Spring 2022 Seminar Series

Fighting for stronger science in environmental reviews: Impact assessment in Canada

Alana Westwood

Assistant Professor in the School of Resource & Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University

Although many people are supportive of policy and law based on science and evidence, in practice, this process is complex. Impact assessment is a legal process that determines when, where, and how major infrastructure projects like mines and dams are approved, and these laws have been criticized for decades for their lack of rigor and poor standards of evidence.

This seminar told the story of a determined group of scientists who took on Parliament and the Senate about Canada’s 2019 impact assessment law and maybe—just maybe—were a little bit victorious. In this seminar, Alana Westwood discussed the science-policy interface and how environmental management decisions are made.

Alana Westwood studies the science-policy interface to understand how management decisions are made and the impacts of forestry and mining to supply evidence to maintain biodiversity. She works with partners from all sectors to  design inclusive tools to support sustainable natural resource management.

After the flames: predicting post-wildfire hydrogeomorphic responses and natural resource impacts

Dr. Brendan Murphy

Assistant Professor in the School of Environmental Science at Simon Fraser University

Extreme wildfire behavior is increasing across western North America, but the impacts extend beyond the direct risks to life, property, and forest ecosystems. After severe wildfires, substantial surface runoff and eroded sediment can impact river morphodynamics, water quality, and downstream infrastructure, including reductions in water reservoir capacity. Efficient and reliable models are urgently needed to predict post-wildfire debris flows, hillslope erosion, and the cascades of sediment through watersheds. 

Dr. Brendan Murphy's research involves conducting field studies to evaluate hydrogeomorphic responses after wildfire, as well as developing novel modeling frameworks to improve predictions of watershed-scale impacts after wildfire.

Global change in the Alpine of North America: Impacts on Biodiversity

Dr. Scott Hotaling

Postdoctoral Researcher in the School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University

The water we drink, the air we breathe, and the nature we adore all rely on biodiversity, but right now, it is in crisis due to climate change. Biodiversity is not only important for our day-to-day life, but without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity.

Climate change is dramatically altering headwater ecosystems worldwide. In high-elevation regions, perhaps the most consequential change is the rapid recession of glaciers and perennial snowfields. How a changing cryosphere will impact biodiversity, particularly in meltwater-driven habitats, is poorly known. In this seminar, Dr. Scott Hotaling integrated community ecology, ecophysiology, and molecular tools to give a broad overview of the existing biodiversity in high mountain, aquatic habitats, their potential fate under climate change, and the evidence for in situ refugia to buffer these changes.

Cold Water Matters: Advances in Understanding & Diagnosing Hydrological Changes in Cold Regions

Kabir Rasouli

Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Geography at University of British Columbia

Nearly half of the world population relies on ‘Cold Waters’ stored in high mountains and high latitudes, where much of the annual precipitation falls as snow. Vegetation cover and groundwater storage influence the timing and magnitude of downstream water availability by dampening flood volumes and prolonging spring runoff. Monitoring the security and resilience of water systems in cold regions under climate change is challenging due to complex relationships between sparse vegetation covers, defrosted soil, and snow.

Over the past decade, a new understanding of cold regions hydrology has been emerging based on detailed field observations and the development of process-based hydrological models.

In this seminar, Kabir Rasouli discussed the advances in physically-based understanding and diagnosis of hydrological changes to better understand past, current, and future states of hydrological systems.