Brock expert part of international Great Lakes climate change research

A Brock water expert is among the members of a new international research centre working for climate change adaptation in the Great Lakes region.

Associate Professor Julia Baird with Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre is part of a team conducting research through the Global Center for Understanding Climate Change Impacts, which is based at the University of Michigan.

“The focus is going to be on how different stakeholders and rights holders work together to make good decisions about water in the Great Lakes region, specifically taking into account climate change impacts and risks,” says Baird, who is Canada Research Chair in Human Dimensions of Water Resources and Water Resilience.

“Our job is to understand how we bring all of that together and how we can support effective decision making,” she says.

Julia Baird stands outside in a garden.

Julia Baird is an Associate Professor in Environmental Sustainability Research Centre and the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies.

Rising temperatures and a greater number of extreme weather events are some of the climate change trends impacting water quality and quantity. Communities in North America and worldwide are increasingly grappling with floods, drought, algal blooms and shoreline erosion, among other water-related issues.

A wide range of government agencies, Indigenous nations, non-governmental organizations and other bodies have different but often overlapping roles to play in addressing climate change risks and impacts. Despite common interests, there’s often a lack of co-ordination among jurisdictions, says Baird.

The Great Lakes are shared by eight U.S. states, two Canadian provinces and more than 150 Indigenous communities on both sides of the border.

One aim of the Global Center’s work is to strengthen the ability of governance and management structures to increase communities’ resilience when experiencing climate disasters.

Baird’s research will focus on how stakeholders within and between nations will work together to build this resilience.

“Governance sometimes gets equated to government, and that’s certainly not how we approach it,” says Baird. “Besides that kind of formal authority around government, there are also a lot of other really important voices that need to be in play when we’re engaging in these decision-making processes.”

The other two aims of the Global Center are to project the frequency and intensity of climate change impacts and to understand how climate change affects ecological, social and economic systems, particularly in vulnerable communities.

At the local level, Baird points out three reports produced within the past decade that explore current and expected future water-related climate change impacts in Niagara. Findings include an increase in average number of days of extreme heat each year, increased shoreline erosion, increased deterioration of wetlands, increased need for irrigation, and greater infrastructure damage and stress for humans.

“It’s clear that there’s no time to waste in addressing climate risks and impacts in Niagara and across the Great Lakes,” says Baird.

Along with Baird, the Centre’s Canadian team also includes researchers from McMaster University, Toronto Metropolitan University, the Six Nations of the Grand River, Brock University and Wilfrid Laurier University.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) are funding the work of the Canadian team.

The Global Center for Understanding Climate Change Impacts was created with a US$5-million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, with the NSERC and SSHRC contributions bringing the total project to US$7.75 million.

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