WaterUnderground

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This guest post was contributed by a scientist, student or a professional in the Earth, planetary or space sciences. The EGU blogs welcome guest contributions, so if you've got a great idea for a post or fancy trying your hand at science communication, please contact the blog editor or the EGU Communications Officer Laura Roberts Artal to pitch your idea.

Baseflow, groundwater pumping, and river regulation in the Wisconsin Central Sands

Baseflow, groundwater pumping, and river regulation in the Wisconsin Central Sands

By Sam Zipper, postdoctoral fellow at Madison and author of tacosmog.com

We often think of groundwater as a nonrenewable reservoir, deep underground, and with good reason – less than ~6% of groundwater globally entered the ground within the past 50 years. However, where a river or stream intersects the water table, water is able to move from the aquifer to the stream (or vice versa). This supply of shallow groundwater to streams is called ‘baseflow’, and is an important supply of water for many streams worldwide, especially during dry seasons or periods of drought. Below, we can see that baseflow makes up more than 50% of total streamflow over most of the world:

global_baseflow

Global estimates of baseflow index – the proportion of streamflow that comes from groundwater or other slowly varying sources, like upstream lakes and wetlands.

The ability of groundwater to contribute to streamflow depends on the water level of the aquifer in the area surrounding the stream. Therefore, human actions that lower groundwater levels (such as pumping for urban or agricultural use) can impair the ability of an aquifer to supply water to streams during dry periods, with potentially devastating consequences for streamflow.

One example close to my home is the Central Sands region of Wisconsin, which is a large region found (not surprisingly) in the center of the state with particularly sandy soils. The sandy soils are perfect for growing potatoes, and the Central Sands is primarily an agricultural region; however, because water drains quickly from sandy soils, irrigation has become an increasingly important part of the landscape:

centralsands

In addition to agriculture, however, the Central Sands region is home to many rivers, lakes, and streams. Recently, one river in particular has become a microcosm of the debate surrounding the impacts and trade-offs of agricultural water use: the Little Plover River. While only 6 miles long, the Little Plover is a prized brook trout fishery and important ecosystem within the region. According to American Rivers, which listed the Little Plover as one of America’s 10 most endangered rivers in 2013, streamflow in the Little Plover has been decreasing since the 1970s and flows today are roughly half of the historical normal. The situation in the Little Plover came to a head in 2005, when several stretches of the Little Plover dried up, with predictably negative consequences for the fish.

Over the past decade, the Little Plover has been mired in legal controversy. In 2009, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources established what they call a “Public Rights Flow”, or a required amount of streamflow that the public is entitled to flow through the river. The advocacy leading to the establishment of this Public Rights Flow was primarily by conservation groups like the River Alliance and Trout Unlimited, with the goal of protecting fish and the rest of the stream ecosystems. In order to set the threshold, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources first established a baseline level as the 7-day average low flow with a 10% probability of occurring in a given year, and then adjusted this value upwards based on estimates of the flow necessary for to provide fish habitat and recruit trout. Despite the positive step of establishing a Public Rights Flow, measurements during the 2012 drought were consistently below the thresholds set by the Department of Natural Resources, and the Little Plover even dropped below the thresholds in 2013 and 2014, both of which were relatively wet years for Wisconsin.

plover

The Little Plover in 1997 and the first time in ran dry in 2005 (Friends of the Little Plover)

The current debate surrounding the Little Plover hinges on whether the Department of Natural Resources is legally allowed to consider cumulative impacts when permitting new high capacity wells in the region. Previously, the Department of Natural Resources was not considering cumulative impacts, which means that for every well application, they are only allowed to think about that well in isolation – and the effects of a single well are typically small enough that the Department of Natural Resources does not have sufficient grounds to deny a permit. However, the relatively small impacts of many individual wells can add up to cause a big overall effects on local groundwater resources. This changed in 2014, when a judge ruled that the Department of Natural Resources should be considering cumulative impacts. The effects of this ruling remain to be seen, but it improves the DNR’s ability to manage groundwater and surface water resources while considering the interactions between the two.

Thus, the Little Plover River provides a powerful example of a case where a little bit of groundwater drawdown can lead to big environmental, political, and economic issues. Currently, hydrogeologists at the Wisconsin Geological Natural History Survey and USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center are working on developing a groundwater flow model of the region to help understand the impacts of groundwater withdrawals on the aquifer, and what that means for local surface water features like streams and lakes. Because the waters of the Central Sands are valued for many different uses, including farming, urban supply, and outdoor recreation, the team building this model has been working closely with different groups of users to determine the priorities and needs of the various water users the region, and make sure that their scientific tool they develop is both useful to and trusted by the decision-makers in the region. As the future of the Little Plover and other rivers unfold under increasing human pressures and climate change, it is critical that water scientists work together with the public to conduct fair and unbiased science that provides timely and useful information for the decision-making process.

When it snows, it pours (into aquifers)! Recharge seasonality around the world…

When it snows, it pours (into aquifers)! Recharge seasonality around the world…

Written by Scott Jasechko
University of Calgary
isohydro.ca
twitter.com/sjasechko


Groundwater is renewed by rain and melted snow that moves under the ground, a process called groundwater recharge. The percentages of summer versus winter precipitation that make it under the ground are expected to be different for a number of reasons including larger plant water use during the summer, and larger areas of frozen ground during the winter.
seasonal_recharge-01
Our recent research shows that winter precipitation is more likely to move under the ground than summer rain in many areas, including grasslands in Canada and the USA, deserts in Australia and Mexico, and valleys in China and Europe [Jasechko et al., 2014].

But most groundwater is managed over many years, not single seasons [Gleeson et al., 2010]. So who cares if recharge is biased to winter precipitation?

That groundwater recharge is biased to the wintertime matters because of ongoing and anticipated climate change. The warming world is changing how much precipitation falls during the winter and how much falls during the summer [Vera et al., 2006]. One implication of our work is that changes to winter precipitation are likely to have a disproportionately large impact on groundwater recharge compared to similar changes to summer rain.

Winter snow packs are declining in many cold areas [Hernández-Henríquez et al., 2015]. The impacts that declining snow packs and other changes brought on by global warming will have on groundwater recharge, remain unclear.


Most (70%) of this post is in plain language according to up-goer 5. Scott commented that he is much better at drawing snowflakes than he has ever been before thanks to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9Ge-M5ljSI

Is research on ‘regional groundwater flow’ stagnant or still flowing?

Is research on ‘regional groundwater flow’ stagnant or still flowing?

brian at edmonton zoo Written by Brian Smerdon
IAH regional groundwater flow commission


toth unitbasin original

Scanned image of Joe’s original figure from the 60’s

In the early 1960’s József Tóth published seminal work on the concept of regional scale flow and nested flow systems. His work built on the “theory of groundwater motion” by M.K. Hubbard, and seemed to come along just at the right moment in history of hydrogeology. Armed with József Tóth’s work, the hydrogeologic community (geologist and engineers) began to see a picture larger than revealed by pumping tests, one that functionally related flow systems and natural processes and phenomena.

Over the past 50 years, the regional scale concept has certainly made a significant contribution to hydrogeology:

  • Nearly 1200 GoogleScholar citations
  • Special session at GSA’s annual meeting in 2007 (T34-1, T34-2)
  • Inverted imagery covering Freeze and Cherry’s textbook
  • Formation of the IAH Regional Groundwater Flow Commission (RGFC), whose mission is to foster international research and practical application of the concept through education and research activities, as well as organizing sessions at conferences.

However, one can wonder what the next ‘big step’ in regional flow might be. The list of peer-reviewed articles documenting regional flow evidence is gradually growing, but the basic understanding still links back to the seminal papers. What is the state of regional groundwater flow research? Did it reach maturity sometime in the past 50 years? How does it shape your current research?

To begin exploring the current state of regional flow research, a few discussions were initiated on the Regional Groundwater Flow Commission’s LinkedIn group page. Active supporters appear to have found use for the concept early in their careers, either in characterizing flow systems for better management of water resource, applying it to petroleum exploration, or simply as a basis frame their groundwater research of the moment.

When posed with the question about the future of regional scale research, many supporters shared the opinion that there is more scope for broadening the application across neighboring disciplines, rather than attempting to advance the underlying concept.

On LinkedIn, József Tóth summarized the discussion nicely:

“The regional flow concept has indeed matured in terms of understanding of the structure, effects and controlling factors of flow patterns. Major developments are unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. However, I expect the concept to be extended by the broadening scope of its practical applications in the various groundwater dependent disciplines.”

Maybe the concept explains everything we can observe so far, such that there is no need for advancement. Maybe emerging methodologies and Earth observation technologies will lead to findings that can’t be explained by the regional flow concept. In this regard, regional groundwater flow research is in the midst of a period of ‘normal science‘, awaiting revolution.

So, perhaps the state of regional groundwater flow research is much like regional flow itself: parts of it are active/dynamic and interacting with other natural systems (i.e. educating the broader geoscience community, finding applications in other scientific disciplines); and parts of it are stagnant (i.e. the basic theory), awaiting for some transient signal to continue the evolution to a new equilibrium.

Let us know what your perspective is by commenting below!

Communicating research results through comics: is the permeability of crystalline rock in the shallow crust related to depth, lithology, or tectonic setting?

Communicating research results through comics: is the permeability of crystalline rock in the shallow crust related to depth, lithology, or tectonic setting?

Mark Ranjram, a Masters student in my research group, wrote a paper on crystalline permeability that is coming out in a special edition of Geofluids on ‘Crustal Permeability’ early in 2015 (other cool papers in early view here). Here is Mark’s awesome response when I asked him if he wanted to write a plain language summary:

PlainLanguagePermeabilityComic_1Column

1200 words to make sense of chaos: The Selker Scheme

1200 words to make sense of chaos: The Selker Scheme

This is an inspiring article by John Selker (Oregon State University) that was first published in the latest AGU Hydrology Section Newsletter (July 2014). John graciously offered to re-post it here… make sure you make it to his rules and a secret at the bottom.

Being elected a fellow of the AGU was an amazing honor, and I thank  those who so kindly nominated me, somehow crafting a silk purse from the assorted bits and pieces I have left behind over 25
years. I take this opportunity to address nontechnical aspects of my experience. After all, the science is easily found on-line, whereas the ins and outs of personal scientific strategy rarely see the light of day.

My research is the outcome of local optimization scheme with the objective of identifying the next approach when faced with calls for proposals which I saw I could address, thus seemed opportune, but did not deeply stimulate my curiosity. I was lured into that trap a few times. But in time, putting greater weight on “the likelihood that I will be excited by the work” than “the chances that the ideas will be successful” and putting “the chances that I would be funded” last,
my research program took a turn for the better (right around the time I got tenure – funny how that works). Behind this all lurks the fact that I am more fascinated by challenges than questions. I do
not see this as an advantage: great scientists seek answers to great questions, not just engaging puzzles. I tend to be hooked on a question, which sometimes take decades to unravel.

This “strategy” (more accurately a propensity) is best understood by an example of a question and its resolution. Here’s one which can be explained compactly, which we could call “the steam water
quality sampling conundrum:” design an ultra cheap sampler of 1-month time-averaged stream chemistry. What a neat problem! So we started with the fact that a sampler must have a vessel to
hold the material collected. Next, if it is to sample from a stream, it would be good if it sank. So at a minimum we must have a weighted brown glass bottle. At this point a little context is needed. David Rupp had just found significant pesticide in runoff and wondered how many stream might have this problem (Rupp et al., 2006), so we needed to sample at hundreds of points for the little money I
could gather: about $1,000 – the cost of the bottles. So we stared at a bottle: the answer must be here. “Fine, let’s just drill one tiny hole in the bottle cap and call it done.” When the stream water warms the
bottles air expands sending out 2% of the air from the hole (PV=nRT and T changes about 6 oK out of 300 oK). Cooling contracts the air, drawing in water. It fills half-way in a month. David and I had a great time making and testing these bottles. By the time we were confident in the design, the project was by over, but we got enough data to publish (Selker and Rupp, 2005). How important
was this work? The paper has been cited twice (and those only citing our work to justify that weird sampling strategies are publishable. A wonderful puzzle solved, but that interested fewer people than
would be invited to a dinner party.

So should we follow the branching Fibonaccian web of passion or a single path? Eternally seduced by the next “cool problem” means that I do not tend to follow otherwise discernible “lines of investigation” and is likely to lead to lost papers such as the sinking bubble bottle. I have been told that this is not the best route to “success,” and that staying focused on a single theme brings greater
recognition of your work. Yes, I agree, in the abstract. But this theory is trumped, in my opinion, by the absolute requirement that a researcher’s spirit be engaged in their work if they are to have a
hope of accomplishing anything truly original and important. If you don’t find yourself dreaming about it, you just aren’t fully engaged: you are just using a tiny fraction of your brain, missing out on
the chance to excel.

How do we balance these factors? Don Nielsen’s question needs to be added to the criteria for selecting a research project: is the problem important to humanity? And he means REALLY important!

Stumbling in the dark you are sometimes lucky enough to bump into a lump of gold. Marc Parlange is uniquely expert at helping people stumble productively. Preparing to come to Switzerland on sabbatical to work with Marc he suggested I work on glacier melting. The problem is that glaciers melt largely due to shortwave
radiation absorption, and if you stick anything in the glacier to measure the radiation or temperature, it gets hot in the sun, and melts the ice. “What if I had an entirely transparent thermometer?” I recalled hearing about fiber optic temperature measurements, so I started to check on that approach. We tried hard to measure the glaciers melt with fiber optic distributed temperature sensing (DTS), but the bottom line is that I never got any important publishable data. I tip my hat to all those studying snow! But the DTS method
allowed measurement of 10’s of thousands of temperatures across scales of 0.1 to 10,000 m. These are precisely the scales at which “point” measurements and remote sensing. This is an obvious gold mine for our science (opportune? Yes!). We have now used DTS to “see” air movement, quantify groundwater upwelling in streams, measure soil water content, observe lake stratification, surface temperatures of the ocean, and flow in deep boreholes. A wonderful aspect of the scientific endeavor is that we move as a community. We (my DTS buddies Scott Tyler and Nick van de Giesen) have now put on 15 hands-on workshops training folks how to use the method, and started an NSF-funded center (CTEMPs.org) where we make the gear and technical support available to others who have ideas that DTS might help address. It has been a delight.

The bottom line is that life is too short to:
1. Study problems that don’t matter;
2. Try to “go it alone” rather than feeling the joy of community;
3. Get stale studying the same old thing. If you feel it is fresh, great. If not, then open your eyes to new problems;
4. Worry about others stealing your ideas!The jokes on them – you are multiplying the number of people who are helping you answer the questions that you can’t wait to understand. Share your ideas, your data, your time.

Here’s a little secret: the coolest problem ever is just around the bend. Take the corner, and enjoy the ride. I can’t point the way, but following a few simple rules I promise you’ll have a great time
wandering.

Rupp, D.E., K. Warren, E. Peachy and J.S. Selker. Diuron in Surface Runoff and Tile Drainage from Two Grass-Seed Fields. J. Env. Qual. 35:303-311. 2006.
Selker, J.S. and D.E. Rupp. An environmentally driven time  integrating water sampler. Water Resour. Res. 41. W09201,DOI:10.1029/2005WR004040. 2005.

The home of our hearts day 5: The Sydney Tar Ponds and keeping the spark alive

[part six of a special six-part blog series by Mark Ranjram, MEng student at McGill University. From June 8 to June 13 2014, Mark had the privilege of being a part of the Canadian Water Network’s (CWN) Student and Young Professionals (SYP) Workshop in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Here is the prologue to this series.]

The fifth and final day of the workshop started off with a tour of the Sydney Tar Ponds. The tar ponds are a massive contaminated site originating from the production of coke (a derivative of coal), a popular fuel used by the steel plants in Cape Breton to heat their furnaces. A large remediation effort is being conducted at the tar ponds, with 700,000 metric tonnes of contaminated sediment being trapped over a 31 hectare area.

From the tar ponds, we went on a walking tour of a neighbourhood in Sydney immediately adjacent to the now defunct steel manufacturing plant. Our tour guide gave us the history of the neighbourhood, explaining the deeply discriminatory, destitute conditions the workers lived and worked in; similar in many ways to the plight of the coal miners which we explored in Day 3. One of the most haunting things our tour guide showed us was the tunnels which acted as gates into the steel plant compound. As workers walked through these gates, we were told to imagine the blast of heat and dust they would experience as their long day at the plants began. The tour was yet another remarkable realization of the true difficulty people face in their lives, and the amazing ability for the islanders of Cape Breton to overcome these challenges and maintain an optimistic, innovative perspective.

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Tunnel into Sydney Steel Compound. Photo Credit: Mark Ranjram

The day ended with a “kitchen party” at a local restaurant, where we sat at a long table and closed off our week in style. At the end of the night, we completed a final talking circle where we talked about what we gained from the workshop and how we aimed to pay it forward. Again, the circle was emotional, vulnerable, hilarious, and heartwarming. As we went around the circle I was again taken aback by how terrific the entire group was and what great things we could achieve with our entire careers ahead of us; and what could be accomplished by all the other people that weren’t there but have that same fire and that same genuine commitment to making the world even just a hair better than it was when they got here. I made a pledge at that table to find a way to bring some environmental education to my community, for example, helping people in my community understand where their water comes from, where it goes, what climate change is and its consequences, and other things in that vein. If I can bring even a modicum of environmental baseline knowledge to the people in my neighbourhood, I will have made a small contribution towards helping create a sustainability-knowledgeable citizen base and voting public. I’m not sure how I will accomplish what I want to accomplish, but the first nations and non-indigenous people of Cape Breton, our amazing workshop leaders, and the nineteen young researchers and professionals I met at the workshop will forever motivate me to make a positive mark on the world. There is a rising tide in the coming generations of water leaders, and I certainly refuse to be left behind as all these brilliant, committed people spend their time making a difference! Thank you again to everyone involved in the workshop, and thanks to all the people out there who want to see a sustainable world and believe it is possible in spite of all the great challenges we face today on Earth socially, politically, economically, and environmentally.

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#CWNSYP Cape Breton! Photo Credit: Liana Kreamer

The home of our hearts day 4: the water-energy nexus & deep thoughts on salty water

[part five of a special six-part blog series by Mark Ranjram, MEng student at McGill University. From June 8 to June 13 2014, Mark had the privilege of being a part of the Canadian Water Network’s (CWN) Student and Young Professionals (SYP) Workshop in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Here is the prologue to this series.]

The focus of the fourth day of the workshop was the relationship between energy and water. Cape Breton, with its long history of coal extraction and its proximity to water, was a great place to explore this relationship first hand. We started our day at a community sports complex in Glace Bay, where a shallow flooded mine is being used to store and generate geothermal energy. This was yet another example of the terrific power of the local Cape Breton communities to generate innovative adaptations using their deep understanding of their environment and local issues.

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Geothermal energy at the BayPlex sports complex in Glace Bay. Photo Credit: Shao Hui

From the sports complex, we travelled to the Point Aconi Fire Generating Station, a coal-fuelled power plant. The facility was incredibly massive, and during our tour we stood next to the giant sweltering furnace that burns the coal and looked down the maw of a 300 metre sloping coal conveyor belt, both sights a stark visual reminder of our species’ ability to bend the environment on incredible scales.

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Looking down a coal conveyor tunnel at the Point Aconi Fire Generating Station. Photo Credit: Mark Ranjram

From the power plant, we headed to the Great Bras d’Or Channel, which connects the Bras d’Or Lakes (actually a marine estuary) to the Atlantic Ocean. Here we discussed the potential and challenges of tidal energy production from the large tides which pulse through the channel.

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Dr. Bruce Hatcher explaining the feasibility of tidal energy in the Great Bras d’Or Channel. Photo credit: Kristen Leal

With the technical side of the day done, we proceeded to Baddeck, a small tourist down adjacent to Alexander Graham Bell’s family estate, for a sailing experience on a real sailing ship. As the cold Atlantic breeze whipped past us, we pointed out jellyfish in the water and eagles in the sky and I could not help but think about the deep connections between water and energy in Canada. What are the mechanisms by which we can take our role as stewards of our environment and balance that with our role as supporters of our families and communities; both being of critical importance to our species’ endeavour on this planet? The Mi’kmaq first nations on the island have an incredible commitment to both their environment and their communal economic success, and the non-indigenous population on the island has shown awesome commitment to sustainability and remediation, but how can we get that perspective to scale up to a population as large and as varied as our entire country? Thinking about Toronto, my hometown of roughly 2.5 million people, where green spaces are relatively plentiful for a city but are not necessarily part of our day-to-day, where the rivers are small and hidden away, and the lake is so large as to suggest infinite abundance, how do we develop that baseline of environmental understanding? And how do we translate that understanding amongst a finely discretized gradient of cultural, social, and economic motivations? The answers to these questions are not straight forward, but sometimes the most important step is to just open the sails and give yourself a chance to catch the wind.

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They even let me sail the boat! Photo Credit: Raea Gooding

Next post in series…

The home of our hearts day 3: The coal story – mines and mine water remediation

The home of our hearts day 3: The coal story – mines and mine water remediation

[part four of a special six-part blog series by Mark Ranjram, MEng student at McGill University. From June 8 to June 13 2014, Mark had the privilege of being a part of the Canadian Water Network’s (CWN) Student and Young Professionals (SYP) Workshop in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Here is the prologue to this series.]

Coal mining is an essential part of the history of Cape Breton Island, and thus was the focus of the third day of the workshop. We began the day by exploring active and passive remediation methods used on Cape Breton to deal with their problems with mine water. Our stops included a very large waste rock pile that had been capped and vegetated; a water treatment facility removing iron- and sulphur-rich water from decommissioned mines; and a wetland facility doing the same. It was such an exciting experience to be able to put a real world picture on some of the theory you learn about in coursework and it was a very motivating thing to see a community attacking their environmental problems with such innovative solutions!

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An engineered wetland used to passively remediate iron-rich mine water. Photo Credit: Gary Pardy

On the second half of the day we travelled to the Coal Miners Museum in Glace Bay, where we were treated to a tour down an actual coal mine from an actual coal miner. A relevant caveat here is that the coal mine we toured was never actually worked for coal, but built specifically to give tours. Our tour guide, Wishie “Wish” Davidson, walking around hunched over with a cane in his hand, gave us the history of coal mining in Cape Breton, which is an industrial tale that would make Dickens jealous. Wish described the “company stores” that were the only sources of food, clothes, and other amenities in the coal mining towns, which forced miners into debt by setting exorbitant prices, and the “company homes” which would allow families to stay so long as they had a worker in the mines and were willing to have their wages docked to pay for the privilege. As we travelled into the 150 foot mine (with four foot ceilings at its shortest section), Wish described the suffocating, nightmarish conditions the miners had to deal with, including the pitch blackness, constant coal dust, cacophony of the drill machines, and the aches and physical trauma that came with shovelling tonnes of coal each day. The remarkable struggle of the workers really put into perspective what actual hardship is, and was a stark contextualization for me of how the challenge of finding solutions to our water problems can in no way be as brutal as the challenge of waking up at four in the morning, six days a week, to travel miles into the ground, and work for fourteen hours in dust, noise, darkness, and pain only to get paid for what you brought to the surface, and only then getting to take home pay that the companies didn’t get their hands on first.

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Wish Davidson giving us a tour of the Ocean Deeps Colliery. The cement lining quickly ends as you travel down the tunnel, and you are left surrounded by black coal and timber in passageways as small as four feet in height. Photo Credit: Liana Kreamer

Following the mine tour, we had an additional opportunity to experience the story of coal mining in Cape Breton at an incredible concert given by the “Men of the Deeps,” a choral group that has toured across the world and is composed entirely of miners who worked in the coal mines at some point during their careers. This added another dimension of awe to the performance, as coal mining has been shut down in Cape Breton since 2001, and so the men on the stage were the last men in Cape Breton that could ever tell us these stories. Indeed, it is difficult to express how moving it is to hear a group of people sing about a way of life that was designed to crush them but is still an indelible component of their personal identity. The chorus of one of the songs they sang, called “Sixteen Tons,” gives a great example of how powerful the concert was: “You load sixteen tons, what do you get?/Another day older and deeper in debt/Saint Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go/I owe my soul to the company store.”

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The Men of the Deeps. Photo Credit: Kristen Leal

No matter how much hyperbole we like to kick around, our challenges with apathy, misinformation, and politics are drops in the bucket compared to the daily misery that the coal miners faced. Whenever I feel that spectre of cynicism telling me to throw up my hands and curse at our environmental challenges and stewardship decisions, I think remembering the Sydney coalmines will give me a place to anchor my optimism: it can’t be that bad!

Next post in series…

 

 

The home of our hearts day 2: The Unama’ki Institute for Natural Resources and a medicine walk to Glooskap’s cave

[part three of a special six-part blog series by Mark Ranjram, MEng student at McGill University. From June 8 to June 13 2014, Mark had the privilege of being a part of the Canadian Water Network’s (CWN) Student and Young Professionals (SYP) Workshop in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Here is the prologue to this series.]

After an emotional and inspirational first night together, we had the great privilege to begin the first full day of the workshop at the Unama’ki Institute for Natural Resources (UINR), a collaborative local institution operated by the Mi’kmaq nation dedicated to environmental stewardship on Cape Breton Island. At the UINR we had the amazing opportunity to hear from Charlie Dennis, a senior advisor at the UINR, and Elder Albert Marshall, a senior and influential voice in the Mi’kmaq nation. The clarity of their vision and their expression of the deep, fundamental connection the Mi’kmaq have to their environment was deeply inspiring. Elder Albert described the four R’s that are central to the Mi’kmaq decision making process: reverence, respect, reciprocity, and responsibility, and his concept of two-eyed seeing, or balancing traditional aboriginal knowledge with contemporary western science. The sincerity of the UINR’s efforts and their terrific successes reflect an amazing capacity for a local community to focus their knowledge and energy into real, practical solutions. The power of a deep-seated knowledge of your local environment in developing sustainable social, economical, and environmental solutions is something that really resonated with me, and has got me thinking about how I can apply the profound philosophies of the Mi’kmaq people to environmental education in my home community.

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Elder Albert Marshall. Photo Credit: Liana Kreamer

From the UINR we headed off to the trailhead of Glooskap’s cave, a sacred place for the Unama’ki and where their creation story begins. Jeff Ward rejoined our group along with Cliff Paul, the Moose Management Coordinator at the UINR; and Tuma Young, an assistant professor at Cape Breton University with a deep knowledge of local flora and fauna. We were invited to clear our minds and spirits by participating in a smudging ceremony, and then proceeded along the roughly 4 km hike to Glooskap’s Cave. Along the way, Tuma identified traditional medicines and cut us all a piece of a branch with a sap that provides a red-bull like energy kick. The trail to Glooskap’s cave ends with you scaling down a ravine and traveling next to (and in) a river which leads to a beach that is Glooskap’s cave. The view of the outlet when you turn past the last bulge of rocks is incredible, and when you realize how important this one stretch of land is to the people who have invited you into their family and traditions, you cannot help but feel like you’ve reached some critical, indescribable intersection between the emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual. We ended our time at the beach by making a food offering and participating in a prayer, a mesmerizing chant led by Jeff’s son and a single beating drum. On the way back to the bus, the entire group was clearly in awe of what had happened and how empowering a sincere, respectful relationship with the natural world can be.

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Glooskap’s Cave. Photo Credit: Liana Kreamer

Next post in series…

The home of our hearts, Cape Breton – A transformative professional experience with the Canadian Water Network (Part 1 of 6: prologue)

The home of our hearts, Cape Breton – A transformative professional experience with the Canadian Water Network (Part 1 of 6: prologue)

Prologue

[part one of a special six-part blog series by Mark Ranjram, MEng student at McGill University. From June 8 to June 13 2014, Mark had the privilege of being a part of the Canadian Water Network’s (CWN) Student and Young Professionals (SYP) Workshop in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia]

Let me start this series off by expressing how life changing this event was for me. I am very much a technical water person, more comfortable expressing my knowledge of water using differential equations than a sequence of coherent, elegant words, but I’ve always loved to hear people tell their water stories, and that ability to instantiate into reality the deep connection our species has with water has always been a powerful motivator for me. After leaving the CWNSYP workshop in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia all I can think about is how the intersection of first nations experience; twenty brilliant students/young professionals from across Canada; five dedicated and inspirational mentors; and the indescribable magic of the community that is Cape Breton Island has given me a mountain of emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual capital that I will fight to carry for the rest of my life.

Before we dive into the daily experiences at the workshop, I want to take a paragraph to express what an impressive job the hosts of the workshop did in providing a framework for us participants to unleash our enthusiasm and experience a moment none of us will soon forget. As I hope I’ve successfully expressed in the posts that follow, the diversity of each day’s itinerary was something special. The commitment to providing a robust discussion of water issues contextualized against historical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of water was constant and elevated the workshop to a remarkable place. So, a sincere thank you to the Verschuren Centre of Cape Breton University and the Canadian Water Network for organizing this event; and a very special thanks to our on-the-ground Cape Breton hosts: David Alderson, Martin Mkandawire, Ken Oakes, and Ashlee Consolo Willox; and our Canadian Water Network liaison Liana Kreamer. If you ever get a chance to work with the Verschuren Centre or the CWN, I would strongly suggest you jump at the chance!

The title of this blog post is from a song called “The Island Song” which is the unofficial anthem of Cape Breton and was the de-facto theme song of our time out there (It also inspired the name of the workshop, “A rock in the stream”). 

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