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Jocelyn Crivea stands in the recently renovated Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainable Communities. photo by Dustin Gill

by Dustin Gill

A major grant awarded to researchers at the University of Regina may soon help people in Saskatchewan and around the world understand more about extreme weather conditions and climate change.

The $662,873 grant awarded to the Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainable Communities will also provide opportunities for students studying climate change, says the institute's manager Jocelyn Crivea.

The grant was awarded by the federally funded, yet independent Canadian Foundation for Innovation. “They’re very big on impact,” says Crivea, “On what the impact will have on Canadians and training students, or highly qualified personnel.”

Over the course of the CFI project, Crivea says upwards of 40 to 50 Masters and Ph.D students will gain skills ranging from field work to report writing, mapping weather patterns, and building research capabilities, helping them become environmental problem solvers and innovative thinkers.

Focusing on understanding extreme weather events through climate modeling, Crivea says the research could help policy makers adapt planning and preparedness measures for extreme weather events like flooding or droughts.

She says the research could also prove beneficial to farmers, and that researchers could potentially work with them to develop ways of managing flood water and irrigation, along with developing considerations and best practices.

The project will consist of four new research facilities: a meteorological module that will map weather patterns across the province, a land observation system to monitor the effects of warming temperature in Saskatchewan, a module for water modeling and risk analysis on the water levels, and a prairie environment chamber.

“Infrastructure grants help us set up these systems. It’s exposure for U of R students to work with international experts who are studying climatic and environmental problems,” says Crivea.

“The grants that we award are made on the basis of scientific excellence alone,” says Ryan Saxby-Hill from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. “We look at impact factors like what’s going to be the benefit in the field where this research is being done and what’s going to be the social impact, or the economic impact.”

He says the process of being awarded funding happens through a system of international merit review and peer review processes, “We have committees of scientific experts that act as independent reviewers on projects and we award them that way.”

Saxby-Hill adds that giving institutions access to advanced research infrastructure is a huge benefit to students and graduate students. “The type of equipment in these labs that are CFI funded is really top of the line, so it’s a huge competitive differentiator when those students go into the labor market,” he says.

Saxby-Hill says another benefit to students and the U of R is the potential for a “legacy factor,” where an institution develops a hub of lasting research opportunities and networks.

“This is an interesting year to be thinking of that,” he says, “2012 was our 15th anniversary so for the first time we have this long legacy of investments across the country and when I talk to researchers we start to see these hubs and networks of research developing and that can definitely have a lasting benefit.”

Dustin Gill is a fourth year journalism student at the University of Regina who will be graduating in April 2013.