Boreal Truce

January/February 2014: Canadian Geographic

Poised to deliver big results, the nearly four-year-old Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement continues to rely on the co-operation of former foes.

At the Radisson Hotel’s 12 resto bar in downtown Winnipeg, a collection of foresters, environmentalists, scientists and First Nations representatives huddle around a long table and shake off the early October chill. Seated together, they couldn’t be a truer reflection of the Canadian wilderness — equal parts “hewers of wood” and tree hugger, conservation biologist and northern hunter.

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Seeing the Forest for the Trees

February 2014: Canada Foundation for Innovation (online)

A framework developed at the University of Alberta is helping the forest planners behind the world’s largest conservation agreement see the bigger picture.

In Canada’s boreal forest, a vast landscape that stretches from Newfoundland to the Yukon, woodland caribou and other iconic species live in an environment which alternates between frozen terrain and soppy ground that’s been known to sink heavy forestry equipment with ease.

The region’s wildlife thrives in large, undisturbed forest tracts. And although the boreal forest may seem endless, industrial excursions in the North have left scars, dividing contiguous landscapes with roads and pipelines and disrupting the region’s natural ecology.

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Fixing Our Lifelines

June 2013: Canada Foundation for Innovation (Part of an in-depth online report on Canada’s Infrastructure Gap.)

Queen’s University civil engineers have the pulse on the water pipes, gas lines and sewers that lie beneath our feet.

We all know it’s there, but it’s easy to take for granted. Buried beneath the ground is a network of pipes that not only makes your life bearable but also keeps you alive. Just like other types of infrastructure, these old water pipes, gas lines and storm sewers are starting to break down, and fixing them is an expensive undertaking.

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Building Better

June 2013: Canada Foundation for Innovation (Part of an in-depth online report on Canada’s Infrastructure Gap.)

How new technology is boosting the lifespan of large-scale infrastructure.

The ISIS Canada Research Network has a simple but ambitious mission: to ensure that Canada is a world leader in civil engineering.

Based at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, ISIS Canada works to improve bridges and other key large-scale structures through the use of new materials and designs. The network coordinates the efforts of 185 researchers representing 14 Canadian universities and other government and industry partners who are working to improve infrastructure through the use of fibre-reinforced polymers (FRPs) — a very strong composite material usually made up of glass, carbon, basalt or aramid (a strong, heat-resistant synthetic fibre).

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Big Teams, Big Tests

June 2013: Canada Foundation for Innovation (Part of an in-depth online report on Canada’s Infrastructure Gap.)

More than 200 researchers enter the “CRIB” to develop and test large-scale infrastructure in real-world conditions.

Structural engineers are always coming up with novel ways to build infrastructure. It’s what they do best. But when they collaborate with materials engineers, who work at the microstructure level to create more durable building materials, they can literally work wonders.

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Green Cement

June 2013: Canada Foundation for Innovation (Part of an in-depth online report on Canada’s Infrastructure Gap.)

Using a by-product of the pulp and paper industry to create a kind of super glue for cement.

The cement industry’s carbon footprint is massive. From the energy used to extract raw materials to the emissions released throughout the cement manufacturing process, it all adds up to an estimated 6 to 10 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

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Smarter Concrete

June 2013: Canada Foundation for Innovation (Part of an in-depth online report on Canada’s Infrastructure Gap.)

University of British Columbia research is making bridges stronger — and smarter.

All urban infrastructure is essential for properly functioning communities, but there’s something about a bridge that really puts the issue into perspective — perhaps because all that separates you from a likely fatal splash below are impossibly huge concrete structures built on towering stilts. Keeping these structures in good working order demands ongoing maintenance of old bridges and, maybe more important, effective monitoring systems to catch deterioration before it’s too late.

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Minding the Infrastructure Gap

June 2013: Canada Foundation for Innovation (online)

Innovative research is a crucial part of the plan to make Canada’s roads, bridges and water systems stronger, safer and more durable.

We often take public infrastructure for granted. We assume that the bridges we cross on the way to work will remain stable, that our taps will always run with clean water, that our buildings will stand straight. But nothing lasts forever. Everything breaks down eventually.

We live in unprecedented times. Along with the rest of the world, Canada is experiencing a massive migration to our urban centres — roughly 80 percent of Canadians now live in cities, a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. This increases our need for new infrastructure, and it further strains and stresses our aging infrastructure, much of which was built during the post-Second World War development boom. All those roads and bridges, water pipes and sewer systems were built to last. But in those days, that meant about 50 years.

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A Better Way

(photo: pownibe/istockphoto)
(photo: pownibe/istockphoto)

June 2012: Canadian Geographic

Canada’s largest cities are paving the way for more eco-conscious commuting choices.

There’s no use denying it: North Americans are addicted to cars. We’ll curse through morning traffic jams and hop right back into rush hour for the slow drive home. We’ll even sit in the drive-through and wait for our morning coffee.

The transportation network that stocks our supermarkets with Costa Rican bananas and Chinese garlic is the same system that instigated a post-Second World War building boom, setting the stage for urban sprawl and suburban big-box stores. It’s what makes us so dependent on cars for almost everything we do. But cheap and abundant fuel will run out eventually. And like crash-test dummies, we’re accelerating as we approach the wall: global demand is surging as world production sags, causing prices at the pump to skyrocket.

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The Purest Water in the World?

Photo: Flickr/fox_kiyo
Photo: Flickr/fox_kiyo

June 2011: Canadian Geographic

In a tiny village near Toronto, the water contains less lead than the cleanest ice layers in the Arctic.

If you look closely at the countryside surrounding Elmvale, Ont., a tiny village about 90 minutes north of Toronto, you’ll see the natural and ever-gushing wells of the aptly named Springwater township.

The locals have always known that their water is clean, but they’re only beginning to understand just how clean.

Read the rest of this story at canadiangeographic.ca