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Department of Geography & Environment Speaker Series

The Department of Geography & Environment hosts a series of guests, faculty members, and graduate students/post-docs who speak on current topics and issues in (or related to) human and physical geography.

Our next talk of the Spring 2020 semester will be:

WATCH FOR ICE: Sailing the Northwest Passage on a 1915 gaff-rigged ketch
Dr. Hester Jiskoot, Department of Geography & Environment, University of Lethbridge

When: Friday, Feb 28
Time: 3:10 PM
Where: SA8002
Everyone welcome!

Dr. Hester Jiskoot is a keen glaciologist and a keen sailor. In summer 2019, she combined the two passions during the successful attempt of the Tecla, a historic two-mast sailing ship, to traverse the Northwest Passage from Ilulissat, West Greenland, to Nome, Alaska. After crossing Baffin Bay, the ship continued along the inlets, sounds and straits of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to the Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea and Bering Strait. The vessel moored in the settlement harbours of Pond Inlet, Taloyoak, Gjoa Haven, Cambridge Bay and Herschel Island. Tecla’s crew also made landings at remote beaches, including on Disko Island, Beechey Island, and at Kugluktuk and Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula. The final landing was at the infamous Alaska Gold Rush town of Nome.

In this visually stunning presentation, Hester will share the crew’s onboard experiences and take you on shore outings. You will see Arctic seascapes and landscapes adorned with northern lights, icebergs, sea ice and glaciers. There will be navigational hazards, pingos and thawing permafrost cliffs. There will be lichens, willows, whales, birds and musk oxen. Together, we will meet some of the characters and cultures in Arctic settlements, travel to historical sites related to Franklin’s and Amundsen’s expeditions, see (abandoned) stations of various kinds and find flakes of gold. Hester will also share some of her scientific observations of weather, clouds and sea surface temperature, and discuss a colleague’s beach observations of plastic and marine litter.

Previous speakers and topics:

Calibrating Bioindicators of Environmental Condition and Recovery from Degradation

Various classification systems have been developed to evaluate and understand the effects of human activity on local landscapes. The Reference Condition Approach (RCA) is used to assess aquatic systems. It determines whether or not the condition of a test site is ‘acceptable’ in comparison to least-disturbed (reference) locations having similar natural environmental features. However, human activity is so pervasive that few true reference areas exist. Furthermore, there is no basis for assessing the relative condition of locations that are clearly 'nonreference'.  One solution is to use the complementary concept of  'degraded condition', and assess the population of ‘most disturbed‘ locations (areas whose environmental characteristics are deemed unacceptable by consensus). Identifying the two extremes allows one to ordinate the condition of test sites along a reference-degraded continuum (RDC). One can then model biological community attributes (bioindicators) as a function of increasing disturbance. Community responses to anthropogenic stress are often nonlinear, and dramatic changes in composition can occur if a threshold of disturbance is exceeded. These patterns can be seen as discontinuities in the range of natural variation as well as changes in ‘average’ characteristics.  I will illustrate use of the RDC approach for evaluating the biological condition of Great Lakes coastal wetlands and for assessing reclaimed wetlands in the Alberta Oil Sands.

Ammonite and Moabite Inscriptions: Iron Age Inscriptions from Jordan

Moabite and Ammonite are two of the most important languages of the ancient Levantine world. Inscriptions in these Iron Age languages reveal a great deal about writing and literacy, scribalism, religion, economics, agriculture, warfare, diplomacy, kings, and kingdoms in the ancient region that is part of modern Jordan. It is a stunning legacy and deserves enormous attention. Using some of the most recent high resolution images, this lecture will focus on a dozen of the most consequential of these ancient inscriptions, including reference as well to some of the scholars whose work is the most foundational for the study of these inscriptions, namely, W.F. Albright, Frank Moore Cross, and Walter Aufrecht.

Data to Decision: Environmental modelling and community-based monitoring

This presentation will demonstrate applications in environmental modelling and community-based monitoring. The intention of the talk is to provide an overview of past and current work of the presenter, for the purposes of finding common points of interest with the Department of Geography. On the topic of environmental modelling, simulations of land use change and hydrology will be presented, with a focus on the use of models as exploratory virtual labs with stakeholders using 3D technologies. On the topic of community-based monitoring, a current project will be presented with opportunities to explore department contributions.

The Geography of the Crown: Law and the Political Geography of Settler Colonialism

Co-sponsored by the Department of Geography & Environment and Women and Gender Studies

The Crown, its honour and its duties, are all inventions of British and Canadian law. They are best understood in their specific historical-geographic context, particularly settler-colonialism. They emerged for strategic purposes and are not universal concepts, even among settler societies formerly part of the British Empire. Imperial actors employed legal discourse to secure geography, to render the Crown’s largely unpracticed and abstract claims more real. This assertion was, and continues to be, challenged by pre-existing Aboriginal political geographies. In its efforts to address these tensions in cases of Aboriginal title and rights claims, the Court makes use of the Crown, its honour and duties, but avoids fundamental questions of political geography, most notably in the recent decision of Mikisew Cree (2018). The unresolved point of tension in Mikisew Cree and other cases is the origin and legitimacy of the Crown’s assertion of territorial sovereignty. Through a geographic critique of the legal history of Aboriginal title, this presentation will argue that in the context of settler colonialism in Canada, “the Crown” is a land claim and should be treated as such.

FireSmart Vegetation Management Research in Alberta

This seminar presentation will address the need for FireSmart vegetation management research and showcase some of the work being done in Alberta and beyond. We will begin with a primer about wildfire basics and how vegetation affects the way wildfires spread. This discussion will include models that are used to forecast wildfire spread and intensity. We will show that vegetation management is one way that wildfire and land managers can mitigate the risk of unwanted wildfires.

Vegetation management is a long established practice by many First Nations, primarily through the use of prescribed fire. In today’s era wildland landscapes encompass many permanent communities that are dependant on resource based industries. Prescribed fire is still used as a hazard reduction tool, but other tactics are also needed. The establishment of “newer” FireSmart vegetation management tools has to date been largely based on the knowledge of wildfire managers gained from wildfire suppression experience.However  knowledge gained from wildfire observations does not translate into a thorough understanding of current FireSmart vegetation management effectiveness. In response Alberta and partner agencies have established a research program to evaluate vegetation management effectiveness. Examples of results to date, on-going work and opportunities for new work will be discussed.

Climate and human migration: past experience, future challenges

There is growing concern that climate change will cause large scale migration and population displacements in the coming decades. Professor McLeman reviews existing knowledge of climate-migration processes and identifies key uncertainties and challenges in planning for the population impacts of climate change. The presentation draws upon examples from drought migration on the Great Plains, sea level rise in coastal areas, and scenarios of future migration responses. Also included is a brief summary of how migration, displacement and conflict is being assessed in the ongoing IPCC 6th Assessment Report process.

Dr. Robert McLeman is Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University and a Coordinating Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has spent the last fifteen years researching the impacts of drought and other climatic hazards on migration and settlement patterns on the Great Plains.

Last years speakers and topics included:

  • Dr. Ivan Townshend (University of Lethbridge): Changing segregation dynamics of two vulnerable populations in the "Divided City"
  • Dr. Melanee Thomas (University of Calgary): Natural disasters and district power: How political scientists think about electoral effects of place
  • Dr. Scott Lamoureux (Queen's University): Hydrological and limnological impacts of changing permafrost in the High Arctic
  • Alberta Wilderness Association: Wilderness Roadshow - Alberta's Public Lands and Wild Spaces
  • Dr. Michael Byers (University of British Columbia): Elon Musk, President of Mars?
  • Department of Geography Graduate student presentation of thesis proposals
  • Dr. Katharina Koch (University of Calgary):  The Geopolitical Production of Trust Discourses at the Finnish-Russian Border

Alex Johnston Lecture Series

Also co-sponsored/organized by the Departments of History and Geography& Environment is the annual Alex Johnston Lecture Series.