Students honoured for innovative arctic research
By Anne Craig, Communications Officer
Three Queen’s graduate students and one doctoral graduate have been recognized for their leadership in arctic research with the prestigious W. Garfield Weston Award for Northern Research. Sarah Thompson, Ashley Rudy, Emily Stewart and Joshua Thienpont study environmental challenges facing the Canadian North, including wastewater management, lake ecosystem changes and expansion, and permafrost hazards.
Sarah Thompson, a master’s student in Civil Engineering, received the award for her research, which aims to better understand the performance of existing passive wastewater systems in Nunavut communities and across the North. The mechanisms currently used for wastewater treatment are not ideal for northern locations due to extreme climate and limited human and financial resources in small communities. Passive treatment systems could be viable but are understudied in terms of their actual performance in severe arctic conditions.
“If we can successfully optimize passive treatment, northern residents will be able to independently operate a safe wastewater treatment system without a large economic burden,” says Ms. Thompson.
Ashley Rudy, a PhD candidate in Geography, studies the risks of permafrost degradation. Environmental changes in the arctic are leading to the degradation of permafrost, creating a serious risk for infrastructure and the potential to alter environmental and ecological stability. Ms. Rudy’s research is focused on developing landscape models to identify and map areas in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut that are susceptible to surface disturbance and likely to be affected by permafrost degradation in the future. She is using a combination of advanced satellite image analysis, field mapping and modeling to classify landscape hazard.
“The susceptibility maps and methodology developed in this research will contribute to hazard and risk assessments in Arctic communities, resource development, and broader land management practices, particularly in a changing climate regime,” says Ms. Rudy.
Emily Stewart, a PhD candidate in Biology, studies how permafrost degradation affects plant and animal life in lakes. Recent climate warming has led to the degradation of permafrost in several areas in the Northwest Territories, which is leading to changes in water chemistry and plant and animal life in lakes. Ms. Stewart uses biological, chemical and physical information contained in lake sediments to examine what changes have taken place over time. Her research will show how the lakes are responding, including the insects who live in the lake, by examining their fossil remains that have accumulated in the sediment.
“This research will expand on our knowledge of the impacts of climate warming in the circumpolar region, as this is the greatest environmental threat the North is now facing,” says Ms. Stewart.
Recent Queen’s PhD (Biology) graduate Joshua Thienpont, who studies the response of arctic lakes to climate and landscape changes, received the W. Garfield Weston Postdoctoral Fellowship in Northern Research, which he will use to continue his research at Brock University. Dr. Thienpont will build on his PhD work on the effects of multiple stressors on lake ecosystems within the context of a rapidly changing climate.