In this issue of the Newsletter I would like to start a new theme, to highlight the work of some of the Society’s major award winners. Election to Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada is itself a mark of distinguished achievement, but many Fellows go on to win major national or international awards that recognize the stature of their work on an even larger stage. I invite Fellows to submit suggestions for future contributions to the Newsletter dealing with awards in all the branches of science, either from those who have won an award themselves, or drawing attention to the success of a colleague. It is to be hoped that one of the outcomes of such a series of articles will be a greater understanding of the philosophical or methodological underpinnings of modern science discovery and breakthrough.
In the first article I highlight the Logan Medal, awarded by the Geological Association of Canada. This is the premier award of the Canadian geological community, recognizing long-term achievement, and the international stature of the recipient. It was established in 1964 and is awarded annually, at the society’s annual meeting in the Spring. The medal is named after Sir William Logan, the first Director of the Geological Survey of Canada (appointed in 1842). His name is also attached to that of Canada’s highest mountain, Mount Logan, in the Yukon.
This year’s winner or the Logan Medal is Brian Jones, FRSC, of the University of Alberta. His work highlights an important geological theme, that of uniformitarianism - the recognition that physical, chemical and all other processes operating in the distant geological past are the same as those operating today. The importance of this principle is that we can use studies of modern environments and processes to interpret the rock record, and we can use studies of ancient environments to throw light on what is happening at the present day. The development of the uniformitarian principle is credited to James Hutton, a Scottish physician working in the late 1700s, and to Charles Lyell, whose great book published in 1830 founded the modern science of Geology.
Uniformitarianism guides us as we work on the rock record. For example, we can use studies of the present to interpret the structure and distribution of petroleum reservoirs and of economic minerals hosted in sedimentary rocks, such as some deposits of gold, uranium, copper, lead, etc. The science of Sedimentology uses the analog method to compare sedimentary processes and the characteristics of exposed sedimentary rocks to those interpreted from oil and gas reservoirs in the subsurface. Conversely, studying the rock record can help us to understand such issues as the nature of past climates, in order to help us understand present-day global change. It should be remembered that the only direct record we have of the Deep Time history of Earth, going back to the planet’s origins about 4.5 billion years ago, is the geological record, and the study of this record is the primary reason the science of Geology exists. The practical implications of these studies for the development of resources provides the economic incentive to carry out much geological research, but for many in the profession this consideration is quite secondary to the natural fascination scientists have with the intellectual exploration of the distant past.
Two other articles constitute this issue of the Newsletter. Jeffrey Hutchings has provided a summary of the fascinating symposium on marine biodiversity that was held at the Annual Meeting in Victoria last November, and Peter Kevan has provided some insights into the international organization of the life sciences.
Thanks to all who have made this issue possible.
Andrew Miall, FRSC
The Annual Symposium, under the auspices of the Academy of Science, struck a theme wholly concordant with the environmental and intellectual setting of the Royal Society of Canada’s 2015 Annual Meeting. From its vantage on the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria and its environs encompass many of the characteristics of British Columbia’s stunning coastal landscape, estimated to be the most biologically diverse area of a remarkably diverse province. But, as with most things in life, the most readily visible elements of coastal ecosystems are not always the most interesting, dynamic, or impressive. At varying depths beneath the surface waters lies a plethora of marine life, including sponges, corals, kelp, crustacea, plankton, fish, and marine mammals, not to mention the unusual life associated with deep-water features such as hydrothermal vents and subsea volcanoes.
Home to the longest oceanic border in the world, Canada is a logical choice of country in which to discuss marine biodiversity and Canada’s National Academy offered an appropriate venue within which such discussions could take place. The 2015 Symposium, entitled “Canadian Marine Biodiversity: Resources, Opportunities, Responsibilities”, built upon the foundation of knowledge, perspective, and recommendations provided by the RSC’s 2012 Expert Panel on Sustaining Canadian Marine Biodiversity. The Panel concluded that Canada’s progress in fulfilling national and international obligations, impressive in some aspects, is generally impaired by regulatory conflict, unhelpfully discretionary legislation, and an inconsistent, unduly slow pace of statutory and policy implementation.
The 2015 Symposium Organizing Committee (Jeffrey Hutchings, Chair; Keith Hipel, President, Academy of Science; Amelia Zaglul, Manager, Programmes, RSC) invited ten individuals of national and international renown to present their work in Victoria.
Bookending the Symposium were addresses by scientific leaders whose primary research interests focus on northern latitudes. Keynote speaker Nils Chr. Stenseth (Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, University of Oslo) opened the session with a sweeping palette of topics that included Norway’s cultural and historical links with the sea, global effects of harvesting and climate change on fisheries, and the eco-evolutionary dynamics of marine systems under anthropogenic stress. In the closing address, Louis Fortier, FRSC (Departement de biologie, Université Laval), perhaps best known through his leadership of ArcticNet, brought his internationally renowned expertise to bear on the multitudinous impacts of climate change on Arctic marine ecosystems and ecosystem services.
Three members of the 2012 RSC Expert Panel contributed their perspectives. Jeffrey Hutchings, FRSC (Department of Biology, Dalhousie University) provided an overview of the Panel’s findings, key recommendations, and solutions, drawing attention to the breadth of organizations that have made use of the Panel’s report. Isabelle Côté (Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University) underscored the multiple and often intimate connections that humans have with coastal biodiversity, providing substantive reason for optimism and hope. David VanderZwaag (Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University) highlighted several federal statutes to illustrate how Canada has both led and lagged behind the international community in the development and implementation of ocean law and policy.
Maintaining a focus on national obligations to sustain biodiversity, Julia Baum (Department of Biology, University of Victoria) honed in on key elements of Canada’s law and policy framework, using her analysis to articulate a path forward in efforts to strengthen Canada’s efforts to rebuild depleted fish populations and maintain healthy ocean ecosystems. Gabriela Ibarguchi (Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary) drew upon personal and professional experience to illustrate some of the biological shifts taking place in Canada’s north and to demonstrate how northern species – notably seabirds – can serve as ‘sentinels’ of change in Arctic coastal ecosystems.
Biological, policy, and legislative points of departure were complemented by presentations that offered a different set of lenses through which the Symposium’s theme could be viewed. The address by Rosemary Ommer (Departments of History and Geography, University of Victoria) provided a humanist perspective, underscoring the social, historical, cultural, spiritual and psychological contribution the arts make to our human picturing of the rich biodiversity of the oceans. Rashid Sumaila (Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia), a fisheries bioeconomist, offered an illuminating and thoughtful discourse on the relationship between marine biodiversity and social license, a concept that governs the extent to which a corporation or an industry is constrained to meet societal expectations and avoid activities that societies consider to be unacceptable.
Rounding out the scholarly lectures was an extraordinary multi-media presentation by Dale Sanders, an award-winning photographer, documentary cameraman, and writer based on Vancouver Island. Through the use of breath-taking photography and film, he provided a visually rich, seductive, and emotional rendering of Canada’s incredible underwater wilderness.
The 2015 Annual Symposium offered interdisciplinary perspective, thoughtful critiques, viable means of strengthening Canada’s oceans stewardship, and passion. It left several lasting impressions among symposium participants.
Foremost is the realisation that Canada is an ocean nation. The borders of 8 provinces and 3 territories, comprising 86% of the Canadian population, are adjacent to salt water. Canada’s oceans encompass an area more than twice that of India, the world’s 7th largest country. From a purely geographical perspective, the ocean stewardship responsibilities borne by Canada are arguably greater than those of any other country. And given that three-quarters of Canada’s coastline is located in Nunavut, ocean issues in Canada are de facto Arctic issues, a region with which Canadians strongly identify.
Despite these geographical exigencies, successive governments have not been notably engaged in the sustainability of Canada’s fisheries and oceans. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ministerial mandate letters provide optimism that this state of affairs might change.
In 2009, the Royal Society of Canada took a leadership role by establishing the Expert Panel on Canadian marine biodiversity. In 2015, the RSC continued that leadership by making this topic the central theme of its Annual Symposium. The symposium can be viewed as a tangible and promising step in connecting the new federal government, and Canadians, with the empirically sound and practically realistic advice that can be proffered by Canada’s National Academy.
Group Photo: Seated: Rosemary Ommer, Nils Chr. Stenseth, Jeffrey Hutchings, Keith Hipel, Louis Fortier; Standing: Graham Bell, Philip Dearden, David VanderZwaag, Gabriela Ibarguchi, Rashid Sumaila, Isabelle Côté, Julia Baum
My research has focused largely on (1) young successions of carbonate rocks, and (2) hot spring deposits. My interest in carbonate rocks started as an undergraduate at Liverpool University where Dr. Robin Bathurst, a pioneer of carbonate sedimentology, mentored me. For my Ph.D., Dr. Owen Dixon (Ottawa University) gave me the opportunity to study the Silurian carbonate successions on Somerset Island in the Canadian Arctic. Subsequent opportunities allowed me to work on carbonate successions of all ages throughout the world. Given that such studies are rooted on an understanding of modern carbonates, I have, for the last 30 years, focused attention on the analysis of young (< 30 million years old) carbonates found on the Cayman Islands. Involving numerous graduate students, this multifaceted research has been based on fieldwork, collection of samples, and many different types of laboratory analyses. The scale ranges from microscopic analysis of individual crystals to island scale modeling of various geological processes. Analysis of modern sediments around the islands with focus on the factors that control recent carbonate sedimentation and reef evolution relies on the integration of geological and biological data. This embodies the “Carbonate Factory” with production of the carbonate sediment commonly coming from the diverse arrays of animals and plants that live in these environments. Such studies provide a measure of the heath of the environments in the face of universal changes such as ocean warming and ocean acidification and are critical to our understanding sediment generation changes with time. Interpretations derived from these ecosystems also provide the basis for the interpretation of the older rocks found on the islands and elsewhere in the world.
The bedrock successions of the Cayman Islands, which includes exposed limestones (formed of calcite – CaCO3) and dolostones (formed of dolomite – CaMg(CO3)2) that are up to 30 million years old has been another area of focus. The dolostones are of interest given that the “Dolomite Problem” remains one of the major unsolved mysteries in geology. Although first defined over 200 years ago, the formation of dolomite remains enigmatic given that dolomite has not yet been produced in the laboratory under abiogenic, low temperature, and low pressure conditions and that proven examples of direct dolomite precipitation from modern seawater are lacking. The transformation of limestone to dolostone commonly comes with a significant increase in porosity and permeability. Thus, dolostones are universally important as hosts for oil, gas, economic minerals, and water, and an understanding of their development is critical for the exploitation of any of these resources. Dolomitization off the limestones on the Cayman Islands is relatively young (< 10 million years) and therefore provides the opportunity to address their formation. Although this research has changed our views about the evolution of dolostones, the fundamental problem of how and why dolostones form still remains. Nevertheless, this research has had great practical application because it underpinned the development of drinking water supplies on the Cayman Islands given that there are no surface reservoirs and drinking water must be generated through desalinization via the use of reverse osmosis plants. Lessons learnt from the young rocks of the Cayman Islands have also been applied to the development of oil and has reservoirs in older successions of carbonate rocks, including those found in the Paleozoic strata in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin and the Precambrian dolostones of western China.
My focus on spring deposits is based largely on the fact that natural springs discharge waters that range from ~5° to 100°C, pH values from ~1.5 to 13, and variable chemical compositions. With such extreme variability, springs offer a wide range of natural laboratories, each with different physical, chemical, and biological characteristics that allow assessment of mineral precipitation under many different conditions. This research, commonly undertaken with Dr. Robin Renaut (University of Saskatchewan), is based on spring systems in Kenya, New Zealand, Iceland, Chile, Canada, and China relies on the integration of geological, microbiological, and hydrological information derived from many different analytical techniques. Although principally focused on the precipitation of opal-A and calcite, it has also involved examination of iron-, gold- and silver-rich precipitates. This research has clearly demonstrated that microbes are universally present and commonly play an important role in mineral precipitation – even in environments once deemed too severe to support active microbial life! Research into the factors that control the preservation of microbes via silicification has, for example, critical ramifications for the interpretation of some of the silicified microbes from Precambrian strata that are considered evidence of the earliest life forms on Earth. Other research has addressed the factors that contribute to the precipitation of calcite and the many different crystals forms that are produced in these diverse environments. Overall, this research has provided a much clearer understanding of the role that microbes play in the precipitation of many different minerals.
As we all know, research requires funding. Hence, I would greatly remiss if I did not acknowledge the fact that this research has only been possible because of the funding that I have received from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the University of Alberta. The availability of a large range of functional, up-to-date research laboratories at the University of Alberta has allowed samples to be analyzed from many different perspectives. On the Cayman Islands, my research would have been impossible without the help provided by the Water Authority and the Department of Environment.
The International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) has, in recent years, emerged from a period of introspection and rebirth. How can its activities become known to Canadian life scientists and how can Canadian life scientists find common ground and collaborate with IUBS?
The IUBS was established in 1919 as the major organization representing unified biology globally. It is now, since 2013, the coordinating organization within the biological sciences cluster (of 12 other international unions) of the International Council of Science (ICSU). Stenseth has been entrusted as the coordinator until March, 2016. He emphasises that IUBS’ role is to help the cluster to work on common interests and bring forces together, not the least into the ICSU program Future Earth. Because IUBS is interdisciplinary, it offers the possibility of interaction with other international bodies to address multi- disciplinary issues. Indeed, when ICSU or the other ICSU unions want to interact with biologists, they first contact IUBS.
IUBS’ objectives are, in short, a) to promote the study of biological sciences, b) to initiate, facilitate and coordinate research and other scientific activities necessitating international, interdisciplinary cooperation, c) to ensure the discussion and dissemination of the results of cooperative research, particularly in connection with IUBS scientific programmes and d) to support the organization of international conferences and assist in the publication of their reports. ICSU and the other members of the biological cluster have similar objectives that differ depending on scope and emphasis. Intramurally, IUBS assembles its own national committees representing all biological disciplines as needed and so interacts at national and international levels.
IUBS embraces National and Scientific memberships. The Scientific Members of IUBS do not pay dues and comprise 80 international science associations or societies representing a biological discipline or a discipline relevant to the scientific study of biology. Several such Scientific Members are based in Canada. National Members (which pay dues) number 30 countries and are represented through Academies of Sciences, National Research Councils, National Societies and the like. Canada was represented through the international committee of the National Research Council but withdrew from IUBS a number of years ago. It has not been possible for Canada to rejoin IUBS for various reasons, one of which has been the unavailability of a national organization to represent Canadian biology. Perhaps now is the time to explore the possibility that the Life Sciences Division of the Academy of Sciences (III) for the RSC open its doors to collaboration and exchange of news.
Peter Kevan (FRSC) has served for several years on the Executive Committee of the IUBS and has agreed to act as the go-between for RSC and IUBS. He will provide news periodically between both organizations, much as might an observer. Deliberations within RSC for renewing membership in IUBS are for the future. National membership gives the right to vote on all IUBS matters (which Kevan cannot exercise in his informal role as go-between, but can in his position as representative of the scientific member the International Commission for Plant Pollinator Relations and as a member of the IUBS’ Executive Committee). It is worth noting that IUBS is often asked to nominate experts to serve on international committees or to be considered for prestigious awards. Canada is well regarded world-wide for its scientific expertise and international leadership, not just in the life sciences. So Kevan will ask for input from RSC when opportunities arise.
Canada, with its internationally acknowledged place in the forefront of biology, has its immense traditions and present scientific capacity to bring to the IUBS table. What does the IUBS have to offer the community of biologists in Canada?
The IUBS offers a venue for biology in Canada to be internationally represented and influential through the BioCluster and through ICSU, which already has strong ties in Canada. Opportunity for such representation and influence would come from cementing membership and through involvement in governance, policy and evolution of IUBS. IUBS has on-going programmes which parallel programmes in Canada and with academies world wide. Thus, IUBS can provide opportunities for high-level international synergy and collaboration. With more proximate scopes are the special projects (including funds to help with international meetings) that IUBS has sponsored through modest grants. It has had a long tradition in genomics, biodiversity, bioinformatics, systematics, taxonomy & biological nomenclature, biological education. IUBS initiated DIVERSITAS (running since 1991 although officially complete). It has a programme for helping young scientists meet and exchange ideas and findings. The IUBS website provides more information on its new face and activities.
IUBS’ next (32nd) General Assembly will take place 14 -16 December 2015, Berlin, Germany at the historic and beautiful Botanical Gardens in Dahlem. The theme is Frontiers in Unified Biology . The full programme is coming together. Plenary speakers are Paul Shrivastava, (Executive Director, Future Earth), Anne Larigauderie (Executive Secretary, Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), Thomas Brooks (Head of Science & Knowledge, International Union for the Conservation of Nature). They also will all participate in the panel discussion on our common future after the plenary assembly.
Everyone is welcome to attend! Clearly, there are: Common interests, Common goals and Opportunities for collaborations and mutual assistance.
For more information on IUBS, please contact the IUBS Secretariat, University of Paris South 11, Bâtiment 442, 91405 Orsay cedex, France (tel: + 33 1 69 15 50 27) through the Executive Director Nathalie Fomproix