Hannah May

Role: HQP Scholar

Degree: M.A.Sc.

Primary Faculty Advisor: Andrew Binns

Project: Climate Change Effects on Nutrient Dynamics in the Hydrosystem of a Great Lakes Clay Plain Setting

Department: School of Engineering, CEPS

What inspired you to pursue your current degree? 

I’m currently pursuing my master’s degree in water resource engineering because I am passionate about the conservation and protection of natural resources in Canada. In my current program, I am completing watershed-based science and working with advisement from a conservation authority. I believe conservation is essential, as it provides education space, natural recreation areas, and offers climate change mitigation services. I had the opportunity of working with the Toronto Region Conservation Area (TRCA) on their Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection Project in my final year of my undergrad and I was truly inspired by how industrial lands could be converted into brilliant natural space. I was inspired to protect and create natural spaces to provide a beautiful area for public use, habitat for native species, and provide critical flood protection needed for coastal areas. I think a lot more attention should be given to the power of conserving natural spaces, not only for their beauty but for the irreplaceable ecosystem functions they provide.

What about your research area excites you? 

The fieldwork aspects of my research excite me! I love going out to the field to collect samples and observe the watershed. It’s so interesting to see how natural features, like water and sediment, can be analyzed and translated into quantifiable data to draw observations about the behaviour of the area.

What challenges do you find in your research, and how do you try to overcome them? 

In my research, I’m challenged most by focusing on my research goals. I think this is hard for me because I’m such a curious person and I’m really interested in the topics I’m studying. Some days I want to read everything I get my hands on, and I lose track of my project focus. To overcome this, I keep in contact with my lab mates and try to talk about the direction of my research often. I’m really lucky to be part of a lab group with peers doing similar work. They’ve been such a huge support throughout my Masters!

How would you describe your research and the implications of your project? 

My research is studying nutrient transport in a clay-dominated watershed near Lake Huron. In particular, I am studying the evolution of phosphorus and nitrogen in a small headwater agricultural creek, stream sediments and surrounding groundwater. We complete our sampling with a high spatial resolution and have six sampling sites in our small watershed. Similarly, we are trying to capture a diverse temporal lens with monthly sampling and targeted storm event sampling. In general, we are looking to understand the evolution of agricultural nutrients in these watersheds to understand the drivers of ‘hot spots’ and ‘hot moments’ of nutrient transport in this type of setting. This is important to build robust mitigation strategies to reduce nutrient pollution from agricultural watersheds near Lake Huron. As the transport of nutrients is partially driven by climatic events, our research can serve as a fundamental discovery to understand how certain climate features drive nutrient transport currently and can serve as a baseline level of knowledge as the climate shifts.

What do you see as your next steps after completing your degree? 

After my research, I’d like to gain work with a conservation authority. I’m looking to start in positions that put me in the field, monitoring and analyzing water quality and quantity. I think this is the best way to learn about watershed science, by being emersed in the natural area. This way, I can learn equipment skills and observational skills to recognize changes in the environment.

What role has the HQP scholarship played in your academic journey so far? 

The HQP scholarship has enriched my experience in my academic journey in a number of ways! First of all, I was able to take part in a program through the Guelph Institute for Environmental Research (GIER) and a Food from Thought knowledge mobilization fund. Here I was able to work as part of an interdisciplinary team to create a unique art piece to disseminate my research. I had the opportunity of working with a ceramic artist and representatives from the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority to create a large clay wall piece to communicate watershed science concepts. This was such an interesting project and a great opportunity to connect with people outside my field, build relationships with the conservation authority, and communicate research concepts to new audiences in a creative way! Also, through this program, I have been able to connect with other scholars through our Innovation in Agriculture course. This is great as I get to meet other students in agri-food, but also be exposed to the other fields of research they work in. It’s been truly interesting stuff and I’m so happy to learn about all the great agri-food research happening at U of G! Through this program, I’ve also been able to enrich a lot of my soft skills, like teamwork, project management, communication, and building my academic profile.

What are three of your favourite activities outside the lab? 

Outside the lab, I love to hike, do yoga, and learn new cooking and baking recipes! Guelph is such a lovely community and every day I am happy to be part of it! I’m lucky a lot of my favourite hobbies are things I can complete from home, but I do miss sharing these experiences and spending time with friends in the community.

What is one important thing you have learned during the pandemic? 

I think through this pandemic, I learned the definition of resilience. I mean, I always knew this word, but I don’t think I understood the weight of it until now. Every day I’m astounded by the resilience of the people around me. In the academic community, how students and researchers still persevere, self-direct, and do their best work. I’m also impressed by restaurants and small businesses, in their ability to constantly adapt and continue to serve the community. But truly I learned how resilient we all are, how we can get up every day and keep going. Even when we continue to lose opportunities to connect, experience and enjoy, we are making the most of this time and refusing to quit.