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Help solve the Earth’s mysteries at the University of Manitoba

The Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources

“We are not students of some subject matter, but students of problems. And problems may cut right across the borders of any subject matter or discipline.” – Karl Popper 1963

The Earth, its environment, and resources, along with humanity as a whole, face a future filled with challenges and opportunities. Over the 21st century, our growing population will increase demand for resources – food, water, minerals, and energy. Humans have become a dominant force on Earth, and are both the source and solution to environmental problems, but yet require resources to survive, and to thrive. It is vital that people understand these problems so that potential solutions are identified and sustainable solutions are implemented. Not all solutions are going to be equally sustainable in different regions of the world, nor will they have the same impact on different peoples.

In a globalized, interconnected world, all aspects of the environment are becoming integrated over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. The major challenges we face are diverse with complex causes and consequences – they are the so-called “wicked problems”. Others are specific to a particular region or activity, such as agriculture, resource management, mineral extraction, and energy generation. We recognize increased expectations are straining physical and social systems already under stress, and emerging problems, such as climate change, food and water security, environmental equality, and the balance between fossil and renewable energy will challenge innovators, trailblazers, and pioneers from around the globe.

Science allows us to quantify environmental variables, monitor change, and model potential outcomes. Implementing a response to those outcomes must harness the social, political, and economic resources of societies, communities, and individuals. However, bringing together these different perspectives and approaches is not without its challenges: doing so requires that we engage with each other across disciplinary and national boundaries, to share our approaches, and to support scholarly diversity. Rapidly developing communications, and the democratization of knowledge provide just a few of the potential opportunities that humanity can benefit from if managed appropriately and equitably.

The Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources at the University of Manitoba is at the forefront of these challenges. The expertise in this interdisciplinary Faculty builds upon proven experience providing innovative research, excellent teaching, and exceptional service.

Why is this important?

We like to think we understand everything that is going on around us, but while this might be true for some of us in a general way, it is not true for everyone, and the details of these environmental processes become very important. Shifting precipitation patterns and rising sea levels will change coastlines and alter the lives of billions of people. Climate change will have an effect on food production, and access to energy will sustain or curtail our lifestyles.

At the Riddell Faculty, they also teach and do research in the areas of community-based management of resources and resource equity. They look at how new developments impact people and their environments, how land use and development fragments wildlife habitats, and how to set aside sanctuaries and parkland so that we may preserve and sustain ecosystems.

At the Faculty, they examine how gender and culture frames our understanding of, and response to, environmental change. They examine disasters from human, physical, and historical perspectives to see what we can learn for the future. To fully compensate for our impact on the environment, we need to know which pieces are connected and how it all works.

Their Faculty strengths

Arctic System Science is one of the university’s signature areas of research. This international research excellence permeates the graduate and undergraduate training environment by providing exciting opportunities for their students. From the highest latitudes on the planet to some of the coldest locations – students at the University of Manitoba get to do it all.

They have unique access to Canada’s premier research icebreaker, the CCGS Amundsen, with new opportunities being planned every year. They also have exclusive access to research sites around Greenland to witness and document the changes occurring as the ice cap melts.

Hemispheric processes in the Arctic are changing weather patterns around the planet. With diminishing Arctic sea ice, heat is accumulating in the Arctic Ocean, which means the Polar Jetstream is changing shape, bringing new precipitation patterns to lower latitudes. Considering most of the world’s land is in the northern hemisphere, this means a lot of people are going to be affected.

Switching from global to atomic scales, they have also developed impressive expertise in the geosciences. The Faculty has one of the best suites of micro-analytical equipment in the world, which undergraduate students get to benefit from, as they get hands-on experience with this equipment and the opportunity to pursue their own research projects.

Their esteemed Faculty

Their outstanding Faculty members have the skills and experience to undertake these challenges and guide students to learn how to take them on as well. Here are just a few members of their Faculty:

Dr. Emdad Haque (Natural Resources Institute)

Dr. Haque’s academic and research interests focus on the various facets of, and processes at, the nature-society interface. His background is in the area of resource and environmental management, with concentrations in environmental risk assessment, hazard and disaster management, and water resource management. Dr. Haque offers courses in these areas by linking them to his research and personal experience in Manitoba and other parts of Canada, as well as other countries including Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.

Dr. Mostafa Fayek (Department of Geological Sciences)

Dr. Fayek’s research largely focuses on: (1) tracing the origin, evolution, and timing of large-scale fluid events that are responsible for mass transport and concentration of economic resources in subsurface systems; (2) natural and engineered barriers, and natural analogues for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste (HLNW); and more recently (3) evaluating the impact of historic, radioactive mine tailings on the environment.

Dr. ZouZou Kuzyk (Centre for Earth Observation Science)

Dr. Kuzyk is a biogeochemist with particular interests in the biogeochemical cycles of carbon and other elements in Arctic coastal and marine areas. The Arctic Ocean is entering a time of dramatic change in its sea-ice distribution, river runoff, and ocean circulation, and each of these changes impacts the supply, distribution, and fate of organic carbon and associated nutrients differently. Dr. Kuzyk uses a variety of geochemical tracers, including radioisotopes, stable isotopes, redox-sensitive elements and specific proxies for land-derived organic matter (e.g. lignin) to study the modern marine sediment record, documenting past and present conditions and providing insight into ongoing change.

Dr. Jonathan Peyton (Department of Environment and Geography)

Dr. Peyton’s research takes a historical and cultural approach to the social and environmental effects of large-scale development projects. He looks at the effects of energy and extractive megaprojects on communities, landscapes, and livelihoods. These industrial effects may be positive bringing much needed economic stimulus and social engagement into areas that have traditionally been marginalized in discussions around development. Equally, effects often bear negative consequences as communities face the full brunt of environmental dislocation and socioeconomic disruption in the wake of development. More often than not, the effects on communities are more ambivalent, producing positive and negative effects in equal measure.

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This article is sponsored by The Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources – University of ManitobaRiddell Faculty combines world-class research excellence with outstanding hands-on learning in dynamic classes, cutting-edge laboratories, and in the field, both nationally and internationally. Students learn about the environment from atomic to global scales and can focus on geography (human and physical), environmental science and studies, geology and geophysics. Manitoba’s interdisciplinary structure allows students to view real-world issues and problems to become highly qualified individuals ready to take their place in their chosen professions. Graduate Masters and PhD programs match students with leading world-recognized researchers. The University of Manitoba is the province’s premier research institution.

All images courtesy of University of Manitoba.

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