AU research improves understanding of aquatic health
Three research chairs at Athabasca University are working on important issues related to water as part of the university’s Athabasca River Basin Research Institute.
We want to highlight their work as March 22, 2022, marks the 30th World Water Day. Since 1993, the United Nations has recognized this day as a way to draw attention to the importance of fresh water. The theme for World Water Day in 2022 is groundwater, and how this valuable resource must be sustainably managed as climate change worsens.
The university’s campus is in Athabasca, Alberta, a community on the Athabasca River—one of the largest rivers in the province and one that plays a major role in Alberta’s ecology, history, and economy. This puts the university in a unique position to further scientific and public understanding of the significance of the basin, and on the significance of the fresh water within it.
The Athabasca River Basin Research Institute
The institute was created in 2008 as an interdisciplinary centre to study the Athabasca River Basin and its people from a broad range of perspectives. It serves as a hub to foster multidisciplinary relationships bridging academia, government, non-governmental organizations, industry, and communities.
While the institute and its members have been involved in interdisciplinary research projects over the years, including partnering with the town of Hinton and Grande Cache to look at sustainability options for resource-based rural communities, current work focuses on researchers look at water-related issues within the river basin.
Modelling aquatic and terrestrial systems
Dr. Junye Wang, the Campus Alberta Innovation Program Research Chair in Computational Sustainability and Environmental Analytics, leads an interdisciplinary team that works to develop a modelling framework of integrated terrestrial and aquatic systems to be able to directly simulate dynamics of nutrients, soil, vegetation, water, and pollutants within the Athabasca River Basin.
“This provides spatial and temporal patterns of water resources, pollutants, and greenhouse gases to assess the combined environmental effects from multiple land-use activities and climate change, thereby providing a new tool to help design more informative monitoring systems and experiments,” he said.
Water movement in northern Alberta
Dr. Scott Ketcheson, Canada Research Chair in Hydrological Sustainability, is a field-based hydrologist whose research focuses on working towards ecosystem sustainability through understanding hydrological processes.
He and his team study the movement of water between forests, wetlands, and streams in northern Alberta within the Athabasca River Basin—all the water from which ends up in the Peace-Athabasca Delta, one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas that is designated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site.
“At the regional scale, knowledge generated from this research will support environmental monitoring and inform land management decisions,” he said. “This research also has implications and applicability in all ecosystems receiving water downstream within the Athabasca River Basin.”
Environmental factors and aquatic animal health
Dr. Chris Glover, Campus Alberta Innovation Program Research Chair for Hydroecology and Environmental Health, works with a team to examine ecological impacts and risks to the upper and lower Athabasca regions. This work puts emphasis on the effects of environmental contaminants in communities and the natural environment within the Athabasca River Basin.
Developing a mechanistic understanding of how environmental factors and toxicants have an impact on aquatic animal health contributes to modelling those effects. This in turn increases understanding of the impact of stressors across environments and species.
“This approach means that studies on just a few species can be used to predict effects of environmental change in aquatic systems worldwide,” he said.
Learn more about the research taking place on the Athabasca River Basin Research Institute website.
Athabasca University’s Faculty of Science and Technology has many options for course at the undergraduate level to increase your understanding of the internationally significant issues surrounding fresh water.