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Two CEN students receive special PFSN awards

April 9, 2024

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Photo credits: Jessika Pickford-Gilbert and Émilie Desjardins

Jessika Pickford-Gilbert is a PhD student in Water Engineering at Université Laval under the supervision of Stéphanie Guilherme. Her project focuses on water availability in northern regions and is entitled "Characterization and protection of alternative sources of drinking water in Nunavik". She was awarded the special George Hobson Memorial Prize of $2,500 by Savoir Polaire as part of the PFSN. This award recognizes Jessika's excellent academic record, her great human qualities and her close involvement with the Aboriginal communities she works with.

Project Description:

In Nunavik, part of the population collects and consumes untreated natural water from alternative sources. These sources may be vulnerable to contamination and are not protected or monitored. Source water protection aims to prevent, reduce and control sources of contamination around the water supply by identifying threats and assessing risks. In Quebec, the protection of drinking water supplies requires a vulnerability analysis aimed at identifying activities and elements that could affect the quality or quantity of the water used. However, the approach developed by the Quebec government is difficult to apply to Nunavik's alternative sources because it is based on a number of factors:

A) It relies heavily on optimizing historical data, which is rare in Nunavik and non-existent for alternative sources;

B) Nunavik, located north of the 55th parallel, has an Arctic-Subarctic climate. Threats to water quality are specific to this context and may differ from those in southern Quebec;

C) The government's source water protection guide is in French and does not take into account local cultural specificities (90% of Nunavik's population identifies as Inuk and 87% use Inuktitut as their first language);

D) This documentation does not take into account traditional Inuit knowledge;

The aim of this project is to develop an approach to protecting alternative sources of drinking water. A method for assessing water quality, identifying threats, and analyzing the area will be developed using a mixed approach that combines qualitative and quantitative methods. This approach will emphasize traditional and conventional knowledge systems.

Interest and human benefits of the project:

This research project was prompted by concerns expressed by the City of Kangiqsualujjuaq and representatives of the Kativik Regional Government (KRG; departments of municipal public works and renewable resources, environment, lands and parks). The importance of developing source protection strategies, key drinking water indicators and increasing collective knowledge about freshwater contamination was underscored by a review of grey and scientific literature on the subject. The lack of scientific knowledge about natural drinking water sources is not unique to Kangiqsualujjuaq. In fact, drinking untreated water directly from the source is a common practice in Inuit Nunangat (an Inuit territory in Canada). The development of tools adapted to the realities of Inuit communities will make it possible to monitor the traditional practice of natural water collection while reducing public health risks. This research is the foundation of my Ph.D. thesis. I returned to school in 2021 with the idea of developing a multidisciplinary project that combines traditional knowledge, scientific knowledge, and the protection of water resources. Developing a tailored approach to source protection with members of northern communities is therefore a particular source of motivation for me. Natural sources of drinking water are particularly important to our Inuit partners, as they provide an alternative to tap water that is deeply rooted in local traditions.

Émilie Desjardins is a PhD student at the UQAR under the supervision of Dominique Berteaux and François Vézina. Her research project in Conservation Biology and Arctic Ecology is entitled "L'approche écosystémique en biologie de la conservation : Étude de cas dans le désert polaire d'Alert (Nunavut, Canada)". Thanks to her strong research and collaboration skills, her dynamism and leadership, and her commitment to the conservation and access community, she was awarded the special Malcolm Ramsay Memorial Prize of $2,500 by Savoir Polaire as part of the PFSN.

Project Description :

Arctic biodiversity faces a number of threats, including habitat degradation caused by human activities, ecosystem modification due to global warming, and colonization by non-native species. The impact of these threats on Arctic ecosystems is not uniform and depends heavily on local biotic, topographic and climatic conditions, as well as human use. In order to mitigate these current and future changes, it is essential to have basic knowledge of Arctic ecosystems as well as temporal references on the state of biodiversity, but these are scarce or even absent in many Arctic sites. My research project therefore aims to provide new knowledge on the composition, structure and functioning of the polar desert ecosystem near the Canadian Forces Station Alert (Nunavut) in order to better protect the local biodiversity. This is a case study in the implementation of an ecosystem approach to conservation. Specifically, my objectives are to (1) characterize the plant species and communities of the Alert polar desert, (2) identify, model, and predict the habitats of animal species with conservation status, (3) model trophic interactions under different scenarios (summer vs. winter and absence vs. presence of lemmings), (4) identify biodiversity hotspots by comparing plant and animal richness and biomass between wet and drier environments (xeric and mesic), (5) assess the degree of colonization of the ecosystem by non-native plant and fungal species potentially introduced by humans, and (6) propose a biodiversity management plan in consultation with the managers of the Alert military station. My project will make a fundamental contribution to the knowledge of polar desert ecology as well as an applied contribution to the conservation of this ecosystem.

Interest and human benefits of the project:

My Ph.D. project is directly related to the field in which I would like to work in the future, namely conservation biology. I want to do applied research that has concrete and direct benefits for biodiversity. The culmination of my Ph.D. project is to write a biodiversity management plan that will help reduce human disturbance of the local ecosystem. My stay at Alert in 2024 is essential to the completion of my PhD. It will also give me the opportunity to interact with government officials, scientists working in the North, and environmental consultants, creating multiple opportunities for collaboration that will be useful for my future projects or job search. I will have the opportunity to hone my skills in the use of geographic information systems, which are essential tools for habitat management and conservation. I will also develop my ability to manage a long-term project, lead a team in the field, and develop and maintain productive collaborations. Thus, the skills developed during this project are invaluable for my future career in conservation.

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