Sarah Rixon

Role: HQP Scholar

Degree: PhD

Project: Impact of seasonality on nutrient transport and groundwater-surface water interactions under temperate climate conditions in an agriculturally-intense Great Lakes clay plain basin

Department: School of Engineering (SOE) (CEPS)

What inspired you to pursue your current degree? 

After completing a master’s degree that focused on rural water management, I was excited to start working in the industry and thought my academic days were behind me.  My interest for water and climate research in the Great Lakes basin never subsided, and after a few years the opportunity to continue working on my masters research project presented itself.  There are still many water quality and quantity issues that affect human and ecosystem health in the Great Lakes basin, particularly in rural southwestern Ontario.  I am excited to continue my masters work at a deeper and more meaningful level.  I hope to use the skills I have gained from working in the industry to a project that I am passionate about, and excited for the chance to integrate industry connections to the project such as incorporating unique datasets and expertise.

What about your research area excites you? 

The opportunity to work with different people and groups such as conservation authorities, policy makers, researchers and landowners. Everyone I have encountered within the field of water (specifically rural water management), is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about their area of work.  Understanding different perspectives is important to progress research.

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

Groundwater is a hidden, and often overlooked, water resource so it can be challenging to understand how it is interconnected with the water cycle.  Contaminated groundwater and high groundwater levels can have severe impacts on human health and safety. I hope to use new techniques and technologies available to monitor groundwater levels and quality, and incorporate other resources such as datasets and reports developed by various government and academic groups, and local knowledge of hydrologic dynamics (i.e., narratives from landowners) to delineate subsurface water activity.

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

My proposed research is a combination of field-based study (collecting data of current conditions) and desktop study (modelling future scenarios).  We hope to further understand the interactions between groundwater and surface water, and how these interactions might differ with changing climate conditions. The role of groundwater in flooding processes is not well documented or understood. The intended purpose of this project is to integrate groundwater-surface water interconnections into rural Ontario flood forecast modelling to investigate groundwater’s influence during flood events, to better predict future storm events and mitigate resulting water quality issues that threaten drinking water resources and ecosystems.

What are three of your favourite activities outside the lab? 

My favourite activities outside the lab are playing golf/tennis with my husband, hanging out with my cats and doing yoga.

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

The importance of community and having a support system.  Although in-person interaction is good for the soul, I have learned to use many forms of technology to stay close with family and friends during this time, and I feel grateful to have access to so many resources to stay connected with my support system.