Interdisciplinary workshop hosted by Waterloo tackles water challenges in Canada and Mexico

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

X Canche Cenote near EK Balam Archeological site, Yucatan, Mexico.Chris Parsons, a research assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, understands the importance of knowledge exchange and cross-discipline collaboration when it comes to addressing complex water challenges.

“Natural systems are inherently complex,” says Parsons. “It is impossible for any individual researcher to understand how all of the components in environmental systems influence each other.”

With this in mind, Parsons organized a four-day workshop at the University of Waterloo with water specialists from the Yucatan Centre for Scientific Research (CICY). Their goal: to brainstorm ideas on where the two institutes could collaborate on nutrient cycling and contaminant transport in the groundwaters and surface waters of Southern Ontario and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Chris Parsons“Having specialists from multiple research areas like sustainable development, nanotechnology, water chemistry, ecohydrology and microbiology all together in one room, discussing the same core issues, helps catalyze the creation of novel solutions to problems which we would be unable to address in isolation,” says Parsons, a member of the Ecohydrology Research Group under Canada Excellence Research Chair Philippe Van Cappellen.

Funded by a Water Institute Seed Grant, the workshop consisted of presentations from CICY, funding agencies, Waterloo researchers and graduate students, as well as lab tours. There was also a day spent visiting industrial partners and a day of open discussion around project ideas.

“There are quite dramatic differences between Southern Ontario and the Yucatan Peninsula, such as climate, vegetation and geology. However, both areas are experiencing a surge in population growth and are extremely reliant on groundwater,” says Parsons. “We also have concerns about excess nutrients from urban and agricultural areas causing harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes; these concerns are mirrored in the Yucatan Peninsula where excess nutrients degrade coastal areas.”

 Diego Casas Beltrán, Iván González Chi, Cecilia Hernández Zepeda, Rosa Leal Bautista, Chris Parsons, Eduardo Cejudo Espinosa, Jesús Alvarado FloresLeft to right: Diego Casas Beltrán, Iván González Chi, Cecilia Hernández Zepeda, Rosa Leal Bautista, Chris Parsons, Eduardo Cejudo Espinosa, Jesús Alvarado Flores

One of the CICY scientists, Dr. Eduardo Cejudo, was returning to the University of Waterloo, where received his PhD from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in 2015.

“Eduardo realised that a lot of the tools and knowledge that we have collectively developed within the Water Institute could be applied in the Yucatan Peninsula to help improve our understanding of water quality in this area,” says Parsons, also a member of the Water Institute.

The July 24-27 workshop wrapped up with six clear collaborative projects involving a total of 21 representatives from CICY, the Water Institute and the Water Institute’s industrial partners. 

“When I was organizing the workshop, I tried to ensure that there was a mix of people present and to anticipate probable points of collaboration. What surprised me was the number of synergies and collaborations which surfaced organically during the workshop which were very spontaneous in nature,” says Parsons.

The participants are now actively working on proposals to fund these new research projects by late fall.

For more information on the workshop, read the Water Institute’s interview with Chris Parsons.