Faculty Research: Current & Ongoing Projects
My research centres on the human dimensions of environmental change and adaptive governance. My work is focused on coastal/marine systems in SE Asia and the Arctic, and includes an interest in water resources and First Nations in Canada. Current research projects with which I am involved as a lead or co-investigator include: (1) Adaptive capacity, co-management and fisheries/marine mammals in Vietnam, Arctic (SSHRC/IDRC); (2) Resilience and well-being of small-scale fishers (CIDA/WorldFish Center); (3) Community adaptation and vulnerability in Arctic regions (International Polar Year); (4) Adaptation in a changing Arctic: Ecosystem services, communities and policy (ArcticNet); and (5) First Nations and source waters: Understanding vulnerabilities and building capacity for environmental governance (SSHRC). Graduate students are actively involved in all of these projects and help to design tools and assess the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of individuals and communities; examine resource use strategies and drivers of social-ecological change, and assess governance arrangements to improve opportunities for learning and collaboration among resource users, government actors and researchers.
My research focuses on sustainable communities through the lens of food. As part of this work, my most recent project is a three year SSHRC funded Standard Research Grant (2009 – 2012) to develop Food Counts, a report card to benchmark sustainable Canadian food systems. Through background research, several categories and associated indicators have emerged as central to understanding Sustainable Canadian Food Systems. Building on these indicators, the Food Counts report card project is now well underway. We have developed a pilot version based on consultations with colleagues in the Waterloo region, Prince Edward Island, Toronto and the United States. We will have a national version of Food Counts developed by Spring 2010. The national report card will act as a comparator for communities across Canada. Next, Food Counts will be tested in the Region of Waterloo and in Prince Edward Island. The project will provide a starting point for communities as they move to create more sustainable food systems. Graduate students linked to the project are developing more in depth knowledge about: community and rooftop gardens; the role of education in fostering food literacy and citizenship; the extent of urban development and the impact on wildlife corridors; and the importance of wild fisheries as a dimension of food system well-being.
My teaching and research are focused on two areas: historical and contemporary infectious diseases, and cultural heritage landscapes. I am completing a book on historical infectious diseases and their cumulative impact on Native groups in Canada. I have strong ties with health sciences working on “hot-spot” microbe transfer sites in universities and other high-density areas, as well as with water-borne diseases. Current funding is targeted to links between perceptions of disease transmission and “hot-spot” transmission sites, especially in university residences. I am also involved with policy issues around cultural landscapes through my work with the Region of Waterloo Heritage planning and policy board members. As an Associate Director of the Heritage Resources Centre (HRC) at University of Waterloo, I also consult, teach and give community workshops on cultural heritage landscapes. The courses I teach are strongly reflective of my interdisciplinary research that also includes narratives studies as a pedagogical tool for Native Studies. My rap mantra for teaching and research: “Cough it in your arm Harm, not in your hand Sam”; condom-ate your bod Todd, and vaccinate your mate Kate”!
Michael Imort researches the political and cultural symbolism of landscapes, particularly European forest landscapes that are being used for political purposes ranging from nationalist propaganda to environmental activism. A second research area examines the role of forests and foresters during the German occupation of Europe during the Second World War, as well as the use of the forest in Holocaust memorialization and revisionist German popular culture since 1945.
My present research focuses on developing a further understanding of ecohydrological processes, especially as affected by biogeochemical and climatic conditions, and their influence on wetland permanence, wetland reclamation and forest hydrological and biogeochemical processes in stressed northern ecosystems (Western Boreal Forest, Subarctic Wetland-Tundra). This involves combining theoretical, laboratory and fieldwork examining micrometeorological, hydrological and trace gas exchange in heterogeneous vegetated systems. My research philosophy is grounded in the belief that the development of theory and experimentation must progress in conjunction with one another. My long-term objectives involve issues of scaling in the development of fully coupled biogeochemical-hydrological models of climate change while developing realistic sound strategies for adapting to potential climate and landuse change scenarios.
My research is largely theoretical, using Java as the programming language to simulate the physics of volcanic eruptions and the dispersal of ejecta. The sums of the accelerations in the equations of motion are being used to predict trajectories in the ballistic, column and umbrella sections of eruption plumes. The clastic debris fields predicted from these equations may then be compared to actual debris fields from eruptions, leading to a more refined delineation of danger zones around volcanic vents and to clarification of structures found in ignimbrites. Computer experiments have already shown that increases in drag have the effect of narrowing the column section of plumes, increasing the likelihood of column collapse and the initiation of pyroclastic flows. Numerical and graphical simulation are also showing where in the ballistic and column sections the trajectories of fragmental material intersect, allowing fragments to collide and either fuse or behave as a denser mixture which is then likely to add to the probability of pyroclastic flow.
My research program has long focused on how to plan, manage, and assess diverse human activities in large regions to foster commmunity and environmental sustainability. My current projects include research on the use of simulation models in regional planning and assessment; limit and threshold approaches in regional planning and assessment; meanings and methods of sustainability in resource and environmental planning; and complexity and systems approaches in resource and environmental management. The case study component of much of my and and my students work takes place in the St. Elias region of Yukon, Alaska, and BC; the Canadian Rockies and Alberta foothills, coastal BC, the Australian Alps, and the Grand River Basin, Ontario.
My research examines Indian immigration to Canada and related transnational networks. I have published a number of articles from this work highlighting the role of immigration, trade and remittances in transnational community formation and maintenance, as well as exploring important gendered aspects of transnational networks. My recent sabbatical research (08/09) focused on nurse emigration from southern India in order to examine regional distinctiveness in migratory circuits and the role of state and society in shaping and responding to skilled female emigration (funded by the Shastri-Indo Canadian Institute and WLU). I plan to repeat this work in Punjab, northern India. I have also been exploring the links between trade and immigration in a comparative project looking at the Canada-India and Australia-India context (funded by the Asia Pacific Institute and Metropolis BC). In addition to this I have an ongoing interest in the experiences of immigrants who settle in small and mid sized urban settlements in Canada.
Water in northern Canada plays a central role in shaping the landscape, maintaining the ecological integrity of ecosystems, economic development and prosperity, and traditional use of the land and its resources by indigenous communities. My research targets critical water-related issues in three northern regions: 1) the Peace-Athabasca-Slave River Corridor (Alberta, NWT), 2) the Old Crow Flats (northern Yukon Territory) and 3) the Hudson Bay Lowlands (northern Manitoba). Research is conducted in partnership with First Nation communities, educational institutions, government agencies and industry. The approach is multidisciplinary with a focus on integrating 1) contemporary hydroecological studies spearheaded by the use of water isotope tracers with 2) quantitative long-term records of hydroecological changes derived from analyses of lake sediment cores. The temporal insight gained from these techniques is needed to inform stewardship of important northern freshwater ecosystems. This research program provides northern research opportunities for students in biology, earth sciences, and physical geography programs who receive an enhanced level of multidisciplinary training in the field of northern hydroecology.