New chapter of water data begins for Global Water Futures network

Super buoy being deployed on Buffalo Pound Lake to monitor water quality. Buffalo Pound Lake is the source of drinking water for the City of Regina, SK. Photo Courtesy: Mark Ferguson, University of Saskatchewan

Global Water Futures Observatories (GWFO) officially launched in April as a new chapter of the freshwater observation network that now connects nine Canadian post-secondary institutions, including Carleton, McMaster, Saskatchewan (lead), Toronto, Trent, Waterloo, Western, Wilfrid Laurier and Windsor. 

More than $40 million in new funding, in part through the Canada Foundation for Innovation Major Science Initiatives Fund, has enabled the GWFO to continue its legacy of open-access data from observatory and laboratory facilities under the Global Water Futures program, which had four core partner universities.  

New research is now funded up to 2029 with the potential for renewal. 

Researchers checking a weather station in the Wolf Creek Research Basin in Yukon Territory. Photo Courtesy: Mark Ferguson, University of Saskatchewan

Spanning seven provinces and territories, including the Great Lakes Basin and six major river basins, GWFO will cover 64 instrumented basins, lakes, rivers, and wetlands, complemented by 15 deployable water measurement systems and 18 water laboratories that will allow researchers to understand the dynamics and resiliency of Canada’s aquatic systems. 

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The network’s meteorological, glaciological, hydrological, water quality, and freshwater data will inform the development of water prediction models for flooding and drought, agricultural and municipal water governance models, diagnosis of risks to water security, and solutions to ensure the long-term sustainability of resources across Canada. 

At the recent GWFO launch event in Saskatchewan, Executive Director of the Global Institute for Water Security, Corinne Schuster-Wallace, emphasized the need for equitable and sustainable water management. She said it’s time to get used to the uncertainty caused by climate change, whether it’s extreme droughts, rain, floods, or wildfires, and learn adaptation solutions informed by data. 

“I don’t think you can look at the news without seeing a weather-related or water-related story,” said Schuster-Wallace. “So that’s what makes Global Water Futures Observatories facilities so very important as a foundation for a lot of the research that goes on here, not only at the University of Saskatchewan, but also across the eight partner universities, and beyond that in terms of private sector, other academics in Canada, and also internationally.”  

Meteorological station at Fortress Mountain, Kananaskis, Alberta. Photo Courtesy: Hannah Koslowsky

Many GWFO sites are in remote and data-sparse locations, such as under the Great Lakes, atop glaciers, or in the Arctic. They serve as crucial sources of information for detecting the impact of climate change on water resources. 

Schuster-Wallace also highlighted the initiative’s focus on human-water interactions, wastewater surveillance, and aquatic toxicology.  

GWFO Director and University of Saskatchewan Professor, John Pomeroy, painted a picture of some of GWFO’s other research for the initiative’s launch event. He described flying drones over agricultural fields to look at productivity or soil moisture; accessing remote mountains in the Yukon for snow surveys;  descending underwater autonomous vehicles into Lake Erie; and looking at the hydrometeorology of mountains and snowpacks. He also described the health of wetlands in the Prairies, and the sophisticated chemical analyses that occur in the facility’s many labs.  

Nearly 500 groups across Canada utilize data from GWFO. 

“We try to address questions and issues of relevance to society, wherever that may come from, and so that’s our guidance,” said Pomeroy. 

Leading the University of Waterloo’s GWFO contributions will be Philippe Van Cappellen, professor in the Faculty of Science for the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and also the Canada Excellence Research Chair Laureate in Ecohydrology. 

“GWFO represents a crucial investment in the world-leading research that is needed to protect our vital freshwater resources and aquatic ecosystems against ongoing and emerging threats,” announced Van Cappellen.  

For the University of Windsor, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Changing Great Lakes Ecosystems in the School of the Environment, Aaron Fisk, also serves as scientific director of the Real-Time Aquatic Ecosystem Observation Network (RAEON) — a key component of the new GWFO.  

“This network will give scientists from the University of Windsor new mechanisms for collaboration with other leading freshwater research universities and participating in large-scale projects and grant applications,” announced Fisk. “Our researchers will leverage this infrastructure to provide expertise in water utility management, harmful algae blooms, nutrient dynamics, environmental genomics, fish ecology, oil and gas sources, and contaminant fate,” he added. 

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