Sentinel North

THEMATIC PROJECT 1
Complex systems: structure, function and interrelationships in the North

 
 
 
 

Thematic Project 1: Complex systems: structure, function and interrelationships in the North

 

The North, with its various interconnected networks, is a vast and complex system currently undergoing rapid climatic, ecological, social and economic changes. The main objective of this Thematic project is to acquire a better understanding of the complex systems of the North (microbiomes, ecosystems, geosystems and societies), their internal logic and their mutual interactions. The components of complex systems are linked with one another by a set of interactions that collectively are richer than its constituents and give rise to emergent properties. This complexity will be analyzed using the conceptual and practical framework of Network Science.

Bringing together more than 35 Université Laval professors from 3 faculties and 12 departments working with their collaborators within 5 subprojects, this thematic project will explore northern systems at every scale, from the  microscopic (microbiotes and biological systems), to the mesoscopic (preservation of biodiversity and sentinel species), and the macroscopic (ecosystem services, water management and quality, degradation of permafrost, infrastructure), combined with the development of powerful digital models, as well as a new generation of optical sensors with multiple networking capabilities.

 
 
 

1.1 Network Analysis of Umbrella and Indicator Species: Assessing the Integrity of Northern Ecosystems

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal investigator
Daniel Fortin

Co-Investigators
Louis J. Dubé, Frédéric Maps, Louis-Paul Rivest

Collaborators outside U. Laval
Antoine Allard (Spain), Marcel Darveau (Ducks Unlimited), Mark Hebblewhite (Montana, USA), Christian Hébert (Natural Resources Canada)

Project summary
Biodiversity is central to ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services. Umbrella species can be used to simplify biodiversity conservation, as their protection results in the simultaneous protection of multiple co-occurring species over large areas. The forest-dwelling caribou is an umbrella species for boreal biodiversity that is also protected by law in Canada. Caribou conservation is already impacting the industrial development in northern ecosystems, and the situation may intensify as new areas become available for industrial exploitation following climate change. An effective contribution of caribou management to biodiversity preservation requires the ability to predict species diversity in changing environments and over large areas. Rapid climate changes in northern ecosystems will alter local conditions such that a given location can become more suitable to a different assemblage of species in a near future.  Our project aims at answering pressing management issues through a better understanding of the complexity, both structural and functional, of northern environments under climate change. By combining observations along latitudinal gradients and a suite of innovative numerical and complex network analysis methods, we will reveal the mechanisms underpinning the transition between ecosystems along the varying environmental conditions. We will develop tools to assess the integrity of northern ecosystems, and to anticipate, monitor, and eventually preserve biodiversity, the umbrella species, and their associated ecosystem services (e.g., timber supply, aesthetics, and cultural values) despite global changes. Our research outcomes can be used to identify suitable targets for ecosystem restoration and for the needs of local communities regarding sustained supply of ecosystem services (e.g., timber harvest, pollination), given ongoing environmental changes and anthropic pressure.

 

1.2 The resilience of complex networks: identifying critical indicators for efficient targeted interventions

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal Investigators
Louis J. Dubé, Simon Hardy

Co-Investigators
Daniel Côté, Paul DeKoninck, Patrick Desrosiers, Nicolas Doyon

Collaborators
Yves DeKoninck, Jean-Philippe Lessard

Collaborators outside U. Laval
Antoine Allard (Spain), Laurent Hébert-Dufresne (New Mexico, USA), André Longtin (University of Ottawa), Freidrich W. Rainer (Switzerland)

Project summary
The ability of a system to adjust its activity to retain its basic functionality under errors, failures and environmental changes, its resilience, is a defining property of many complex systems. However, and despite widespread consequences on human health, economy and the environment, events leading to loss of resilience, from cascading failures in technological systems to mass extinctions in ecological networks, are still rarely predictable and more than often irreversible. The North, with its diverse interconnected networks, is confronted with mounting challenges from rapid climatic, social and economic changes. We would do well to establish a comprehensive framework to deal with this vulnerable ecosystem. The network science (NS) approach offers such a theoretical and practical framework to address complex systems over microscopic (e.g. neural networks), mesoscopic (e.g. animal biodiversity), and macroscopic (e.g. human population/health and climate changes) scales. At the very least, it offers a common universal language and unifying concepts to apprehend the dynamical, nonlinear, adaptive and hierarchical (complex) systems that we will face in the North. The relationship structure-function will be a leitmotiv of our study. To confront our general methodology with experimental reality, we will combine NS with Systems Biology at the microscopic level to focus our attention on the larval Zebrafish. It is an ideal animal model (the fruit fly of neuroscience) for its small size, transparency, rapid development, and most importantly, its amenability to optogenetics. This will allow the neurophotonics members of our team to image the activity of Zebrafish brain circuits when progressively or suddenly submitted to external (temperature and light) and internal (optical stimulation of neuronal populations) perturbations. By combining recent methods from network analysis and simulations of dynamical systems, we will then compare the theoretical/numerical results with the Zebrafish experiments, as well as with other observable networks of the North.

 

1.3 Characterization and modelling of the key interrelationships of northern water systems under climatic, geosystemic and societal pressures.

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal investigator
René Therrien

Co-Investigators
François Anctil, Najat Bhiry, Alexander Culley, Florent Dominé, Guy Doré, Caetano Dorea, John Molson, Daniel Nadeau, Manuel Rodriguez

Collaborators
Patrick Levalloi, Benoit Levesque, Steve Charrette, André Fortin, François Laviolette, Jean-Michel Lemieux

Collaborators outside U. Laval
Fabrice Calmels, Daniel Fortier, Vincent Fortin, Émilie Gegan, Thomas Ingeman-Nielsen

Project summary
Our multidisciplinary team of researchers from the natural sciences, applied mathematics, engineering, and health sciences proposes to document and model the key interrelationships of northern water systems, under climatic, geosystemic and societal pressures. Northern water systems include the terrestrial hydrosphere (surface and ground water) and cryosphere (ice, snow, permafrost). Three main issues will be investigated: the lack of hydrometeorological data and models in the north, the need to predict the impact of thawing permafrost on water resources, infrastructure, and the environment, and the long-term need for safe drinking water for northern communities. We will use advanced analytical techniques for data collection, including optics-photonics devices, and develop the most advanced numerical models for hydrometeorological simulations and permafrost dynamics. A major component of the project will be field investigations at several northern sites, including Umiujaq and Salluit in Nunavik, QC. The expected outcome includes: collection of unique data on water and energy budgets that will provide essential input to improve operational land surface models used for weather forecasting and climate modelling, unique large-scale data on permafrost degradation in sensitive areas leading to the development of the next generation of models to simulate the dynamics of permafrost degradation, and the development of low cost light-based methods to monitor in situ drinking water quality, leading to water treatment methods and monitoring strategies adapted to the north. We will closely collaborate with partners from northern organizations, industry, and government to ensure knowledge mobilization and transfer, based on our team's extensive track-record of conducting collaborative research with non-academic partners. This project represents a unique opportunity to establish Sentinel North among international research leaders in northern water systems.

 

1.4 Photonic ultimate sensing (PULSE) and monitoring of permafrost environments

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal Investigators
Sophie LaRochelle, Richard Fortier

Co-Investigators
Martin Bernier, Jean-Daniel Deschênes, Tigran Galstian, Jesse Greener, Younès Messaddeq, Amine Miled, John Molson, Wei Shi

Collaborators
Jean-Michel Lemieux, Warwick Vincent

Project summary
The north is evolving rapidly under the pressure of social and economic development in a context of accelerating climate changes. To improve our understanding of these dynamics, we propose novel photonic platforms to monitor parameters critical to the sustainable development of the north, namely permafrost degradation below ground and at surface, greenhouse gas emissions, and water properties. This research addresses the following needs:

1) Sensing deep permafrost: Distributed fibre optic sensing systems deployed in deep borehole will provide multi-parameter sensing, including temperature, strain, groundwater pressure and flow rate, to ensure the sustainable and safe exploitation of mineral deposits below the permafrost base.

2) Greenhouse gas emissions: Silicon photonic sensors will monitor gas build-up from natural and industrial sources (e.g. CH4, CO and CO2) in underground mineral exploitation and degrading permafrost environment.

3) Resolving ground surface dynamics: Buried fiber optic sensors and adaptive cameras for 3D imaging will be co-installed a test site to monitor the impacts of permafrost degradation such as thaw subsidence of the ground surface. High-resolution ground movement monitoring will provide key inputs to models describing the ecosystem dynamics and predicting the stability of man-made infrastructures.

4) Water quality monitoring with self-powered sensors: Autonomous energy source based on benthic microbial fuel cell will be developed to power up microfluidic and silicon photonic sensors. These sensors will find application in thermokarst ponds and wells.

Outcomes of this sub-project will be robust, low power consumption, and versatile platforms acting as unique sentinels of northern environments under stress: fiber-based sensors, silicon photonic integrated sensors, self-powered microfluidic sensors, and adaptive 3D cameras that will provide essential information to cold-regions engineers (ex. mining, geotechnical, and civil), and scientists (hydrogeologists, biologists and chemists) for the sustainable development of the north.

 

1.5 Pitutsimaniq, networked sensor sentinels for real-time surveillance of infrastructures and ecosystems

 
Research team and project summary
 

Principal Investigators
Michel Allard, Leslie Ann Rusch

Co-Investigators
Guy Doré, Sophie LaRochelle, Younès Messadeq

Collaborators
David Conciator, Ariane Locat

Collaborators outside U. Laval
Anderson S. L. Gomes

Project summary
Pitutsimaniq, network in Inuktitut, captures the essence of this project that targets interconnectivity of infrastructure monitoring systems for immediate benefit to northern communities. Construction, expansion, and land-use planning are required for economic development of a fast-growing population in northern communities, yet they are troubled by climate change and destabilizing permafrost. Communication networks dedicated to monitoring ecosystems and infrastructures could provide tremendous capabilities:  real-time observation of climate change impact, hazard detection, early warning of risks, assessment of performance of applied adaptive designs, and enabling fast decision making. Sentinels of change today are isolated silos – sensors and data-loggers patiently gathering precious readings for researchers and users who can access them only a few times a year. Researchers, northern communities and infrastructure owners need real-time surveillance of the environment and infrastructure. Intelligent, interconnected networks of sensors, conveying the latest trends as well as impending cataclysms, can usher in a new era of innovation, an inflection point in the pace of human understanding of climate change, even as that change accelerates.  We propose basic research into networks of low-cost sensors endowed with the capacity to read and store data, transmit this information under harsh climatic conditions, and all with minimal energy consumption. Networked sensors covering the whole length of linear transportation infrastructure and the spatial extent of communities will give warning of incipient failures in covered areas by detecting nascent localized heat sources in the terrain. Longer term, innovative fiber-based sensors will be developed for ground temperature, infrastructure behavior, and ecosystem dynamics.  These intelligent networking elements will be transplanted into the panoply of innovative Sentinel North sensors developed by other teams, thus providing deeper insight and understanding of the impact on the environment and man-made infrastructure.

 
 
 

Steering Committee for Thematic Project 1

Members of the steering committee:
René Therrien, Director
Department of geology and geological engineering
rene.therrien@ggl.ulaval.ca

Louis J. Dubé
Department of physics, physical engineering and optics

Leslie Rush
Department of electrical engineering and computer engineering

Coordinator
Valérie Mathon-Dufour
valerie.mathon-dufour.1@ulaval.ca
418 656-2131 extension 4328

 
 
 

Research Themes

 
 

1- Complex systems: structure, function and interrelationships in the North

 
 

2- Light as a driver, environment, and information carrier in natural environments and human health

 
 

3- Microbiomes: sentinels of the northern environment and human health

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