New UNESCO chair at University of Calgary to focus on mountain water systems

The Peyto Glacier is pictured in Banff National Park. (Mark Ferguson/Global Institute for Water Security - image credit)
The Peyto Glacier is pictured in Banff National Park. (Mark Ferguson/Global Institute for Water Security - image credit)

Six researchers in mountain communities — from Canmore, Alta., to Chile to Nepal — are teaming up to better understand changing mountain water systems, and to come up with solutions for better water management and sustainability.

The researchers are the joint holders of a newly-announced UNESCO Chair in Mountain Water Sustainability, hosted by the University of Calgary.

The six researchers are:

  • John Pomeroy, department of geography and planning, University of Saskatchewan (chair co-lead and primary chairholder).

  • Frederick Wrona, University of Calgary (chair and co-lead).

  • Kerry Black, assistant professor, Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary.

  • James McPhee Torres, department of civil engineering, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile.

  • Dhiraj Pradhananga, associate professor of hydrometeorology, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal.

  • Corinne Schuster-Wallace, associate professor, department of geography and planning, University of Saskatchewan.

"We're just ecstatic about it," said Pomeroy, who is also director of the University of Saskatchewan Coldwater Laboratory in Canmore.

The announcement comes at a time of "enormous climate warming," Pomeroy said, which has affected snowpacks and glaciers around the world, leading to wide-ranging downstream effects that include last summer's floods in Pakistan and current droughts in Europe and the Southern United States.

Submitted by Dhiraj Pradhananga
Submitted by Dhiraj Pradhananga

Pomeroy said the chair offers the opportunity to find solutions "not just for the major cities and the farming communities, but for Indigenous communities as well."

Bringing Indigenous knowledge into the conversation around water management is a key priority for co-chair Kerry Black.

"The history of Indigenous people living in harmony with nature for tens of thousands of years is so rich in data and information that we don't mobilize enough in Western science driven approaches," said Black.

"This chair is about really enhancing and leveraging that information in a more meaningful way."

Submitted by John Pomeroy
Submitted by John Pomeroy

Wrona, also from the University of Calgary, says Calgary and other communities in Western Canada rely heavily on mountain systems to act as "water towers," storing precipitation in snow and glaciers. Understanding how these systems work and are affected by climate change will be crucial in the years ahead, he said.

"It's going to be very important for us to develop improved decision-making processes for conservation and protection of those resources … knowing that it is probably under increasing risk," said Wrona.

The chair is set to run through June 2027 with a possibility of renewal.