July 2, 2020

Freshwater scientist brings diverse knowledge systems together as Svare Research Chair

Fred Wrona to study how stressors impact cold regions lake and river ecosystems

For many Canadians, turning on the kitchen tap doesn’t come with much thought. As one of the most freshwater-rich countries in the world, Canadians have enjoyed water in abundance, but it is not something we should take for granted, especially now.

“In Alberta and Canada, we seem to assume that we have unlimited water resources available to use, in both quality and quantity. We are increasingly realizing that this is not the case,” says Dr. Frederick Wrona, PhD, aquatic scientist and the newly appointed Svare Research Chair in Integrated Watershed Processes, which he began July 1.

“Alberta’s economy and well-being are dependent on water resources. As chair, I will be looking at cold regions watershed processes in both lakes and river systems, primarily in Alberta and the Western Arctic, to examine how these ecosystems are responding to various environmental stressors, like pollution and climate change,” he says.

“By looking at the relationships between watershed properties and these drivers of change, either nature- or human-induced, we can better manage our resources in a sustainable manner, in Canada and around the world.”

It is critical that we recognize multiple knowledge systems when we design scientific approaches, so they are place-based and relevant to where we are.

To understand how to best allocate and protect ecosystems and balance their development and recreational use with environmental protection, Wrona says innovative approaches that bring together Western science, Indigenous knowledge and practices, and social and health sciences are required.

His trans-disciplinary research will include the development, testing and application of new analytical methods and technologies assessing water quality and aquatic ecosystem health, further development of integrated monitoring platforms and automated systems, and a strong focus on the education of new highly trained scientists to continue the work well into the future.

“We don’t work in a bubble — science is part of informing a much broader dialogue on how we might better conserve and manage our land and water resources. You need that multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary way of thinking,” Wrona points out.

Collaboration and partnership are a necessity, he says, because no single researcher has the scope and capacity to address the complexity of the issues the world is dealing with, especially related to water resource stewardship and protection.

Dr. Frederick Wrona, Svare Research Chair in Integrated Watershed Processes

Frederick Wrona rejoins the University of Calgary July 1, 2020 as Svare Research Chair in Integrated Watershed Processes.

“We are excited to welcome Dr. Wrona back to UCalgary. His depth of knowledge, leadership and community-minded approach will be an incredible asset to the research happening at the university,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research).

“The Svare Chair is a critical research position focused on issues that impact the lives of all Canadians. His work will help to train future scientists so that we can continue to manage our vital water resources in a sustainable way. Dr. Wrona will also contribute to other important initiatives, like One Health, one of UCalgary’s emerging research themes.”

For Wrona, UCalgary has been a familiar place for more than 30 years. His exemplary career as a freshwater aquatic scientist began as one of the first undergraduate cohorts in the newly created environmental science program in the Faculty of Science. He continued to complete his PhD in aquatic ecology at UCalgary, and later became a professor in Biological Sciences from 1982 to 1991, which will be his home department for the Svare Chair position.

Most recently, Wrona was the inaugural chief scientist for Alberta’s Ministry of Environment and Parks, and also the assistant deputy minister of the Environmental Monitoring and Science Division. Through his various government and academic appointments in Canada and abroad, he led numerous environmental programs that looked at local, national, and international environmental and watershed-related issues. He also worked with Environment and Climate Change Canada for more than 20 years as a senior research manager, science strategist and adviser.

Having been with the university as both an undergraduate and graduate student, and faculty member, Wrona has witnessed the growth and development of UCalgary first-hand.

“The university has grown into a dynamic and leading institution in terms of research, education and fostering the notion of trans-disciplinary programs. I am excited to see that the university is encouraging that type of environment for its faculty, staff and students, and be a part of the family again.”