Department Description
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A Leader in the Environment Since 1964

Trent University’s Environmental Program Gains National Accreditation

Trent University has been a leader in the environment since its inception in 1964. More than 40 years later, Trent’s expertise in and commitment to this critical area of study is being acknowledged and celebrated as a vital and distinct focal point of excellence with the launch of Trent’s Centre of Knowledge in the Environment.

The first of four virtual centres to be unveiled leading up to the University’s milestone 50th anniversary in 2014, the Centre of Knowledge in the Environment exemplifies the interdisciplinary nature of Trent. Trent leaders in this Centre strive to build even further specialty expertise by infusing Trent’s understanding of Indigenous knowledge into the study of climate change, water science, biomaterials, sustainable agriculture, ecology and conservation biology.

Based on Trent's interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning, many departments, programs, research centres and institutes are involved in the Centre of Knowledge in the Environment. Some highlights include:

Trent's Anthropology Department

  • anthropologists study the interrelationships between human populations and the environment in terms of the ritual and symbolic importance of the landscape, the impact on subsistence and settlement patterns, and the relationship to disease vectors.
  • Archaeology, one branch of anthropology, is also concerned with the reconstruction of past climates and landscapes in order to investigate the long-term interactions between humans and the environment.

Faculty in Trent’s Biology Department are researching a number of critical environmental issues including:

  • Avian, fish, plant and mammalian studies on ecology, stress physiology, genetics and molecular biology relating to the impacts of habitat fragmentation, wildlife pathogens and climate change on natural populations.  These studies cover species from the tropics, the boreal forest and the arctic.
  • Intensive projects examining the conservation biology and genetics of species-at-risk including whales, dolphins, polar bears, wolves, caribou, amphibia, reptiles and thistles. 
  • Plant evolutionary and physiological applications to invasive species, plants-at-risk and agricultural species.
  • Impacts of landscape change and barriers on populations like black bears, moose, Canada lynx and furbearers.
  • Emerging diseases from wildlife raccoon rabies, Aleutian disease and ranavirus.
  • The impacts of climate change, urban development and ecotoxicology on the ecological function of lakes and rivers.

Faculty in Trent’s Canadian Studies Department research includes:

  • Michèle Lacombe, faculty member in Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies undergraduate and graduate programs, focuses on Canadian and indigenous literatures, theory and criticism and her interests include the link between cultural reclamation, environmental protection, and indigenous culture. Her interdisciplinary training and experience is consistent with emerging arts-based approaches to environmental topics.
  • Canada: The Land, an interdisciplinary course in Trent’s Canadian Studies program, aims to situate Canada in the world, with responsibilities to the international community to protect the biodiversity which constitutes our home, and to our national community to render the land a humane place in which to live and work and create in a spirit of equity and justice.

Trent's world-renowned Centre for  Environmental Modelling and Chemistry (CEMC)

  • with their state-of-the-art analytical equipment and their computer models, developed by faculty and staff here at Trent, determine chemical behaviour in living things, including humans, and in their environment. These computer models promote good stewardship practices and support responsible and informed decision-making by government regulators and industries alike and are used as teaching tools in universities such as Princeton, Reading, Stockholm, Peking, and many others including here at Trent.

At Trent’s Centre for the Study of Theory, Culture and Politics:

  • Professor Doug Torgerson has addressed issues of environmental politics and green political theory in such publications as The Promise of Green Politics: Environmentalism and the Public Sphere (Duke University Press, 1999) and Managing Leviathan: Environmental Politics and the Administrative State, co-edited with Robert Paehlke (Broadview Press, 2nd edition, 2005).

Candidates in Trent’s teacher education programs

  • will be attending sessions at the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre to receive training in the use of two sets of interactive environmental education materials produced by the Canadian Wildlife Foundation: "Project Wild" and "Below Zero"

In the Environmental & Life Sciences Graduate Program

  • our graduate students and faculty are conducting research in very broad and diverse areas,including conservation genetics, biogeochemistry, water quality, conservation biology, plant evolution, physical geography, virology, molecular ecology, hydrology, invasive species, aquatic pollution, ornithology, mine tailings, trace elements, atmospheric conditions, pharmaceuticals in the environment, toxic effects, and many others
  • Dr. Holger Hintelmann, Program Director, is studying Environmental Forensics using "isotope fingerprinting" to find out where mercury is coming from. 
  • Ph.D. students with the Program are using this "fingerprinting" to study mercury pollution in the Amazon and the Arctic. 
  • Arctic research is being conducted by graduate students under the direction of Peter Lafleur on the impact of climate warming on arctic ecosystems. 
  • Dr. Watmough and Dr. Aherne are conducting research using climate models to study the impact of various pollutants including acid rain, nitrogen, ozone and heavy metals on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

In Trent’s Environmental and Resource Studies (ERS) Program, scientists and other scholars:

  • pursue studies on a wide range of topics including: the biological and ecological impacts of invasive species, the effects of various stresses, such as acid rain, climate change, and changes in nutrients on ecosystems, the movement and impacts of contaminants in the environment, the conservation and management of wetlands, and the implications of environmental change for human health. 
  • are examining how environmental policy is developed and applied, through studies of the environmental history of our region, renewable energy development and its implications for communities, the roles of science in environmental politics, and the formation of biodiversity policy in Ontario.  The Environmental and Resource Studies Program provides a window on how our environment is changing, and what we can do about it.
  • The ERS Program offers several degree programs: an Honours B.A. and B.Sc in Environmental Studies or Science, a B.A. and B.Sc in Indigenous Environmental Studies, a B.Sc in Environmental Chemistry, and, with Fleming College, a B.Sc in Ecological Restoration.  In addition, new for 2009, Trent offers an Honours Bachelor of Environmental Science/Studies (B.E.S.S.) that integrates the study of science and policy. 
  • The ERS Program offers more than 90 environmental courses, in everything from ecological agriculture to toxicology, study-abroad opportunities in several countries, research placements with community organizations, and joint degrees with more than 20 Trent departments or programs. 

One area of expertise in the Forensic Science Program at Trent is the research and casework involved with the Wildlife Forensic DNA Laboratory with a mandate to protect Ontario and Canada’s natural resources through enforcement and technical applications such as:

  • The development of DNA markers for species involved in poaching such as moose, deer and bears to identify biological tissues associated with an illegal kill site, to blood or meat collected from the suspected poacher to determine if they originate from the same animal;
  • The development of species diagnostic DNA markers to monitor the trade of animal parts from endangered species such as the ivory trade .  These techniques that can detect very low amounts of DNA from processed ivory in jewelry a clearly distinguish among African, Asian and the extinct mammoth;
  • The development of molecular tools for forensic identification of microbes that may be used in bioterrorist attacks with an emphasis on plant pathogens that could disrupt the agricultural food supply.  These techniques have broader applicability to monitoring water supplies and domestic livestock.

Environmental issues, environmental policy, its development and critique, and the human relationship to the environment have been core themes in the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies since its inception in 1982.

  • As a research centre, the Frost Centre brings together Trent faculty from the social sciences, humanities, and other interdisciplinary programmes who do research in a wide range of ‘environmental’ topics including: environmental history; the relationship between women’s health and the environment; literary eco-criticism and eco-feminism; Indigenous environmental knowledge; Aboriginal history; environmental policy and resource development; environmental philosophy; rural health and social geography; community-based environmental movements and policy development; bioregionalism; sustainable agriculture; and cultural tropes of wilderness and landscape art. In keeping with the focus of the Frost Centre, these themes are explored in both Canadian and comparative contexts.
  • The Centre is the home of two graduate programmes: the Ph.D. in Canadian Studies (jointly offered with Carleton University); and the M.A. in Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies. One of the five core areas of the PhD programme is ‘Environment and Heritage’. A recent gold-medal winning dissertation, “The Role of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Governance for Sustainability: Cases from Canada” was written by Trudeau-scholar Rebecca Pollock. Environmental topics have been the focus of a large number of Frost Centre MA theses.

Trent Geographers are conducting leading-edge research on the exchange of trace gases between arctic terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. Such knowledge is crucial for developing our understanding of ecosystem response to climate change and potential feedbacks in the climate system.

  • The assessment of groundwater availability for human requirements in Ontario, as well as for sustenance of stream ecologies that depend on groundwater contributions, is assisted by the efforts of  hydrologists and geochemists in the Geography department at Trent. Current work is focused upon the influence of forest regrowth upon groundwater recharge along the Oak Ridges Moraine in Southern Ontario, as well as the effects of climate change on local water quality and quantity.
  • The simulation of varied micro-environments around the globe lies at the heart of work in Trent’s Environmental Wind Tunnel Lab. Work in this unique, state-of-the-art facility targets environmental problems concerning air quality, the deflation of fertile soils, and  desertification through simulation of particle emissions for varied climate and surface conditions encompassing for example, hot arid deserts, mine sites and polar regions.

An Associate Professor of History at Trent

  • Finis Dunaway is the author of Natural Visions: The Power of Images in American Environmental Reform and is currently working on a book about visual culture and the environmental crisis. He also teaches the course The Environmental Crisis: From the Atomic Bomb to Global Warming, which is cross-listed with Environmental and Resource Studies.

The Indigenous Environment Studies Program is a unique and original program in Canada which is designed:

  • To provide students with a unique academic experience bringing together both Indigenous environmental knowledge and western science to provide students with the skills and critical thinking abilities to address the complex environmental problems facing peoples, cultures and communities around the world today.
  • Dr. Roronhiake:wen Dan Longboat explores the interface between Indigenous culture, cultural teachings and the environment for environmental education
  • Dr. Chris Furgal investigates the relationships between the health of the environment and the health of Indigenous peoples around the world
  • Dr. Eric Sager, Adjunct faculty, studies the restoration and remediation of degraded ecosystems.

In the department of International Development Studies

  • Professor Haroon Akram-Lodhi has conducted extensive research in northern Pakistan on the political ecology of land reclamation and water management, which resulted in a book, Water, Pipes and People in Pakistan. He continues to work on issues around land access, control and management in many countries.
  • As Professor of International Development Studies and Anthropology, Jacqueline Solway is well known for the ongoing research that she has conducted on the impact of drought on the lives of rural people in the southern African region.
  • In Associate Professor Michal Avram’s classes, students study Global Governance Institutions and Global Civil Society and are simulating and foreshadowing the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in order to better understand decision-making among the Parties, the ability of the poorer countries to influence outcomes, and the role of civil society organizations.

The James McLean Oliver Ecological Centre, a 270 acre property on the shores of the Kawartha Lakes, provides important infrastructure for long-term environmentally based research and undergraduate and graduate student training for Trent. Current highlights include:

  • Dr. Jeff Bowman's investigation into the biology and ecology of flying squirrels and Dr. Erica Nol's investigations into the migration dynamics of the northern Saw-whet owl, both of which have received extensive media coverage.
  • Dr. Eric Sager and the Kawartha Lakes Stewards Association have been partnering over the last 5 years to educate shoreline residents about the ecology and management of aquatic plants, which has culminated with the publication, "Aquatic Plants in the Kawartha Lakes - their growth, importance and management".

In the Materials Science Graduate Program

  • research provides alternative materials, better techniques and renewable starting points in order to minimize our environmental footprint
  • Prof. Andrew Vreugdenhil conducts research into novel coatings which prevent corrosion of steel and aluminum without using hazardous additives such as chromates and phosphates.
  • Prof. Igor Svishchev investigates the use of supercritical water for several applications including destruction of chemical weapons and organic pollutants.
  • Prof. Suresh Narine explores biologically derived starting materials for use in polymeric materials for biodegradable products, more efficient fertilizers and drug delivery systems.

As a Professor in the department of Mathematics and the Applied Modelling and Quantitative Methods graduate program,

  • Kenzu Abdella studies global climate models (GCMs). Specific projects include the development of non-local higher order closure schemes for use in General Circulation Climate Models, parameterization of large scale condensation in the atmosphere and improving the present schemes of various surface processes such as surface heat transfer.

In the department of Philosophy

  • Dr. Moira Howes has given talks at Trent and in the community about climate change and intellectual virtue and chaired the Environmental Advisory Board for a year at Trent. In the Advanced Philosophy of Biology course Dr. Howes teaches about philosophical issues related to biodiversity.

Professors in Trent’s Politics department research includes:

  • Kate Ervine’s that examines the political economy and ecology of global environmental governance, biodiversity conservation and development in the Global South, and emerging trends in market environmentalism. Professor Ervine has a particular interest in the politics of negotiating a post-Kyoto Protocol international climate change regime. In her courses in the Politics Department her students study global environmental politics broadly conceived, the politics and policy of global warming, environmental security, resource conflicts and theories of green war, and environmental justice.
  • Gavin Fridell’s work that focuses on trade justice, global value chains, and global governance.  Through his research, he seeks to explore the prospects and limitations of market-driven projects in promoting social and environmental justice in the South and North.

The Women's Studies department at Trent

  • offers a 3rd year course on Women, Health and Environments, and a 4th year course on Gender and Environmental Justice

The Water Quality Centre (WQC) is dedicated to the development and application of innovative new techniques for the analysis of organic and inorganic contaminants at the isotopic, elemental and molecular scale. Dr. Peter Dillon, Director of the WQC and Professor in Environmental and Resource Studies and Chemistry, areas of research include:

  • climate change effects on freshwaters – climate change is affecting freshwaters in many ways, in terms of both water quantity and quality.  Many of these changes are relatively subtle, such as the change in naturally-occurring dissolved organic matter, the family of chemicals that give many waters their faintly yellow to yellow-brown colour.  However, even these subtle changes can have profound effects on everything that lives in the lakes and rivers.  Specialized measurements based on isotope analysis are helping to learn more about the consequences of these global changes.
  • Nitrogen cycling in the Boreal ecozone – now that sulphur emissions have been substantially reduced in North America and Europe, nitrogen deposition has become the main source of acid rain.  Investigations into the likely severity of this phenomenon on Canada’s water resources are in progress.