SSRMFS) Working Group has coalesced around the investigation of inequalities within our food system rooted in institutional racism. It is part of the community activist group Justice Alimentaire Montréal (Montréal Food Justice) which seeks to critique the traditional agro-industrial food system and identify power dynamics within that food system that are prejudicial to marginal populations.

Research for the SSRMFS Working Group and Justice Alimentaire Montréal will increase our understanding of the nature of the food system at work in the city. This project will take up an analysis of the distribution (across a range of dimensions – from the spatial to the demographic) of access and injustice across Montréal’s food systems, asking:

  • What is the nature and distribution of food in/equality in the city?
  • What relationships exist between the sources, nutritional value, and affordability of food for residents of marginal neighborhoods?

Additional Information:  http://convergence.jamontreal.com and Alkon, Alison Hope, and Julian Agyeman. Cultivating food justice: race, class, and sustainability. MIT Press, 2011

Groups 7 and 8:  Changing environments, competing interests, and scenario planning for Prince Edward Island 

Client: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Supervisor: Prof. Brian Leung 

Project description

We currently exist at a time of environmental change and increasing economic/social pressures. Not surprisingly, different governmental organizations have different mandates. These may be uncoordinated and potentially even conflicting. Governmental bodies act in silos even within single institutions, even when optimization for one objective must affect other objectives. For instance, the DFO has as part of its mandate the Fisheries Act, the Oceans Act, and the Species at Risk Act. Supporting fisheries and aquaculture (a mandate within the fisheries act), may have consequences for conservation efforts (e.g., eel grass, sea birds). Conversely, focus entirely on conservation may limit the development of fisheries. It remains an open question how exactly to balance these competing objectives, and whether it is possible to have a more integrated management plan. Are there ways to partition marine spatial usage to maximize multiple objectives? Do moderate gains for one mandate have disproportionately large impacts on another mandate? Do the trade-offs make sense? Moreover, given that we rarely exist in pristine environments, and that we expect the world to change, how management actions actually coincide with the stated objectives is debatable (e.g., preservation versus resilience). Science potentially has much to offer these discussions, but often the questions we ask are from a narrower perspective, and may not directly address questions of interest to managers, policy makers or the public. Here, we have the opportunity to make science more relevant to policy.

Additional Information:  In this project, your objective would be to 1) determine who are the main stakeholder/governmental groups. 2) Conduct interviews to determine differences in mandates and viewpoints, how these mandates may interact, either synergistically or antagonistically. 3) Identify alternative management scenarios (e.g., spatial planning), and their trade-offs. 4) Determine the scientific evidence for the feasibility and outcomes of the alternative scenarios (i.e., why do we believe what we believe?). 5) determine the gaps in our knowledge. In combination, this work may help to illustrate alternative possibilities, identify relevant questions, and to influence ways that DFO conceptualizes the problems of marine ecosystem management.

Group 9: McGill's Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Client: McGill Facilities, Operations and Development

Supervisor: Mr. George McCourt

Project description

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG’s) that are related to the operation of a particular entity (e.g. an industry, an organization, an institution) have been classified into “Scopes” based on whether the source of the GHG emissions is directly or indirectly related to the operation of that particular entity. Scope 1 GHG emissions are the emissions that are directly released from sources owned or controlled by the entity. These emissions would include the direct burning of fossil fuels by the entity (EPA Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions Website, 2012). Scope 2 GHG emissions are indirect emissions that result from the purchase of electricity or steam that is produced off site of the entity (EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Website, 2012). Scope 3 GHG emissions are also indirect emissions but are not directly related to the daily operations of the entity. These emissions might include employee travel and commuting, waste disposal and wastewater treatment (EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Website, 2012).

Within Canada and the province of Quebec the GHG conversion factors that determine the Scope 1 (Fossil fuels burned) and Scope 2 (Purchased electricity/steam) emissions have been well defined but the GHG conversion factors that define the Scope 3 emissions (related to travel, waste management, water treatment)  have been poorly defined for the Canadian context or the provinces. This also applies for educational institutions like McGill. Jerome Conraud of McGill’s Facilities, Operations and Development has been working on a greenhouse gas emission report for the university over the past few years. The Scope 1 and 2 GHG emission conversion factors for McGill are well defined but and very few organizations or institutions have reported on Scope 3 GHG emission conversion factors that might help McGill determine their total GHG contributions. So far, Mr. Conraud has been using conversion factors taken from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for domestic & construction waste & disposal and conversion factors taken from the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for water treatment and supply.

This project aims to examine the Scope 3 GHG emissions in the context of McGill and to develop or adapt a set of GHG conversion factors that are applicable to McGill. In addition, the development of a set of “made-in Canada” GHG conversion factors for McGill could be shared with the Greater Montreal area and possibly with other Canadian educational institutions to allow these entities to develop a true inventory of their GHG emissions.

Some questions that this project might consider:

1)       How might we adapt the US EPA factors to McGill’s context (esp. average distance from collection site to landfill, methane management, etc.)?

2)       How might we adapt the UK DEFRA factors to McGill’s context (fresh water treatment, losses on the network, used water treatment)

3)       Would these factors hold true for the Macdonald Campus? There is little data available regarding student, staff and faculty commuting to and from the Macdonald Campus. 

4)       How does the management of McGill’s dangerous waste contribute to the total GHG emissions?  (nuclear waste sent to Chalk River, ON; bio-hazard waste sent to Moncton, NB; tubes and ballasts sent to local recycling company; IT equipment; solvents; etc.)

Additional Information: 

Green House Gas Protocol -  http://www.ghgprotocol.org/calculation-tools/faq

EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions - http://www.epa.gov/greeningepa/ghg/

Measuring Scope 3 Emissions - http://www.carbontrust.com/resources/faqs/services/scope-3-indirect-carbon-emissions

Measuring and Reporting Environmental Impacts - https://www.gov.uk/measuring-and-reporting-environmental-impacts-guidance-for-businesses

Group 10: Economy and ecology of the Missisquoi River bioregion

Client: Missisquoi River Basin Association (MRBA)

Supervisor: Prof. Gregory Mikkelson

Project description

The rugged, several-hundred-million-year-old Missisquoi River cuts from headwaters in Québec and Vermont straight through the Green Mountains; flows past forests, fields, farms, and the occasional town; and empties into Lake Champlain.  Concern over increasing pollution of the lake has prompted governmental and non-governmental organizations on both sides of the border to study and promote the health of the river's watershed.  So far attention has focused on a single chemical element – phosphorous (P) – and ways of slowing its release into bodies of water.  For example, our client has organized citizens to monitor P levels in the river, and plant trees along its banks to prevent P release through erosion (as well as many other related activities).

This 401 group will take a broader look at the watershed of the Missisquoi River.  The first step will be a synthesis of previous research done in both Québec and Vermont on the proximal causes of harm (and benefit) to the ecosystem.  Next will come an analysis of more distal causes, such as human population size and economic activity; dams, roads, pipelines, and other human infrastructure; and the traffic of various kinds that those structures facilitate.  Finally, the group will suggest ways that an organization like the MRBA could affect these underlying drivers of ecological change.

All members of the group should have strong writing and statistical skills.  We also must have some with expertise in geographical information systems, and some with proficiency in written and spoken French.

Additional Information:  Vermont Agency of Natural Resources 2004.  Basin 6:  Missisquoi River Watershed Assessment Report  www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov/mapp/docs/mp_basin6assessmntrpt.pdf

Group 11: Walkability of new urban spaces in India: A case study of Greater Noida

Client: Shiv Nadar Univesity, UP, India and Shiv Nadar Foundation-India

Supervisor: Prof. Raja Sengupta

Project description

India's periurban spaces are experiencing exponential urbanization due to large scale migration to urban spaces. This is giving rise to a number of satellite cities, such as Greater Noida, which maintain a connection to the urban core of India's National Capital Region (NCR), comprising of the capital city Delhi and immediate suburbs like Noida, UP.

Initially, Greater Noida was developed as a "planned city" with the intention of creating a new industrial and special economic zone for export-oriented industries at the height of India's economic boom. However, the structured layout of Greater Noida emphasizes organization over convenience for most of its residents, and results in different realities for upper middle class residents living in gated communities, and its less affluent members who provide services for them.

This project proposes to utilize satellite image (IRS LISS III) data for Greater Noida along with GIS based network analysis tools to analyze the walkability of this new planned city. The GIS analysis will be supported by a telephone and in-person survey conducted in parallel by Dr. Prasad Pathak and his research assistants. The goal will be to analyze socio-economic disparities in mobility of a "planned city" in the Indian context.

Additional Information: Prerequisites: Knowledge of and introductory courses in Remote Sensing/GIS.

Group 12: Divesting McGill Pension Funds from Fossil Fuel-Related Investments

Client: The Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC)

Supervisor: Prof. Raja Sengupta

Project description

Canadian fossil fuel divestment campaigns, including Divest McGill, are currently working to challenge some of the dominant notions of responsible investment at their institutions.  For example, most universities put an emphasis on violations of laws in determining whether a company poses an ethical problem for continued investment.  Furthermore, while divestment is a well-established tactic for creating social change, it is unclear how the specific strategies taken can alter divestment's impact.  This research project is intended to help provide important tools and strategy to help further fossil fuel divestment campaigns across Canada.

This project will seek to explore the extent to which there are violations of international, national, or regional laws from a selection of fossil fuel companies in the Carbon Tracker 200 that McGill and other Canadian schools are invested in, and evaluate the ability of existing regulatory frameworks to capture any violations.  The project is suited to students interested in environmental policy, economics, law, finance, and social science.  It also combines business, NGO, and institutional dynamics.  The final output of the research will include the development of an evidence-based strategy resport with resources to help further the campaigns.  In addition to this report, a creative component designed to summarize the relevant findings of the report in a accesssible format, such as an infographic or online tool, would be an asset and help broaden the research's audience.

About the client:  The CYCC was founded in 2006 by 45 youth-focused and environmental organizations across the country to give youth a stronger voice in challenging climate change.  Its mission is "to educate, empower, and mobilize youth to take action," and it does so through partnerships with schools, campuses, and communities.