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Monday, June 13, 2011

  • Water shortage foreseen in the west
  • Notes as the 102nd Convocation nears
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Water shortage foreseen in the west

a news release from Wilfrid Laurier University

Researchers from Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo are predicting a freshwater shortage in western North America beyond anything experienced in societal memory. The shortage will have implications for many sectors of society, including the Alberta oil sands industry, hydroelectric production and agriculture. 

Using a 5,200-year record of water-level variations in Lake Athabasca, researchers show that western Canadian society developed during a rare period of abundant water supply that was ‘subsidized’ by glacier expansion. Now, shrinking glaciers and snowpacks are reducing the discharge in rivers originating in the central Rocky Mountain region that support downstream societies in western North America — a pattern which is expected to continue for many decades. 

“We must now prepare for water shortages of duration and magnitude not evident in hydrometric records or our collective awareness,” said Brent Wolfe, principal investigator on the study and associate professor and NSERC Northern Research Chair in Laurier’s department of geography and environmental studies. 

With the anticipated growth in the petroleum sector, along with additional demands on existing freshwater availability, decision-makers will be increasingly challenged to manage freshwater resources appropriately to minimize risks to downstream ecosystems.

“Our findings suggest that predictions made by decision-makers and planners in government and industry – based entirely on inadequate, short instrumental records — will grossly underestimate how rapid and severe the impending water scarcity will be,” said Tom Edwards, professor in Waterloo’s department of earth and environmental sciences. 

This is particularly true for large areas of the arid interior of western North America, where water supplied by rivers originating at high elevation is the life-blood of regional economies. The Alberta oil sands industry uses more than half of the total water allocation in the Athabasca River Basin. The industry’s water use is expected to increase by 120-165 per cent by 2025. 

“As the ‘alpine water tap’ closes, much drier times are ahead,” said Roland Hall, professor in Waterloo’s department of biology. “The transition from abundance to scarcity can occur within about a human lifespan. Our findings convey an important message that government and industry must start now to prepare for unprecedented water scarcity.”

Researchers emphasize that recent spring floods in the Prairies should not be misconstrued as an abundance of water. These short-lived floods were driven by snow that accumulated over a single winter at low elevations. In contrast, sustained high flows occur during summer, fed by high elevation snowpacks and glaciers that grow and shrink over longer time periods. The study identifies that changes in these summer flows are likely to present the greatest challenges.

The study was published June 9 in Geophysical Research Letters.

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[Eating at picnic table]

'Fun in the park' was the way Thursday's get-together for post-doctoral fellows was advertised, and about 50 postdocs along with faculty and staff (and family members) showed up in Waterloo Park for the occasion. "Fun was had by all," says Marta Bailey of the graduate studies office, which is responsible for programming aimed at postdocs. She said the suppertime event included a birthday celebration for Ray Legge, the associate dean (grad studies) in the engineering faculty.

Notes as the 102nd Convocation nears

St. Jerome’s University is looking for a new president, following the announcement that David Perrin (left), the president since 2007, will not be seeking another term when [Perrin]his appointment ends in June 2012. “I am very proud of the progress we have made over the last four years on many fronts,” he said as part of a statement to the St. Jerome’s board of governors on May 26. Earlier, an internal memo told the college community that Perrin, a theologian whose area of academic expertise is Christian spirituality, “wishes to return to the academic community to focus on his work as a professor, researcher and writer”. At the May 26 meeting, the board approved creation of a President’s Search Committee, which will be headed by board chair Maureen O’Donoghue Rich.

Meanwhile, there’s presidential news from St. Thomas More College, a Roman Catholic institution federated with the University of Saskatchewan. Its new leader, as of August 1, is Terrence Downey, a Waterloo (St. Jerome’s) graduate who was a faculty member in political science here from 1977 to 1999 (and a winner of the Distinguished Teacher Award in 1988). He left Waterloo to become president of St. Mary’s University College in Calgary, and is just finishing his third term in that position. A number of Waterloo faculty have gone on to lead other post-secondary institutions over the years, but the move to St. Thomas More will make Downey, as far as I can tell, the first Waterloo veteran to be president at two places.

One of the scientific world’s power couples will be visiting Waterloo this week, as one of them, biochemist Anne Dell of Imperial College London will be receiving an honorary degree at Wednesday afternoon’s convocation ceremony. Dell, an international leader in understanding the structures and activities of complex polysaccharide molecules through the application of mass spectrometry, will give the convocation address, and while she’s in Waterloo she will also give two technical seminars: one today for the chemistry department, one tomorrow for the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Travelling with her is her partner, noted physicist Cyril Hilsum, now of University College London. “He created the first semiconductor laser, played a key role in developing the Ridley-Watkins-Hilsum theory, and perhaps most notably, provided the foundation for modern LCD technology,” says Alain Francq of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology. WIN will host a lecture by Hilsum on Thursday afternoon, with a reception to follow.

[Staff in blue T-shirts]Tim Hortons coffee shops hold an annual “Camp Day” to get customers involved in the fund-raising for their send-a-child-to-camp program, and this year the four locations on campus (including the Tim’s in South Campus Hall, right) took part on June 1. “The four locations had a very successful day,” says Heather Kelly of food services, ”serving up 1,843 cups of coffee and raising $2,713.60 — every penny from coffee sales. This money has been donated to the Tim Hortons Children’s Foundation. A big shout-out to our campus for their fabulous support and for the hard work of the Tim Hortons staff!”

Editor and online entrepreneur Ariana Huffington will be the keynote speaker at the International Women in Digital Media Summit, to be held this fall in Stratford. Waterloo’s Stratford campus is one of several sponsors for the event, scheduled for October 23-25, which promises to “bring together traditional and digital media communities, as well as educational/ research institutions, to explore innovation, skills gaps, policy and research in the content areas of gaming, mobile, social media and transmedia. Delegates will benefit from demonstrations, workshops, structured networking and mentorship opportunities, and the expertise of leading women working in digital media globally.” Huffington is best known as creator of the Huffington Post, a news and blog site which launched its Canadian edition just last month.

Marcel O’Gorman of the English department was in Durham, Ontario, over the weekend to speak about recent research at Waterloo’s Critical Media Lab at a meeting of artists and academics. The CriMe Lab, located in downtown Kitchener, exists to foster the creation of new media projects that explore the impact of technology on the human condition. That fits with the theme of this weekend’s Common Pulse Symposium, organized “to examine how media is reshaping culture: how consumers are becoming producers, how private citizens are adopting public personas, and how ideas evolve in an era of file-sharing, sampling and open source”. The conference was organized by OCAD University (the Ontario College of Art and Design) and the Durham Art Gallery. O’Gorman’s theme: “a model that challenges the boundaries between art and science, research and artistic practice, resulting in the invention of new technologies and media artefacts, dialogue facilitation across disciplines and communities, and policy formation that directly impacts technological design and implementation.”


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Link of the day

Whit Monday

When and where

Co-op employer interviews for fall work term (main group) continue through Thursday. Rankings open Friday 1:00, close June 20 at 2:00; match results available 4:00.

Senate graduate and research council 10:30, Needles Hall room 3004.

Matthews Golf Classic (21st annual), today, Grand Valley Golf Club. Details.

Career workshop: Exploring Your Personality Type, Part 1, 2:30 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1112. Details.

Chemistry seminar: Anne Dell, Imperial College London, “Mass Spectrometic Strategies for Glycomics and  Glycoproteomics” 2:30, Davis Centre room 1302.

Dance Adventure performance, Humanities Theatre, 7 p.m.

World’s Largest Swimming Lesson local site at Physical Activities Complex pool, Tuesday 11 a.m., reception follows; register at ext. 35869.

Chemical engineering seminar: Aline Auroux, CNRS Lyon, France, “Calorimetry as a Tool for the Study of Depollution Processes” Tuesday 11:30, Doug Wright Engineering room 2529.

Senate undergraduate council Tuesday 12:00, Hagey Hall room 373.

Career workshop: Successfully Negotiating Academic Job Offers, Tuesday 12:00, Tatham Centre room 2218. Details.

Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology seminar: Anne Dell, Imperial College London, “Glycomics” Tuesday 1:30, Davis Centre room 1302.

Heidi Bishop, food services, retirement reception marking 46 years of service, Tuesday 2 to 4 p.m., University Club.

Board of governors meeting Tuesday 3:30 p.m., Needles Hall room 3001.

Spring Convocation: Wednesday 10 a.m. (AHS and environment) and 2:30 p.m. (science). Thursday 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (arts). Friday 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (mathematics); Saturday 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (engineering), all ceremonies in Physical Activities Complex. Details.

Convocation Mass at St. Jerome’s University, Thursday 10:00 a.m., Siegfried Hall.

J. W. Graham Medal Seminar: Zack Urlocker, “Disrupting the Software Industry in Five Not-So-Easy Steps” Thursday 2:00, Davis Centre room 1302.

Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology presents Cyril Hilsum, University College London, “Flat-Panel Electronic Displays” Thursday 3:30, CEIT room 1015.

Conrad Grebel University  College Mennonite Heritage Dinner, fund-raiser for Mennonite Archives of Ontario, Saturday 6:30 p.m., Grebel dining room, tickets $100, information clichti@

Heritage Resources Centre study trip to Cotswolds area of England, June 20-25, details e-mail kjonas@

25-Year Club annual reception June 21, 6:00, Physical Activities Complex, information ext. 32078.

Young alumni get-together at Boiler House pub, Toronto, June 21, from 8 p.m. Details.

Canada’s Wonderland trip organized by Federation of Students, June 25, $54 in advance at Feds office, Student Life Centre.

Canada Day, Friday, July 1, university closed.

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