Canada Foundation for Innovation Proposal
The Challenge Facing Canada’s Boreal Water Resource
The boreal region covers about 1/3 of Canada and 3/4 of Ontario, and contains 20% of the world's unfrozen, surface fresh water, and 9% of the world’s renewable fresh water. Managing this resource is crucial to Canada’s economic development & prosperity. Canada’s economy depends on resource activities that rely on and affect the quality and quantity of that region’s fresh water. For example, the annual revenue from hydroelectric power ($15 billion) is about 1/3 of the net economic contribution to Canada, while the mining, fossil fuel and pulp and paper sectors contribute significantly to the Canadian economy, particularly in smaller communities. However, Canada’s capacity to sustainably manage its boreal water resource is severely restricted by the limited understanding of this region’s water flow and storage processes, and how such processes influence the movement and fate of nutrients and contaminants. This knowledge gap hinders our understanding of water, nutrient and contaminant cycling over space and time, and how these factors integrate at an ecosystem level. The lack of understanding is largely the result of the absence of deliberate and rigorous scientific integration of hydrological and ecological studies on boreal water resources. There is also uncertainty of the consequences of unprecedented industrial and resource extraction activities on boreal water resources. Moreover, vast areas of the boreal region are experiencing the additional pressure of climate warming. Canada has inadequate baseline information to respond with knowledgeable and reliable prediction, mitigation and adaptation strategies. Attempts to transfer process understanding and modelling techniques developed in other regions to the boreal, have failed owing to the influence of the unique characteristic features of the latter (e.g. snow and ice, organic soils, permafrost, extended seasonal light and dark periods) on the flux and storage of water, on nutrients as well as contaminant transport and the impacts on fragile boreal aquatic biota.
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