From StFX News: FluxLab draws PhD research back to campus

Posted: Monday, April 14, 2014 at 2:44 pm
FluxLab draws PhD research back to campus

Sara Klapstein

PhD candidate Sara Klapstein is pleased to be back at StFX in earth sciences professor Dr. Dave Risk’s FluxLab while working on her thesis about phototransformation of dissolved organic carbon and rate determination of methylmercury photodemethylation within mercury sensitive lakes in Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia.

The 2010 StFX environmental sciences graduate credits experiences gained during her undergraduate degree with influencing her academic pursuits.

“I was offered substantial research opportunities within the lab, and was prompted to interact first hand with the international scientific community by attending events like the American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting held in San Francisco as an undergraduate…an exciting experience and highly stimulating.”

Ms. Klapstein says working with an effective team in the lab was also tremendously helpful. “The skills I developed then while pursuing my individual work have transferred through my MSc and now PhD.”

She says student success in the FluxLab is highly prioritized by Dr. Risk, who she says encourages interdisciplinary ideas and original thinking. In fact, her PhD is co-supervised by professors at three different Atlantic schools, an uncommon scenario.

Ms. Klapstein says being back at StFX this year has allowed her to re-enter a very supportive research community and to contribute to the experiences of other undergrads and masters students as a mentor. She helped supervise Hillary MacDonell, a joint honours earth science and biology student.

Ms. MacDonell’s project focused on the microbial pathway where microbes prefer to use shorter chain simpler carbon compounds, and Ms. Klapstein’s ongoing research specializes in the ability of more complex carbon compounds to absorb solar radiation and ultimately decompose.

These two reactions both affect carbon pools within the park’s lake systems. Their collaboration is contributing to better understanding reactions involving dissolved organic carbon, and the dissolved methylmercury concentrations and the risk potential for further mercury contamination within the aquatic Kejimkujik food web.

“It’s really satisfying to see how the mutually beneficial cycle of learning continues to thrive here at StFX,” Ms. Klapstein says.

Later this spring, Ms. Klapstein will move to Acadia University, where one of her co-supervisors is based, and devote increased time to lab work and data processing.

NSERC’s CREATE training program in Climate Science is funding her degree.

StFX Environmental Sciences students shine at Science Atlantic Environment conference

SAE_5At this weekend’s Science Atlantic Environment Conference, students from the Atlantic region came to StFX to present results from their research in the area of Environmental Sciences.

StFX was the best school represented in the oral sessions with 7 research talks, 3 of which won awards or honourable mentions.

Ms. Sarah MacLeod, a X year student, won the Science Atlantic Undergraduate Research Award, for her presentation entitled “Uncertainty in Modeled Deforestation due to Albedo Variability”  Ms. MacLeod is conducting her research at StFX under the supervision of Dr. Beltrami and Montenegro.

Ms. Elizabeth. O’Connell, a X year student, received an Honourable Mention for an Undergraduate Oral Presentation for her presentation “Mapping Gas Variability for Energy Development Monitoring”. Ms O’Connell is supervised by Dr Risk and Laybolt

Ms. Sara Klapstein, PhD candidate at MUN and resident at StFX, won the Science Atlantic Best Graduate Student Presentation Award, for her presentation entitled “Phototransformation of dissolved organic carbon within mercury sensitive lakes in Kejimkujik National Park”. Ms Klapstein’s doctoral research is directed by Dr Risk, Ziegler and O’Driscoll.

The quality of all presentations were high, and very diverse.

Organizers Lynette Manuel, Sara Klapstein (CREATE PhD student), and Laura Graham did a tremendous job.

Faculty, staff and students from several departments contributed to the meeting by offering short courses, or opening doors to labs that do research pertaining to the environment. Chris MacIntyre, MSc. candidate at StFX and CREATE student, proposed an introduction to industry-standard Campbell Scientific field logging systems and sensors for meteorology and other applications. Dr. Risk ld a workshop on isotopic analysis. Maat Shumacher, Earth Science instructor, proposed a workshop on Career Development, and Professional Geoscientist and other Accreditations. Dr. Lavoie, Research Associate in the Department of Earth Sciences, shows how to use R statistical environment for interactive data visualization. A seminar on Activism amd Impact was led by Dr. Jon Langdon of StFX’s Development Studies Program. Five labs opened their doors:

1. Flux Lab – Dave Risk (Physical Sciences Centre). Learn about projects in monitoring of soil gases and greenhouse gases for industrial projects and natural environments, soil gas explorations at the ends of the earth, sensors development for improved gas measurement, and high performance supercomputer simulation of gas transport.

2. Biogeochemistry Lab – Lisa Kellman (Physical Sciences Centre). Tour the most capable isotopic analysis facility in eastern Canada, where this infrastructure is used for investigations in contaminated water, soil gases, and palaeontology.

3. Marine Ecology – Ricardo Scrosati (J. Bruce Brown Hall). The Marine Ecology Lab investigates the ecology of North Atlantic marine rocky shores, aiming to understand the biological and environmental factors that determine the structure and dynamics of seaweed and invertebrate assemblages.

4. Analytical and Vibrational Spectroscopy Lab – Truis Smith-Palmer (Physical Sciences Centre). This lab has two Raman installations used for environmental inquiry – one in conjunction with AFM (atomic force microscopy). The current interest of this lab group is biofilm formation and the development of surfaces to inhibit the settling of biofouling organisms. In the lab, marine bacteria is grown, and greener (not containing heavy metals) antifouling surfaces are tested.

5. Paleoenvironmental Lab – Mike Melchin (Physical Sciences Centre). This lab provides a different spin on environmental inquiry, where paleoenvironmental lessons are drawn from studying extinction events of micro-organisms at key points in the earth’s history. The lab contains specimens of microorganisms, and to investigate these paleoenvironments, this lab group has also reached into the realm of computer paleoclimatic modelling, and isotopic analysis.

A moderated industry panel was present on Friday night consisting of young professionals Andrea Flynn – NEXUS Coastal Resource Management, Kari Easthouse – Nova Scotia Landowners and Forest Fibre Producers Association, Gordon McArthur – Forerunner Research Inc (Instrumentation Manufacturer), Megan Henley – Strum Environmental Consulting, and Kathleen Williams – Seaforth Geosurveys.

And, lastly two keynote speakers spoke on Saturday, including David Burton of Dalhousie Agriculture, and Trevor Floyd of NS Department of Environment.


Most of the St.FX presentations at the Science Atlantic Environment conference can be seeing can be seen by the broader campus community on Thursday March 28th at the Student Research Day:

Laura Graham (Environmental Sciences)

Gas transport through snowpacks

Sara Klapstein (MUN PhD Cand., resident at StFX this year)

Phototransformation of dissolved organic carbon within mercury sensitive lakes in Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia, Canada

Hillary MacDonell (Earth Sciences)

Carbon fluxes and dissolved organic carbon concentrations of a lake in Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia

Chris MacIntyre (StFX MSc Cand., Earth Sciences)

Understanding source contributions to CO2 flux in soils of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica

Sarah MacLeod (Environmental Sciences)

Uncertainty in modeled deforestation due to albedo variability

Liz O’Connell (Environmental Sciences)

Mapping gas variability for energy development monitoring

Adriana Viale (Environmental Sciences)

Near-surface aquifer mapping for Antigonish County


Picture of the event can be found on the Science Atlantic Environmental facebook page at:

Environmental Sciences and CREATE Seminar Series

In honour of Sustainability Week on campus, Environmental Sciences and CREATE are pleased to present a screening of Switch, an award-winning documentary film that ponders the future of energy.  Please refer to the link below for details about this exciting film.

Switch Website:

The film will start at 12:15 on Thursday, March 20 in PSC 2045.

All are welcome.  Bring your lunch!