International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2023

February 13, 2023

February 11th is recognized as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This year’s theme is Innovate. Demonstrate. Elevate. Advance. Sustain. (I.D.E.A.S.): Bringing Everyone Forward for Sustainable and Equitable Development.

Specifically, this year's theme focuses on the role of women and girls and science in relation to the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

  • SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) 
  • SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy)
  • SDG 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure)
  • SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities)
  • SDG 17 (means of implementation)

In celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we spoke with Faculty of Environment researchers working to advance these goals.

Zoe Long,
PhD student, School of Resource and Environmental Management

Transportation plays a significant role in sustainable development and Canada’s GHG reduction goals. Advancing clean and affordable energy (SDG 7) in transportation systems is central to building sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11).

Zoe Long is a PhD student with the Sustainable Transportation Action Research Team in SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management. Her research looks at how Canadians use low-carbon transportation technologies, like shared and electric vehicles, and how policy can align these technologies with climate action goals.

"The transportation sector is the second largest source of GHG emissions in Canada, and the leading source of GHG emissions in BC. By improving understanding of consumers choices, my research can inform policymaking for reducing transportation emissions. For example, my research has examined what motivates consumers to buy electric vehicles, and I used those findings to develop policy recommendations to increase electric vehicle purchases."

Her research has been used to shape real-world policies that actively reduce GHG emissions, like the City of Vancouver’s Electric Vehicle Ecosystem Strategy, as well as inform BC’s zero-emissions vehicle sales mandate.

In a recent study explained in an article in The Conversation, Long explores the causes of rising fossil fuel SUV sales in Canada and policy changes that could reduce SUV emissions.

Read more about Zoe's research in a Q&A

How can we make low-carbon transportation technologies, such as electric vehicles, more affordable and accessible?

We need policy to help make low-carbon transportation technologies more affordable and accessible. Subsidies can help make electric vehicles cheaper and more affordable to buy. Electric vehicle sales mandates (like we have in BC and soon to be in place nationally) require automakers to sell more electric vehicles to buyers, which help alleviate supply shortages and decrease wait times for buyers. We can vote for governments and politicians who support these policies. On an individual level, we can have conversations with our friends and colleagues about climate change and low-carbon technologies. The more we talk about these topics, the greater the public awareness becomes, which can help put pressure on government to act.

How can policy be utilized to make smaller or more fuel-efficient vehicles appealing to Canadians? Could these tactics be applied elsewhere?

The simplest solution is to revise Canada’s existing fuel economy standards, which are less strict for SUVs. If this policy was edited to be stricter for SUVs, or even apply equally across all vehicle sizes, car makers might invest more in selling smaller vehicles to comply with the policy. Another option is to make smaller vehicles cheaper to buy and operate, such as through incentives and subsidies. The other related option is to make SUVs more expensive to buy and use, but this option is likely to be politically unpopular. In general, my view is that policy should work to make low-carbon options the obvious choice for consumers – make them cheap, convenient, and easy to access.

One if the interesting findings in The Conversation piece is the role of social influence in shaping Canadians’ SUV attraction. People buy SUVs to signal social status and to fit in; SUVs are seen as increasingly common and normal. There is work to do around changing these social norms. We can work on not exporting these norms to other countries, and instead promote more socially beneficial norms – like signaling that it’s common and normal to use efficient and low-carbon cars.

What made you want to study sustainable transportation solutions?

I have been passionate about working in the environment and climate change space since I was a teenager. I worked as a conservation biologist after my undergraduate degree, and witnessed many downstream impacts of climate change. I decided to pivot to work in climate change mitigation research, which I see as addressing the upstream causes to many environmental problems. Transportation is a critical sector to address – it is one of the largest sources of GHG emissions and everyone needs to get around. I view safe, healthy, and equitable access to transportation as key pillars of sustainable transportation, so I am motivated to work in developing and advocating for sustainable transportation solutions.

Dana Lapides,
Research Hydrologist, USDA-ARS Southwest Watershed Research Center & former post doctoral fellow, Department of Geography

Demand for clean water (SDG 6) is rising with population growth, increasing needs of agriculture and energy sectors, and more. In addition, current clean water supplies face risks due to poor management, contamination, and climate change.

Dana Lapides is a research hydrologist with the USDA-ARS Southwest Watershed Research Center. For the past two years, she was a post-doctoral fellow with the Hydrology Research Group in the Department of Geography at SFU. She seeks to address water issues that arise due to increasing water demand and a changing climate by understanding the mechanistic drivers of surface flows, how human interventions impact flows, and the limitations of conventional management tools.

"I think harder about where the water is than how clean it is, but these two aspects of hydrology are really interrelated. Managing access to water in general is a prerequisite to effectively managing access to clean water," says Lapides.

In a recent article in The Conversation, Lapides and team note that changing climates and extreme droughts make conventional water management tools less reliable. In response, the group developed an updated water supply forecasting model to more accurately predict water supply from melting snowpack in mountainous areas, like British Columbia and California.

Read more about Dana's research in a Q&A

Access to clean water has been noted as the most basic human right. Can you explain how your work helps to provide/predict/manage access to clean water?

I agree, clean water is really important. In my work, though, I think harder about where the water is (flooding, drought, etc) than how clean it is, but these two aspects of hydrology (water quality and water quantity) are really interrelated. Managing access to water in general is a prerequisite to effectively managing access to clean water. My closest relationship with water managers was through the time I spent as a Wisconsin Water Science & Policy Postdoctoral Fellow. I spent 6 months embedded in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources learning about the day-to-day challenges of groundwater managers. From this experience, my colleagues and I developed an overarching framework that identifies all of the open research questions that need to be answered to assist in groundwater management, and we’ve been working through the list! We’re just finishing up a study that helps to identify the best ways to measure the impacts of groundwater pumping on nearby streams—something that is generally difficult to detect.

If I understand correctly, your work focuses mainly on Canada and the U.S.. This year’s IDWGIS theme is Innovate. Demonstrate. Elevate. Advance. Sustain. (I.D.E.A.S.): Bringing Everyone Forward. Can the knowledge and tools you are developing be used by developing countries to help predict and manage water supplies?

Absolutely. My colleagues and I focus much of our work on North America because we have great monitoring infrastructure. This allows us to do more site-specific work from which we can develop broader theories and principles that are applicable in areas without the same level of monitoring infrastructure. For instance, we have some intensively-monitored sites in California that give us a really good understanding of how hydrology works in the mountains in California. This detailed understanding allowed us to develop a framework for predicting runoff from snowmelt that works really well in California but also in other mountainous regions around the world. The only barrier to applying this framework elsewhere is data availability, and we are currently working on updated data products that cover larger areas and timeframes.

What made you want to become a hydrologist?

As an undergraduate, I studied mathematics. I really enjoyed the math, but by the time I graduated, I was feeling done with the purely theoretical work and wanted to do research that would have an impact on society. I had a strong interest in the outdoors and climate change, so it seemed romantic to join an Earth Science department. I started out working on climate models at UC Berkeley. Early on in my PhD I spent two summers volunteering on a farm in Portugal and throughout the year at a local farm in Berkeley. These experiences were really impactful for me and taught me a lot about the challenges involved in sustainable agriculture. Of particular interest to me was water management. The farms I worked at had some rainwater harvesting set up—I just started thinking about how the changes to the landscape would impact how water flows through the farm and also downstream to neighbors. This question led me out of climate modeling and into hydrology, where I found a fantastic group of mentors and lots of interesting questions, and that’s where I still am today.

Lauren Laturnus,
SFU alumnus and Research assistant, School of Environmental Science

Identifying ways we can promote sustainable infrastructure (SDG 9) and mitigate harm from industry is crucial when it comes to protecting at-risk species in our oceans.

Lauren Laturnas graduated from SFU's School of Environmental Science in the spring of 2022 with a bachelor of science and a concentration in applied biology. Her passion for animal conservation and well-being led her to working as a research assistant in B.C.’s gulf islands with professor Ruth Joy, studying whale behaviour and the impacts of recreational and commercial ocean vessels on cetaceans by using land-based and acoustic observations. 

“One of the key threats facing the endangered Southern Resident killer whales is the increase in underwater noise due to vessels,” says Lauren. “Killer whales are heavily reliant on echolocation and vocal acoustics for communication within respective pods, as well as navigating and locating prey. Underwater noise from commercial vessels can negatively affect killer whales and lead to changed behaviours, hearing loss, and increased stress levels. As these whales share their home with the shipping lanes that connect the Pacific Ocean with ports in Southern BC, they are at greater risk of acoustic disturbance.”

Read more about Lauren's research in a Q&A

How are you working to protect endangered killer whales and other cetaceans from recreational and commercial ship traffic? Can these methods be applied to other high ship-traffic areas around the world?

Decreasing vessel speed is an immediate solution to lessen the impact of acoustic noise on this species. Part of my research is assessing the effectiveness of the Boundary Pass voluntary slowdown led by the Vancouver port authority ECHO (Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation) program. In addition, marine protected areas can provide a safe habitat that limits noise and other anthropogenic disturbances. The Interim Sanctuary Zone located along Saturna island was created as this area was determined to be a key foraging habitat of the Southern Resident killer whales. My research also looks at how these whales are using this area and if boaters comply with the restrictions.

Lastly, through the power of artificial intelligence, hydrophones can be trained for automatic detection of whales. I am currently listening to and annotating killer whale calls to feed into a deep learning neural network model. Through the ability to automatically detect the presence of killer whales, an alert system could be designed to reduce the risk of ship collisions as well as mitigate acoustic disturbance when paired with vessel slowdown in the vicinity of whales.

These methods can most definitely be applied to other high ship-traffic areas around the world.

What kind of equipment and methods do you use to examine whale behaviour? Can you describe some of the behaviours you’re looking for?

Using a surveying instrument called a theodolite, I determined the whales’ exact positions as well as those of nearby vessels. I observed and categorized the whales’ behaviour as either traveling, resting, socializing, or foraging. Specifically, I looked at the changes in the whales’ behaviour when in the presence of vessels.

When listening to the killer whale calls, I look for changes in call volume, type, and number of calls when there is vessel noise present. One way killer whales have been known to compensate for the increase in noise levels is to produce louder vocalizations, which requires the whales to expend more energy. This unfortunately reduces their energy available to forage, survive, and thrive.