Research projects examine the Arctic, conservation conflict, climate change and more

Photo: John Thomas/Can Geo Photo Club

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 2021, we’ve chosen to fund four graduate research scholarships, one independent research grant, one James Bourque Northern Doctoral scholarship and one James Maxwell Human Geography scholarship. 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.

QIkiqtaruk-Herschel Island. Photo: Isla Myers-Smith/Can Geo Photo Club

Graduate Scholarships

Kaylee Baxter, University of Calgary
Pursuing a Master of Arts in Archaeology
Supervised by Dr. Matthew Walls, University of Calgary

As the Arctic warms, there is an intense and deteriorative impact on the surviving archaeological record. Indigenous remains that were once stable in their preservation due to consistent cold temperatures now face an active and progressive threat of destruction in their rapidly changing environments. This project’s archaeological site in Northern Nunatsiavut (Labrador Inuit lands) is an excellent case study for the impacts of modern climate change on the physical geography of Arctic sites, as these impacts are particularly severe at coastal sites due to increased erosion and permafrost thaw.

UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) survey and photogrammetry (3D modelling) are the primary methods of this project. By digitally capturing the site and surrounding area, the different geomorphological changes brought on by climate change can be identified by producing 3D models of the area. The analysis of these models allow for vulnerable areas at the site to be determined and future excavation or site intervention planned accordingly.

Baxter’s research will advance knowledge in broader discourses of the impact of climate change related processes on archaeological sites in the Arctic, and the use of digital preservation methods (e.g. UAV photogrammetry, 3D modelling, and model cloud comparisons) to assess the rate of the environmental destruction of these sites. This project will be the first investigation and excavation in this part of the Arctic for almost 40 years. Due to this 40-year research gap, Baxter anticipates that she will assess and document several aspects of climate change and its impact on archaeological sites in this area of the Arctic, that we would otherwise not know of. This assessment will benefit not only archaeologists, but geographers, geomorphologists, and climate change scientists.

Lauren Eckert, University of Victoria
Pursuing a PhD in Geography
Supervised by Dr. Chris Darimont, Applied Conservation Science Lab, University of Victoria

Human pressure on Earth has resulted in unprecedented environmental degradation. Conservation interventions intended to protect ecosystems increasingly come into conflict with other human activities – resulting in tense conflict between stakeholders, communities, and species. These seemingly intractable ‘conservation conflicts’ generate consequences for humans and wildlife alike – and undermine conservation efforts.

Conservation Conflict Transformation (CCT) is a set of processes and principles that have emerged as strategies to respond to, and overcome, conflict. CCT forwards that conflict can only be transformed when deep-rooted components (e.g. human values, identities, and relationships between involved parties) are understood alongside superficial aspects of conflict (e.g. disagreements over management decisions). Eckert’s doctoral research mobilizes CCT to examine conservation conflict in Canada and pursues opportunities for coexistence across communities and scales.

Katie Goodwin, University of British Columbia
Pursuing a PhD in Botany
Supervised by Amy L. Angert, PhD; Canada Research Chair in Conservation Ecology; Associate Professor, Departments of Botany and Zoology

Understanding what shapes species’ ranges and how they may respond to climate change is a fundamental question for Canadian biogeographers. Climate change is expected to cause species’ ranges to simultaneously contract at low elevations and expand into higher elevations. However, the extent that climate shapes species’ ranges remains unclear and biotic interactions, such as herbivory, may alter climate-induced range shifts.

Goodwin aims to determine how climate and herbivory impact population dynamics to shape the elevational range of broadleaf lupine (Lupinus latifolius). She will combine field experiments manipulating temperature, water availability, and herbivore access of plants with population models to determine how these factors impact population growth across the range (i.e., where they are most limiting for the species’ distribution). By incorporating biotic interactions into her climate study, Goodwin’s findings will provide valuable insights into how species’ geographic distributions will shift in Canada’s mountain ecosystems with ongoing climate change.

Katelyn O’Keefe, University of Calgary
Pursuing a Master of Arts in Archaeology
Supervised by Dr. Peter Dawson, University of Calgary

The heritage features at Pauline Cove (on Qikiqtaruk — Herschel Island), Yukon, include Inuvialuit sod houses and buildings from the whaling industry, fur trade, missionaries, and NWMP. Coastal erosion and flooding associated with climate change are altering Pauline Cove and damaging these features.

O’Keefe’s research aims to comprehend the impact these processes are having through two approaches. First, 2017 and 2019 aerial imagery of Pauline Cove will be compared using visual inspection and change detection analysis using open-source software. This analysis will elucidate the impact of flooding and erosion on the landscape and the main settlement area. The imagery analysis is complemented by the excavation of two damaged sod houses. Results will be compared to previously excavated (intact) sod houses.

Together, these methods will yield an understanding of climate change’s impact on Pauline Cove and its heritage while generating broadly applicable, low-cost procedures for monitoring heritage sites across the Arctic.

Fathom Five National Marine Park, Ont. Photo: Kyle Noonan/Can Geo Photo Club

Independent Research Grant

David Lawless
Caves, Cedars, and Climate Change: Uncovering Paleoclimate Records through Ancient Speleogenesis and Old-Growth Forests in Fathom Five National Marine Park

This research study will seek to better understand how our climate is changing based on analyzing Paleoclimate records of the ancient caves and old-growth eastern white cedar trees of Bears Rump Island, a nationally significant wilderness in Fathom Five National Marine Park.

Through an analysis of rare cave deposits and tree ring data, Lawless will help provide a clearer picture of how climate change is accelerating in the Great Lakes basin over thousands of years. Ultimately, this project will elucidate the regional, provincial, and national significance of Fathom Five and the park’s role as an indicator of anthropogenic climate change.

James Bourque Northern Doctoral Scholarship

Robert Vranich, University of Alberta
Pursuing a PhD in Kinesiology, Sport and Recreation
Supervised by Dr. Zac Robinson and Dr. Liza Piper, University of Calgary

Landscapes are as much about culture as they are about physical nature. Culture has a way of preceding and shaping the nature that we delude ourselves into thinking we can experience directly. In other words, culture mediates our interactions with the natural world and provides the
interpretive framework that allows us to understand what an interaction with nature means.

Vranich’s doctoral research focuses on the cultural lenses through which outdoor recreationists view, interpret, and understand the natural world. These lenses comprise the assumptions, stories, biases, traditions, prejudices, and preferences we bring with us when we travel, and they are the primary means by which we make sense of the landscapes, people, and cultures we encounter while away from home.

Broadly speaking, his research examines the historical development of these cultural lenses and how they have guided interactions with recreational, wilderness, and heritage landscapes in Canada. More specifically, Vranich’s research examines the historical and cultural development of one of Canada’s most iconic wilderness landscapes, the South Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories.

James Maxwell Human Geography Scholarship

Katarina Djordjevic, University of Manitoba
Pursuing a Master of Arts in Geography
Supervised by Dr. Jonathan Peyton, University of Manitoba

In the era of the climate crisis, hydroelectricity has been heralded as a point of change – as a clean, green, and renewable energy. Yet hydro-developments have historically produced profound socio-political and environment implications that cascade over time. This research on hydro-developments in Manitoba will investigate their impacts on northern Indigenous communities and environments.

Djordevic’s research asks what histories do Manitoba’s hydro-structures (re)produce, using three keystone Manitoba Hydro projects to trace historical and contemporary development behaviour, practices, and impacts and to examine power geometries underlying northern hydropower developments. The aim is to bring Manitoba’s hydro-developments into dialogue with literature on the politics of hydropower and colonialism, and to contribute to scholarship that analyzes how infrastructure reproduces political geographies and materializes historical injustices.