Balancing development and sustainability in the Athabasca River Basin
Athabasca University’s researchers are often lauded for their accomplishments, and rightly so.
Ask any of them how they do it, and they’re likely to point out they cannot do it without support. Sometimes this support comes in the form of collaboration with researchers at other institutions, in the form of grants from external funding agencies, in the form of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, or in some combination of the above.
In the case of Dr. Junye Wang, the Campus Alberta Innovates Program Chair in Computational Sustainability and a prominent member of the Athabasca River Basin Research Institute (ARBRI), his work creating complex models and simulations is supported by a team of talented post-doctoral researchers.
“Every team member brings his/her expertise and skill into the multidisciplinary hub. Particularly, their research will be integrated in our modelling framework of the integrated terrestrial and aquatic systems,” he said.
Wang’s research at ARBRI focuses on energy, environment and sustainability—with an emphasis on computer modeling and simulation. Within the river basin, there are complex relationships between water, air, land, and vegetation.
Through computer modeling, Wang’s team looks at how these different terrestrial and aquatic systems interact with each other and attempts to predict the impact of human activities. They can then provide opportunity maps for sustainable resource development and managing the cumulative, in order to facilitate a low-carbon economy and healthy communities.
Considering how much Alberta’s economy is tied to development in northern Alberta and in the Athabasca River Basin in particular, and considering that changes in the basin affect sustainability and human well-being, it’s clear this work has important implications for sustainable development in this province.
“In the future, the Athabasca oil sands could have huge economic opportunities, but much remains unknown about the impact of oil sands on the environment and society,” Wang said.
Currently, Wang’s team comprises six post-doctoral researchers: Dr. Soumendra Nath Bhanja, Dr. Mojtaba Aghajani Delavar, Dr. Nigus Demelash Melaku, Dr. Tesfa Worku Meshesha, Dr. Syed Hamid Hussain Shah, and Dr. Jiacheng Shen. They bring a variety of specialties to the table, adding their smaller contributions to the bigger picture of interactions within the river basin.
“Any single method is insufficient to study these complex interactions. My current research is to adopt a holistic approach to evaluate their influences on river basin ecosystems and provide a systematic understanding,” he said. “It is necessary to integrate multiple approaches and disciplines for establishing a relationship between hydrological and biogeochemical processes that reflects real-world problems.”
Wang’s team is funded mainly through the Campus Alberta Innovates Program; he is a research chair in Computational Sustainability and Environmental Analytics, which allows him to focus on his ambitious modelling framework of integrated terrestrial and aquatic systems. His research is also supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the not-for-profit organization Mitacs, and industry partners.