CEW 2016 Plenary Speakers

Monday Morning Plenary Speaker: John Smol

Planning for uncertainty using the past: paleo-ecotoxicological perspectives on aquatic ecosystems

One of the greatest challenges faced by ecologists, water quality managers, and other environmental scientists is using appropriate time scales to assess environmental change. Due to the lack of systematic long-term monitoring data, it is often difficult to determine the nature and timing of ecosystem changes. This presentation summarizes recent developments in assessing the effects of multiple stressors from primarily resource development on lake ecosystems using sediments as archives. Here, we focus on integrating the principles of ecotoxicology with lake sediment analyses in our work to develop the field of “paleo-ecotoxicology”. We argue that this framework is useful to test predictions from laboratory bioassays in natural ecosystems, to disentangle the effects of multiple interacting stressors, as well as to assess the importance of direct and indirect effects for mediating biotic responses to contaminant exposure. Specific examples include ongoing work assessing the long-term limnological impacts of gold mining in the Yellowknife region to the effects of industrial oil sands activities in northern Alberta. The problems of contaminant transport and the over-riding effects of recent climatic change will be highlighted, including the challenges faced when dealing with multiple stressors.

Professor John Smol OC, PhD, FRSC is a professor in the Department of Biology at Queen’s University where he is also holder of the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, was the founding editor of the Journal of Paleolimnology and is currently editor-in-chief of the journal Environmental Reviews. He is also the series editor of the book series Developments in Paleoenvironmental Research and is on the editorial boards of several other journals.


Monday Plenary Lunch Speaker: Peter Heule

Styrofoam and plastic biodegradation: Good News!

Two materials formerly believed to be non-biodegradable and ubiquitous in consumer and construction waste can be broken down by the common mealworm beetle and naturally occurring bacteria, respectively. Plastic water bottles and Styrofoam are not as permanent as we thought, some bacteria are able to reduce them into less persistent constituents, giving hope for reducing the amount of plastic pollution in the environment and our landfills. The implications for further research and development of biodegradation techniques for problematic pollutants using insects and bacteria are discussed.

Peter Heule is the Live Culture and Natural History Outreach Technician at the Royal Alberta Museum.  Peter has lived in Edmonton his whole life. A life-long appreciation and fascination with all animals has led to years of personal and professional experience in the captive husbandry of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates. In 1998 he began volunteering for the Provincial Museum’s Bug Room. Peter started full-time employment at the Royal Alberta Museum in 2005 and obtained a BSc with specialization in Animal Biology from the University of Alberta the same year. Academic pursuits in entomology, ornithology, mammalogy, and behavioural ecology served to broaden his existing knowledge base. Currently, Peter works as Life Science’s Live Culture and Natural History Outreach Technician. His duties include the care and maintenance of the museum’s displays of live creatures along with public education and media presentations about a wide range of natural history topics. In addition to outreach activities throughout the province both in person and through the museum’s distance learning programs, Peter is often a guest speaker on CBC Radio One’s “Radio Active” as the show’s “Official Bug Guy”.


Tuesday Plenary Lunch Speakers: Hilary Corlett, Tyler Hauk, and Tiffany Playter

Alberta’s past environments – a record of thriving inland seas and their eventual demise

Three geologists from the Alberta Geological Survey (AGS) will be taking us on a trip through Alberta’s distant past and show how Alberta went from being a beautiful tropical paradise to the still beautiful but less tropical state it is in today.  Welcome to the Paleozoic Era of Alberta, covering approximately 300 Ma years of geological history. During much of this time, Alberta was covered by a shallow inland seaway that resulted in tropical reef deposition in numerous sub basins. There were several large extinctions throughout the Paleozoic Era. This presentation will focus on some of the larger ones, including the Permian-Triassic extinction that is known to be the largest mass extinction event in the Earth’s history.

Hilary Corlett is a carbonate sedimentologist who completed her PhD  Devonian rocks in the Northwest Territories at the University of Alberta, following it up with a post-doc on fault-related dolomites in Sinai, Egypt. She is the AGS resident dolomite expert and has extensive experience in the Devonian of western Canada. Currently one of her projects is investigating the Duvernay Formation in west central Alberta to understand the paleoenvironmental conditions that persisted throughout deposition of Duvernay shales using geochemical data. Tyler Hauk is a carbonate sedimentologist with an MSc. His expertise is varied, and includes ichnology (the study of animal traces in sediment), sequence stratigraphy and U/Pb dating techniques. Currently, one of the things he is working on is modelling carbonate diagenesis in sulphate-rich systems using the Prairie Evaporite (a formation in northeastern Alberta).  Tiffany Playter is a mixed carbonate-siliciclastic sedimentologist currently finishing her PhD at the UofA. Some of her work involves reconstructing the paleoenvironmental conditions surrounding the end-Permian mass extinction in Alberta (the largest mass extinction of all time). Currently one of her projects is the chemical characterization of the Montney Formation (using chemistry to trace the source of the sediments). All three geologists are involved in the 3D geological framework project at the AGS. The project goal is to have a publically accessible 3D subsurface model of Alberta published by 2020.