March 17, 2023

Sustainability of high-mountain water sources focus of new UNESCO Chair

UCalgary named host institution for international program to benefit communities reliant on ‘water towers of the Earth’

Calgary, AB – UNESCO, a scientific agency of the United Nations, has announced the creation of the UNESCO Chair in Mountain Water Sustainability to be hosted by the University of Calgary. The Chair will be co-held by six international world-class water researchers – including two from UCalgary and two from the University of Saskatchewan.

Nearly four billion people worldwide depend on the well-being of high-mountain water for survival. Right here in Calgary, our drinking water, agriculture, power, energy industry and surrounding ecosystems all rely on the snowpacks, rainfall and glaciers of the Canadian Rockies. These critical mountain water sources are endangered by climate change with the potential for dire implications if left unaddressed.

The chairholders will work collectively to improve how we forecast the impact of climate warming on water sources, develop new climate change mitigation measures, and increase the resilience of communities reliant on mountain waters. They will use a holistic approach to address the complex and interconnected environmental, economic and social issues of mountain-based systems.

They will also collaborate with local water users and Indigenous knowledge-holders to create networks that will observe water ecosystems and develop methods to ethically braid Indigenous and western science in pursuit of high-mountain water sustainability.

“The coordinated international research and educational network created by this chair will bring new and timely solutions that bridge western and Indigenous knowledge systems. It will help build the necessary resilience and adaptation strategies to ensure the long-term sustainability of mountain-based communities, economies and ecosystems.”

Professor Frederick Wrona, Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science at UCalgary

The chairholders are:

  • Professor Frederick Wrona, PhD, University of Calgary (Chair co-lead)
  • Dr. Kerry Black, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Sustainable Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary
  • Professor John Pomeroy, PhD, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Saskatchewan (Chair co-lead and primary chairholder)
  • Professor James McPhee Torres, PhD, Department of Civil Engineering, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile
  • Dr. Dhiraj Pradhananga, PhD, Associate Professor of Hydrometeorology, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Dr. Corinne Schuster-Wallace, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon

The chair was constructed to establish a North-South America and East-West (Asia-North and South America) network of mountain-related research. Each scholar brings a distinct research focus from their geographic region to the Chair, making it a diverse and transdisciplinary initiative with built-in opportunities for international impact.

“Chairholders will have to find the regionally appropriate and problem-specific solutions and be sure not to force a one-solution-fits-all approach, but to listen to local needs and to co-develop the most appropriate solutions in each of the regions.”

Professor John Pomeroy, PhD, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Saskatchewan

Chairholders will proactively work with local mountain-based communities and relevant stakeholders and decision-makers. The chairholders want to facilitate a paradigm shift towards transdisciplinary, community-based research that results in integrated solutions to the unique and complex water management challenges faced by each community.

“The Chair will provide a unique avenue to pursue truly transdisciplinary approaches to water stewardship in mountain regions, through inclusion of community-based participatory research methodologies with a focus on knowledge translation and mobilization. This Chair is unique in that it will foster co-development of research processes with Indigenous Nations, focused on decolonizing methodologies that respect Indigenous rights and ensure meaningful participation of Indigenous communities.”

Dr. Kerry Black, PhD, Schulich School of Engineering, UCalgary

“Water problems emerge at the interface of a complex relationship between the state of the natural resource, infrastructure, systemic factors such as governance structures and social norms, and individual factors such as agency, socio-economic status, ethnicity, and gender. The chair represents a way to bring all of this together in ways that focus on community-driven, evidence-informed equitable and sustainable water management and access solutions.”

Dr. Corinne Schuster-Wallace, PhD, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Saskatchewan

And time is of the essence. “The impacts of climate change on mountain snow and ice, water and ecosystems are rapidly accelerating,” says Pomeroy. “These environments are changing even before we fully understand their coupled interactions and before we have reliable predictions of the impacts of climate change on downstream populations and how these might be managed.”

“The greatest opportunity of this chair,” says Wrona, “is to provide timely and actionable knowledge to mountain water-dependent communities and relevant sectors on how to build resilience and ensure the long-term sustainability of water availability and quality under an increasingly changing climate.”

The UNESCO Chairs Network builds on collaboration to advance training, research, and program development in higher education. It builds connections among universities, civil society, local communities, researchers and policy-makers. To learn more, visit

Media inquiries

Sean Myers
Senior Communcations Specialist
University of Calgary

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