Articles tagged with: Physical Geography

  • Brock programs being developed in cannabis sciences and applied ecology

    NOTE: This is one in a series of stories highlighting projects supported by Brock’s Academic Initiatives Fund (AIF), which was established by the University in spring 2021. AIF projects will address key priorities outlined in Brock’s Institutional Strategic Plan and position the University to face the challenges of recovery from the pandemic. To read other stories in the AIF series, click here.

    Brock University’s Faculty of Mathematics and Science is in early stages of developing two new programs to meet the rising demand for careers in cannabis sciences and applied ecology.

    The development of each program has been supported in part by the Academic Initiatives Fund, which was introduced this past spring to address key priorities in Brock’s strategic plan and help position the University to face the challenges of recovery from the pandemic.

    Bachelor of Science in Cannabis Sciences

    With the introduction of the Cannabis Act in October 2018, Canada became the first developed nation to legalize the production, sale and use of cannabis for recreational purposes. Canada has since emerged as the global leader in the production and distribution of cannabis and related technologies.

    The rapid rise and expansion of the global cannabis industry has created significant demand for qualified cannabis scientists and scientific leaders to drive industry innovation forward.

    Residing in the Department of Biological Sciences, the Bachelor of Science in Cannabis Sciences will be the first formal cannabis-based degree program offered by an accredited university in Canada.

    “The program will provide prospective students with a comprehensive education in cannabis, cannabinoid, and endocannabinoid biology and biochemistry,” said Research Associate Jonathan Simone, an Adjunct Professor in Biological Sciences and cannabis researcher who was hired with AIF support to help with the program’s development. “Students will develop technical skills that are directly applicable to current industry needs.”

    Students of the new Bachelor of Science in Cannabis Sciences program, which aims to educate from ‘seed to sale,’ will be engaged in areas such as plant ecology and evolution, plant biology and biochemistry, soil sciences, commercial agricultural practices, chemical extraction and purification, analytical chemistry, neurobiology, pharmacology, and health sciences.

    Applied Ecology program

    A first-of-its-kind program is proposed in Applied Ecology at Brock University, building on resources, including many courses, offered in collaboration between the departments of Biological Sciences and Geography and Tourism Studies.

    Tensions between urban, agricultural and natural habitats are best understood by integrating the perspectives of geographers and biologists.

    Therefore, an interdisciplinary and a cross-department curriculum structure will leverage existing courses in both departments and eventually include a co-operative education stream.

    “There will be a lot of experiential learning built into this new honours program, such as work placements, field-based labs and project-based courses,” said Katharine Yagi, a Research Associate hired using AIF funds to develop the program.

    The Applied Ecology program will produce students with sound ecology training and field experience who can enter the workforce immediately upon graduation.

    Graduates will work for provincial, local and regional government agencies, conservation authorities, environmental consulting firms, ecological monitoring non-governmental organizations, bioremediation companies and other related areas.

    Coursework will highlight ecosystems in Niagara, including agroecosystems, which are abundant throughout the region, through species identification, survey methods and GIS mapping. An emphasis on traditional Indigenous knowledge and practices rounds out the program’s unique focus.

    Amongst all science disciplines, ecology may be the most amenable to integrating this approach. A new course will focus on the Indigenous Worldview of Ecology. Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) concepts will also be built into three other new ecology-based courses as the program’s development continues.

    TEK is the evolving knowledge acquired by Indigenous and local peoples over thousands of years about the environment and relationships between humans and nature.

    Applied Ecology will dovetail with the University’s physical presence in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve — the Niagara Escarpment — and with existing strengths in environmental sustainability, geography and biology.

    The applied nature of the program emphasizes methodologies for fieldwork and technical skills associated with data collection and report writing.

    “One thing many graduates have realized is the very steep learning curve they experience when hired as a biologist or ecologist in the industry. In my experience, this applies to everyone, including people working in government and non-government agencies,” said Yagi. “There is a definitive need for knowledgeable and skillful ecologists in the Niagara region.”

    Faculty of Mathematics and Science Dean Ejaz Ahmed believes the new programs fill important roles at Brock.

    “Supporting new programs so students can build careers in a wide range of industries is valuable to Brock and to our local and global community,” he said.

    STORY FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • Five Brock courses with a focus on climate change

    As the COP26 climate summit continues with world leaders talking climate change in Glasgow, Scotland, the topic is also at the forefront of both research and courses at Brock University. Climate change and its effects is discussed in various Faculties and from a variety of angles at Brock. Here are five examples of how students are learning about climate change.

    Contemporary Environmental Issues

    ENSU 3P90 is an Environmental Sustainability capstone course for Brock students who share an interest in sustainability and a concern for improving the relationships between people and the planet. Students engage in a wide range of sustainability issues, including climate change and biodiversity loss as well as displacement and environmental racism.

    The course’s instructor, Jessica Blythe, Assistant Professor in Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, says it resonates with students who are seeking to make a positive change in the world.

    “Many members of Gen Z feel overwhelmed by the state of the world and are responding by devoting their professional careers to finding solutions,” she said. “This course is designed to help students develop core competencies in sustainability science, including systems thinking, anticipatory and strategic skills, so they can thrive in sustainability careers and contribute to addressing the climate crisis.”

    Watershed Study and Assessment

    ERSC 4P31 is an Earth Sciences course that looks at the environmental health of two branches of the upper Twelve Mile Creek. Students in the course measure water quality parameters under different ambient conditions. They then get to compare their results with historical ones obtained in 1978 and 2001.

    Professor of Earth Sciences and course instructor Uwe Brand said the exercise encourages participants to re-evaluate their perceptions of clean water and its availability.

    “The course should show them that water is not only important to the fauna of the creek but also speaks to our water security,” he said. “In light of increasing CO2 emissions and global warming, don’t take anything for granted, including access to ‘clean’ water.”

    Environmental Economics

    ECON/TOUR 2P28 is a course that provides Economic perspectives on environmental and natural resource issues. Economics Instructor Geoff Black, who leads the course, said it is often an eye-opening experience for students.

    “We look at ways in which this shortcoming can be modelled and investigate policy that can bridge the gap,” he said. “It’s important for students to understand the market failures that occur regarding both common resources and public goods.”

    Ecocinema: History, Theory, Practices

    COMM/FILM/PCUL 4P58 is a Film Studies course that explores the proliferation of both fiction and nonfiction films that deal with the climate change, species extinction, resource extraction and other industrial practices.

    Course instructor Christie Milliken, Associate Professor of Film Studies, said the topic of climate change has been more prevalent in recent years, but it was also common in science fiction films in earlier decades.

    “The course invites students to consider the various rhetorical strategies deployed across a range of films as they invite us to rethink our relationship to the planet,” she said.

    Climate Crisis

    GEOG/ERSC 2P08 is a Geography course that provides an Introduction to the Earth’s atmosphere and the natural and anthropogenic drivers that change the Earth’s climate system. These include the Greenhouse effect, human activities that alter the climate system, climate models, climates of the past and projections of future climate.

     

    STORY REPOSTED FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • New video on “Climate Politics and Science” by David Grimes

    On World Meteorological Day, March 23, 2021, David Grimes presented a virtual talk on “Climate Politics and Science: Obstacles, Relationships and Responsibilities”. Watch the video below:

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  • Brock prof to talk climate change with Chief of Vuntut Gwitchin Government

    Residents of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, Yukon are living on the frontline of climate change, witnessing dramatic landscape changes in the Arctic due to rising temperatures.

    Under the leadership of Dana Tizya-Tramm, Chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin Government, Yukon was the first Indigenous community to draft a climate change emergency declaration, Yeendoo Diinehdoo Ji’heezrit Nits’oo Ts’o’ Nan He’aa (or After Our Time, How Will the World Be?) in 2019.

    Brock University Associate Professor in Geography and Tourism Studies Kevin Turner is very familiar with the dramatic response of the landscape to climate change on the traditional territory of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.

    Researching the area of Old Crow, Yukon, for over a decade, he continues to monitor landscape changes including landslides, vegetation change, lake drainage and fire. His research integrates chemical analyses of water and sediment to evaluate impacts of changing landscape features on lakes and rivers.

    Turner, who is Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Arctic Studies at the University of Washington, will be sitting down with Chief Tizya-Tramm for a “fireside chat” hosted by the World Affairs Council at a virtual public lecture Tuesday, Feb. 9 from 7 to 8 p.m.

    Turner and Tizya-Tramm will discuss emerging issues and priorities identified by the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in the face of global challenges.

    Diverse topics will include efforts to conserve the Porcupine Caribou Herd, adjustments during a pandemic, and pathways for unifying traditional insight of changing climate and landscapes with ongoing science-based monitoring approaches.

    “I’m looking forward to it, and in particular discussions of bringing together science-based research and traditional knowledge for the benefits of those most influenced by climate change,” says Turner.

    For more information and to register, click here.

    FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • New book chapter examines the changing ecology of the Arctic from a paleoenvironmental perspective

    Arctic Ecology Book Cover

    Dr. Michael Pisaric has published a new chapter in the book Arctic Ecology titled “Arctic Ecology – A Paleoenvironmental Perspective”.

    In the absence of measured climate and ecological data records, paleoecology, and paleoclimatology provide unique opportunities to examine ecological and climatic conditions across long timescales and provide much needed long‐term context. Across the Arctic there are numerous ecological problems affecting the biota and landscapes of this environmentally sensitive region. Climate change is chief amongst these. This chapter examines the changing ecology of the Arctic from a paleoenvironmental perspective. Using examples from studies throughout the circumpolar Arctic, the changing ecology of the Arctic is examined across longer timescales than typically considered in ecological studies. While instrumental records of climatic change in the Arctic are generally short, dendrochronology can provide key insights into climate variability during the past several centuries to millennia. There are many types of natural archives of ecological and environmental change from marine terrestrial environments in the Arctic.

    Citation:

    Pisaric, M., & Smol, J.P. (2021). Arctic Ecology – A Paleoenvironmental Perspective. Pages 23-55 in D.N. Thomas (Ed.) Arctic Ecology. Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118846582.ch2

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  • Co-op grads reach next steps despite pandemic challenges

    As a storm of uncertainty churned around them, two recent Brock grads used skills from their co-op studies to stay on course.

    Michelle Pearce and Yunzhuo (Sebastian) Wang knew their enrolment in Brock’s Co-op Education program would give them a leg up when it came to pursuing their goals, but they could not have imagined how much that experience would help them stay on track in the economic uncertainty that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Wang, who graduated with his Master of Business Administration during Brock’s Fall Convocation on Friday, Oct. 16, came to the University with his sights set on a career in finance. After completing the in-class portion of his education, the Xi’an, China, native began a co-op work term at Meridian Credit Union as a financial planning and analysis analyst.

    Many hours of interview preparation, resumé review and further acclimation to the Canadian job market with co-op’s talent performance consultants helped Wang to secure the role.

    Brock student Michelle Pearce

    Michelle Pearce used her co-op studies to gain experience in the environmental job sector and figure out which graduate program to apply for.

    “I didn’t have any Canadian work experience, and co-op let me get my foot in the workplace door,” he said.

    When physical distancing regulations shut many businesses, Wang, 26, was able to continue his work remotely and ultimately earn a full-time job with the organization.

    “The work term was the perfect way for me to learn about Meridian and get to know people there,” he said. “My preparation and the lessons I received from the co-op team made it much more straightforward to secure a full-time role in my field at a time when it was tougher to do so.”

    In addition to the job he accepted, Wang also received offers from two other financial firms, a sign, he said, that co-op students are more in-demand due to their readiness to tackle and adapt to a variety of situations.

    While Wang focused on the financial industry, Pearce, of Guelph, concentrated on the environmental sector. The 22-year-old Geography graduate, who received her bachelor’s degree Friday, completed her work terms with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as a horticulture and forestry survey student.

    While there, she began to explore and interact with various environmental roles she saw as potential paths for her future.

    “Seeing the different jobs available helped me to realize how much I liked working in an environmental setting and to figure out which master’s program I would need to complete to make that possible,” Pearce said. She ultimately was accepted to Brock’s Master of Earth Sciences program.

    The pandemic affected Pierce’s final undergraduate work term, although she too said the lessons she learned from the University’s Co-op Education team are beneficial going forward.

    “The co-op team taught me how to prepare for and be flexible in the tasks and timelines I faced during my work term this summer, and how to comply with new distancing guidelines. It all helped me to settle more easily into my master’s studies this fall,” she said.

    Despite significant global change, the pair were happy to mark Brock’s Virtual Convocation and celebrate what they have achieved so far.

    “It was sad to not be there in person, but my mom and I watched together, and I am looking forward to joining with my classmates to celebrate when restrictions are lifted,” said Pearce.

    “I celebrated with a few friends, and I will share the stream with my family back home as well,” said Wang.

    As both grads return to the tasks and assignments of the fall, each emphasized the role co-op has played in their lives, especially during such a tumultuous few months.

    Co-op helped me to figure out where I wanted to go and how to get there even when the world was changing,” said Pearce.

    “The service from co-op is second to none,” said Wang. “I’m so relieved that I have been able to secure a full-time job in my field and I could not have done that without the support of the entire co-op team.”

    To learn more about Brock’s Co-op Education opportunities, visit the Co-op website.

    Story reposted from The Brock News

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  • Brock researcher awarded Fulbright Canada Research Chair

    Kevin Turner, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies, has been awarded a Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Arctic Studies at the University of Washington.

    Next winter, Turner — who is also cross-appointed to the Department of Earth Sciences, an Associate Member of the Department of Biology and a Co-Founder of the Water and Environment Lab at Brock — is set to spend six months teaching and researching the impacts of climate change on northern landscapes, lakes, rivers and wetlands.

    “As land and water adjust to changes in climate, we are presented with many questions of urgent global concern, particularly to northern stakeholders,” says Turner. “Changing landscape components, such as permafrost thaw, will influence global carbon cycles and climate-warming greenhouse gases. This is a far-reaching concern.”

    The Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Arctic Studies recognizes Associate Professor Kevin Turner’s ongoing work in mapping Arctic lake and river responses to landscape disturbances caused by the changing climate, as shown in this photo he captured of a landslide due to thawing permafrost.

    Turner notes that there are also local concerns, including how landscape disturbance such as fire, landslides and lake drainage can affect water quality, ecology, infrastructure and travel. To address some of these issues, he will use the research component of the Chair position to “take inventory of the landscape changes and identify how they influence the hydrology and chemistry of lakes, rivers and wetlands.”

    “The research aims to enhance our knowledge of climate change impacts and feedbacks,” says Turner, who has been conducting fieldwork in northern Yukon for 14 years. “We do this by identifying linkages among landscape changes and lake and river biogeochemistry across the ecologically and culturally important landscapes of the Yukon River Basin.”

    The Fulbright Canada Research Chair also involves teaching for the University of Washington’s minor in Arctic Studies. Turner plans to share with students both remote sensing and field-based techniques for collecting landscape data, as well as teaching students how to analyze, synthesize and share their findings with broad audiences.

    Turner says he was honoured to be selected for the Fulbright Canada Research Chair.

    “There are several colleagues I look up to who have received it in the past,” he says. “I am grateful that I have this opportunity to extend my research program and collaborations across borders.”

    Turner is attracted to the University of Washington for several reasons, not the least of which is the chance to work more closely with colleagues whom he has met during his affiliation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Arctic-Boreal Monitoring Experiment.

    He also notes that the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, where the position will be homed, is a “leader in advancing the understanding of and engagement in world issues.”

    “Several researchers and dignitaries from Yukon participate at their various forums, including Dana Tizya-Tramm, Chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN; Old Crow, Yukon), who discussed impacts of climate change on Indigenous communities and their resilience during a meeting of the World Affairs Council,” says Turner. “The priorities of my research program have been guided by the vast knowledge that the VGFN have of their traditional territory and the observations they have made over generations.”

    Turner also has personal reasons to be excited about relocating to Seattle for the duration of the position.

    “As a past varsity rower, I’m interested in seeing where that 1936 crew came from on their way to gold in Germany,” Turner admits. “I should also mention that I’m a big fan of several musical artists who came from Seattle — top of the list would be Jimi Hendrix.”

    However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may interfere with Turner’s plans. The position is set to begin in January 2021, but a few pieces need to fall into place before then.

    “We are currently living in a world of virtual-communications and we are unsure of how this will change by the end of the year,” says Turner, adding that international visas were suspended by the U.S. Department of State until the end of 2020. “Fulbright is currently looking into these issues and will provide updates as they learn more. I have hope that things will change for the better as the new year approaches.”

    Turner also points out that “climate change will not pause for us, and there is a lot within that realm that we need to learn.”

    “Arctic and subarctic regions are undergoing climate warming at a rate twice above the global average, and changes in precipitation patterns occurring — less snow and more rain, for example — are having major impacts on these landscapes,” says Turner. “The processes that cause permafrost degradation are often triggered by warm and wet conditions, and since about a third of the world’s carbon is locked in permafrost, this has complex ramifications for the rest of the world.”

    STORY FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • Brock students find alarming amounts of plastic in sand at St. Catharines beach

    A day at the beach doesn’t often involve lab work, but for a group of Brock University fourth-year Geography students tasked with assessing plastic waste on the shores of Lake Ontario last fall, it was just that.

    Back in October, students from Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies Michael Pisaric’s GEOG 4P26 class visited Sunset Beach in north St. Catharines to measure the quantity of plastics turning up in the sand.

    Students measured out plots on the beach and sifted through the sand to collect as many tiny pieces of plastic as they could. They compiled their findings in lab reports for the end of the Fall Term.

    The results are now in, and they’re alarming.

    In one sample alone, one square metre of the beach yielded 665 individual pieces of plastic material.

    Pisaric called the amount and variety of plastics collected in the samples “striking.”

    “I think much of the discussion concerning plastics in the environment has been focused on the oceans and we are quickly understanding that plastic pollution is also an important issue closer to home in the Great Lakes,” said Pisaric, who is also Chair of the Geography and Tourism Studies Department. “This small study of a single beach on Lake Ontario clearly shows the prevalence of plastic pollution in our own backyard is a serious problem.”

    Emily Bowyer, a third-year student from Mississauga majoring in Geography and Biology who participated in the field collection, described it as “an opportunity to see the magnitude of the problems in the environment first-hand.”

    Another surprise to the team was the prevalence of nurdles — small plastic pellets used in the manufacture of many different goods.

    Investigation during the course uncovered a 2013 Toronto Star article that suggested nurdles may have made their way into Lake Ontario via the Humber River during a factory fire.

    “It is interesting to speculate that the prevalence of nurdles we noted in our samples may have originated on the other side of Lake Ontario,” Pisaric said.

    The professor plans to run a similar investigation when the course is offered again next fall to address some of the questions that cropped up in light of the results of the students’ labs.

    “Perhaps next time around I will have the students compare the beaches on Lake Ontario with a beach on Lake Erie,” he said. “Are similar quantities of plastics occurring in both areas? Do the types of plastic differ between the two lake environments?”

    Carolyn Finlayson, Experiential Education Co-ordinator for the Faculty of Social Sciences, attended the field trip and witnessed how interested casual beach visitors were in the students’ activities.

    “It’s a wonderful example of the larger impact experiential learning can have on our Niagara community and our students,” she said. “By working at the beach that day for their lab, students were able to start conversations with beachgoers about their use of plastic and its impact on the shorelines they enjoy.”

    Cara Krezek, Director of Co-op, Career and Experiential Education, said these were exactly the types of courses the University envisioned when it committed to expanding experiential learning so all students had access to meaningful experiences in their programs.

    “Courses like these take our students into a real-world setting and allow them to apply their knowledge, learn new skills and reflect on how they can take these experiences forward to a future career path,” Krezek said. “I am certain these students will never forget their findings and it will change the way they interact with plastics.”

    Emily Bowyer, Pravin Rajayagam and Dakota Schnierle, students in a fourth-year Geography course at Brock, sift through sand on Sunset Beach in St. Catharines to find out how many plastics are washing up on the beach.

    STORY FROM THE BROCK NEWS

    Other Media Coverage

    Brock students find alarming amounts of plastic at St. Catharines beach: Extensive media coverage was given to an experiential learning exercise led by Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies Michael Pisaric that saw Brock students uncover more than 2,000 pieces of plastic on St. Catharines’ Sunset Beach. The story was featured in the St. Catharines Standard, CBC, CHCH, Newstalk 610 CKTB and Coastal News Today.

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  • New research by geography alumnus looks at fire history in southwest Yukon Territory

    Student in forest taking a tree core sample

    Tyler Prince taking a tree core sample in southwest Yukon Territory. Photo by Kevin Turner.

    New research by Tyler Prince (Brock Geography and Master of Sustainability alumnus), Michael Pisaric, and Kevin Turner was published this week in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. Read more below.

    Abstract:

    Previous research suggests climate warming during the current century is likely to lead to an increase in the frequency and severity of wildfire. Recent wildfire seasons in northern Canada generally support these studies, with some of the worst fire seasons on record occurring during the past decade. While we can readily track the spatial and temporal distribution of these events during recent decades using satellite-derived data, historical records of past fire activity are relatively short. Proxy records of past fire activity are needed to fully understand how fire regimes may be shifting in response to changing climatic conditions. A high-resolution fire record, dating back to the early-Holocene, has been reconstructed using a 512-cm sediment core collected from a small lake in southwest Yukon Territory, Canada. Macroscopic charcoal was counted throughout the core at contiguous 0.5-cm intervals. The core was also analyzed for loss-on-ignition and magnetic susceptibility. Fossil pollen preserved in the lake sediment was analyzed to determine vegetation change throughout the Holocene. Macroscopic charcoal analysis indicates an active fire history throughout the record, with 90 fires occurring throughout the Holocene. CharAnalysis indicates an average signal to noise index of 6.2, suggesting the peaks are significant and detectable from the slowly varying background level. Results suggest the fire regime in this region responds to both top-down (climate) and bottom-up (vegetation) factors. Fire return intervals changed in response to shifts in precipitation and temperature as well as the expansion of lodgepole pine into the region. The shifts in precipitation and temperature were attributed to the oscillation of the Aleutian Low pressure system and fluctuations in climate associated with the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Little Ice Age.

    Access the full paper online.

    Prince, T., Pisaric, M., and Turner, K. (2018). Postglacial reconstruction of fire history using sedimentary charcoal and pollen from a small lake in southwest Yukon Territory, Canada. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, online.

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  • Students experience Ground Penetrating Radar demonstration

    The Department of Geography and Tourism Studies would like to thank Sensors and Software Inc. for visiting our Physical Geography Field Course (GEOG 3P56) class on September 21, 2018 to host a demonstration on Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR).

    After learning about GPR and its’ applications, our students headed outside to test the GPR unit around the Brock University campus. Here are a few photos from the class:

    Student using Ground Penetrating Radar technology in GEOG 3P56 course outside on a hill

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