Brock researchers receive $2.4 million in funds from federal science granting agency NSERC

Northern Canada is the “canary in a coal mine” of climate change. Increasing temperatures and fluctuating precipitation are more pronounced than other parts of the country and are literally changing the scenery over a short amount of time.

Brock University hydrologist Kevin Turner has been investigating these landscape trends during his nine years of research in a lake-rich area of the Yukon called Old Crow Flats, the traditional territory of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.

Some of the area’s lakes have become smaller and shallower because of increased evaporation in drier times. On the other hand, when there is heavier-than-normal precipitation, rain and snowmelt raises lake levels, forming new channels that drain the lake to lower-lying areas.

More shrub vegetation is growing across Old Crow Flats and many other arctic regions. And, the shorelines of Old Crow Flats’ rivers are eroding because warmer temperatures have weakened the permafrost, causing the bank material to tumble into the waters.

Kevin Turner

Kevin Turner

With his Discovery Grant and Northern Research Supplement he received from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Turner will study how climate change-induced landscape changes in Old Crow Flats are affecting the area’s water balance and chemistry.

The assistant professor in the Department of Geography is particularly interested in the movement of carbon, a chemical element that is an important component of greenhouse gasses.

For example, humans’ massive burning of oil, coal and other fossil fuels has greatly increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is warming the earth’s temperature. “It is important to identify the movement of carbon from other sources, including degrading permafrost,” he says.

“As carbon-rich material is unlocked from the frozen shorelines and exported into the river system, the dissolved carbon can either remain within the waterways or become mobile in the atmosphere, which may perpetuate climate change,” says Turner.

“So it is important for us to map the location and rate of changes to the landscape and how downstream conditions respond,” he says. “Findings will improve predictions of how the hydrology and carbon balances of northern lake-rich landscapes will respond to future climate change.”

We are very proud of the outstanding work our researchers are doing at Brock.

Turner is one of more than a dozen researchers receiving funding under the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)’s 2016 competition for the discovery research programs.

The federal granting agency announced the results of the 2016 Discovery Grants, scholarships and fellowships competitions for universities across the country June 23.

Brock received a total of $2.4 million in funding.

Included within that are Discovery Grant and Discovery Development Grant awards totaling $1.98 million.

In addition, two researchers – Cheryl McCormick and Kevin Turner – received supplementary grants totaling $191,900. McCormick’s Discovery Accelerator Supplement grant is given to researchers “who have a superior research program that is highly rated in terms of originality and innovation, and who show strong potential to become international leaders within their field,” says the NSERC site.

“Brock’s researchers did extremely well in this year’s NSERC competition,” says Associate Vice-President Research (Natural and Health Sciences) Joffre Mercier. “We are very proud of the outstanding work our researchers are doing at Brock.”

Mercier notes the success rate for researchers already holding a grant is 70 per cent.

Brock University’s results for the 2016-2021 NSERC Discovery Grants competition are:

  • Bogaert, Tony (Health Sciences): Variations in male sexual orientation: The role of maternal responsivity to male-specific proteins
  • Castle, Alan (Biological Science): Mechanisms of host-parasite interactions between bacteriophages and Erwinia amylovora
  • Head, Martin (Earth Sciences): Plio–Pleistocene paleoceanography of the northern and western Pacific
  • MacNeil, Adam (Health Sciences): MAPK regulation of the epigenome during mast cell differentiation
  • McCormick, Cheryl (Psychology): Adolescence: A sensitive period for shaping the adult social brain (also: Discovery Accelerator Supplement grant)
  • Mercier, Joffre (Biological Science): Effects of invertebrate neuropeptides and biogenic amines on synapses and behaviour
  • Metallinos, Costa (Chemistry): Proline hydantoin derivatives as dual purpose chiral auxiliary and chiral catalyst precursors
  • Mondloch, Cathy (Psychology): Expert face recognition: The influence of experience
  • Peters, Sandra (Kinesiology): Regulation of mammalian skeletal muscle lipid metabolism: the role of perilipin proteins
  • Ross, Brian (Computer Science): Genetic programming techniques for modelling and design
  • Schmidt, Mariek (Earth Sciences): Unraveling the igneous and overprinting alteration histories of volcanic terrains on Earth and Mars
  • Turner, Kevin (Geography): Investigating the influence of climate-induced landscape changes on water and carbon balances in permafrost landscapes (also: Northern Research Supplement grant for his research: Investigating the influence of climate-induced land cover change and permafrost slumping on water and carbon balance in Old Crow Flats, Yukon, Canada)

NSERC’s Discovery Grants program supports long-term research programs that assist in “promoting and maintaining a diversified base of high-quality research capability in the natural sciences and engineering in Canadian universities; fostering research excellence; and providing a stimulating environment for research training,” says the agency’s website.

Another NSERC grant – Research Tools and Instruments – was awarded to Jeffrey Atkinson (Chemistry) to purchase a “Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) instrument for protein–membrane interactions.”

NSERC also announced its awards for graduate student researchers, which totaled $262,500:

NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship – Doctoral
  • Bryan Giordano (Biological Sciences): “Epidemiology and transmission dynamics of West Nile in Ontario, Canada”
  • Christine Salahub (Psychology): “Examining the mechanisms between individual differences and visual perception”
Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship – Doctoral
  • Kari Lustig (Psychology): “The role of hormones in emotion processing following sleep loss”
Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship – Master’s
  • Sarah Bax (Mathematics & Statistics): “Soliton interaction properties”
  • Lyndon Duff (Biological Sciences): “Modeling the evolution of sociality in the eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica”
  • Angel Phanthanourak (Applied Health Sciences): “The effects of postural threat on cortical inhibition during an anticipatory postural adjustment”

“NSERC funding provides our graduate students with much needed financial support to continue with projects that are pushing the boundaries of research in exciting directions,” says Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies Mike Plyley.

“The scholarships are true recognition to graduate students that the scope and calibre of their work hold great promise in contributing to discovery and innovation in Canada.”

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