Announcing the 2022 RCGS research grantees

The icefield of Jasper National Park. (Photo: Ali Kazal/Unsplash)

For more than 50 years, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society has contributed to growing geographical understanding of Canada – its people, places, culture, environment and economic challenges – by funding research to broaden Canadians’ knowledge and appreciation of Canada.

As one of the oldest organizations in Canada funding geographical research, our research grants and scholarships have enabled students to pursue their passion for geography, sometimes leading to ground-breaking results. This much-needed support has also helped launch the careers of Canada’s brightest minds in geography.

For 2022, we’ve chosen to fund six Graduate Research Scholarships, two James Bourque Northern Doctoral Scholarships, two James Maxwell Human Geography Scholarships and one Independent Research Grant. The range of disciplines represented by the recipients reflects geography’s broad reach and importance of applying geographical methods and technologies, to better understand our landscapes, environment, and sustainable human interaction.


Hannah Kosick

Pursuing a MSc in Geography at Memorial University

“An Ungulate Obstacle In Unama’ki: Biotic And Abiotic Drivers And Constraints On Acadian Forest Range Expansion In Cape Breton, Highlands National Park”

The cumulative effects of moose herbivory, continued warming, and an imminent spruce budworm outbreak in Cape Breton Highlands National Park (CBHNP) is expected to increase ecological pressures on the boreal forest. In addition to these stressors, climate change could induce forest range shifts of temperate forests, which could further constrain boreal boundaries. The purpose of this study is to identify where Acadian forest range shifts are occurring in CBHNP, examine if moose are potential biotic constraints on species expansion, and assess the availability of species-specific seedbeds to inform conservation. Throughout the course of her studies, Hannah will identify sites with consistent Acadian forest characteristics, consistent boreal forest characteristics, and new occurrence of Acadian forest species indicative of potential range shifts. At each site, she will conduct a tree survey for seedlings and saplings as evidence of range expansion. Finally, she will also quantify a/biotic variables by noting signs of herbivory, characterizing seed bed quality, and estimating light availability.

Nicole Corbiere

Pursuing a MSc in Biology at Laurentian University

“Assessing Net Methylmercury Production In Changing Permafrost Environments In Old Crow Flats, Yukon”

Old Crow Flats (OCF), Yukon, is part of the Vuntut Gwitchin traditional territory and a vast thermokarst lowland in the forest-tundra ecotone characterized by thousands of lakes. Permafrost degradation in the area may have implications for mercury (Hg) cycling, as changing terrain conditions can create environments favourable to mercury methylation – the transformation of inorganic mercury to methylmercury (MeHg) bioaccumulates and is a neurotoxin to fish consumers. Nicole’s study aims to describe total mercury (THg) and MeHg concentrations in OCF soils in permafrost degradation features such as thermokarst lakes, thaw slumps, and degrading ice-wedge polygons. This study will improve the understanding of links between permafrost thaw and changes to loads of inorganic Hg and MeHg in conjunction with ongoing studies of hydrological connectivity. It can also assist Vuntut Gwitchin in developing traditional-knowledge-based climate and environmental change monitoring programs.

Stephen Paterson

Pursuing a MSc in Applied Science and Environmental Studies at Saint Mary’s University

“Biogeography Of Non-Native Earthworms In Northern Canada”

All widespread earthworms in Canada are non-native species introduced by European settlers. These ecosystem engineers negatively impact Canadian forests by altering soil structure and nutrient cycles. The geographic distributions of earthworm species are largely unknown, especially in northern Canada. To quantify the large-scale impacts of non-native earthworms and form effective policy to limit their spread, it is necessary to determine the extent of this below-ground invasion and how distributions will change in the future. To address this, Stephen will conduct earthworm surveys along a latitudinal gradient across the Yukon to determine how earthworm distributions are shaped by climate, habitat suitability, and land use. Data from these surveys will be used to build ecological niche models to predict future patterns of spread under projected climate and land use changes. Additionally, Stephen will assess the viability of eDNA metabarcoding and a citizen science program as more efficient means of monitoring earthworm distributions.

Anna Crofts

Pursuing a PhD in Biology at Sherbrook University

“Applying Aerial Hyperspectral Imagery To Assess Tree Biodiversity And Ecosystem Services Across A Biogeographical Gradient”

Ecosystems are experiencing ever-increasing human pressures, where biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides are being altered at fast rates and across broad spatial extents. Our capacity to assess and monitor these changes is dependent on our ability to detect biodiversity and associated services. Remote-sensing can be used to overcome the inherent spareness of field biodiversity inventories, with hyperspectral imaging emerging as a leading method for plant biodiversity assessment. Hyperspectral

imaging quantifies the unique ways, mostly invisible to the human eye, that plants interact with incoming light – herein termed spectral signals. Variation in spectral signals reflect variation in plant functional traits and, therefore, capture differences in species identity and provide a mechanism to link to ecosystem services that traits have control over. During the course of her research, Anna will apply remotely-sensed spectral signals to map tree biodiversity and the ecosystem service soil organic carbon stock across a biogeographical gradient in southern Québec.

Kethra Campbell-Heaton

Pursuing a PhD in Physical Geography at the University of Ottawa

“Hydrological Investigation Of The Effects Of Permafrost Thaw To High Arctic Watersheds, Case Study From Eureka Sound Lowlands, Nunavut”

Kethra’s PhD research involves understanding the hydrological changes to high Arctic watersheds as a result of permafrost thaw. The objectives of her project are to understand the extent of thaw in three small high Arctic watersheds using remote sensing techniques; compare the geochemical changes of thaw affected and unaffected streams; and estimate future geochemical change to these streams under predicted climate change scenarios. These objectives will be carried out by using a series of Landsat satellite images to monitor wetness, greenness and topography change; monitoring the stream activity using YSI water quality sondes to measure water-level, conductivity, turbidity and photosynthetic active radiation determining the source of water entering these streams (ex. atmospheric, ground ice). She will also use past regional climate data, collected stream data and future climate predictions to estimate the regional hydrogeochemical change.

Tabatha Rahman

Pursuing PhD in Geographical Sciences at the Royal Military College

“Ground-Ice Distribution And Impacts On Landscape Evolution In The Hudson Bay Lowlands, Northern Manitoba”

The Hudson Bay Lowlands (HBL) in northern Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, host Canada’s southernmost continuous permafrost (ground that remains frozen for over two consecutive years). Due to climate warming, permafrost in this region is vulnerable to thaw and associated ground instability and infrastructure damage. This study will investigate the distribution and evolution of permafrost and ground ice in the HBL, with a focus on ice wedges, a particular form of ground ice. Research will be conducted along a 165-km transect from Churchill to Herchmer, MB, and a variety of methods will be used, including geophysical testing, numerical modelling, and analyses of aerial photographs, satellite imagery and permafrost cores. This project will increase our understanding of physical landscapes in Northern Manitoba while supporting proactive adaptation to risks associated with environmental change, including those affecting natural habitats, energy balance, the global carbon cycle, infrastructure stability and traditional land use.


Danielle Nowosad

Pursuing PhD in Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph

“DNA Barcoding In The Canadian Arctic”

The Canadian Arctic Archipelago is a northern region where total biodiversity is relatively unknown using molecular methods. Freshwater invertebrates are not well documented due to historical difficulty identifying to a species level. Overall biodiversity is currently a gap in the literature and public biodiversity resources. DNA barcoding – a technique involving DNA sequences of standardized gene regions for identifying specimens and discovering new species – has been crucial in determining biodiversity and phylogeography. Working out of and using historical data collected within the vicinity of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station on Victoria Island, Nunavut, questions such as likely species dispersal routes, closest relatives, percent genetic variance from southern populations, and risk of invasive pest and parasite species will be answered based on DNA sequence data. This research is being undertaken to generate baseline biodiversity data and to determine how large-scale events such as glaciations have affected zooplankton and benthic invertebrate geographic distributions.

Brandon Pludwinski

Pursuing PhD in Geography with Canadian Studies Specialization at the University of Ottawa

“Flooding In Jean Marie River First Nation: A CBPAR Photovoice Approach…”

On May 7th, 2021, the Mackenzie River spring break-up reached unprecedented levels, destroying, and displacing Jean Marie River First Nation (JMR FN). The flooding had devastating impacts on JMR FN’s social, cultural, political, and economic wellbeing, all of which continue to be threatened by environmental and climate changes. With no sign of the climate crisis dissolving anytime soon, JMR FN will be forced to continue to adapt to changing climates well into the future. This research brings an innovative, culturally sensitive, and creative approach to climate-adaptation studies while addressing the social, political, economic, cultural, and colonial realities that shape present-day adaptation in spaces fairly removed from national media, political support, and social attention. This project will allow us to explore and conceptualize the innovative and nuanced strategies of climate change adaptation in one of the world’s most vulnerable regions by blending Indigenous and Western ways of knowing, thinking, and researching.


Emma Bugg

Pursuing MSc in Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University

“Climate Change And The Arts: Exploring The Civic Impact Of CreativePEI’s Climate-Engaged Work”

As venues for public engagement, the Arts can impact public perceptions and draw emotional connections between audiences and Artistic content. Despite this identified potential, there is little research exploring how best Arts organizations can measure and communicate the impact of their work. Employing a mixed-methods approach in two phases, this study seeks to contribute insight to that space by working with arts

organization CreativePEI to establish an impact framework for evaluating their role and impact in climate action. In Phase 1, Emma will interview CreativePEI stakeholders to better understand how the organization sees its role in climate action. In Phase 2, a Delphi study will be carried out with stakeholders of CreativePEI to identify the most useful and practical ways of measuring CreativePEI’s climate-related impact. Emma’s study will provide new insight and understanding to how the Arts can meaningfully engage in action and conversation about climate change.

Jenine Otto 

Pursuing MSc in Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland

“Constructing Foundations: Reimaging Housing Policy To Account For The Climate Crisis Across Inuit Nunangat”

The climate change and housing crises in Arctic Canada intersect in critical ways as permafrost thaw, rising sea levels, and erosion exacerbate pre-existing housing deterioration and chronic housing needs. In Arctic Canada, across Inuit Nunangat, predominately Indigenous communities face significant challenges as a result of these issues. Integrated climate change and housing policy remains a rarely discussed topic in research and various levels of government. This research project will serve to amplify community-identified housing needs, specifically in Nunatsiavut, that have been ignored by mainstream policy discourse and connect two worsening crises threatening the health and wellbeing of Arctic communities in Canada. Ultimately, the purpose of Jenine’s study is to contribute to our understanding of how social and political processes, such as policy and storytelling, can be utilized to address issues caused by climate change. Jenine’s project will focus on a marginalized area of Canada’s geography, specifically, Nunatsiavut, Labrador.


Sonya Richmond

Environmental Consultant and Explorer from Sechelt, BC

“Trans Canada Trail Story Map”

The goal of this project is to create a Story Map that takes elementary school students on a virtual hike across Canada on the 28,000 km long Trans Canada Trail, allowing them to learn about the country’s geography, history, ecology and wildlife as they cross the country as virtual explorers. This high-quality education resource will combine well-researched, fact-based information, professional quality photos, and on-the-ground video footage collected during the ‘Come Walk With Us’ Expedition (2019-2024) to create a free, easily accessible, interactive, user-friendly tool to make Canada better known to Canadians and the world. Developing spatial awareness builds students’ capacity to put subject matter in a broader context and develop a more comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted relationships between the diverse peoples, regions, environments, histories, and cultures within Canada.