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Researchers from École de technologie supérieure in Kluane National Park and Reserve in the Yukon. The team is measuring changes and gathering data to predict glacial melting. “From year to year, you can see the glaciers retreating,” says hydrology expert ad ETS professor Michel Baraër.Supplied

Every June and August, Michel Baraër, a professor in the construction engineering department at Montreal’s École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), spends time at the Kluane National Park and Reserve in the Yukon. Since 2015, Prof. Baraër, a hydrologist, has been doing research in a remote glacial valley there, which is part of the green belt of the Saint Elias Mountains in the territory’s southwest.

“The environment I work in is just gorgeous,” Prof. Baraër says. “Some- times I’ll sit on a stone and think, ‘Wow! I’m so lucky to be here.’ It’s a real back-to-nature experience.”

But the effects of climate change that he’s observed in the valley are alarming. “From year to year, you can see the glaciers retreating,” he says. “The changes are happening extremely fast.” It’s already had considerable impact on the Kluane First Nation, who have lost ice roads to winter camps, and drinking water from wells dependent on the glacier-fed Kluane Lake.

Prof. Baraër, part of ÉTS’s HC3 (Hydrology, Climate and Climate Change) Laboratory, is measuring the changes and creating more precise data to predict glacial melting and prepare communities and governments to adapt. His ongoing work is just one aspect of the extensive research underway at the top-ranked engineering school – a faculty of the Université du Québec network – in its drive to combat climate change and create a more sustainable economy.

Annie Levasseur, a fellow professor in construction engineering, straddles both areas. Prof. Levasseur holds the Canada Research Chair in measuring the impact of human activities on climate change. She’s also the scientific director of ÉTS’s Centre for Intersectoral Studies and Research on the Circular Economy (CERIEC). The latter focuses on finding ways to use resources more efficiently with less waste.

With the network, we can build interdisciplinary teams to help us deal… regulatory or economic barriers to adopting a circular strategy, or even social ones, like accepting different ways of doing things.

Annie Levasseur, scientific director of Centre for Intersectoral Studies and Research on the Circular Economy

“Our current economic model is highly linear – we extract natural resources, transform them into products and those eventually end up in landfills,” Prof. Levasseur explains. CERIEC is developing strategies to use less resources and reuse and repurpose products. In partnership with Desjardins Group, which is providing $2.1-million in funding over five years, the Centre is creating a network of virtual “living labs” to generate research projects aimed at making different economic sectors more sustainable.

The first lab, launched earlier this year, has researchers collaborating with different players in the construction sector. One of the projects to emerge so far, Prof. Levasseur says, is developing ways that industry can recover and reuse old windows and doors. A second lab is going to address plastic products in the health sector. “We’re looking at the plastics we can’t recycle, which has become an even worse problem since the pandemic,” she says.

To harness its technological expertise to other areas of research, ÉTS has founded the Quebec Circular Economy Research Network (RRECQ), with Polytechnique Montreal, HEC Montreal and Laval University. It brings together 21 universities and colleges and more than 100 researchers across the province. “With the network, we can build interdisciplinary teams to help us deal with other issues outside our area,” Prof. Levasseur says, “such as regulatory or economic barriers to adopting a circular strategy, or even social ones, like accepting different ways of doing things.”

Partnerships are key to ÉTS’s research. Annie Poulin, the Marcelle-Gauvreau Engineering Research Chair for the impact of environmental changes on water resources, and Prof. Baraër’s colleague in the HC3 Lab, is working on large-scale international hydroclimatology projects in association with Mexico’s University of Veracruz and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Prof. Poulin’s work includes the use of computer modelling to study the effect of land use on watersheds – the regions through which water flows.

Much of her research addresses flooding, the increase of which is symptomatic of the climate-change crisis. Her latest project is being funded by Quebec’s environment ministry in its efforts to tackle issues raised by the province’s major spring floods in 2017 and 2019. “We want to look at the role land-use change is playing in this,” Prof. Poulin says. “Can, say, protecting wetlands be a solution to help us better face flooding, by increasing or even restoring them?”

Prof. Baraër complements Prof. Poulin’s big-picture research with his field studies in the Yukon. Assisted by a team of master’s and PhD students, he makes full use of ÉTS’s state-of-the-art technology, including drones, to monitor the environmental conditions in a granular way that can’t be done by satellite. Being on-site also allows his team to work closely with the Klaune First Nation. “It’s very important that we ground our research in their community because we are on their land,” he says. “Besides, they know much more about their region than we do by only visiting once or twice a year.”

Prof. Levasseur’s climate-change research is also focused on the fine details. It involves quantifying the impact of human activity on greenhouse gas emissions. For industries such as forestry, with which she’s done extensive work, it can help determine the most effective emission-reduction strategies. Her research team is also working on ways of making carbon data more accessible to the public, including a map that would indicate emission levels throughout a city.

ÉTS’s researchers know their work is vital in the struggle to mitigate the effects of climate change and create a more sustainable future, but they are also personally passionate about it. “I try to pass on that passion to my students,” Prof. Poulin says.

Prof. Baraër does the same. “I tell them what we’re doing is the most important and interesting work in the world,” he says. “And I really believe it.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with École de technologie supérieure. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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