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Research Prominence

Seminar fosters discussions and lasting connections


[RSC Semninar Speakers]
Three Queen's faculty members – Heather Stuart, John McGarry, and Joan Schwartz – will be presenting aspects of their research at the Eastern Ontario Regional Seminar of the Royal Society of Canada on Saturday, April 13. (University Communications) 

Members of the Queen’s and Kingston communities will have the opportunity to hear four of Canada’s leading researchers speak about their experiences and discoveries as the university hosts the Eastern Ontario Regional Seminar of the Royal Society of Canada on Saturday, April 13.

For academics in the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering, being elected to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) – either as a Fellow or a Member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists – is one of the highest honours they can achieve.

At the seminar, four RSC members – three from Queen’s and one from University of Ottawa – will provide insights into their work and experiences.

The schedule of presentation includes:
- 10 am: Heather Stuart, Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-stigma Research Chair, Queen’s — The Nature and Nurture of Mental Illness Related Stigma
- 11 am: John McGarry, Sir Edward Peacock Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Political Studies, Queen’s — ‘The Diplomat’s graveyard’:  Why Resolving the Cyprus Problem is not Easy
- 2 pm: Jamie Benidickson, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa — Sewage Then and Now: Public Health Challenges and Climate Change Opportunities
- 3 pm: Joan Schwartz, Department of Art History and Art Conservation, Queen’s — Rethinking Discursive Origins: Alexander von Humboldt, Photography, and the Pursuit of Geographical Knowledge

The annual event is organized under the guidance of co-chairs John Burge (Dan School of Drama and Music), a Fellow of the RSC, and Amir Fam (Civil Engineering), a Member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

“Each year this seminar brings together researchers who are leaders in their fields and this year’s group is no exception,” says Dr. Burge. “The sharing of intellectual ideas can be a great stimulus for one’s own creativity and this seminar is a great opportunity to broaden one’s horizons and knowledge base.”

Another goal of the Eastern Ontario Regional Seminar is to bring together leading researchers and community members to foster fascinating discussions and lasting connections.

“At the heart of the seminar is the common quest for knowledge and the sharing of perspectives,” says Dr. Fam. “By bringing together speakers from across disciplines the seminar helps foster new contacts and new paths of thought for not only the audience but the presenters as well.”

All events take place at the Queen’s University Club (168 Stuart St.) and talks are open and free to the public. Following the first two presentations a luncheon is being hosted by Principal Daniel Woolf. Registration is required for the luncheon, which costs $30. Registration for the luncheon by Friday, April 5 would be appreciated. RSVP by phone, 613-533-6000 x78797 or email: FEAS.ResearchAdmin@queensu.ca.

For more information about the presentations, visit the Royal Society of Canada website.

Minister Bains tours Mitchell Hall ahead of opening

  • Navdeep Bains meets SpectraPlasmonics
    Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains and Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen speaks with two members of Spectra Plasmonics.
  • Navdeep Bains at Beaty Water Research Centre
    Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, and Principal Daniel Woolf listen to Pascale Champagne, Director of the Beaty Water Research Centre.
  • Navdeep Bains, Kevin Deluzio, Kimberly Woodhouse
    Vice-Principal (Research) Kimberly Woodhouse and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Kevin Deluzio speak with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains during his tour of Mitchell Hall.
  • Navdeep Bains and students
    Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains stops for a photo with a pair of Queen's students during his tour of Mitchell Hall.
  • Navdeep Bains and tour group
    From left: Vice-Principal (University Relations) Michael Fraser; Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Ann Tierney; Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen; Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf; Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains; Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Kevin Deluzio; and Vice-Principal (Research) Kimberly Woodhouse.

Principal Daniel Woolf welcomed Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains and Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen for a tour of the newly-renovated Mitchell Hall, on Thursday March 28.

Joined by Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs, Kim Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research), Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations), and Kevin Deluzio Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, the tour included stops at the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre, the Côté Sharp Student Wellness Centre, and the facility’s Technology-Enabled Active Learning Spaces.

Minister Bains also visited the Beaty Water Research Centre, touring the lab spaces alongside director Pascale Champagne and some of her students. The tour wrapped up with a brief visit to the future home of Ingenuity Labs.

The construction of Mitchell Hall was supported in part by an investment from the Government of Canada under the Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund (PSI-SIF). Queen’s will host the grand opening of Mitchell Hall on Saturday, March 30.

Putting a focus on water-related issues

Water-related issues are increasingly becoming a driving force for economic growth, social well-being, and a healthy population in Canada and around the world. This critical interest is reflected in the diversity of water-related research and education initiatives at the Beaty Water Research Centre (BWRC), which recently moved into its state-of-the-art research facilities in Mitchell Hall, the result of a generous gift from geologist and entrepreneur Ross J. Beaty.

The BWRC encourages collaborative interdisciplinary research, education and outreach, spanning traditional water-related disciplines, as well as non-traditional and emerging disciplines. Recent highlights include new research funding and the launch of the BWRC’s first on-line interdisciplinary graduate program in Water and Human Health (WHH GDip)

[Pascale Champagne]
Pascale Champagne (Civil Engineering), director of the Beaty Water Research Centre, and her master’s student Nicole Woodcock, recently received research funding from the NSERC Engage and the Ontario Centre of Excellence Voucher for Innovation and Productivity I (VIP I) programs. (University Communications)

Collaborative research to prevent tailing mine failures

BWRC Director Pascale Champagne (Civil Engineering) and her master’s student Nicole Woodcock recently received research funding from the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Engage program ($20,000), and the Ontario Centre of Excellence Voucher for Innovation and Productivity I (VIP I) program ($25,000), to assess the feasibility of using microbially-induced calcite precipitation (MICP) to improve the deposit performance of tailings.

[BWRC]“This research is crucial given that tailing dam failures risk human life, destroy property and communities, contaminate rivers, fisheries and drinking water,” Dr. Champagne says. “Earlier this year hundreds lost their lives in the tailings dam collapse in Brazil which was just one of many major tailings dam disaster in the last decade.”

Tailings are by-products from mining operations. Mine tailing particulates easily diffuse into the surrounding environment, leaching acidic drainage and heavy metals to surface and groundwater. Without treatment these tailings can take several hundred years to consolidate due to their poor water-releasing properties, and, in some cases failure to consolidate has led to catastrophic disasters.

[Nicole Woodcock]
Nicole Woodcock

“Recent studies suggest biologically-catalyzed reactions can be used to increase the geotechnical strength of soft soils,” Woodcock says. “The application of this process to tailings has the potential to remediate and reduce the risk of tailing dam failures.”    

“The Beaty Water Research Centre encourages partnerships with industrial and non-industrial partners to tackle import issues,” adds Jyoti Kotecha, Associate Director Research & Business Development for BWRC. “Our state-of-the-art facilities in Mitchell Hall allow us to increase the scale of our research activities. We are looking forward to working with BGC Engineering Inc. on this important research.”

BGC Engineering Inc. is a private, employee-owned Canadian company with expertise in mine waste engineering and mine closure planning and design.

Preparing the future workforce

With support from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the BWRC is launching a new online, interdisciplinary graduate diploma program in Water and Human Health (WHH GDip), in May 2019.

“The Water and Human Health program will provide enhanced training for students from different disciplines and highlights a cross disciplinary approach to issues related to water and health,” says Dr. Champagne. “The program is the first of its kind in Canada, and positions Queen’s as a leader in interdisciplinary graduate education.”

The WHH GDip program can be completed on a full-time basis in four months through four online courses. Upon successful completion participants will receive a graduate diploma from Queen’s, giving them a competitive edge in their future careers. The diploma, although a standalone offering, can also be applied to course-work required for a course-based or research master’s program offered in a number of departments and faculties at Queen’s.

“This program will offer in-depth knowledge related to the chemical, biological and physical components of water, while also capturing global environment policy implications, to provide participants of the program a better understanding of the impacts of water on public health,” says Dr. Hall, Associate Director of Education & Outreach for BWRC. “The WHH GDip program is the first of several interdisciplinary graduate diploma programs that BWRC will be launching over the next five years.”

Find out more about the Beaty Water Research Centre.

[Water and Human Health]


Recognizing research outreach

Queen’s researcher Oyedeji Ayonrinde garners outreach award for efforts to educate Canadians about the risks of cannabis.

Oyedeji Ayonrinde (Psychiatry) has received the 2019 Biomedical Science Ambassador Award from Partners in Research Canada (PIR). This national award recognizes the work of biomedical researchers who have undertaken significant outreach education efforts for the benefit of the Canadian public.

[Oyedeji Ayonrinde (Psychiatry)]
Oyedeji Ayonrinde (Psychiatry) is the recipient of the 2019 Biomedical Science Ambassador Award from Partners in Research Canada. (University Communications)

Dr. Ayonrinde garnered the award on the strength of his efforts to educate Canadians about cannabis. His work in this area has focused on both teaching the public about the potential risks of cannabis use, especially for youth, and educating other health care professionals about the latest developments in cannabis research.

“I owe this award to and share it with all the young people, families, educators and clinicians striving relentlessly for the greater good of our youth,” says Dr. Ayonrinde, the Medical Director of the Early Psychosis Intervention Program in South Eastern Ontario, Heads Up!

Dr. Ayonrinde has developed educational programs that he has delivered to a variety of audiences, including teenagers, parents, secondary school teachers, postsecondary students, hospital staff, and emergency first responders. He has also led awareness sessions with the Indigenous leaders at Tyendinaga and the Canadian Armed Forces, and recently testified to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs on cannabis use and veterans.

In addition to leading these traditional classes, Dr. Ayonrinde has also raised awareness through webinars, social media, and other innovative methods. With Professor John-Kurt Pliniussen (Smith School of Business), he has worked with Queen’s students to develop marketing campaigns about the risks of cannabis for high school-aged students in Eastern Ontario.

“Children, youth and young adults are key to the future of all societies and deserve to have the best mental wellbeing they can,” Dr. Ayonrinde says. “Frequent, heavy use of high potency cannabis at an early age is a high risk factor for the development of psychiatric disorders. While genetic factors also contribute to the risk of psychosis, cannabis is a risk we can mitigate or even eliminate.”

PIR is a registered Canadian charity founded in 1988 to help Canadians understand the significance, accomplishments and promise of biomedical research in advancing health and medicine. Since its genesis, PIR has broadened its scope to encompass all areas of academic and applied research as fields of discovery and study for Canadian students. For more information about the Partners in Research national awards, visit the website.

Research storytelling events captivate audiences

[IGnite Research poster]

Featuring topics from medical miracles to environmental policy, the IGnite lecture series has showcased the diversity of research happening at Queen’s to a captivated audience of campus and community members. On Thursday, March 28 the public will hear about the future of gender policy in the Canadian school systems and innovative methods to solve environmental problems.

IGnite is a collaboration between the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute and the University Relations portfolio. Each event features two researchers from different fields discussing their projects and research experiences, while also including interactive demonstrations and poster presentations from students and additional researchers. The series offers a public platform where researchers can share what first ignited their curiosity and motivates them to pursue their research.

Lee Airton (Education) is a SSHRC-funded researcher and will present “The future of gender: Policy and practice playing catch-up to an ever-changing phenomenon.” They recently published a popular press book on welcoming gender diversity in everyday life, Gender: Your guide. Dr. Airton has also received a 2017 Youth Role Model of the Year Award from the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity and founded They is My Pronoun (TIMP) and the No Big Deal Campaign

Dr. Airton explains that research should be shared with those it impacts. 

“I study something that is relevant to every single member of the public, but is thought of as something that only transgender people care about: how other people read and respond to our gender expression, every day,” Dr. Airton says. “Events like the IGnite lecture allow me to bring the implications of my research directly to people who might not have thought about how they participate in gender, and encourage them to act on what we know about making gender into a safer and more comfortable experience for everyone.”

Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry Philip Jessop (Chemistry) will discuss his research on carbonated water as it applies to solving environmental problems. An expert in switchable surfactants, Dr. Jessop received the NSERC John C. Polanyi Award in 2008 and is the technical director of GreenCentre Canada.

Dr. Jessop further elaborates that for him IGnite is an opportunity to return the public’s investment in his research.

“Society allows me to do research and it is only fair that in return I let society know what I’m doing,” he says. “I find that many people like to hear about new ways to reduce environmental harm.”

The event, the final in a three-part series for the 2018-2019 academic year, will take place Thursday 6:30-9 pm at the Biosciences Complex at 116 Barrie Street. Registration is free on Eventbrite and light refreshments will be served.

For more information on the series, visit the McDonald Institute’s website.  

The Conversation: Hurricanes to deliver a bigger punch to coasts


[Hurricane Idai flooding]
Flood waters cover large tracts of land in Mozambique after cyclone Idai made landfall. Rapidly rising floodwaters have cut off thousands of families from aid organizations. (World Food Programme)

When tropical cyclone Idai made landfall near Beira, Mozambique on March 14, a spokesperson for the UN World Meteorological Organization called it possibly the the worst weather-related disaster to hit the southern hemisphere.

This massive and horrifying storm caused catastrophic flooding and widespread destruction of buildings and roads in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi feared the death toll might rise to more than 1,000 people.

Cyclones, also known as hurricanes or typhoons, are intense wind storms that can take thousands of lives and cause billions of dollars in damage. They generate large ocean waves and raise water levels by creating a storm surge. The combined effects cause coastal erosion, flooding and damage to anything in its path.

Although other storms have hit this African coast in the past, the storm track for cyclone Idai is fairly rare. Warmer-than-usual sea-surface temperatures were directly linked to the unusually high number of five storms near Madagascar and Mozambique in 2000, including tropical cyclone Eline. Warmer ocean temperatures could also be behind the intensity of cyclone Idai, as the temperature of the Indian Ocean is 2 C to 3 C above the long-term average.

Climate change and ocean warming may be linked to the increasing intensity of storms making landfall and to the development of strong hurricanes reaching places not affected in recent history. These regions may not be prepared with the coastal infrastructure to withstand the extreme forces of these storms.

The role of climate change

Scientists are working to improve their forecasts for hurricane winds and waves, and research on ocean and atmosphere interactions is boosting our understanding of the relationship between climate and the formation of hurricanes. Still, there is considerable uncertainty in predicting trends in extreme weather conditions 100 years into the future. Some computer simulations suggest possible changes in these storms due to climate change.

[Hurricane Idai]
Tropical cyclone Idai rapidly strengthened to a category 3 storm in the warm waters between Mozambique and Madagascar. (NOAA)

For example, scientists have computed detailed simulations of hurricane-type storms for future climate-warming scenarios and revealed that in some cases the hurricane season could be longer. The intensity of storms could also increase so that there are more major hurricanes (categories 4 and 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale) with winds reaching speeds greater than 209 km/h.

Since these storms are fuelled by ocean heat, warmer ocean conditions will influence their intensity and longevity. This may enable them to travel further over ocean water at higher latitudes, and further across the continent after they make landfall.

With global sea level rise expected to continue to accelerate through the 21st century, the impacts of coastal flooding from tropical cyclones is also expected to worsen.

Atlantic hurricanes

On the Atlantic coast of North America, the hurricane season starts in June and runs to November. We have very recent reminders that these storms can be catastrophic. Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico in 2017, caused infrastructure damage of US$90 billion and may have killed more than 4,600 people.

Urban areas can take weeks or months to recover from the flooding caused by the storm surge, which can be compounded by heavy rainfall. When the category 4 hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, it caused US$125 billion in damage, mostly due to flooding in the metropolitan area.

Hurricanes that reach places that historically have not been affected have major and long-lasting impacts. An example is hurricane Sandy in 2012, the largest storm on record in the Atlantic Ocean. This storm made a westward turn that is very different from typical tropical hurricane tracks.

Its waves and storm surge pounded the coasts of New Jersey and New York, with a huge impact washing over coastal dunes, eroding beaches and causing flooding in New York City.

It also had a major economic impact, costing US$71 billion with long-term effects on the coastal environment and lasting socioeconomic impacts in a densely populated area.

Damage to coasts

Hurricanes can cause severe erosion and breach islands, creating new pathways for water flow between the ocean and back-barrier estuaries. As these storms impact land, they can also create a dangerous multi-hazard environment of fast-moving air, water and debris.

[Hurricane Irma]
Hurricane Isabel made landfall on North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Sept. 18, 2003. Its effects were felt as far as western New England and into the eastern Great Lakes. (NASA)

Urban coastal areas are under a major threat, since coastal structures may not have been designed for the waves and surges that these storms generate. Hurricane Katrina, the mega-disaster that took more than 1,200 lives and cost US$161 billion in 2005, taught engineers the hard way that hurricanes can cause unanticipated loads on bridges, buildings and coastal structures.

The amount of damage a hurricane creates depends on the intensity and characteristics of the storm, combined with the physical and social setting of the coastal area that it hits. Cities face a high risk of hurricane-related disasters, since they contain higher populations and more infrastructure. This can lead to widespread and catastrophic impacts, such as the massive storm surge and flooding generated by typhoon Haiyan, which lead to more than 6,000 deaths in the Philippines in 2013.

Future Impacts

Regardless of changes to the climatic conditions that cause hurricanes to form and intensify, the fact is that these storms already occur frequently. Each year, 80 to 100 tropical storms occur globally. Of these, 40 to 50 are hurricanes, with 10 to 15 classified as major hurricanes.

Climate change projections suggest the number of intense hurricanes will rise. Ocean warming will enable these storms to travel further, and we may see greater hurricane impacts on coasts in the future.

This could include more storm strikes to northern coasts in places like Atlantic Canada, where hurricane Juan made landfall in 2003.

We may also see more hurricanes reaching large inland lakes such as the Great Lakes, affecting major cities like Toronto and Chicago. Rare events, such as hurricane Ophelia that hit Ireland in 2017, may become more common.

When we build houses, roads and bridges and increase population density in low-lying coastal areas, we walk a fine line if these coastal regions are not prepared for the ferocity of extreme storms in the future.The Conversation


Ryan P. Mulligan, is an associate professor in Civil Engineering at Queen's.

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, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.  

Bank of Canada honours Queen’s excellence

​Ryan Riordan receives research grant while three masters students earn scholarships in economics and finance.

Ryan Riordan, an associate professor at Smith School of Business, is this year’s recipient of the Bank of Canada Governor’s Award.

[Ryan Riordan]
The 2019 recipient of the Bank of Canada Governor’s Award is Ryan Riordan, an associate professor at Smith School of Business. 

The Governor’s Award is a research grant for academics who study areas that the Bank of Canada deems important. The grant is worth up to $30,000 a year over two years.

Dr. Riordan, who is also Distinguished Professor of Finance at Smith, says he is delighted to receive the award. While central banks tend to focus on the economy as a whole, his studies delve into the behaviour of individual traders, investors, lenders, borrowers and firms.

“So this award is a confirmation that our research is important to the overall economy,” he says.

Dr. Riordan intends to use the grant to further his research in two areas: the use and misuse of technologies in banking and financial markets; and climate change.

On climate change, Dr. Riordan has teamed up with colleagues from the University of Augsburg in Germany to study how financial markets have responded to the transition to a green economy. They’ve developed a methodology to measure the carbon risk of companies and countries. 

Among their findings to date: the valuation of banks and other financial firms are strongly related to the carbon risk of the firms they finance. And European countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal, as well as Japan, have lower carbon risk than most countries. Canada, South Africa and Brazil have the highest carbon risk.

The Governor’s Award is part of the Bank of Canada’s Fellowship Program. Lawrence Schembri, deputy governor at the bank, says the program aims to “foster collaboration between our researchers and outstanding academics who are advancing knowledge in fields that support the Bank of Canada’s core functions.”

Dr. Riordan joined Smith in 2014. His research into technology’s impact on financial markets has included how high-frequency traders improve stock market efficiency and studying how automated bidders affect the behaviour of human bidders on electronic financial markets and online auctions such as eBay 

In November, Dr. Riordan received Smith’s Research Excellence Award. The annual prize recognizes outstanding research by faculty at the school.

In other news, the Bank of Canada marked International Women’s Day by announcing the recipients of the Master’s Scholarship Award for Women in Economics and Finance. Of the four winners, three are from Queen’s University.

Earning scholarship awards are, from left: Vivian Chu, Sanjana Bhatnagar, Stephanie Renaud. 

Sanjana Bhatnagar is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Economics. Prior to this, she completed a BA Honours in Economics from the University of Calgary and worked at the Bank of Canada as a research assistant. Her areas of research include applied econometrics, macroeconomics and macrofinancial studies.

Vivian Chu is completing a Master of Arts in Economics. She completed a BSc in Financial Modelling at Western University and was a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Awards recipient for two consecutive years. Her research interests include monetary economics and macroeconomics.

Stephanie Renaud is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Economics. She completed her BA in Economics at the University of Ottawa and, as part of the co-op program, she worked at the Department of Finance and received the CO-OP Student of the Year Award for the faculty of social sciences in 2016. Her research interests include macroeconomics, fiscal policy, and monetary policy.

The award includes a $10,000 scholarship and is combined with the opportunity for permanent employment at the Bank of Canada upon successful completion of a master’s degree by a recipient.

Tree swallows expose state of our climate

Queen's University research examines local bird population to reveal how weather patterns are changing.

For many of us, birds are an interesting distraction or a sign of spring. For Fran Bonier and her former master's student Amelia Cox, bird populations provide vital data about the health of the world. Their new research adds to growing evidence that the climate is changing – and not for the better.

Established in 1975 by Raleigh Robertson at the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS) north of Kingston, a box-nesting population of tree swallows has provided long-term data sets that a number of Queen’s researchers have used. In her most recent study, Dr. Bonier and Cox have determined rainy springs are linked to poor nestling growth in this species.

The data shows that from 1977 to 2017, the nestlings’ body mass has declined substantially and adult body mass, particularly in males, has also been declining.

“We examined 42 years of data and have determined the decline started in the late 1980s,” says Cox, who took the lead on the study. “Tree swallows are avian aerial insectivores, which means they eat flying insects. These insects are inactive during cold, wet, or windy conditions which effectively reduces food availability to zero.”

Looking at the long-range weather data, the researchers also determined that rainfall amounts have increased over the decades and springs are getting cooler. Dr. Bonier says these weather changes, which she attributes to climate change, are affecting more than just tree swallows.

“This isn’t going to affect just one bird species; it’s happening with all aerial insectivores, like bats,” she says. “These populations are important to the entire food chain and their decline could lead to an insect population explosion, which could be critical in many areas.”

Cox adds there are a few simple things we can do to start addressing the threats facing aerial insectivores, including providing good habitat, putting up nest boxes, leaving barn doors open for barn swallows (which are declining even faster) and leaving wetlands alone. But to get to the root of the problem, we must tackle climate change.

“I really enjoy working with huge datasets like this one and I’m hoping, with my experience, I can move on to studying other bird species,” Cox says. “I’m optimistic this research can contribute to the larger conversation on climate change.”

Along with examining the population dynamics of tree swallows, the Bonier Lab has a number of other research foci including the influence of urbanization on birds, the effects of warming temperatures on carrion beetles, and the ways malarial parasites affect a local population of red-winged blackbirds.

For example, in a global citizen science study of birds, she and collaborator Paul Martin discovered that competitive interactions among closely-related birds might be limiting avian biodiversity in cities. Overall, this work is revealing the ways that different animals respond to the challenges they face, including many threats that are increasing because of human activities.

The latest research into the tree swallow population was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The Conversation: Echoes of 2008 – Could climate change spark a global financial crisis?

Increasingly severe losses for insurers due to climate change could result in a global financial crisis.


[Forest Fire]
A forest fire rages in Klamath National Forest. (Photo by Matt Howard/Unsplash)

The dire climate change situation continues to make headlines and inspire actions like the Sunrise Movement.

Recently, United States congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey pushed the debate about addressing climate change forward by introducing resolutions for a Green New Deal to transform the American economy.

[The Conversation]The Green New Deal is supported by politicians currently seeking the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Proponents of the proposed deal, like Ocasio-Cortez, rightly point out the pressing urgency to implement policy to reduce the impact of climate change. She likened this effort to other massive undertakings in U.S. history, such as the moon landing and the civil rights movement. The Green New Deal represents an endeavour on a similar scale aimed at addressing climate change.

But despite all the climate change buzz, its impact on the insurance industry has been largely absent from discussion. This is especially significant considering the importance of insurance in managing risk. It’s surprising that media coverage on the Green New Deal has not included some mention of insurance especially because insurers, and particularly American insurers, enable and invest in the fossil fuel industry. All of the largest U.S. insurance companies, including AIG and Berkshire Hathaway, continue to invest in and underwrite the coal industry.

The intersection of insurance and climate

A recent report from Cambridge University has underlined just how necessary it is to have conversations about the intersection of insurance and climate in the context of the Green New Deal. The Cambridge report was produced in partnership with top global insurance and reinsurance firms.

Alarmingly, the report highlights that increasingly severe losses for insurers due to climate change could result in a global financial crisis. Given the historical precedent for economic crises caused by insurance losses, the industry is justifiably concerned.

The history of insurance is in fact the history of crisis. Since its inception, the insurance industry has had to grapple with its exposure to catastrophe. The traditional way it’s done so is by transferring catastrophic risk to reinsurance companies —firms that specialize in providing insurance coverage to insurers and spreading the risk globally so as to dilute its impacts.

However, these efforts are not always successful, and massive catastrophes continue to result in the bankruptcy of insurers.

As I discussed in a previous article written in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, significant changes have occurred in the insurance industry in an attempt to better insulate primary insurance companies from catastrophic risk.

These changes have largely been focused on increasing the amount of what’s known as reinsurance capital available to cover insurers’ exposure to catastrophe.

New strategies involve the introduction of alternative sources of reinsurance capital provided by bringing capital market investors into the insurance sector. This process has been accomplished through the packaging of risk into insurance-linked securities, and then selling those securities to institutional investors like sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and dedicated hedge funds specializing in catastrophic risk.

Pattern repeating

The scenarios raised in the Cambridge report about a global financial crisis brought on by the collision of climate change and insurance fit the historical pattern of the industry.

Changes to the insurance industry since the mid-1990s, along with the proliferation of alternative reinsurance sources through the integration of capital markets and institutional investors, are significant. That’s why initiatives like the Green New Deal must take into account the changes occurring in the insurance industry.

The primary source of systemic risk outlined in the Cambridge report stems from rising global temperatures and untenable losses to insurers as a result. For example, the authors warn that if climate change is left unchecked, the world will witness the tripling of catastrophic losses on property investments over the next 30 years.

Eerily reminiscent of 2008

While this is a shocking and extremely disturbing finding, there are other equally troubling ways that the intersection of insurance and climate change could produce global financial systemic risk.

That’s due to the transformation of risk into securities which are then sold to capital market investors.

The creation of insurance-linked securities to increase the availability of reinsurance capital to primary insurers — and better protect them from catastrophic risk — creates at the same time a perverse incentive structure. It’s very similar to the mortgage-backed securities that formed the underlying risky assets that caused the 2008 crisis.

With the growth of alternative reinsurance capital in the sector and massive government programs, as well as global institutions turning towards the securitization of catastrophic risk in response to climate change, another global financial crisis is certainly a possibility, just as the authors of the Cambridge report warn.

While massive and courageous transformations to our economies and societies like the Green New Deal are necessary in the face of climate change, we must broaden our conversations to include the increasing integration of insurance and finance.

If we don’t, strategies adopted to address climate change, like the buying and selling of catastrophic risk, could produce calamitous outcomes themselves.The Conversation


Korey Pasch is a doctoral candidate in the fields of international relations and comparative politics in the Department of Political Studies at 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, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Building research infrastructure

Queen’s University researchers have secured more than $1 million in research infrastructure funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund.

“Through this support, researchers will be able to build the foundational research infrastructure required to conduct cutting-edge research, and contribute to important new developments in their fields,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research).

 A total of nine Queen’s researchers will receive the federal funding in a variety of fields, from the ongoing search for dark matter to investigating stem cells, to probing the transition from suicide ideation to attempts to establishing a mobile-inclusive music theatre makerspace.

The following Queen’s researchers have received funding:

Sheela Abraham (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) has received $162,500 to further the study of cancer stem cells in relation to chronic myeloid leukaemia using systems biology. With the funding, she plans to investigate cell signaling events outside cells controlled by extracellular vesicles and look into if these extracellular vesicles may be key controllers in the aging of stem cells and how this could lead to cancer. Dr. Abraham will also investigate the possibility of using extracellular vesicles as biomarkers for chronic myeloid leukaemia, which would help doctors detect the disease more efficiently, and improve patient treatment and survival.

Joseph Bramante (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) has received $49,970 to better determine dark matter’s origin, character, and connection to known physics. Novel new physics search techniques are being developed alongside identified techniques, including using thermal emission of neutron stars as a signature of dark matter, searches for multiply interacting massive particles at underground laboratories, the abundance of elements like gold in dwarf galaxy as a tracer of so-called “asymmetric” dark matter, and charting dark matter’s interaction with neutrinos.

Julia Brook and Colleen Renihan (Dan School of Drama and Music) has received $40,800 to create a music theatre makerspace in order to examine the development and implementation of music theatre activities with underserved populations, such as students in rural and on-reserve communities as well as seniors and adults with cognitive exceptionalities. Participants will work with facilitators to develop music theatre activities using acoustic and digital music tools as well as custom made sets and costumes from the makerspace.

Kenneth Clark (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) has received $189,951 to develop a scintillating bubble chamber to support the ongoing search for dark matter. Direct detection involves the interaction of dark matter in a purpose-built detector such as that used by the PICO collaboration. This group has produced world-leading results for a spin-dependent interaction of dark matter with the backgrounds being the largest issue. The scintillating bubble chamber would identify these backgrounds, leveraging the current efforts for a significant improvement in the dark-matter hunt.

Vahid Fallah (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) has received $125,000 to support research into improving the process of selective laser melting, also called metal 3D printing. In this research program, the selective laser melting processing of reactive/sensitive metals will be optimized for more stability and a less reactive build environment. The former will be achieved by optimizing the laser optics assembly, and the latter will be realized by strictly controlling the build atmosphere through an innovative build enclosure design.

Madhuri Koti (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) has received $150,000 to support her research program’s goals of identify tumour-specific genetic features that specifically associate with the anti-tumour immune responses and whether these could aid in decision making for combination immunodulatory treatment; design optimal combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy approaches for use with immune stimulating drugs; and  develop markers of chemotherapy-specific host immune alterations for future design of biomarker guided clinical trials to improve patient outcomes.
Bhavin Shastri (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) has received $132,500 to establish a facility with an experimental test and measurement platform and an optical probe station to demonstrate photonic integrated circuits for neuromorphic computing. Photonic neuromorphic processors have the potential to outperform microelectronics in energy efficiency and computational speeds by seven- and four-orders of magnitude, respectively.

Jeremy Stewart (Psychology) has received $100,000 to support research into identifying factors that predict the transition from suicide ideation to attempts. This transition is a pivotal target for suicide prevention, but little is known about which youth will make this shift and what processes are involved.  The research will employ electrophysiology, laboratory-based behavioural observation, and real-time, daily Smartphone-based assessments to gain novel insights into the processes involved.

Aaron Vincent (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) has received $50,000 for his research into developing novel ways to search for and detect dark matter, using its effect on stars such as the sun, and how to use neutrinos as probes of new physics beyond the Standard Model. This research relies on computer simulations of particle physics and astronomical systems such as stars, clusters, and the cosmos, as well as statistical methods aimed at exploring the many possible models of new physics to compare them with data from dozens of different experiments conducted in underground laboratories, ground-based observatories, and in space.

For more information on the supported projects, or to learn more about the John R. Evans Leaders fund, visit innovation.ca.

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