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Nigeria has a flooding challenge: here’s why and what can be done

Flooding constitutes a threat to Nigeria achieving the global sustainable development goals.

Flooding has become an increasingly common problem in Nigeria. (Unsplash / Francis Odeyemi)

One of the most prevalent natural disasters in Nigeria is perennial flooding. Some states are increasingly experiencing annual flooding during the rainy season.

Increasingly, a link is being made between the rising number of flood incidences and climate change.

Unlike some natural disasters, rainfall flooding can be controlled with proper planning and provision of necessary infrastructure. Nigeria’s flooding is mainly human induced with poor urban planning practices and inadequate environmental infrastructure being contributing factors.

In 2012, Nigeria experienced its worst flooding recorded in recent history. Total losses were put at US$16.9 billion.

The extent and nature of Nigeria’s flooding are such that the actual figures for displacements, losses and fatalities cannot be truly ascertained due to poor records and reporting.

But flooding threatens sustainability because it negatively affects the economy, health, social life and environment. Flooding constitutes a threat to Nigeria achieving the global sustainable development goals.

My recent paper highlights why. As part of my PhD research, I study flooding within the context of sustainable development, environmental justice and flood risk management.

The sustainable development goals are global goals for achieving environmental and human development by 2030. Of the 17 development goals, nine are directly affected by flooding. These include eradicating poverty and hunger as well as providing clean water and sanitation.

In the case of Nigeria, flooding has had a major impact on the country’s development goals in relation to the social, economic and environmental targets.

Drivers of flooding in Nigeria

Nigeria’s flooding is mostly human induced and exacerbated by human-nature interactions. Poor or non-existent drainage systems are a major cause of flooding.

Many residential areas have no drainage system and rely on natural drainage channels. Increasing urbanisation also means more areas are built with concrete and cannot absorb water, increasing runoff.

Poor waste management is another recognised factor. Citizens’ poor attitude to waste disposal and non-provision of waste disposal services by municipal authorities contributes to flooding. It is not uncommon to have drains blocked by refuse in urban areas.

Other factors are unregulated urban expansion – Nigeria is experiencing high urbanisation rates without commensurate provision of urban infrastructure and amenities. Agricultural lands are increasingly being converted to residential areas to accommodate housing needs.

But there’s lax implementation of planning laws. One consequence of this is the there have been construction projects on natural floodplains and storm water paths. This has exacerbated flooding.

Corruption is also a factor. It is not uncommon for town planning officials to accept bribes and overlook issues. These may include unauthorised use of land and alteration of approved construction plans.

Some citizens also capitalise on the loophole of ineffective development control and extend their buildings over the approved areas. Sometimes they go as far as building over drains.

What needs to be done

Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari recently blamed flooding for the rising food insecurity in the country.

But what is missing is appropriate action to mitigate the flooding. Currently, there is no flood management policy in Nigeria. The lack of relevant legal and policy frameworks is an indication of the low importance given to controlling and managing flooding in Nigeria.

Integration of flood risk management with spatial planning is the way to go.

Historically, Nigeria has been more focused on post-disaster flood response than control. Reducing and addressing exposure to flood risk is now a national priority in the Nigerian government’s disaster risk management agenda.

However, nothing concrete has been achieved. This is not encouraging despite the comprehensive post-disaster needs assessment conducted in 2012 by the federal government with international collaboration.

This raises questions on the political will to achieve this goal.

The government is not lacking research institutions and agencies with the skills to design a flood risk management strategy. For instance, the National Emergency Management Agency has a department of planning utilising geographical information system to work on flood data. Still, there are no effective national early warning system in place for floods at the federal, state, and local governments.

The Nigerian Meteorological Agency, on its part provides seasonal rainfall predictions, but communication remains a problem. Integration and coordination are lacking among the existing government bodies who sometimes carry out flood control projects without liaising with each other.

Sustainable urban planning and green infrastructure could also be combined with information and communication technology tools. Citizens can use these to communicate with the relevant authorities at the onset of flooding.

Addressing Nigeria’s perennial flooding is important for the country to make progress. The human-induced causes of flooding should be addressed urgently. Not doing this will delay its journey to sustainable development.The Conversation

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Adaku Jane Echendu, PhD student and Graduate Teaching Assistant, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

For the Record - Nov. 4, 2021

For the Record provides postings of appointment, committee, grant, award, and other notices set out by collective agreements and university policies and processes. It is the university’s primary vehicle for sharing this information with our community.

Submit For the Record information for posting to Gazette editor Andrew Carroll.

Selection Committee appointed for Head, Department of Sociology

Dr. Annette Burfoot’s term as Head of the Department of Sociology is scheduled to end on June 30, 2022. The Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Greenhas appointed a Selection Committee to advise him on the appointment of the next Head. The Selection Committee has the following membership: 

Elected Members

  • Thomas Abrams, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
  • Steve Baron, Professor, Department of Sociology
  • Nicole Myers, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
  • Alana Saulnier, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
  • Victoria Sytsma, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
  • Marc Epprecht, Cognate Faculty, Professor, Department of Global Development Studies
  • Michelle Underhill, Undergraduate Assistant, Department of Sociology
  • Spencer Huesken, Graduate Student, Department of Sociology
  • Holly Pavusa, Undergraduate Student, Department of Sociology
  • Chris DeLuca, Associate Dean, School of Graduate Studies
  • Bill Nelson (Chair), Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Danielle Gugler (Secretary), Administrative Assistant to the Vice-Dean & Associate Deans, Faculty of Arts and Science

Pursuant to Articles 41.3 and 41.3.6 of the Collective Agreement between Queen’s University Faculty Association and Queen’s University at Kingston, comments are invited on the present state and future prospects of the Department of Sociology by Nov. 24, 2021. Those interested may also submit names of possible candidates for the headship. Please send all comments, in confidence, to the attention of Danielle Gugler [danielle.gugler@queensu.ca]. All letters will be reviewed by the Selection Committee and will become part of the record of decision-making.

At the request of either the department members or the committee, a meeting can be arranged between the department and the committee to ascertain the department’s views on the qualities of a head. Once a shortlist has been established, it will be distributed to members of the department for further input on the merits of the respective candidate(s).

It may be extinct, but the story of the ivory-billed woodpecker isn’t over yet

It’s been 80 years since the last undisputed sighting of the striking black-and-white bird. The U.S. government believes the ivory-billed woodpecker is extinct — but many will keep searching for it.

The male ivorybill leaves as the female returns. Photo taken in Singer Tract, La., in April 1935. The last undisputed observation of an ivory-billed woodpecker occurred in 1944. (Arthur A. Allen/Wikipedia)
The male ivory-billed woodpecker leaves as the female returns. Photo taken in Singer Tract in Louisiana, in April 1935. The last undisputed observation of an ivory-billed woodpecker occurred in 1944. (Arthur A. Allen/Wikipedia)

Since the Endangered Species Act was established nearly 50 years ago in the United States, the Fish and Wildlife Service has prevented the extinction of more than 99 per cent of the species listed in the act. Unfortunately, even federal protection cannot totally protect American wildlife from what scientists call the “sixth mass extinction.”

In its most recent report to the U.S. government, the Fish and Wildlife Service identified 23 lost causes, including the Kauai O'o, Bachman’s warbler and seven freshwater mussel species. Few have caused as much outcry, though, as the iconic ivory-billed woodpecker.

Known as the “Lord God Bird” or “Holy Grail Bird” due to its impressive stature, striking plumage, loud drumming and incredible rarity, the ivory-billed woodpecker was once found in the old-growth forests of the southeastern U.S., from Florida to southern Illinois and from North Carolina to eastern Texas, as well as in Cuba.

It was all but decimated in the U.S. in the 1800s due to the combination of industrial logging after the Civil War and hunting by scientific specimen collectors, and it has dipped in and out of presumed extinction ever since.

On Sept. 20, after decades of debate and nearly 80 years since the last undisputed sighting, the Fish and Wildlife Service declared its intention to remove the ivorybill from the Endangered Species List because it considers the bird extinct.

As a graduate student studying the culture and politics of the ivorybill — and its conservation and extinction — I believe the announcement may be one of the most disputed extinction events in American history. The ivorybill is a symbol of the Southern wilderness, a region that some argue has not been at the forefront of U.S. conservation policy. And advocates worry that removing the bird from federal protection will open up its habitat for exploitation.

A blurry four-second video

The last commonly accepted sighting of the ivorybill was in 1944, when the National Audubon Society president sent Don Eckelberry, a 23-year-old wildlife artist, to Louisiana’s Singer Tract to sketch a female bird, rumoured to be the last in the U.S.

Dozens of alleged sightings of the bird have been reported since then. Many of them are amateur reports easily dismissed as sightings of pileated woodpeckers, a smaller, more common relative. Others are less clear cut. For instance, photos presented to the American Ornithological Union in 1971 were rejected as fraud, a taxidermied specimen the photographer had mounted on trees. But some ornithologists now believe they were authentic.

There have been other alleged sightings. Ornithologists from Auburn University repeatedly observed and heard birds they identified as ivorybills in the swamp forest in Florida in 2005 and 2006. Acoustic scientist and amateur birder Michael Collins recorded sounds resembling ivorybill knocks and calls in Louisiana from 2006 to 2008. In this same search period, he also captured several blurry video recordings of what he believes are ivory-billed woodpeckers.

The ivorybill debate peaked in 2005, when a team of researchers from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology claimed to have rediscovered the ivorybill at a wildlife refuge in eastern Arkansas. The seven reported sightings and the blurry four-second-long video they offered as evidence weren’t exactly clear, but the group’s reputation sparked excitement that the ivory-billed woodpecker had been resurrected. Based on the evidence, the U.S. government pledged over US$10 million towards the bird’s recovery effort.

Skeptics, however, soon questioned the reports. Ivorybill expert Jerome Jackson published an influential rebuttal seven months later, claiming that the ornithologists had actually seen a pileated woodpecker. Although it initially believed the 2005 sightings, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent report dismisses these and all post-1944 sightings, saying none has the necessary evidence to back them up.

Avian doppelgangers

Objective evidence, in the view of the Fish and Wildlife Service, would include “clear photographs, feathers of demonstrated recent origins, specimens, etc.” Blurry photos and video could easily be images of another bird. Sound recordings could be of other birds too, and with only one surviving undisputed recording from 1935, there is plenty of room for doubt.

Ivorybill searchers, including Collins, argue the agency’s benchmark is unfair, as the ivorybill’s habitat of deep, unforgiving swamps — and its elusive nature — make such evidence near impossible to gather.

But the agency’s criteria is informed by what they believe is appropriate for this species. They say the ivorybill’s distinctive markings and decades of extensive survey efforts mean that if the bird does still live, it would have been conclusively documented by now.

For other species, the benchmark is different. For example, the Kauai O'o — also declared extinct in the same report — is a smaller and less visually detectable bird. Since its vocalizations are distinctive, sound recordings might have been enough to prove its existence.

Grassroots searches continue

This chapter of American natural history isn’t closed yet. The public has until Nov. 29 to present evidence of the ivorybill’s existence to stop its removal from the Endangered Species Act.

There can be detrimental outcomes if a species is declared extinct too early. Removing federal protection eliminates conservation funding for the species and removes the pressure from states to protect the habitat. Other birds and vulnerable species in the area could also suffer. On the other hand, the agency’s decision is practical — removing a species with a low probability of revival frees up resources for others that might be saved.

Even if the ivorybill is officially extinct, people will continue to look for it. The grassroots group Mission Ivorybill begins a three-year search effort in Louisiana on Nov. 1. Matt Courtman, a former president of the Louisiana Ornithological Society who founded the group, told me that he saw a pair of ivorybills as recently as 2019. The group hopes to provide evidence to overturn the extinction declaration.

Species have been rediscovered after declared or presumed extinction before. In 1951, scientists rediscovered the Bermuda petrel after it had been “extinct” for 330 years. These “Lazarus” species — named after the Biblical story of Lazarus rising from the dead — include a whale, a buckwheat species and a stick insect.

Hope for the ivory-billed woodpecker may be found in Cuba, where some scientists, including those associated with the International Union of the Conservation of Nature, believe it may persist. Yet if the ivorybill is still living in the remote forests of the Southeastern U.S., the race is on to prove it in time to protect these iconic birds and their habitats.The Conversation

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Hannah Hunter, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography and Planning, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Peatlands protect against wildfire and flooding, but they’re still under attack in Canada

The Conversation: Peatlands play an outsized role in filtering water and mitigating floods, drought and wildfire — and they store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests.

Arctic peatland in the Mackenzie Valley. A quarter of all global peatland carbon is found in Canada. (Ed Struzik), Author provided
Arctic peatland in the Mackenzie Valley. A quarter of all global peatland carbon is found in Canada. (Ed Struzik), Author provided

When record-breaking wildfires in western Russia killed 65 people, injured 1,068, destroyed 3,500 homes and caused billions in damages in 2010, it was no longer business-as-usual in Russia’s response to the impacts of climate change.

Not only did the Russian government begin investing more in traditional fire suppression, fire science and prevention strategies, it also began, with financial help and expertise from Germany, to restore peatlands that had been badly degraded by agricultural developments and the mining of peat to produce energy for household use and power plants. A fifth of Russia is covered in peat, mostly the northeastern side of the country.

Peat is partially decomposed plant material that builds up over centuries in cool swampy, waterlogged conditions such as bogs and fens and to a lesser extent swamps and marshes. Representing just three per cent of the Earth’s landscape, peatlands like those in the Hudson Bay Lowlands can store five times more carbon than the Amazon rainforest. Collectively, they store twice as much as carbon than all of the world’s forests.

They also play an outsized role in filtering water and mitigating floods, drought and wildfires, such as those that loomed large in British Columbia this year. Had a large fen near Fort McMurray not been drained in the 2000s, it might have slowed the 2016 Horse River fire long enough for firefighters to gain control of it and avoided the evacuation of 88,000 people, according to Sophie Wilkinson, a peatland scientist at McMaster University.

Canada, endowed with more pristine peatland than any other country, has a unique opportunity to preserve, and in some cases restore these ecosystems, found on the tundra, in temperate and boreal forests, in the Rockies and the Great Lakes region such as Georgian Bay.

Not only do they play an oversized role in managing climate change, regulating water and protecting critically endangered species such as caribou and whooping cranes, they offer denning sites for polar bears, turtles and Massasauga rattlesnakes. They also nurture many of the 546 plants that Indigenous people use for medicine.

Global restoration efforts

Russia and Germany are not the only countries investing heavily in peatland restoration. China has successfully done this in the Zoigê Plateau, the most extensive mountain peatland in the world, after 700 kilometres of drainage ditches were dug in the 1960s and 1970s to provide more grazing for yaks. The restored fens now filter and store freshwater for tens of millions of people.

In the United States, the Fish and Wildlife Service is rewetting badly degraded peatlands in the Great Dismal Swamp, a protected peatland on the border of North Carolina and Virginia, and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, in North Carolina, to mitigate wildfires and floods and to keep carbon in the ground.

Great Britain and other European countries are doing the same to restore biodiversity and to meet their climate change goals. The sale of horticultural peat that is extracted from bogs and fens will be banned in Great Britain in 2024.

Peatland under threat

Canada has been slow to recognize the many virtues of peatlands. Oilsands operators continue to drain and clear them to extract bitumen. Hydro projects like Muskrat Falls will flood or disturb them with cutlines. Mining companies, like the 18 that have 1,300 claims in Ontario’s so-called “Ring of Fire” in the Hudson and James Bay Lowlands, will dig them up and build roads through them if their developments go ahead. And cities like Calgary have drained peatlands to make way for urban developments.

Calgary recognized this mistake. It paid the price in 2013 when an epic rain-on-snow event in the Rockies sent a wall of water downstream. The worst flood in Canadian history may have been mitigated had there been peat to sop up some of the water. Sphagnum, one of many mosses that are the foundation of peat, holds 15 to 26 per cent of its weight in moisture, according to John Pomeroy, Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change from the University of Saskatchewan.

But that flood would have been even worse had the beaver-managed Sibbald Fen and adjoining forest in Kananaskis country been degraded, as the southwestern Rockies may be if coal developments there are allowed to move forward. In interviews for my book Swamplands, Pomeroy and his colleague Cherie Westbrook have underscored the need to protect alpine fens and forests.

While other countries, including the U.S. and the Republic of Congo, have mapped out their peatlands, Canada has not. The limited information makes it difficult to protect them.

aerial view of sequential beaver dams in a wetland
he Pine Butte Swamp and beaver dams in northwestern Montana. (Sam Beebe/flickr), CC BY

Peatland maps

Peatland mapping has produced some surprising results, including the discovery of 14 million hectares of tropical peatland in the Congo basin in 2017.

Not all fens cover areas as extensive as those in the Congo and boreal forest. Mountain fens in the U.S. tend to be very small. They cover one per cent of the land surface in the Beartooth Mountains of Wyoming and one per cent of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado.

In each case, the distinct nature of these mountain fens play an oversized role in supporting insects, plants and animals and in storing water and carbon. Small peatlands such as the 18 inventoried in Wyoming contain 32 threatened plant species, four of which are found nowhere else in the state.

Over the past two decades, David Cooper, a wetland and riparian ecologist from Colorado State has, along with colleagues, identified thousands of high elevation fens that were previously unknown or unappreciated for what they were. The numbers in some cases are mind-boggling.

In the 2000s, 1,738 fens covering 11,034 acres were identified in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests. Ninety per cent of these fens were found at elevations ranging from 2,700 to 3,600 metres. Cooper estimates there are more than 2,000 fens in the San Juan mountains alone, ranging in size from 0.2 to 20.5 hectares.

No one knows how many fens there are on the Canadian side of the Rockies because no one, including Parks Canada, has looked as closely.

150 billion tonnes

Many scientists continue to underestimate the virtues of peatland ecosystems because of the dearth of plant and animal species. This is true if you compare the peat-rich boreal forest region to the Amazon rainforest. But it is a false slight for all the other ecosystem services that peatlands offer.

One to three billion birds fly north to the boreal peatlands of North America each spring to breed, resulting in three to five billion of them migrating back in fall.

Scientists like Mike Waddington at McMaster University, Line Rochefort at Laval University and Jonathan Price at the University of Waterloo, have the expertise to restore Canada’s peatlands. David Cooper is helping, as is Dale Vitt, a former University of Alberta botanist who pioneered the art of restoring peatlands. Yet their numbers are few, as are their funding sources.

If Canada wants to change course, it needs to catch up with what the rest of the world is doing in restoring and protecting peatlands. Thirty per cent of the world’s soil carbon stock is found in the world’s peatlands. Canada contains a quarter of that — 150 billion tonnes that are still in the ground.

_____________________________________________________________The Conversation

Edward Struzik, Fellow, Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, School of Policy Studies, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

For the Record - Oct. 27, 2021

For the Record provides postings of appointment, committee, grant, award, and other notices set out by collective agreements and university policies and processes. It is the university’s primary vehicle for sharing this information with our community.

Submit For the Record information for posting to Gazette editor Andrew Carroll.

Selection Committee appointed for Director, Dan School of Drama & Music

David Walker’s term as Director of the Dan School of Drama & Music is scheduled to end on June 30, 2022. Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green has appointed a Selection Committee to advise him on the appointment of the next director. The Selection Committee has the following membership: 

Elected Members

  • Kelsey Jacobson, Assistant Professor, Dan School of Drama & Music
  • Stephanie Lind, Associate Professor, Dan School of Drama & Music
  • Sidneyeve Matrix, Associate Professor, Dan School of Drama & Music
  • Colleen Renihan, Assistant Professor, Dan School of Drama & Music
  • Grahame Renyk, Lecturer, Dan School of Drama & Music
  • Gary Kibbins, Cognate Faculty, Associate Professor, Department of Film & Media
  • Julia Stroud, Department Manager, Dan School of Drama & Music
  • Mary-Margaret Annab, Graduate Student, Dan School of Drama & Music
  • Serena Ferzli, Undergraduate Student, Dan School of Drama & Music
  • Chris DeLuca, Associate Dean, School of Graduate Studies
  • Lynda Jessup (Chair), Vice-Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Danielle Gugler (Secretary), Faculty of Arts and Science

Pursuant to Articles 41.3 and 41.3.6 of the Collective Agreement between Queen’s University Faculty Association and Queen’s University at Kingston, comments are invited on the present state and future prospects of the Dan School of Drama & Music by Nov. 12, 2021. Names of possible candidates for the directorship may also be submitted. Please send all comments, in confidence, to the attention of Danielle Gugler. All letters will be reviewed by the Selection Committee and will become part of the record of decision-making.

At the request of either the Dan School of Drama & Music members or the Committee, a meeting can be arranged between the Dan School of Drama & Music and the Committee to ascertain the department’s views on the qualities of a head. Once a short list has been established, it will be distributed to members of the Dan School of Drama & Music for further input on the merits of the respective candidate(s).

Designing the medical check-up of the future

“Someday soon when you enter a medical building, there will be a tablet that will automatically check and report whether you are healthy or not,” says Farhana Zulkernine (Computing).

Dr. Zulkernine is describing a virtual visit to a hospital or a doctor’s office in the not-too-distant future. You don’t have to imagine that we are still in the grips of a pandemic, just think of a doctor’s office in flu season. A quick scan of your face will give the nurses your temperature, blood pressure, oxygen level, and a host of other readings, saving time and minimizing the chances that health-care workers and other patients get infected.

It’s not here yet, but a recent project named Veyetals that Dr. Zulkernine and the students working in her Big-Data Analytics and Management Laboratory at Queen’s University have undertaken with Canadian AI firm MarkiTech is helping to bring that day closer. A beta version for measuring heart rate, heart rate variability, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and stress level is currently being tried out by hundreds of users in Canada, United States, Australia, United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan.

A professor in Queen’s School of Computing, Dr. Zulkernine’s particular field of interest is, she says, “analytics and management of any kind of large data.” She has a special interest “in multimodal streaming data from the Internet of Things,” as it’s known, such as wearable sensors, audio and video devices, and other digital sources generating text or hybrid data.

Dr. Zulkernine was connected to MarkiTech by a previous industry collaborator, Gnowit, due to MarkiTech’s interest in wearable technologies and remote health monitoring. MarkiTech had already developed what CEO Nauman Jaffar calls “a unique, contactless, remote patient monitoring system” designed for seniors that features a wifi device, a tablet camera intended to scan the face to check vital signs, and a series of remote monitoring devices. But their target audience, people in their 70s, 80s and even older, are not always comfortable with wearing sensor devices all the time and had issues with the unit’s batteries as well. MarkiTech felt that a remote health-monitoring tablet coupled with a proactive, voice-enabled bot to measure vital signs using a smart phone camera might work better.

As is so often the case with any new innovation, developing it takes money, but in the world of startups raising money requires some sort of proof of concept. It is, says Jaffar, “a long, drawn-out process.” Dr. Zulkernine was able to help. She constantly looks for innovative private-sector projects that can engage the students in her lab in developing technology for real-life applications. To that end, she turned to Mitacs, a national not-for-profit organization. Mitacs seeks to advance industrial and social innovation in Canada by helping businesses benefit from academic research by jointly funding internships with interested companies for graduate and undergraduate students.

“Many of my projects have been funded by Mitacs,” she says. “Mitacs is great because they give opportunities for students to get hands-on experience.” And because the students work so closely with private sector companies, Mitacs-enabled internships often smooth the path to future employment.

Supported by a Mitacs internship with MarkiTech as the industry partner, Donghao Qiao, one of Dr. Zulkernine’s PhD students, began developing an algorithm that would take the face video captured by a cellphone camera and use it to measure a patient’s heart rate, heart rate variability, oxygen saturation and stress level. In turn, MarkiTech was able to have potential users field test the new phone app.

Not surprisingly, there were a number of challenges – if the lighting was poor, the person wasn’t directly in front of the camera or it wasn’t held steady, the readings were affected. With continued support from Mitacs and MarkiTech, one of Dr. Zulkernine’s Master's students, Amtul Haq Ayesha, has been working on these problems as well as extending the range of the app’s diagnostic tools to monitor blood pressure and temperature. Ayesha’s work on the project will continue to the end of this year.

“It has been really interesting,” she says. “This research has been so novel.”

“There is still a lot to be done,” says Dr. Zulkernine. For example, her lab has a great deal of visual data for people in the normal range for heart rate or oxygen levels, but very little for those lying outside that range. And it’s not easy to come by.

“MarkiTech has been really active in getting this data from outside Canada,” she says. Ultimately, she can see the idea being extended beyond clinics, hospitals and a cell phone app. “I would like to combine this research with the work I have been doing on human activity recognition to facilitate home or long-term care.”

For example, based on patients’ needs and health status, multiple wearable and camera-based monitoring could be combined to not only record vital signs but also remotely monitor patients’ daily activities and notify others of dangerous incidents such as falls.

The Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) team helps companies and other external organizations find Queen’s researchers with whom to collaborate. QPI and Research Services colleagues work closely with federal and provincial funding agencies to leverage investments in research, help researchers and partners prepare proposals, and develop associated agreements.

Adolescent dating violence affects 1 in 3, but murky policies mean most adults don’t know how to help

A woman holds up her hand to block her face
There is a clear need for youth-centred policy at the federal and provincial levels that specifically addresses dating violence. (Unsplash / Nadine Shaabana)

Adolescent dating violence is a serious public health problem in Canada. Dating violence is also a children’s rights issue, because it violates youths’ right to safe and healthy development.

Adolescent dating violence is the experience of physical, sexual and/or psychological aggression in romantic and sexual relationships between the ages of 11 and 18. It is very important that caregivers, educators and other adults who work with youth understand dating violence.

As researchers who work on preventing dating violence, we wanted to specifically understand if there was policy in Canada specific to dating violence. Our findings demonstrate that we are currently failing to protect youths’ right to be safe in their relationships.

Prevalence and outcomes

In Canada, one in three youth experience dating violence. However, parents and caregivers are unlikely to discuss dating violence with their children. In fact, we find that most people are surprised by how common dating violence is.

Families are more likely to discuss issues that are actually less common than dating violence. For example, family communication about substance use is a popular topic, but alcohol and tobacco use affects fewer young people than dating violence. About one in four youth in Canada report that they drank heavily in the past year. One in five report e-cigarette use in the past 30 days.

To break down dating violence statistics, we conducted a study with a national sample of over 3,000 Canadian youth. We found that, in the past year, 12 per cent were physically hurt on purpose by someone they were dating or going out with. Another 18 per cent had a dating partner use social media to hurt, embarrass or monitor them. And, 28 per cent reported that a dating partner had tried to control them or emotionally hurt them.

Other research from Québec also found that sexual dating violence is a common experience for Canadian youth. In this study, 20 per cent of female participants and seven per cent of male participants reported unwanted sexual activity in their current or most recent dating relationship. Stalking by an intimate partner also impacts a substantial minority of young people. In Canada, approximately two out of every three stalking victims are women, and about half are between the ages of 15-34.

Like many public health problems, dating violence disproportionately affects youth who are marginalized, including trans and non-binary youth, youth living in poverty and racialized youth.

In terms of outcomes, research conducted by our team found that youth who experience dating violence are significantly more likely to report mental health problems in the future. Dating violence is also a strong risk factor for domestic violence in adulthood. In the worst-case scenario, dating violence can lead to homicide.

Map of Canada
The PREVNET interactive policy map gives user-friendly guidance for educators and caregivers as well as young people on dating violence policy in each province and territory. (Pixabay/Canva)

The role of policy in prevention

Early intervention is critical to preventing the negative impacts of dating violence. Yet, adolescents report significant barriers to receiving support following dating violence.

One key barrier is that educators and other significant adults do not generally know their role in responding to dating violence. We believe this is related to limited knowledge about dating violence policy, which is very important in defining and guiding adults’ roles when responding.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to show us the critical role policy plays when we are trying to solve public health problems. But, the role of policy in preventing dating violence has been very undervalued.

The policies that might apply to dating violence in each province and territory are not easily navigated. In fact, in our roles as the scientific co-directors of Canada’s healthy relationships hub PREVNet, one of the most common questions we are asked by educators is about how they should respond to dating violence. Caregivers and youth themselves also want to know what to do if someone in their life experiences dating violence.

Dating violence policy map

Our team at PREVNet created an interactive policy map (available in both French and English) that gives user-friendly guidance for educators and caregivers as well as young people on dating violence policy in each province and territory. For example, for educators, our map provides a helpful summary of the policies related to supporting youth in their area who experience dating violence.

Our map is an important first step in listing available policy protections for youth who experience dating violence in Canada. But, our work also highlights that while there are a lot of policies for children who experience abuse, and some for adults who experience domestic violence, there is almost no policy that is specific to youth experiencing dating violence.

For example, adolescents are generally not able to access protection orders. There also are no publicly funded supports (such as hotlines) dedicated to adolescents experiencing dating violence in Canada. Existing policy also does not make clear adults’ roles in supporting these youth.

This map highlights where we need to go to support youth experiencing dating violence. There is a clear need for the development of youth-centred policy at the federal and provincial levels that specifically addresses dating violence. This policy must clarify the roles and responsibilities of adults in responding to dating violence. It must also provide developmentally appropriate supports for youth.

Through the development and implementation of such policy, we can support youth’s rights and well-being.The Conversation

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Deinera Exner-Cortens, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Tier II Canada Research Chair (Childhood Health Promotion), University of Calgary and Wendy Craig, Professor of Psychology, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

$1M gift supports Indigenous Academics

An endowment from Norman and Gay Loveland provides a solid foundation for the STEM: Indigenous Academics program.

Gay and Norman Loveland have created a $1 million endowment to support STEM:InA, an academic support and community-building program for Indigenous students enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)-based undergraduate degree programs through the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. (Supplied Photo) 

Queen’s University will be able to provide renewed support for its new STEM: Indigenous Academics (STEM:InA) program, thanks to a $1 million endowment established by alumnus Norman Loveland BSc’65 (Civil),  JD (University of Toronto) and his wife, Gay Loveland, MEd (University of Toronto).

The Lovelands decided to support STEM:InA, an academic support and community-building program for Indigenous students enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) -based undergraduate degree programs through the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Queen’s. The program will build on the success of the Aboriginal Access to Engineering program that their endowed gift continues to support.

“This endowment from the Lovelands will truly help us create a strong and successful community of Indigenous STEM students here at Queen’s,” says Karen Bertrand, Vice-Principal, Advancement. “This initiative provides Indigenous students with the social and academic foundation they need to thrive and make a positive impact on the world, and this endowment makes that possible.

The Lovelands are long-time champions of Queen’s engineering programs and have previously funded endowments that continue to provide: awards for Civil Engineering students based on financial need and achievement;  support for the Aboriginal Access to Engineering (AAE) program, a faculty initiative designed to make engineering education accessible and inclusive to Indigenous youth;  and funding for the Norman and Gay Loveland Civil Engineering Fund, which supports the Department of Civil Engineering to further its relations with its varied stakeholders: staff, graduate and undergraduate students, alumni, government, industry partners and friends.

“We are very proud of our connection to Queen’s and its ongoing commitment to Indigenous students,” Norman Loveland says. “Gay and I hope that our support of the Engineering portion of the program might inspire further philanthropic support to it, and to the other faculties involved, notably Arts and Science and Health Sciences.”

STEM:InA aims to create a strong and successful community of Indigenous STEM students at Queen’s through services, programming, and events. STEM:InA also works to alleviate the isolation felt by many Indigenous STEM students by building a distinct Indigenous STEM community.

Harnessing the digital transformation

Engage with faculty and graduate researchers on the multi-disciplinary impact of digital technologies during the virtual Queen’s Digitalization Research Conference.

[Photo of an art installation by fabio courtesy of Unsplash]

In recent years, digital technologies have come to play a progressively integral role in nearly all interactions in our day-to-day lives, from business to politics, health, education, culture, and society. The take-over of Zoom, for instance, in our shift from in-person to remote work and school, provides an excellent example of just how influential digital technologies can become in shaping our lives.

Spanning a wide variety of sectors, technology-enabled transformation is a phenomenon that has produced research across a similarly diverse set of disciplines here at Queen’s.

In order to create a space for faculty and graduate students to connect and present their research on digitalization in our society, the Queen’s University Digital Transformation Research Group has organized its first annual Digitalization Research Conference, on Friday, Oct. 22. The virtual conference aims to bring together researchers from across disciplines to facilitate collaboration and knowledge exchange amongst students and faculty. The long-term goal is to build upon this collaboration as an important step towards making Queen’s a thought-leader in Canada on digitalization.

The conference is supported by two faculty sponsors: Kathryn Brohman (Smith School of Business), Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Digital Technology, and Martin Hand (Sociology).Queen’s PhD students Patrick Egbunonu (Smith School of Business) and Spencer Huesken (Sociology) are the conference co-chairs.

“The conference will not only translate into future research productivity, but it will also identify cross-disciplinary opportunities for future programs and make Queen’s the ‘go to’ place for policymakers and media,” says Dr. Brohman.

The conference will touch on the themes of technology’s impact on power dynamics, digitalization of work, industry and practice, and social implications of digitalization, data, and information. It also features a presentation by keynote speaker Jan Recker who holds the position of Nucleus Professor for Information Systems and Digital Innovation in the Hamburg Business School at the University of Hamburg. By exploring the intersection of people, technology and organizations, Recker’s work tries to understand how technology design and process thinking can help solve complex problems.

Following the presentations, participants are welcome to join the Digital@Queen’s Hangout, which is meant to provide graduate students with an opportunity to connect socially and share ideas in a more informal forum.

Dr. Brohman stresses the importance of fostering a space for inter-disciplinary collaboration.

“Students and faculty across disciplines are doing amazing work in digitalization and we hope that by starting a conversation, Queen’s will identify ways to make their work more impactful.”  By designating the conference as “pan-Queen’s”, conference leaders are taking a ‘bottom up’ approach to motivating high quality and high impact research as opposed to ‘top-down’ efforts that try to get cross-disciplinary faculty to collaborate.”

The Friday, Oct. 22 event is free and open to the public with registration and full schedule available on Eventbrite. You can find more information about the conference on their website and you can follow them on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter for updates and highlights.

Queen’s remembers Sameh Sorour

Assistant professor in the School of Computing arrived at Queen’s in 2019 and in that time became a well-respected and well-loved member of the community.

The Queen’s community is remembering Sameh Sorour, an assistant professor in the School of Computing who died on Oct. 6. He was 41.

Dr. Sameh Sorour
Dr. Sameh Sorour

Dr. Sorour arrived at Queen’s in 2019 and in that time became a well-respected and well-loved member of the School of Computing and had an impact on colleagues and students alike. His research interests involved the broad areas of advanced communications, networking, computing, and learning technologies for intelligent, autonomous, and cyber-physical systems. He successfully attracted research funding from a variety of sources including NSERC, OCI, Ericsson and Kings Distributed Systems.  

Dr. Sorour was a senior IEEE member and an editor for the IEEE Communications Letters and the IEEE Canadian Journal on Electrical and Computer Engineering. He was a prolific author with 50 journal publications in top tier journals.

“Sameh was a wonderful scholar, instructor, mentor and colleague” says Hossam Hassanein, Director, School of Computing. “His passing is a big loss to Queen’s, the School of Computing and to the scientific community.”

Dr. Sorour received his B.Sc. (2002) and M.Sc. (2006) degrees from Alexandria University, before earning his PhD from University of Toronto in 2011. His PhD thesis was nominated for the Governor General’s Gold Medal Award. His PhD advisor, Shahrokh Valaee, says that he was the best student he had in his group in Toronto.

Dr. Sorour then obtained a MITACS postdoctoral industrial fellowship to work as an industrial researcher at Siradel Canada in conjunction with the University of Toronto. In 2012 he moved to Saudi Arabia for a year-long postdoctoral research fellowship at King Abduallah University of Science and Technology. He then worked as a lecturer at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (2013-2016) and as an assistant professor at University of Idaho (2016-2019). 

Dr. Sorour was married with two young daughters.

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