I-STEAM Pathways celebrated the success of its first Summer Interns’ research programme in August 2020.

On August 28 2020,  I-Steam Pathways celebrated its first cohort of Summer Interns with the premiering of a video portraying highlights of the internship research experience and  sustainability goals, from perspectives of supervisors, Indigenous interns and Team Leads.

The event included Digital Showcase Presentations by I-STEAM interns featuring key aspects of their 4-month environmental  research project experiences.

The entire event was blessed by the presence of Indigenous Elders who held us all in ceremony and prayer.

Today the I-STEAM Pathways program is preparing for the second summer internship and applications from researchers are now being invited.

Fieldwork Resumes

Now that Alberta has moved to Level 2 and everything has opened up (while carefully maintaining public health requirements in a COVD-19 context), people are out doing fieldwork.

Internship Projects Underway

Currently, 13 interns are participating in 11 environmental projects supervised by leading environmental experts and professors from various environmental disciplines at UAlberta!

I-STEAM Orientation

On May 1st, 2020, I-STEAM welcomed our first ever cohort of interns to the 2020 summer internship project.

 

What Interns have said

Here are some comments made by current I-STEAM interns:

“Understanding more about Indigenous Laws will help me to better understand how I can help communities to work towards sustainability, protect their land and other objectives they have related to the environment, sustainability, and sovereignty.” KS.

“I can see myself using this opportunity to impact my community by using the knowledge I will gain to educate (K-12)students in my mother’s school about the interconnection between the Indigenous community, abiotic/biotic factors and the environment.” L.P.

“My goal is to work in the field, and make a living by combining my two passions: science and the outdoors.” G.T.

“Knowledge gained from these internships could be used to mobilize indigenous communities and help create sustainable solutions for timber harvesting or conservation of endangered species. The water monitoring opportunity could be especially impactful for indigenous communities, as some of them are very dependent on natural water sources.” C.G.

“I have learned that we should be managing our waterbodies by investigating the health of organism population as water scarcity can become a threat in the future if we are not monitoring for changes. By having knowledge of indicators it would help in monitoring of the Athabasca river.” J.F.

2020 Internship Projects

Indigenous Laws and Environmental Conservation in the Athabasca River Delta

Supervisor: Cameron Jefferies
Supervisor Faculty: Law
Website: https://www.ualberta.ca/law/faculty-and- research/profiles/cameron-jefferies
Length of internship:12 weeks

Canadian law currently recognizes both Aboriginal Law (being the colonial laws that were produced and enforced to structure relationships between First Nations and the federal government) and Indigenous Law (being the laws and customs that First Nations communities developed over time through unique cultural practices and experiences). There is considerable work emerging in the area of Indigenous Law, and this project will establish a research framework that works with this area of legal study in the context of environmental conservation and management of the Athabasca River ecosystem. Indigenous Laws offer communities another mechanism through which participation in law and policy venues becomes possible and can help weave settler/colonial law with culturally informed perspectives. The emphasis of this work will be on those laws and customs that are connected to environmental conservation and stewardship.

Environmental monitoring using amphibious robots

Supervisor: Michael Lipsett
Supervisor Faculty: Engineering
Website: http://www.mlipsett.com
Length of internship: 16 weeks (preferred).

 

Many environmental studies are difficult or even hazardous to conduct because the sampling and measurement locations are difficult for people to access. Marshes, swamps, peat bogs, mudflats, tidal zones, thin ice, and other places may be very important and sensitive ecosystems, but in some cases impossible for a person to get to safely. Amphibious craft are generally large to deal with carrying people over rough terrain, and so these machines can have a negative impact on sensitive ecosystems. One approach is to use small remotely operated robots to carry sampling tools and instruments for environmental studies. In this ongoing research program, students develop concepts for robotic tooling that mounts onto a small amphibious robot which has a negative impact on sensitive ecosystems. The student will work with other researchers to build the sampling robot, test it in the lab, and then use it in actual field conditions to collect water and mud samples for environmental studies.

Clean energy transitions in remote communities

Supervisor: Petr Musilek
Supervisor Faculty: Engineering
Website: https://www.ualberta.ca/engineering/faculty/petr-musilek
Length of internship: 10 weeks

This project will provide the intern with the opportunity to learn about clean energy transition and how it can help remote Indigenous communities to move away from the use of diesel fuel electricity generation. This, in turn, will have a positive impact on the environment, economy and health of the communities. It will help the participating student to get familiar with the knowledge and skills required to design, implement, operate and maintain clean energy systems that use renewable energy resources. They will also develop an understanding of the economy of renewable energy systems and awareness of the conditions that must be met to operate such systems.

Participating in this project will help the intern to make an informed choice of a field of study and career pathway (e.g. environmental sciences, law, policy, or different fields of engineering). In the long run, they will have the background to become champions of clean energy transition in their community, equipped not only with the necessary knowledge and skills, but also networks and connections with relevant experts.

Assessing the distribution of Brassy Minnow in the Athabasca River

Supervisor: Mark Poesch
Supervisor Faculty: Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences
Website: https://poeschlab.ualberta.ca
Length of internship: 16 weeks

Brassy Minnow (Hybognathus hankinsoni) –a species of fish– was recently designated as a Threatened species in Alberta. There are only about 3 locations of Brassy Minnow in the province, including the Milk River, Musreau Lake (Peace River) and Athabasca River. In the Athabasca River there is a high likelihood that individual populations may become extinct due to a stochastic event. Voucher specimens haven’t been seen in this area since the late 1970s. This study attempts to use traditional sampling methods (i.e. boat electrofishing) as well as environmental DNA (eDNA) techniques to determine the population status of Brassy Minnow in the Athabasca River, and, in case of extirpation, to be able to identify likely candidates for reintroduction. Students will be involved with field collection of fish, water samples and eDNA. They will also compare sampling efficiency between traditional sampling methods and eDNA as a monitoring tool for Brassy Minnow.

Monitoring social and environmental impacts of resource development in the North

Supervisor: Debra Davidson
Supervisor Faculty: Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences
Website: https://www.ualberta.ca/agriculture-life-environment-sciences/about-us/contact-us/facultylecturer-directory/debra-davidson
Length of internship: 16 weeks (depending on student availability)

In this project, the student will work with a team of researchers to examine current development activities, and engage with local peoples to explore how to more effectively acknowledge and address social and environmental impacts of development. The region bordering the Northwest Territories and Nunavut is the traditional home to Indigenous communities that sustain their livelihoods from the land; this area also holds rich deposits of rare minerals, diamonds, and other resources.

Land claim settlements have paved the way for new regulatory and assessment institutions that respect Indigenous rights to self-government, ensure broad engagement, and accord equal consideration of science and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Traditional Knowledge). Among these are the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board and Nunavut Impact Review Board. In this case, our team will work with these Boards, and communities in the Beverly and Bathurst caribou range.

Wildfire smoke and Indigenous Peoples

Supervisor: Tara McGee
Supervisor Faculty: Science
Website: https://www.ualberta.ca/science/about-us/contact-us/faculty-directory/tara-mcgee
Length of internship: 8 weeks

This project is part of the First Nations Wildfire Evacuation Partnership. The 8-week project will be the first step in new research about wildfire smoke interpretations and actions within Indigenous communities in Canada. Wildfire smoke is a significant health hazard, however very little is known about how people perceive and act to protect their health during days of high wildfire smoke exposure. The student will review existing data to learn about how Indigenous people may be affected by wildfire smoke, and identify ways to improve community safety by reducing their exposure to wildfire smoke. The student will complete their work in the Human Dimensions of Hazards Research Group (HM Tory building 3-02) and also have an opportunity to learn from community leaders about how wildfire smoke affects their community.

The Effects of Wildfires on Aquatic Invertebrates in the Slave Lake Watershed


Supervisor: Greg Goss
Supervisor Faculty: Science
Website: https://grad.biology.ualberta.ca/goss/
Length of internship: 16 weeks

In the summer of 2019, multiple wildfires in the Slave Lake Watershed in Alberta, Canada forced large- scale evacuations of Wabasca and Bigstone Cree communities. While the short-term destruction caused by wildfires is obvious, the long-term effects to organisms in the aquatic environment, especially invertebrates, are less well known. The objective of the proposed project is to understand the impact of the recent wildfires in the Slave Lake Watershed on aquatic invertebrates. To reach this objective, evaluations of community/population dynamics (via rapid bio-assessments), sediment contamination (via laboratory bioassays), and causes of sediment contamination (through analytical chemistry) will be conducted as part of a weight of evidence approach. This project will be conducted in conjunction with Bigstone Cree Nation and their environmental monitoring team. The proposed project will provide needed information to the scientific community and more importantly the community of Bigstone Cree Nation regarding the ramifications of wildfires on stream health. As this project will be conducted in tandem with the Bigstone environmental monitoring team, the resources and methods developed for this assessment can be utilized for future evaluations of stream health not only after fire related-events, but also the effects of anthropogenic activities such as oil and gas development.

Through participation in this interdisciplinary project that involves ecology, chemistry, and ecotoxicology components, the student will gain both laboratory and fieldwork related skills. They will be responsible for the bioassessment portion of the study and will learn critical field sampling protocols. The student will learn how to identify invertebrates using a field guide to determine if the invertebrate community structure has been deleteriously affected in the study areas. Outside of the bioassessment and field work aspects of the study, the student will also be heavily involved in toxicity testing of sediments.

The impacts of rapidly receding glaciers on proglacial freshwater quality and services

Supervisor: Vincent St. Louis
Supervisor Faculty: Science
Website: ualberta.ca/science/about-us/contact-us/faculty-directory/vincent-st-louis
Length of internship: 16 weeks

Access to clean drinking water is a fundamental human right. Glaciers provide freshwater to more than a sixth of the world’s population, but glaciers around the world are shrinking at unprecedented rates due to climate change, with coincident changes to downstream runoff volume. Furthermore, accelerated glacial melt is releasing nutrients and contaminants that have been historically deposited to, and stored in, glacial ice, impacting downstream freshwater quality, productivity, and ecological services.

Our exciting new research program is assessing glacial meltwater quality in the headwaters of the Athabasca, Bow and North Saskatchewan rivers in Jasper and Banff National Parks, all of which provide water to downstream communities, agriculture and industries across the Canadian prairie provinces.

Unfortunately, the western alpine glaciers that feed these rivers are predicted to shrink up to 85% by 2100 with unknown downstream effects, making these evolving headwater regions all the more urgent to study. The I-STEAM Pathways funded student will be involved in quantifying: 1) meltwater nutrient and contaminant outputs from these glaciated regions; 2) how nutrient and contaminant concentrations change as one moves downstream; and 3) how these nutrients and contaminants are changing regional freshwater quality and services, all with the goal of predicting and planning for ongoing climate changes. This research program will provide the student with a unique opportunity to be actively involved in novel research related to a pressing environmental issue, including those within the Athabasca River Basin.

Maintaining ecological resilience through ecosystem-based forest management

Supervisor: Charles Nock
Supervisor Faculty: Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences
Website: https://aqua-pug-w4p9.squarespace.com/join-us
Length of internship: 16 weeks

Forest management in Canada has evolved over time from a limited focus on timber extraction to appreciation of a much broader set of values. In recent decades, Ecosystem-Based forest Management (EBM) has emerged as a dominant paradigm on a national and international scale. Central to the concept of EBM is the goal of maintaining or enhancing ecological, economic and social values. The main approach to EBM has involved the implementation of management practices that emulate the patterns and processes of natural disturbances (e.g. wildfire), and it is hypothesized that by doing so, forest ecosystem resilience will be maintained. In this project, we will test the hypothesis that emulating natural disturbance by using harvesting practices that leave biological legacies in harvested stands minimizes influences of harvesting on forest biodiversity. To do so, we will sample and compare stands using disturbed by harvesting with those disturbed by fire, examining forest structure and biodiversity, including plants, insects and birds. The I-STEAM student will play a key role in establishing and measuring field plots in pine forests, working in a team including MSc and PhD students and a research assistant. This will provide a variety of opportunities to learn about research methods in applied forest ecology and management, including both classic forest inventory methods and vegetation sampling, as well as modern techniques based on terrestrial laser scanning and drones.

What’s in the air? Mining air quality data

Supervisor: Ran Zhao
Supervisor Faculty: Science
Website: https://ranzhaoualberta.com
Length of internship: 12 Weeks

 

Breathing clean air is a basic human right and a prerequisite for a quality life. Air quality in Edmonton and many other Canadian cities is constantly monitored by air monitors. In addition to government-run air monitor stations, personally-owned, low-cost air sensors are gaining popularity. These air sensors are generating a large amount of air quality data that is open to the public. We can learn much about the air that we breathe by performing an in-depth analysis of these data. In this proposed project, the student will be working with an assistant professor of atmospheric chemistry at U of A to perform data mining, which is to extract, analyze, and interpret open-source air quality data. The student will learn basic programming skills using widely employed coding platforms, such as Matlab, Igor Pro, and Excel. Using air quality data in the greater Edmonton area, the student will analyze the trend of air pollution in terms of location, seasons, and indoor/outdoor correlation. A particular interest will be placed on how wildfire events affected the air quality of the city. In addition to data mining, the student will also have the opportunity to operate portable air sensors around the city to actually collect data and compare those with the open-source data. Overall, this project will provide new insights into the air that people in Edmonton breathe. The project will be a great opportunity for the student to learn about atmospheric chemistry and air pollution while developing skills in big data, programming, and data analysis. All of these are critical skills in the field of environmental sciences.

Exploring urban connectivity and the potential for zoonotic disease transmission using non-invasive small mammal monitoring

Supervisor: Colleen St. Clair
Supervisor Faculty: Science
Website: https://www.ualberta.ca/science/about-us/contact-us/faculty-directory/colleen-st-clair
Length of internship: 14 weeks

Biological diversity supports many ecosystem services and is an increasing focus of management in urban areas. One of the limits to retaining biodiversity is habitat connectivity, defined by the movement of organisms. The City of Edmonton is actively attempting to manage an ecological network of natural areas to support biodiversity partly via a collaborative project with the University of Alberta that uses remote cameras to monitor wildlife over a gradient of urban density. This work extends a focus of the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project, based in the lab of Colleen St. Clair, to understand how coyotes move through and select habitat in the city, thereby providing information to promote human-coyote coexistence. Coyotes also serve as model species for ecological connectivity for the city and are a definitive (i.e., final) host species for an important zoonotic (i.e., human-infecting) tapeworm, Echinococcus multilocularis. Although remote cameras are effective tools for monitoring coyotes, they are not effective for monitoring the small rodents that comprise important biological diversity and are also intermediate hosts for the zoonotic tapeworm. The student will complement existing work by using non-invasive track tubes to monitor small mammals at a subset of the sites being monitored with cameras and / or for parasites. Current lab members will support the student to refine an experimental design, deploy and retrieve track tubes, interpret and analyse the data they collect, and prepare a final report. Several additional opportunities to develop skills are available to be tailored to the student’s educational stage and interests.