Receiving Ontario’s highest honour


Receiving Ontario’s highest honour

Queen’s researcher John Smol's groundbreaking work on protecting lakes and ecosystems is recognized with the Order of Ontario.

By Jasmine Fung, Communications and Strategic Initiatives Assistant

November 6, 2023


Dr. John Smol

Dr. John Smol, former Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change.

Queen’s researcher John Smol is one of the foremost experts internationally in the study of long-term global environmental changes to lakes and rivers. The former Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, Dr. Smol (Biology) has been recognized with more than 80 teaching, research, and outreach awards over the span of his 40-year career and is now adding the Order of Ontario to that growing list. 

Nationally and internationally, Dr. Smol’s research and teaching have had profound impacts in advancing our understanding of pressing environmental issues. Recently, he was honoured by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden with the Vega Medal, sometimes referred to as equivalent to a Nobel Prize in Geography, for his prolific contributions to the field of paleolimnology. Closer to home, Dr. Smol is among this year’s 26 recipients recognized with the province’s highest honour for outstanding achievements.  

"On behalf of a grateful province, congratulations to the 2022 appointees of the Order of Ontario," said Michael Ford, Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism. "The Order of Ontario honours and celebrates impressive leaders and trailblazers who represent the best of our great province from a variety of sectors. Their outstanding dedication, achievements, and lifetime of service have made a difference in their communities and in building a stronger Ontario."

The Order of Ontario honours residents in Ontario who have demonstrated a high level of excellence and achievement in their field of work. It recognizes exceptional leaders from all walks of life whose impact and lasting legacy have played an important role in building a stronger province, country, and world. As a paleolimnologist, Dr. Smol has been credited for demonstrating how lake deposits help us understand the impact of environmental concerns such as lake eutrophication, acidification, contaminant transport, fisheries management, and climate change, especially in the Arctic. His research and teaching – both in the classroom and with the public-at-large – have increased the awareness of human contributions to climate change in the last century and the need to protect bodies of water around the world.

"I am delighted and honoured to be named an Order of Ontario recipient and yet it always feels odd to get recognition for something you love doing – namely teaching, writing, and doing research and public outreach," says Dr. Smol. "Working with such a wonderful group of dedicated students and colleagues makes what I do feel more like a hobby than a job. I came to Ontario (and Kingston) as a graduate student, and never left. I feel very privileged to be able to work on lakes and other environmental issues in such a beautiful city, in such a beautiful province, and in such a beautiful country."

Recently, Dr. Smol and his Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab (PEARL) was part of a team that identified alarming triggers marking the impact of climate change in some of North America’s largest and deepest lakes. The research team found that the rapid restructuring of algal communities in Great Slave Lake in the 21st century was clearly linked to declining lake ice cover and other climate-related changes that were unparalleled in at least the last 200 years. These changes at the bottom of the food web have unknown ramifications for the functioning of fisheries and aquatic ecosystems and their resulting impacts on First Nations, Métis, and other northern communities. Their research on these rapid changes in the biological communities of northern lakes marks the crossing of important ecological thresholds in response to accelerated Arctic warming.

To learn more about the Order of Ontario and this year's recipients, visit the Ontario Newsroom.

"Dr. John Smol is recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on long-term changes to lakes and rivers. His impact echoes far beyond academic circles to inspire and educate policymakers and regulators. He is credited with demonstrating how paleolimnology, the study of lake deposits, enables the ability to trace humanity’s impact on the environment over time and has led to increased protection of inland waters and beyond." – 2022 Appointees to the Order of Ontario

Environment and Sustainability
Physical Sciences and Engineering
Arts and Science
Climate Action
Life Below Water
Life On Land