Renewed support for environmental contaminant research
October 12, 2012
Acadia University’s Canada Research Chair in Environmental Biogeochemistry Dr. Nelson O’Driscoll has been renewed as a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair, as announced today by the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology). The chair is valued at $500,000 dollars over five years.
"By investing in talented people through programs such as the Canada Research Chairs, our government is supporting cutting-edge research in Canadian post-secondary institutions," said Minister of State Goodyear."
The overarching theme of Dr. O’Driscoll’s work involves studying the impact of climate change on mercury contamination in freshwater ecosystems. Using one of the best-equipped mercury biogeochemistry labs in North America, Dr. O'Driscoll and his team are able to analyze the effects of temperature, precipitation, and solar radiation on mercury reactions in air, water, soils, and organisms.
"The lab Acadia has been able to develop is unique in North America since it is one of the few labs specifically equipped to measure mercury photo-chemistry," Dr. O'Driscoll explains. He adds that the lab, funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust, has helped develop many highly qualified personnel, attracting students at the honours, masters, doctorate, and postdoctoral levels to his team.
"Our work focuses on both the global and regional issue of mercury contamination." Dr. O'Driscoll explains. "In Kejimkujik National Park for example, mercury concentrations in loons and other organisms are among the highest in North America. My research aims to better understand why some ecosystems are sensitive to mercury inputs. We are learning that some ‘mercury sensitive’ lakes are more likely to hold onto mercury deposited in rainfall and convert it into methyl mercury, which accumulates in the food web."
Other research by Dr. O’Driscoll’s team has shown that terrestrial organisms in these mercury sensitive ecosystems may also be at risk. They have published some of the first data to suggest mercury as a factor in the rusty blackbird's reduced numbers. The Arctic is another ecosystem showing signs of mercury contamination. However, there is still much to learn about the role of snow in the mercury cycle there. A doctoral student in the O’Driscoll lab is studying the impact of ultra violet radiation on the release of mercury from Arctic snow. In addition, a recent doctoral student developed methods to measure the release of mercury from Canadian soil, allowing the Acadia researchers to develop a predictive model for mercury release with climate change.
“Dr. O’Driscoll’s renewal is wonderful news for Acadia,” says Acadia’s Dean of Research and Graduate Studies Dr. David Mackinnon. “His work on mercury contamination is world-class, and his engagement of, and with, undergraduate and graduate students provides them with the opportunity to learn advanced analytical techniques and to use sophisticated laboratory equipment. He is an outstanding researcher, a wonderful colleague, and a tremendous asset to Acadia.”
Dr. O’Driscoll’s environmental biogeochemistry lab is part of a comprehensive state-of-the-science analytical facility housed in Acadia's K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre. The Centre for Analytical Research on the Environment (CARE) brings together multidisciplinary researchers and equipment for studying environmental contaminants and processes that support health ecosystems. Researchers at the centre examine aspects of contaminant fate (e.g. mercury, trace metals, organics, and microbes) and how to mitigate contamination issues. The facility has enhanced collaboration at Acadia and increased partnerships with private enterprises, government, and other post-secondary institutions.
"Ultimately, our research will provide a better understanding of environmental contaminants and how they affect ecosystems, including the food web, and that will help develop better protection and preventative measures to improve the health of ecosystems and the public," Dr. O'Driscoll says.
In total, $121.6 million is being invested to support 155 newly awarded or renewed Canada Research Chairs. These chair holders will undertake new, cutting-edge research at 42 Canadian post-secondary institutions. This Government of Canada investment allows Canadian post-secondary institutions to strengthen their position as global leaders in research and development, bringing greater economic opportunities for Canadians.
For more information read the Canada Research Chair media release.
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