Accomplished professors and state-of-the-art technologies create positive impacts in society and on the planet
From climate change and plastic pollution to human health and food security, the world’s most pressing challenges are increasingly in the spotlight. However, these issues aren’t just on the minds of citizens, businesses and governments around the globe – they’re front-and-centre at research universities.
Quebec City is home to Université Laval, a world-renowned research university. It is ranked among the 10 best research universities in Canada, and professors from ULaval received approximately $400-million from research agencies and contracts in 2020 alone. ULaval has numerous international research collaboration agreements and is a world leader in northern research and sustainable development.
ULaval is known for its strength in both fundamental and applied research, as well as its interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral approach. This allows the institution’s research community to come together with their partners to tackle complex challenges facing the world, which in turn makes positive impacts on communities and in people’s daily lives. And the driving force behind it all is a team of accomplished and respected professors who work to make ULaval a research force both nationally and internationally.
One such researcher is Philippe Archambault, a professor in the Department of Biology at Université Laval, member of Sentinel North and co-scientific director of ArcticNet, one of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence. Through a network of partnerships, ArcticNet explores the social, economic and environmental impacts of climate change and modernization in the Canadian North. Prof. Archambault is an expert in benthic ecology, studying animals and plants living on the sea floor, and the biodiversity of these species, such as kelps, clams, mussels and deep-sea corals. Furthermore, he studies the effects of multiple stressors, such as changes in water temperature and oxygen, increase in pollution, and decrease in ice cover, on these species and the functioning of the ecosystems they live in. His research on ecological disturbances is conducted in the Canadian Arctic, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and overseas, from the coastal zone to the deep sea.
“With the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, this research is even more important because it’s home to many Indigenous communities who get their food from the ocean,” Prof. Archambault says. “Climate change and other global changes will affect biodiversity because there is less sea ice in the Arctic now. We must understand how this reduction in the ice cover will affect food sources for local communities, as well as what we are losing in terms of ecosystem functioning.”
For example, as co-leader for ArcticNet’s ArcticKelp project, Prof. Archambault is studying underwater Arctic kelp forests, which house and feed a variety of species including species consumed by local communities. Kelp forests play a significant role in capturing carbon (blue carbon), increasing biodiversity, and influencing wave patterns and water currents. Understanding how this marine ecosystem may change as Arctic waters warm and sea ice melts will help northern communities prepare for and adapt to future impacts. It’s possible that kelp forests are benefitting from decreasing sea ice cover and longer periods of light, but this is still unknown.
“In all my research projects, there is a central question and, in this case, the question comes from local northern communities,” Prof. Archambault says. “They wanted to know why mussel abundance is decreasing on the coast. Is it due to natural cycles or to the decreasing of ice cover?”
Finding answers is enabled by co-creation and collaboration, as well as sharing knowledge between communities, researchers and students. “It is a real collaboration,” Prof. Archambault says. “At the local level, people are sharing their knowledge and asking questions that we are trying to answer.”
The quest for answers is also supported by leading-edge tools and technologies. ULaval provides its Arctic researchers and international collaborators with access to some of the most advanced research tools and platforms on the planet. These include the CCGS Amundsen, a dedicated research icebreaker equipped with state-of-the-art sampling equipment such as remotely operated vehicles (ROV), autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), and advanced observational platforms called benthic landers to study the seafloor.
“When you’re trained at Université Laval, you have access to the top resources and technologies,” Prof. Archambault says. “If you have a scientific question, you have the tools in your hands to find answers.”
For example, the CCGS Amundsen is also helping researchers address questions in remote areas, away from communities, such as “where are the nurseries of specific fish species or what happens to Arctic marine ecosystems with a reduced ice-covered period?” Prof. Archambault says. “These are no longer local-level questions; they address national and even global issues.”
A multidisciplinary approach is also central at ULaval. “We encourage the convergence of science, looking at how we can bridge different disciplines to help society answer specific questions,” he says. Currently, his research team is working with a chemist to examine the effect of plastic contaminants in mussels that may eventually end up on people’s plates – not just in the North, but also in major cities across the country.
Prof. Archambault’s work has been used to develop Marine Protected Areas in Canada and incorporated into United Nations’ high-level environmental management decision-making. “All of our research aims to strike the right balance between conservation, sustainability and development, while allowing these species to survive,” he says.
Prof. Archambault is also strongly engaged in inspiring and leading the next generation of marine scientists. “If we want to train future leaders about issues for Canada and our planet, we need to make sure they have the right attitude and ethics, the right tools, and that they are passionate about what they’re doing,” he says. “When you’re passionate, everything is possible.”