Always Changing, Shaping Our Lives

Water is forever moving and transforming through our natural world. Ecosystem scientists have high-tech tools to see exactly where it goes.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

If you have ever tried to scoop up water and hold it in your hands, you know that water knows no boundaries. It seeps through the cracks between your fingers. It evaporates off your skin and into the air. Ecosystem scientists also know this, and they are tracking the movement of water through our landscapes to better understand how it transforms and affects our clean water supply.

Irena Creed, professor of biology at Western University, explains that water changes as it moves. In the environment, it can exist as a solid, a liquid, or a gas; it can flow through the soil or run through our rivers and lakes; it can feed our forests and wildlife; it can also carry contaminants or participate in the formation of potent greenhouse gases. Keeping our fresh water clean is an international issue.

Fresh water is a limited resource that we need to recycle to prevent depletion, even in countries like Canada that have excellent access to fresh water. Creed warns that we are flushing down our drains can have disastrous impacts on our ecosystem. “Think about the birth control pill. Think about the anti-psychotic drugs. We call those the emerging contaminants. Increasingly, we’ve got this mosaic of chemicals within the water that we don’t even know what is in there,” says Creed.

To prevent or counteract these outcomes, Creed is using satellite imagery, computer models, and on-the-ground measurements to understand and predict how water moves through our ecosystems. By working with policy makers, her hope is that her tools with help governments protect our water resources.

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Prof. Irena Creed is the Canada Research Chair in Watershed Sciences and Professor at Western University in the Department of Biology, with cross-appointments to Geography and Earth Sciences. Her research investigates the ecological outcomes of hydrological and biogeochemical processes in freshwater ecosystems under present and predicted climate scenarios, including the interactions between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and the formation of potentially harmful algal blooms. Her research tracks the movement and fate of nutrients within and through watersheds, which are released to the atmosphere (generating greenhouse gases) and aquatic systems (affecting productivity and diversity), work that is relevant to the security of water supplies. She brings a Canadian perspective to a global network of scientists focused on discovering watershed responses to global change and extending watershed research into more broad and integrative disciplines like ecosystem health and ecosystem services. She uses her research to assess the potential effects of watershed management activities and policy on community water supplies in both developed and developing countries. Prof. Creed completed her PhD in Physical Geography at the University of Toronto and has collaborated with researchers in the physical, applied, social and medical sciences within the academy, industry and government.