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NSERC funds PermafrostNet as a Strategic Partnership Network!

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will provide more than $5 million over five years to fund PermafrostNet, a Canadian research network of 12 universities, including Laurentian University, and more than 40 partner organizations. “The network focuses on permafrost degradation to determine where, when, and how permafrost thaw is occurring and what are the consequences of this thaw for northern infrastructure and northerners across the Canadian North” says Dr. Pascale Roy-Leveillee of the Laurentian University Permafrost Research Laboratory, one of the Network co-principal investigators.

Permafrost underlies more than one-third of the Canadian land surface and nearly all of it will experience thaw during the 21st century. The resulting disruption to natural and human systems will influence the lives of northerners and access to natural resources.

The network research will focus on 5 themes: 1) characterization of permafrost, to fill important gaps in our knowledge of Canadian permafrost extent and characteristics (11 students); 2) monitoring, to ensure we have the means to detect and quantify change in permafrost conditions (8 students); 3) prediction, to improve simulations of changing permafrost and integration with Global Climate Models, and to insure stakeholders can use the model outputs (8 students); 4) hazards, to understand what impacts the observed and predicted permafrost degradation can have on infrastructure, environmental resources, ecosystems and health (9 students); 5) adaptation to permafrost degradation, to support northerners as they prepare for and deal with permafrost thaw and its consequences (9 students).

“The network has the research capacity that no single group or agency can provide and can transform knowledge and practice on a national scale to position Canada as a leader in permafrost research” Indicates Dr. Stephan Gruber, the PermafrostNet Lead, who is professor and Canada Research Chair in Climate Change Impacts/Adaptation in Northern Canada at Carleton University.

The objective of the highly competitive NSERC Strategic Partnership Grants for Networks is to increase research and training in targeted areas, contributing to a better quality of life in Canada. Only two networks were funded this year across Canada

Goodman School of Mines invests in permafrost studies at Laurentian University

The  Goodman School of Mines announced via its executive director, Dr. Bruce Jago, that it will be making a significant investment in a new permafrost laboratory and permafrost science training at Laurentian University over a period of three years. This training aims to give students the opportunity to gain practical field-based and laboratory-based experience in permafrost science, and to graduate with cutting-edge, concrete, and marketable field and laboratory experience in permafrost assessment and monitoring.

Left to right: Dr. Elizabeth Dawes (Dean, Faculty of Arts), Nathan Romahn (student), Dr. Pascale Roy-Léveillée (Assistant Professor of geography) Krystal Siebert (student), and Dr. Bruce Jago (Executive director, Goodman School of Mines).

Laurentian University students are already directly benefiting from this support. Emma Ciric will be traveling to central Yukon this summer to investigate controls on rates of permafrost degradation in the Blackstone Uplands as part of her undergraduate thesis in Geography. Nathan Roman will be joining her for his ADVL internship, to gain practical experience working as a technician and logistics coordinator for research and monitoring activities in remote areas. Krystal Siebert is working on a GIS-based project related to permafrost degradation and organic carbon. At least two other students are scheduled to begin graduate and undergraduate theses in 2017, and we are hoping several other students will be joining our team in the coming year.

Laurentian University, with its long-standing relationship with the mining industry and its proximity to the Hudson Bay Lowlands, is in a strategic position to respond to the increasing demand for skilled permafrost technicians, consultants, and scientists resulting from increased infrastructure development in the Canadian Arctic and Subarctic.  In these regions, the ice content and temperature of underlying permafrost can be major concerns for infrastructure development, waste disposal, water contamination risk assessment, environmental monitoring, and site recovery.

The new permafrost laboratory, a new 4th year permafrost course (GEOG4256), directed studies on permafrost issues, and related undergraduate thesis projects will be housed in the School of Northern and Community Studies, within the Faculty of Arts. Graduate thesis projects will take place within the MSc Biology and the PhD Boreal Ecology programs. These courses and projects will be supervised by Dr. Pascale Roy-Léveillée, a new Laurentian University faculty member specialized in permafrost science who was appointed as assistant professor of Geography in January 2015, was appointed as adjunct professor in Biology in April 2015, and became a member of the Laurentian University Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit in April 2016.

Pascale Joins the Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit

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Pascale (with official hat!) and John Gunn, Director of the Vale Living with Lakes Centre and founding member of the Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit

Pascale became a member of the Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit at Laurentian University in March 2016. She received the infamous co-op ball cap at the Annual General Meeting, on April 12th, 2016, at the Vale Living with Lakes Centre.

The Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit was founded in 1989 as a partnership between Laurentian University and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and the  Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to help address applied environmental research questions related to environmental restoration and management. Its partners include researchers from several universities, industry, and the City of Sudbury.

Pascale looks forward to new collaborations with members of the Co-op to develop research projects focused on interactions between permafrost and freshwater in Ontario’s North. Discussions are on-going regarding the development of projects focused on permafrost conditions and vulnerability in the Hudson Bay Lowlands.