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Investigating Carbon and Water Cycles from the Oilsands to the Arctic

Geography researchers Jasechko and Else among five CFI funded University of Calgary research projects


Brent Else, assistant professor in the Department of Geography Photo by Riley Brandt

By Sean Myers 
March 16, 2016

Geography professors Scott Jasechko and Brent Else have joined forces to tackle two sides of a research coin.

Else focuses on marine waterways, while Jasechko looks at fresh inland water, and together they are building a better picture of two of the Earth’s most important life-support systems — the carbon and the water cycles — from the oilsands to the Arctic Ocean.

“We get to dabble in each other’s world,” says Else. “By combining our two research groups we’ll get a much better understanding of two very intricately linked cycles.”

John R. Evans Leaders Fund supports remarkable discoveries

Jasechko and Else are co-leads on one of five University of Calgary research projects to receive funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund — a fund designed to help universities attract and retain the best and brightest researchers from around the world by giving them access to leading research tools.

“Our scholars are seeking to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges, and we are incredibly proud of the work they’re doing,” says Ed McCauley, vice-president (research). “This support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation will make possible some remarkable discoveries.” 

The CFI-funded equipment will be used to study five research themes: groundwater movement in the Alberta oilsands, water vapour transport in the Arctic, carbon dioxide absorption by Arctic Seas, Arctic Ocean carbon cycling, and carbon transport via flowing groundwater.

Toward a better understanding of climate change

This summer, Else will take his new instruments aboard research ships, including the icebreaker CCGS Amundsen, where he will measure how much carbon is being released to the atmosphere from the ocean and how much is being absorbed. 

“By gaining a better understanding of how this works, we’ll be better prepared to predict future effects of climate change,” says Else.

Jasechko will conduct field work in the north, testing how sections of the ocean that are now ice-free for much longer periods of the year can impact high-latitude water cycling. Jasechko also has a master’s student, Jessica Ellis. She is leading the research work in the oilsands by studying the interaction of groundwater with surface stream flows to gain a better understanding of these natural flow networks. Ultimately, this will lead to further studies on the implications of oil sands water use for waterways that ultimately empty into the Arctic Ocean.

'Better predict where water goes'

“The goal for me is to gain a clearer picture of water availability and of the natural controls that impact water quality,” said Jasechko. “We should be able to use the results of this research to better predict where water goes when it rains across the country.”

This project will also help train about a dozen graduate students in new research techniques over five years with opportunities for undergraduates to learn as well. 

“This is a great opportunity for students to both further their studies and build expertise through hands on experience,” says Jasechko.

Adds Else, “Basically, there are lot of open questions and we just want to get in there and start testing and see where it takes us.”

University of Calgary CFI JELF Awardees:

  • Eduardo Cobo, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, “Development of Cathelicidins as Antimicrobial and Anti-Inflammatory Therapeutics to Enhance Intestinal Health in Animals,” $75,000
  • Philip Egberts, Schulich School of Engineering, “Controlling Friction Through Atomic Scale Inquiry,” $180,000

  • Scott Jasechko and Brent Else, Faculty of Arts, “Investigating Carbon and Water Cycles from the Oilsands to the Arctic,” $206,026

  • Ian Lewis, Faculty of Science, “Identifying the Metabolic Determinants of Virulence by High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry,” $500,000

  • Chris Morton, Robert Martinuzzi and David Wood, Schulich School of Engineering, “Towards More Efficient Energy Harvesting From Wind and Water Resources,” $95,500

The pressures of our rapidly growing global population are driving unprecedented changes in our social, political, cultural and natural systems. The University of Calgary’s Human Dynamics in a Changing World research strategy is addressing our need to understand how we adapt to rapid change, to ensure our security and quality of life.