The University of Manitoba received a $10-million Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Arctic Geomicrobiology and Climate Change today, transforming its sea ice research group into the world’s most comprehensive and innovative climate change institution.
Only 19 CERCs were awarded across the country and the University of Manitoba received this particular chair because of its established reputation as a preeminent Arctic climate research facility – it has the most advanced laboratories, most accomplished researchers, access to a research icebreaker, and it is constructing cutting-edge facilities to help researchers study the impact of climate change on sea ice.
The new chair holder, announced today in Ottawa and introduced at a ceremony at the University of Manitoba, is Søren Rysgaard, professor and head of the Greenland Climate Research Centre at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. There are only about a dozen geomicrobiologists in the world and he is among the most cited and recognized in that exclusive group.
“The Canada Excellence Research Chairs and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship program are an important part of the Government of Canada’s science and technology strategy,” said the Honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety. “By helping our universities attract and retain the world’s best and brightest minds, these programs are helping Manitoba develop and apply leading-edge knowledge, grow a world-class workforce, and position Canada as a true destination of choice for the world’s top students and researchers.”
Geomicrobiology is a relatively new field of science that examines the role of microbes and microbial processes in geological and geochemical processes, and vice-versa. Even in sea ice there exist physical niches that microbial life can exploit, like the brine channels. Brine channels, the sea ice equivalent of capillaries, have diameters ranging from nanometers to centimeters with diverse microbial communities living inside them. We currently know little of this habitat besides the fact it’s vital: A complex interplay between microscopic algae and microorganisms determines not only the amount of food being transferred to higher trophic levels, but it also affects the cycling of elements. The sea ice provides the scaffolding needed for life to take hold, and it also breathes like so much life. The brine channels, their inhabitants, and the complex biogeochemical reactions cause the sea ice to “breathe”; they physically pump carbon dioxide in and out of the ocean, which has implications for the uptake of carbon dioxide and the acidification of the Arctic Ocean.
Dr. Rysgaard will study the geomicrobiological aspects of this critical habitat, how it will alter amid a changing climate, and how it affects global CO2 balance and carbon sequestration.
“The University of Manitoba is proud that the CERC program recognized the unmatched caliber of our Arctic climate change research group by awarding it this chair to build on that strength,” Dr. David Barnard, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Manitoba, said. “Our researchers in the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of the Environment, Earth and Resources have long been at the leading edge of understanding the arctic system so it is exciting to envision where this addition and expansion will lead them next.”
Dr. Rysgaard will join the Centre for Earth Observation Science (CEOS) within the department of environment and geography. His addition will coincide with the novel merging of Earth material science with Arctic system science. In this new order geochemists and mineralogists will work with sea ice researchers to understand the enormous amounts of previously overlooked minerals occupying sea ice.
To help support such research, the Province of Manitoba also announced funding for the U of M’s CERC program today.
“The Province is proud to contribute $3.5 million under the Manitoba Research and Innovation Fund to this exciting and ground-breaking research in the Arctic,” said Premier Greg Selinger. “The knowledge that we gain will help us better understand the role of sea ice in controlling the planet’s temperatures. It will also help us judge the environmental impact of resource development and its impact on the people who live in the Arctic.”
In addition to the new chair and the 17 researchers already involved in the sea ice research, the University will invest in new laboratories, three new tenure track faculty positions, post-doctoral and research associate positions, graduate students and support staff, increasing the size of CEOS to more than 100 people.
To accommodate the new faculty, staff and students, the Wallace Building will undergo renovations. A fifth storey will be added to house specialized laboratories and classrooms. The $8-million project is made possible from a generous donation of $2.5 million from distinguished geological sciences graduate Dr. Clayton H. Riddell, whom the Faculty is named after. The new floor will be named the Nellie Cournoyea Arctic Research Facility, after Nellie Cournoyea, an Officer of the Order of Canada and the first female premier of a Canadian territory: she was the leader of the Northwest Territories from 1991 to 1995.
“With the addition of Dr. Rysgaard to our talented faculty, there is no doubt we are the premier institute conducting Arctic climate change research,” Dr. Digvir Jayas, Vice-President (Research) at the University of Manitoba, said. “When people in any part of the world decide to study sea ice, the University of Manitoba will be their first school of choice because we are the world’s top institute. We will attract the world’s best talent and it’s fun to imagine what will result from that.”
The CERC investment of $10 million over the next seven years will be leveraged over the same period with an additional investment of over $25 million from the University and its partners. The total investment of over $35 million will be used to create and allow access to world-class research space for Arctic research as well as to provide support for faculty positions, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research associates.
For video of Dr. Søren Rysgaard explaining his research and how it will compliment and enhance climate change research at the U of M, visit:
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