January 2020

Members of the SERS community are involved in cutting edge sustainability research, important policy initiatives and outreach. Check out the 'SERS Stories' below to see some examples of how we are helping to protect, restore, reform and transform the world around us.

SERS Stories: Alumni Sara Ganowski

SERS Stories had the chance to catch up with alumna Sara Ganowski. Sara completed a BES in Environment and Resource Studies (Honours Co-op, with a Joint Major in Speech Communication) in 2017 and an MES in Social and Ecological Sustainability in 2019. She now works as a Project Lead on the Smart Cities Team out of Alectra Utilities’ Green Energy & Technology Centre (GRE&T) in Guelph, Ontario.

SERS Stories: A bioenergy dilemma: should we feed it or fuel it?

Grass field research site

As the brunt of climate change begins to be felt globally, efforts are made to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to mitigate climate change. One of the proposed approaches is replacing fossil fuels with renewable and climate-friendly energy sources such as bioenergy (energy from plant biomass).

SERS Stories: Water brings art and science together

4 samples of Rob's photos including water, branches, rocks, leaves

Can art and science be brought together fruitfully in ways that lead to new, deeper and more enduring understanding of complex environmental problems? Can art open new pathways to understanding and caring about the environment?

SERS Stories: What do you do with a single shoe?

Pile of discarded shoes

This simple question sounds like it would lead to a simple answer, but the fate of even a single shoe involves some of the most complex issues related to textile waste. I quickly discovered this during my master’s studies at the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability.

SERS Stories: Effluent from an abandoned gas well affects benthic macroinvertebrates

Christine Nielsen, Mark Servos, Paula Jongerden and Simon Courtenay in Big Creek.

Natural gas reservoirs were first discovered in Ontario in 1866, and drilling to extract the new source of energy began in the early 1900s. Since then, thousands of natural gas wells have been drilled in southwestern Ontario. As extraction became inefficient due to the depletion of gas reservoirs, many of these wells were abandoned. Most wells abandoned before the 1970s were inadequately plugged to the standards of the time. These well plugs have deteriorated over time, causing untreated effluent, which contains contaminants such as hydrogen sulfide, to pollute the air and leak into local soils and streams. Nearby residents have been cautioned of life-threatening concentrations of hydrogen sulfide and they have noticed a strong rotten egg odour and experienced watering eyes, headaches, and nausea characteristic of exposure to hydrogen sulfide.  Residents are concerned for their safety and impacts to the environment.

SERS Stories: Secure the Soil before we lose it!

Soil pictures

The dilemma began when we challenged ourselves to solve the elemental issue of food security about a century ago. We assumed that the climate would not change, but unknowingly we created numerous environmental issues through industrial agriculture causing the degradation of the natural resources such as soil. We thought focusing on the interdependent human needs – water, energy and food is enough to address the current and future challenge of sustaining humankind while protecting and addressing environmental concerns. But, the continuous degradation of the soil as the human needs interacted showed we were, and still are, obviously getting nowhere fast. If we do not recognize the role of soil as a critical component of food, energy and water security, we are treading on dangerous grounds!

SERS Stories: Traditional music for community resilience: Shetland fieldwork

I I just returned from a life-changing five months in the Shetland Islands where I was doing field work for my PhD.

SERS Stories: ERS 340 Ecosystem Assessment Spring Field Course

For three weeks in May, students had the opportunity to get hands-on experience in many ecological field skills. Further, students worked towards receiving certifications in some professionally recognized programs.

SERS Stories: ERS 283 Ontario Natural History Spring Field Course

ERS 283 Ontario Natural History 2019 field course saw 16 students living up in Cabot Head, Ontario for an immersive nine-day field course experience.

SERS Stories: ERS 341 Prof Restoration Practice I Spring Field Course

As a three week, Monday to Friday field course, ERS 341 Professional Practice I is designed to equip students with the real-world tools and experience that will carry them into their dream jobs, graduate studies, and beyond. Introducing students to monitoring and assessment techniques for mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, soil, freshwater mussels, and plants, students gain hands-on learning experience in collaboration with partner organizations and experts in the field.

SERS Stories: ERS 342 Prof Restoration Practice II Spring Field Course

The students enrolled in ERS 342 Professional Conservation and Restoration Practice II, a 1.0 Credit course, were provided an excellent opportunity to learn from ecological restoration professionals engaged in forest, prairie, wetland, and marsh restoration in the Long Point World Biosphere.

SERS Stories: Every drop of this river is another good, good day.

Mosaic Sturgeon filled with plastic scales

Nothing about a river is straight, nor is its management straightforward.  I quickly learned from my exploratory research, evaluating monitoring indicators in the Muskoka River Watershed, that the supposedly simple task of generating a list of environmental indicators for monitoring watershed health was more about social equity, communication, organizational capacity and partnerships, than it was about managing the watershed – at least at that stage in the monitoring program’s development.  The question ‘what do we measure to understand watershed health’ quickly evolved into questions around whose definition of health was used, who decided what the priorities should be, why certain groups were not engaged, what the implications of exclusion might be, and how to rectify this exclusion.  Essentially, the monitoring indicators workshop I spent weeks designing turned into a philosophical discussion largely about the community, not the watershed.  The 14-year old watershed monitoring and reporting program was overhauled and redesigned to incorporate the interests and needs of the community. The new program (as of 2018) is one of the strongest examples of watershed reporting I have reviewed.