MESPOM Project Offerings

Master's course in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management (MESPOM) Project Offerings

MESPOM is an Erasmus Mundus Masters course in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management operated by four leading European and two North American Universities and supported by the European Commission. MESPOM prepares students for identifying and implementing solutions to complex environmental challenges, especially in an international context. U of S is a partner institution and MESPOM students may study with faculty here at SENS. 

The MESPOM study programme is in English and lasts two years. The students study in at least three out of six consortium universities: the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University (Sweden), the University of Manchester (UK), Central European University (Budapest), the University of the Aegean (Lesvos, Greece),Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) (USA), and here at the University of  Saskatchewan.

Master’s course in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management (MESPOM) Project Offerings
The following School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS) faculty are willing to work with MESPOM students interested in the projects listed below. Please contact the faculty directly for more information.

Project: Assessment of the Species Specific Sensitivity of Native Fish Species to Environmental Contaminants

Chemical contamination of our natural ecosystems is regarded as one of the planet’s greatest threats (The Lancet, 2017). In particular, human activities result in the discharge of many chemicals into aquatic ecosystems. Regulatory agencies and businesses are tasked with managing these chemicals but face significant challenges due to the sheer number of compounds for which toxicity data are required as well as the plethora of different species requiring protection, including humans. In fact, over 100,000 chemicals require evaluation worldwide. It becomes increasingly apparent that current risk assessment strategies that rely heavily on animal testing and are prohibitively time-consuming and expensive are not able to address these testing mandates.

The research conducted in my laboratory focuses on addressing these challenges by 1) developing high-throughput molecular early life-stage toxicity assays to facilitate rapid and more ethical testing of chemicals while significantly reducing the number of live animals; and 2) developing modeling approaches that enable predicting the sensitivity of native fish species to environmental contaminants of concern.

Roles and responsibilities: Plan and conduct short-term exposure studies with early life-stages of fishes or amphibians. Routine water quality assessment and maintenance of exposure experiments. Bio-analytical investigations (determine growth, deformities and mortality of fish; collect tissues and analyze sub-lethal biological effects such as changes in gene expression, biochemical homeostasis, develop toxicity models linking mechanistic toxicity data with apical outcome of regulatory relevance). Interact with stakeholders from industry and government. Statistical data evaluation. Write a summary report, and - if permitted by the data - contribute to writing a peer-reviewed publication (student will be listed as a co-author). The student will need to complete the following safety course at the U of S before any work can commence (all courses are offered online): Animal Ethics Training, Biosafety, Laboratory Safety.

Skills required: Very good English reading and writing skills. Natural science (biology) background with some laboratory experience (pipetting, etc.). Experience with working with aquatic vertebrates will be beneficial but is not critical. Basic knowledge in statistical evaluation of data sets is expected.

Markus Hecker, Associate Professor, SENS; Canada Research Chair in Predictive Aquatic Ecotoxicology,

Project:  The Chemoinformatics of Water Quality

This project will be imbedded within a larger project focussed on ‘Omics’ approaches to Water Quality funded by the Global Water Futures Program. The specific goals of the overall project are to use detailed non-targeted chemical analysis to assess the nature of the dissolved organic matter present in all aquatic ecosystems. We use OrbiTrap mass spectrometry to measure all the chemicals present in water samples. Interpretation and assimilation of the raw mass spectrometry data into usable chemoinformatic information requires extensive data handling. The best available platform for this data handling in the R platform however the data analysis still requires advanced skills in R programming. This project will focus on the development of an R application which will permit the required chemoinformatic analysis based on already available sample sets. In addition, depending on progress, we may develop new mass spectrometry data approaches for data acquisition.

Roles and responsibilities: Collect (depending on weather) and prepare water samples for chemical analysis.  Write a summary report, and - if permitted by the data - contribute to writing a peer-reviewed publication (student will be listed as a co-author). All R code generated as part of the project will need to be fully annotated and will be considered to be the joint intellectual property of the PI and the student. The student will need to complete the following safety course at the University of Saskatchewan before any work can commence (courses are between 1/2 and 1 day long):  Laboratory Safety.

Skills required: Very good English reading and writing skills. Strong experience with R programming language is required. Natural science background with some laboratory (pipetting, etc.) experience. The student should be willing to participate in possible field excursions to collect samples. Basic knowledge in statistical evaluation of data sets is expected.

Paul Jones, Associate Professor, SENS/Toxicology Program,

Project:  Agroecosystem Sustainability

Sustainability of agricultural practices is essential for producing food and protecting farmer livelihoods while minimizing environmental damage.  This project will evaluate the state of agroecosystem sustainability in  the Canadian Prairies - the largest and most agriculturally intensive region of Canada.  The project  will involve collating Canadian Census of Agriculture, land use and other data sources to spatially model the current landscape for Prairie agroecosystem sustainability.  Agroecosystem sustainability will be assessed using categories of  landscape diversity, perennial cover, livestock integration, wetland alteration, and chemical use. This information will be used to create maps of current agro-sustainability practices in order to inform future work, policies and practices.

Skills required:  ArcGIS skills are mandatory in order to work with spatial datasets. Interest in landscape ecology, agriculture.

Christy Morrissey, Associate Professor, SENS; Associate Professor, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Science,

Project:  Agricultural Practices that Improve Wetland Health and Function

In Saskatchewan, wetlands represent one of the most ecologically important water bodies. Frequently embedded in cropland, Prairie Pothole wetlands represent a major hotspot for biodiversity and provide numerous ecosystem services and cropland functions including flood control, sediment trapping, ground water recharge, water purification, soil production and erosion prevention, and nutrient retention.  This project will provide the initial work to assess the efficacy of beneficial farm management practices of reductions in pesticides as well as addition of perennial cover to fields in strips. It is anticipated this work will be important for identifying practices to improve wetland health and function.

Skills required:  Good communication skills with landowners, plant identification skills preferred. Interest in wetland ecology, ecotoxicology and agriculture.

Christy Morrissey, Associate Professor, SENS; Associate Professor, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Science,

Project: Using autonomous sensor technology for water quality assessment

Sensor networks have been widely used for years in smart factories and smart cities, and in marine science to monitor the integrity of underwater infrastructure and track routine water quality.  However, the use of sensors to monitor water quality in freshwater environments has been limited, especially in Canada.  The use of autonomous sensor networks comprised of multiple sensors deployed at different sites autonomously transmitting data via a cellular network or the Internet of Things is even more limited.  Very little use of this technology (smart watersheds) which will dominate environmental monitoring within 20 years has occurred in Canada.

An autonomous sensor system was deployed and calibrated in 2018, and used in an initial survey of water quality at a Canadian mining operation.  In 2019, the focus will be on thorough use of the sensor network to track water quality information in real-time, on the incorporation of that information into estimates of transport and flux of contaminants, and on the risk of those contaminants to aquatic organisms living downstream of the mining operation.

This research will use a sensor system that autonomously relays information on multiple water quality variables in real-time from multiple sites in northern Saskatchewan (effluent receiving environment downstream of the mining operation).  Here, the unique characteristics of the drainage system result in incomplete effluent mixing.  Therefore, modeling of downstream contaminant exposure presently has a high degree of uncertainty.  Data from the sensors deployed along the effluent gradient will provide improved delineation of contaminant exposure profiles downstream and thus enhance ecological risk assessment.  The study will also correlate concentrations of contaminants that the sensors cannot detect with measurable parameters so that those parameters can be used as surrogates for key metals of concern (e.g., As, Se).  Effects on the biotic system will also be assessed.

Karsten Liber, Professor, School of Environment and Sustainability; Director, Toxicology Centre,