Katie Hettinga

Research Assistant

My research focuses on carbon cycling in peatlands, as these sensitive ecosystems store around 33% of the terrestrial carbon pool, despite occupying only 3% of total land area. For my undergraduate thesis I looked at how peatland microbial communities respond to disturbance by way of mineral dusts. As climate change creates increasingly arid conditions, airborne mineral dusts traveling to sensitive ecosystems will become a more severe threat. Of particular concern are mine tailings dusts since mining often occurs in proximity to nutrient sensitive peatlands (e.g., Hudson and James Bay Lowlands and the Ring of Fire mining claims). Although peatlands represent such a vast carbon stock within Canada, climate modelling typically overlooks or grossly underestimates the impacts that disturbance has on the greenhouse gas emissions or dissolved organic carbon export from these systems. For my master’s thesis I will use a machine learning model to predict how peatlands carbon cycling and storage capacity will change under different climate scenarios and identify the key environmental drivers responsible for the changes. I hope to expand existing models to incorporate multiple sites and create a vulnerability index that could be used for future policy decisions. I am also interested in raising awareness about peatlands or wetlands generally, since Canada is home to the most wetlands in the world, and as such we have a responsibility to conserve and educate people on their value.