Four CREATE StFX graduate students receive Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarships

Ministers Kelly Regan (left) and Randy Delorey with graduate student Michelle McPherson

The graduate students were awarded Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarships to help them stay in the province to do research that could lead to new products and more opportunities. Recipients were selected based on their research potential, academic standing, and the link between their research and Nova Scotia’s priority areas like health and wellness, oceans and marine technology, information and communications technology, and life sciences.

Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan made the announcement at the University Tuesday. “These scholarships support graduate students who are committed to continuing their education and research here in Nova Scotia,” said Minister Kelly Regan. Local MLA, Finance Minister and Minister of Gaelic Affairs, Randy Delorey was also in attendance. “Not only do these scholarships help graduate students directly, they will also benefit our citizens and help boost our economy as that research turns into more opportunities,” Minister Regan said.

Nine St. Francis Xavier University graduate students were awarded provincially funded scholarships. Four of them are CREATE students:

Michelle McPherson, a master’s student from Dartmouth, NS, is working to visually demonstrate the estimates of current and future distribution of the Lyme disease vector to help increase awareness and enable timely diagnosis and treatment.

Stephanie MacIntyre, a master’s student from Antigonish, NS is researching the implications of forest harvesting on soil stability.

Danny Pink, a master’s student from Ramea, NL, is studying the greenhouse gas emitted from streams in agricultural areas as a byproduct of crop fertilization.

Warren Laybolt, a master’s student from Dartmouth, NS is working to evaluate the coupling between soil gas emissions and concentrations of gases in the lower atmosphere to help detect leaks in coal bearing and carbon capture storage areas.

 Michelle MacPherson talked to local radio about her award after the announcement at StFX on March 1.

Glaciers in danger?

Are the ice caps of our planet in danger? Over the past 20 years, worldwide rising temperatures led to a marked melting of the Greenland ice sheet, while studies show the risk of a collapse of part of the ice cap of West Antarctica. The generated destabilization could cause a three-meter rise in sea level. “It is premature, however, to believe in a collapse of ice sheets in the current state of things,” says Carolyne Pickler, CREATE student and doctoral student in environmental sciences at UQAM.

Read full text (in French) here

Glaciers en péril?

Dr. Hugo Beltrami of StFX’s NSERC-CREATE Program awarded a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Climate Dynamics

Canada Research Chair

StFX faculty member and CREATE principal investigator  Dr. Hugo Beltrami has been awarded a Canada Research Chair (CRC Tier 1) in Climate Dynamics. The seven-year renewable appointment includes a $1.4 million research award and is accompanied by an additional award from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) through its John R. Evans Leaders Fund. These funds will be put towards the purchase of a $575,000 high performance computer cluster which will perform simulations of climate related processes to support Dr. Beltrami’s team research.

Read press release here

Warm bottom does not imply ice sheet collapse.

Why would anyone care about the temperatures at the base of an ice sheet during the last ice age? Presently, there are two ice sheets on Earth, the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheet. Due to increasing global temperatures, scientists are plagued with questions concerning their fate. Over the past two decades, observations have revealed a significant mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet, while studies warn of the potential collapse of an important component holding together the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The collapse, alone, of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would lead to a rise in sea level by 3 m. However, to fully understand the effects of future climate change on ice sheets, it is necessary to understand their growth, decay and collapse. This is why we look to the past.

During the last glacial cycle, ~120000-12000 years before present, large ice sheets formed in the Northern Hemisphere, including the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which kept a great part of Canada under more than 1 km of ice. These ice sheets are governed by ice dynamics, that is the balance between snow accumulation and its own weight, and their interactions with the climate. Since we cannot travel back in time to study them, indicators of past climate are necessary tools. To study the ice dynamics of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, we used borehole temperature-depth profiles to reconstruct ground surface temperature histories and the temperatures at the base of the ice sheet.

It has been known for a long-time that as you go deeper within the Earth, the temperature increases. If there are no changes in ground surface temperature, it is assumed that this temperature-depth profile depends on the outflow of heat from Earth’s interior, which for climate purposes is constant. However, when there are persistent increases in ground surface temperature, the extra heat propagates into the subsurface leaving a record as perturbations to the otherwise unperturbed thermal regime underground. As early as the 1930s, scientists have been inferring past climate from these perturbed underground temperatures. It was only in the 1980s, due to concerns about increasing global temperatures, that this method became widespread. Most of these studies have focused on reconstructing the climate for the last 1000 years from relatively shallow (~500 m) boreholes. But, long-term persistent variations in surface temperature affect temperature in the subsurface to great depths. This allows for the reconstruction of the ground surface temperature history for the last glacial cycle and the determination of the temperatures at the base of the ice sheet.

In a recent paper published in the European Geosciences Union journal Climate of the Past, PhD student Carolyne Pickler (StFX’s NSERC CREATE program  and Université du Québec à Montréal), Dr. Hugo Beltrami (St. Francis Xavier University) and Dr. Jean-Claude Mareschal (Université du Québec à Montréal.), analyzed thirteen temperature profiles from deep boreholes (≥1500 m deep) in eastern and central Canada, a region covered by the southern portion of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, to reconstruct the ground surface temperature histories during and after the last glacial cycle. They estimate basal temperatures between -1.4 and 3.00C throughout the last glacial cycle. These temperatures are near the melting point of ice, allowing for the melt and flow of water at the base of the ice sheet. Ice sheet basal temperatures are important parameters used in models of ice dynamics and suggest that it is possible to transport large quantities of water from the interior of the ice sheet, leading to a thin, climatically vulnerable ice sheet. However, as Pickler’s team points out, despite melting at the base, the ice sheet persisted for more than 30000 years prior to its collapse. This suggests that basal temperatures near the melting point do not necessarily imply instability in an ice sheet. However, combined with other processes they could lead to instability and collapse. Scientists have shown that the present-day ice sheets have basal temperatures near the melting point of ice. While Pickler et al. work has shown that this alone may not be cause for concern; combined with other conditions it could result in ice sheet instability. The group’s research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grants and CREATE programs.

Figure Caption: Ice thickness of the Laurentide ice sheet 20000 years ago as modelled from a glacial system model (Tarasov et al., 2012)


Pickler, Carolyne, Hugo Beltrami, and Jean-Claude Mareschal (2016) Laurentide Ice Sheet basal temperatures during the last glacial cycle as inferred from borehole data, Climate of the Past, 12, 1-13, 2016, doi:10.5194/cp-12-1-2016.

Tarasov, L., Dyke, A. S., Neal, R. M., and Peltier, W. (2012) A data calibrated distribution of deglacial chronologies for the North American ice complex from glaciological modeling, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 315/316, 30–40, 2012, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2011.09.010.