Dr. Melissa Lafrenière


Dr. Melissa Lafrenière



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I typically accept1- 3 graduate students (M.Sc. or Ph.D.) in the fall of each year. Prospective students should have a background in environmental earth sciences (including physical geography, earth science, and/or environmental science) or a related scientific discipline. Prospective students interested in the research projects described on this web site, or who would like to discuss ideas for original projects pertaining to the hydrology or biogeochemistry of permafrost watersheds, are encouraged to contact me. Please include a C.V. and a brief statement of your research interests. Application regulations and deadlines as well as information on funding and scholarship opportunities can be found on the Geography and Planning Department webpage


I typically hire 1 or 2 undergraduate research assistants (lab and field work) for the summer. There are also opportunities to participate in part time work in the FaBRECC during the Fall and Winter terms. If you are interested in undergraduate research please contact me to discuss opportunities and your interests. Here are some awards and funding you may be eligible for as an undergraduate researcher at Queen's:

Summer NSERC Awards
Queen's Undergraduate Awards and Bursaries such as the Work Study program






Dr. Joanne Heslop (Robert Gilbert Post-Doctoral Fellow)

Photo of Dr. Joanne Heslop working on a rockface

My research objective is to couple dissolved organic matter biogeochemistry with microbial data to better understand how permafrost thaw and disturbance alters carbon cycling dynamics. Greenhouse gas production from thawed permafrost carbon is known to be controlled by the organic carbon composition, the microbial community structure, and their response to thaw. However, due to their complexity these mechanisms remain poorly understood. This research aims to improve understanding of how these mechanisms affect greenhouse gas production in the Canadian High Arctic, with implications towards better understanding circumpolar permafrost carbon cycling.



Nanor Momejian (Ph.D. student)

My overall research aim is to numerically model the seasonal change in Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) flux in surface runoff in High Arctic watersheds. My goal in developing a numerical approach is to help understand the impacts of climate change on permafrost environments. I aim to use the SWAT (Soil and Water Assessment Tool), model in my studies, which has proven to present hydrological and biogeochemical systems per HRU (Hydrological Response Units). The numerical model will be applied for the West River at Cape Bounty Arctic Watershed Observatory (CBAWO), with the aim to develop a tool/method that is appropriate for modeling the hydrology and the biogeochemistry of other High-Arctic watersheds.

Daniel Lamhonwah (Ph.D. candidate, co-supervised with S. Lamoureux)

Daniel LamhonwahAs a cold regions hydrologist, I am interested in how climate change impacts on the permafrost (i.e. deep ground thaw, slope disturbances, and permafrost degradation) will alter the surface and subsurface flowpaths of water, and the quality of water in streams and rivers. How, where and when water flows are key controls to the mobilization of solutes, nutrients and sediments in an Arctic watershed. My work involves a variety of field and analytical methods including frozen soil core drilling, discharge monitoring, sampling of surface water, precipitation and ground water, and stable isotope ratio and ion concentration analyses. My main study site is Cape Bounty, Melville Island, NU, however my collaborative research with ADAPT (Arctic Development and Adaptation to Permafrost in Transition) has given me the opportunity to partner with several laboratories in Canada and work with permafrost samples from across the Canadian Arctic (see publications 30, 32).

Matt Gillman (M.Sc. student, co-supervised with S. Lamoureux)

Photo of Matt Gillman working in the fieldA key objective of my research is to understand the development of hydraulic gradients and subsurface preferential flow pathways adjacent to streamflow in the High Arctic at the Cape Bounty Arctic Watershed Observatory on Melville Island, Nunavut. Further focus is directed towards investigating seasonal dynamics of nitrogen, a nutrient that is limiting to primary production, in subsurface waters along the hillslope-hyporheic-channel continuum and relating biogeochemical processes to hydrological conditions. With this research I hope to provide insight into both the role of hydrological conditions in controlling nutrient characteristics of subsurface waters, and how subsurface hydrology and seasonal nutrient dynamics may be influenced by a changing climate in the High Arctic (see publication 35).

Gillian Thiel (M.Sc. student)

Photo of Gillian Thiel working in the fieldThe aim of my research is to understand how climate warming affects organic matter cycling in High Arctic watersheds. Specifically, I am interested in identifying key controls on the biodegradability of organic matter and how they vary seasonally and spatially at the CBAWO. A better understanding of these controls is important since the mobilization of biodegradable organic matter affects the health of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the Arctic and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, which amplify climate warming. Gillian was a recipient of an NSERC PGS-M award (2015-2016), and recipient of the Garfield Weston Master’s student award, as well Queen’s University’s TD Fellowship for Arctic Studies.

Karine Rioux (M.Sc. student, co-supervised with D. Fortier at Université de Montréal)

Photo of Karine Rioux working in the fieldThe aim of Karine’s research is to examine the impact of thermo-erosion gullies on the seasonal dynamics, composition and total export of dissolved and particulate organic carbon (DOC and POC). The study site consists of a gully network in ice wedge polygons within the Qarlikturvik Valley (also known as glacier C-79 valley), on the southwestern plain of Bylot Island. The geomorphic evolution and hydrology of the main gully of interest has been studied in detail since it’s formation in 1999.  Thermo-erosion gullies have the potential act as important vectors for the transfer of carbon and nutrients from terrestrial to aquatic systems, and thus significantly alter terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem carbon dynamics in Arctic environments. This research aims to determine the quantity and lability of the carbon moving through the thermo erosion gullies in this High Arctic environment. Karine is a student at the Geocryolab at the Université de Montréal and with the Centre d’études Nordique (CEN), and recipient of an NSERC PGS-M award. 


Hannah Boomer (B.Sc.H. Geogaphy) 


Steve Koziar (MSc)

Steve received his BSc in Environmental Chemistry at the University of Waterloo and MASc in Environmental Engineering from Dalhousie. Over this time, Steve's love for chemistry expanded to include instrumentation and statistics. Steve enjoys training students on scientific equipment and processes, writing up standard operating procedures, and running stats from instrument runs. Steve can rinse seven 40-mL EPA vials in one hand! Outside of the lab, Steve is a loving husband and an active father to four little monkeys.



Dr. Julien Fouché (Post Doctoral Fellow, 2015-2017)

Photo of Dr. Julien Fouche in a tropical setting

My research aims to better understand the impact of the Arctic warming and permafrost degradation on the carbon cycle in soils and rivers. At Queen’s University as part of the ADAPT project, I work on assessing the amount and the optical properties of the dissolved organic matter that will become available to microbial activity and export with permafrost degradation. This study intends to provide the first wide picture of the composition of the organic compounds stored in the Canadian permafrost.

Key words: Canadian Arctic, Permafrost Carbon Feedback, Dissolved Organic Matter, Absorbance and Fluorescence, PARAFAC (see publication 31).

Dr. Scott Montross (Post Doctoral Fellow 2011-2013)

Dr. Montross’ research aimed to develop a geochemical-based modelling framework that could be used to predict the extent of landscape controls and downstream water quality, and to evaluate the sensitivity of water quality to permafrost disturbance on the Sabine Peninsula, Melville Island, Nunavut. By studying the geochemistry of soil and water in disturbed and undisturbed areas it is possible to determine the range of physiographic and biogeochemical processes that effect water quality in this high arctic landscape. His research also involved examining the microbial community structure in soils and stream water from disturbed and undisturbed permafrost sites on Melville Island (see publication 34).

Dr. Ted Lewis (2009-2010)

Dr. Lewis’s research involved using computer models to predict how these changes will affect the Cape Bounty lakes and their watersheds. River discharge, sediment flux, and limnologic data collected at Cape Bounty from 2003-2008 will was used to calibrate the models to modern conditions in the watersheds. Then regional climate model output for climate change scenarios will be used to predict future watershed conditions. Dr. Lewis completed his B.Sc(H). and M.Sc. at Queen's University, and\ Ph.D. at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, primarily studying physical lacustrine processes and annually laminated sedimentary deposits in the Canadian High Arctic (see publications 9, 14, 15).


Dr. Vivian Wasiuta (Ph.D. 2014)

Vivian WasiutaSulfur and reactive nitrogen deposited in the alpine of the Southern Canadian Rockies: quantification and assessment of the main factors influencing deposition

Dr. Wasiuta’s research examined atmospheric nitrogen (N) and sulphur (S) deposition in glaciated alpine valleys in the Canadian Southern Rocky Mountains. The purpose of the study was to quantify the magnitude of deposition at the study sites in comparison to alpine sites in the USA and Europe where detrimental effects of S and N deposition on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems have been documented. The research also examined the relative influences of anthropogenic and natural emission sources (for example from hydrocarbon combustion, agricultural emissions, and lithic dust) from local, regional, and distant emission sources. Atmospheric deposition was investigated using chemical (major ion and trace element) and stable isotope analyses (water δ18O & δ2H, sulphate δ34S & δ18O, and nitrate δ15N &δ18O) from precipitation accumulated in the seasonal snowpack on alpine glaciers along with samples of bulk summer precipitation (see publications 25, 26, 28). Vivian was the recipient of an NSERC PGS-D award for her Doctoral research.

Elizabeth Kjikjerkovska (MSc. 2016)

Elizabeth KjikjerkovskaLong-term hydroclimatic change and internannual variability in water sources, Apex River (Iqaluit), Baffin Island, Nunavut.

Ms. Kikjerkovska’s research project examined the impacts of climate on the hydrology and sources and pathways of water in the Apex (Niaquguk) River near Iqaluit, Nunavut using stable water isotopes and conservative ions to investigate water sources. The Apex River watershed is of great importance because it is supporting a range of traditional and continuing land uses, and is projected to become a supplementary water supply in the growing community of Iqaluit. This research shows that there has been an increase in the mean annual surface air temperatures in Iqaluit in recent decades. Long-term changes in total precipitation or discharge could not be effectively assessed with the data records available.  However, the records did indicate that the duration of flow in the river has increased due to extended flow in the autumn.  Results from this study show that subsurface water and rainfall made significant contributions to late season runoff in 2013, suggesting that annual runoff maybe sensitive to autumn weather conditions. This research highlights the need for high-quality precipitation and discharge records for reliable assessments of the response of Arctic rivers to changing climate.

Nicole Louiseize (M.Sc. 2014)

Nicole LouiseizeImpact of active layer detachements on seasonal dynamics of nitrogen export in High Arctic watersheds

Ms. Louiseize’s research investigated the impact of permafrost disturbance on seasonal dissolved nitrogen export from headwater catchments in High Arctic watersheds. The study compare the sources and fluxes of N from disturbed and undisturbed watersheds at the Cape Bounty Arctic Watershed Observatory (CBAWO) in 2012. The study found that a catchment affected by active layer detachment slides (ALDs) exported substantially increased the flux of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), as a result of increases in nitrate (NO3-). The stable isotope ratios of the NO3- were used to determine the NO3-  exported from the disturbed catchment was largely mineralized (microbially derived) NO3- (see publications 20 & 33). 

Erin Doxsey-Whitfield (M.Sc. 2012)

Erin Doxsey-WhitfieldMagnitude and controls of microbial nitrate production in the streams and till of a glaciated alpine catchment, Canadian Rocky Mountains, Alberta

This research examined nitrogen (N) cycling within an alpine valley in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The research shows that waters emanating from longer residence time flowpaths (such as subglacial streams and proglacial seeps) acquired substantial NO3- from nitrification reactions.  The stable isotopes of nitrate indicated that the fraction of NO3- derived from microbial nitrification was estimated to be 44 to 56% in the two subglacial streams, and greater than 80% in proglacial seeps. These results show that atmospherically-derived nitrogen (N) in this glacial valley undergoes substantial biological cycling prior to export in surface runoff. In situ soil incubations indicated that substrate availability was a more important control on net mineralization and net nitrification rates than time since deglaciation or soil temperature. The high degree of variability in inorganic soil N pools and N-cycling rates indicates that there are likely hot spots of biogeochemical activity within glacial till.   Erin was the recipient of an NSERC PGS-M award for her thesis research.

Emil Laurin (M.Sc. 2010):

Emil LaurinThe impact of experimental snow augmentation on soil thermal regimes and nutrient fluxes from High Arctic headwater catchments

Mr. Laurin’s thesis research investigated the influence of increased snow accumulation on the soil thermal regime and nutrient fluxes from a series of experimental catchments at the CBAWO. The research fount that soil temperatures were 8-9°C warmer beneath a drift compared to ambient snow in the winter of 2006-2007, whereas soil temperatures were not significantly warmer beneath drifts compared to ambient snow in 2007-2008. Air and ground surface temperatures suggest that early snow accumulation in September of 2006-2007 insulated soils, while snow accumulation in 2007-2008 was insufficient to significantly insulate soils until late in winter. Discharge investigations showed that greater snow accumulation extended the duration of runoff by 30-80%, delayed peak flow, and increased runoff ratios. Augmented snow accumulation also resulted in greater fluxes of dissolved nutrients (DOC, DON, DIN) and total solutes in amended catchments relative to control sites. The seasonality of solute fluxes were also affected, with a greater proportion of inorganic solute fluxes occurring in the later portion of the runoff season compared to the controls (see also Publication 17)

Brock McCleod (M.Sc. 2008):

Brock McCleodThe Influence of Snowcover Distribution and Variable Melt Regimes on the Transport of Nutrients from Two High Arctic Watersheds

Mr. McLeod’s thesis examined the snow accumulation, runoff, and nutrient fluxes at Cape Bounty in 2005. An objective terrain classification was applied to the East and West watersheds to determine watershed snow water equivalence (SWE), using SWE measured at 42 sites in the different terrain classes across the watersheds. The terrain model confirmed that topography likely explains greater SWE in the West catchment, and showed that improved methods for estimating SWE in channels and snow banks are necessary to accurately estimate watershed SWE. The results of the nutrient flux investigations support that the flushing of terrestrial nutrients (DOC, DON, and DIN) from surficial soils by snowmelt runoff primarily controls nutrient export. However, the East watershed had much higher specific fluxes of DOC and DON during the melt season, despite having half the SWE of the West watershed, indicating that runoff had greater connectivity with OM sources early in the melt season in the East watershed.


Bridget Rusk (2015-2016 BScH GPHY)

Photo of Bridget Rusk working in the field

Characterization of the geochemical processes and importance of subsurface water input at the confluence of the Apex River, Iqaluit, NU.

I was involved with the FaBRECC lab both as a holder of a summer NSERC USRA (2015, 2016) and as an Honours thesis student (2015). My study was to evaluate the water chemistry of the Apex River for the 2015 summer season. The composition of ions and isotopes at the confluence cannot be explained by simple mixing of the valley tributaries, and is hypothesized to indicate the existence of groundwater sourced from melting ground ice. The high mineral ion concentrations are indicative of subsurface flow, as subsurface rock weathering and salt dissolution provide a greater source of mineral ions than atmospherically deposited water. Based on preliminary results, it appears that the mineral ion concentrations increase as ground ice melts over the summer season, and thus it is likely these subsurface water inputs are coming from suprapermafrost water on the east side of the confluence.

Gillian Thiel (2015-2016 BScH ENSC)

Photo of Gillian Thiel working in the fieldInvestigating seasonal hydrology and its relationship with microbiological indicators in the Apex River watershed (Iqaluit, Nunavut)

The aim of this study was to characterize seasonal hydrology and dissolved organic matter (DOM) abundance and composition in the Apex River watershed in order to (1) identify water sources and pathways and (2) explore possible relationships between seasonal hydrology, DOM, and standard microbiological indicators (total coliforms (TC) and Escherichia coli). DOM exports from the smaller east tributary (ET) exhibited predominantly protein-like (autochthonous) while DOM from the larger west tributary (WT) demonstrated humic-like (allochthonous) and protein-like (autochthonous) fluorescence.  The rapid response of discharge to inputs indicated that snowmelt and precipitation runoff primarily follows overland pathways. Evidence of different controls on autochthonous DOM inputs at the Apex River outflow (AR), compared to ET, implies that the timing of labile DOC availability differs between the two sites. TC densities showed a correlation with protein-like fluorescence and biological freshness index (BIX). Results contribute to background knowledge, which policy-makers can use to establish policies that ensure the sustainability of Iqaluit’s water resources.

Katie Burd (2014-2015 BScH GPHY)
     Examining the source and flux of organic matter in the Apex River, Nunavut

Josh Papernick (2014-2015 BScH GPHY)
     The influence of permafrost disturbances and subsurface water sources on dissolved inorganic nitrogen in High Arctic Watersheds.

Luke Steer (2014-2015 BScH ENSC)
     The effects of seasonality on runoff generation and stream water origin in the Apex River watershed

Lily Chan (2013-2014, BAH GPHY)
     Nitrogen and dissolved organic matter composition in active layer soils affected by permafrost disturbances

Krysten Rutherford (2012-2013, B.ASc.H)

     Seasonal hydrology and permafrost disturbance as controls on the composition of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in High Arctic headwater streams
 (see Publication #31)

Heather Munro (2010-2011, B.ASc. H.)
     Impact of active layer detachments on dissolved organic carbon in five High Arctic subcatchments 
(see also Publication #19)