Nov. 8, 2019

Biologist begins role as research chair in aquatic ecosystem health

Kelly Munkittrick aims to include Indigenous data in an integrated monitoring framework

Right now, there are 11 different ways various industry bodies and government agencies go about monitoring fish populations and other indicators of health in rivers, streams and lakes across Alberta. They collect huge amounts of data, but “they don’t talk to each other,” says Dr. Kelly Munkittrick, PhD, the new Campus Alberta Innovates Program (CAIP) Research Chair in Aquatic Ecosystem Health at the University of Calgary. 

His research is developing an integrated framework that will link all that monitoring data together in one, single system that anyone can access and that can serve a number of different purposes. “The same data should feed into land use planning, into regulation, into prediction of future states, into evaluation of how well industry is doing in meeting their objectives. A single data set should do all of those things,” he says. “Right now, it's not tied together very effectively.”

Dr. Kelly Munkittrick

Kelly Munkittrick joins UCalgary as CAIP Chair in Aquatic Ecosystem Health.

Munkittrick, who begins in his new role Dec. 1, was most recently at Wilfrid Laurier University where he was the executive director, cold regions and water initiatives, and a professor in the Department of Biology. Before that, he held a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Ecosystem Health Assessment at the University of New Brunswick and spent five years in Calgary as director, environmental monitoring and risk assessment at Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).

“Alberta has a commitment to regional and provincial monitoring which is better than most provinces. They've got land use plans that are based on watershed boundaries which is better than most provinces. They've got requirements for monitoring that are stronger than a lot of provinces,” says Munkittrick. “So all of the pieces are there, it's just trying to find out how to tie them together in a way where decision-making is more integrated and more transparent.”

It’s been estimated the oil sands industry alone spends about $180 million a year conducting environmental monitoring in Alberta; an integrated framework will help leverage that expense to help better manage ecosystems. Integrating the data electronically in a manner that’s both accessible and transparent is a priority, but he says, “That is not an easy thing to do.”

While at UCalgary, Munkittrick will also further his work examining how we can better integrate Indigenous governance, perspectives and knowledge into an integrated monitoring framework. The notion of incorporating traditional knowledge in how we assess waterways is beginning to pick up momentum across the country, and here in this province.

“In Alberta, there have certainly been a lot of efforts starting to look at how to try to do that,” he says.

Trying to conceptualize how to integrate both traditional knowledge and traditional perspectives into a management system is a large part of the focus of what I'm trying to do now.

As CAIP chair, Munkittrick will also work with government agencies, industry-based partners, and stakeholder organizations to further innovative research into assessing and predicting cumulative environmental effects and create a network of expertise to help analyze and interpret complex environmental data.

“We’re so pleased to welcome Dr. Munkittrick to UCalgary. He brings significant depth of knowledge and expertise in areas that are incredibly important, particularly in the Alberta landscape,” says Dr. Andre Buret, vice-president (research).

“Support through the Campus Alberta Innovation Program has enabled us to bring impressive leaders like Dr. Munkittrick to our university, which benefits our students’ learning experiences, and builds on our ability to conduct research that addresses our communities’ needs.”

On a personal note, Munkittrick and his family are pleased to be back in Calgary. “It’s a great city to live in. We really enjoyed our time there. It's got a real commitment to community. The bike trail system is amazing, and being close to the mountains is in the envy of lots of Canada,” he says.

An avid fisherman, he’s also looking forward to getting back on the Bow River. “I like to ‘dip a line’ and the Bow certainly has a lot of options for both research and recreation.”