Mountains the subject of new University of Alberta research centre

Canadians usually regard their country’s mountains as places to hike, climb or ski, but a new research centre at the University of Alberta will focus on their scientific value.

The Canadian Mountain Network, to be hosted at the Edmonton university, will receive $18.3 million in funding over the next five years through the national Networks of Centres of Excellence program. The announcement, by federal Science and Sport Minister Kirsty Duncan, was made public by the U of A Tuesday.

“With this new funding, the Canadian Mountain Network will act as a catalyst for improving Canada’s ability to identify and respond to changing conditions in its vast mountainous regions,” said Stan Boutin, the network’s research co-director and president and a U of A biological sciences professor.

Mountainous areas make up more than one-quarter of Canada’s landmass and are vital parts of the ecosystem, providing water, biodiversity, recreation opportunities, and cultural and spiritual connection. But scientists say factors such as climate change are affecting these regions and downstream communities in ways that they do not currently have the capacity to observe, study, forecast, adapt to and mitigate.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said the territory is experiencing the effects of climate change, including in its mountain regions.

“A growing number of impacts combined with gaps in knowledge have prevented fully-informed decision-making, policies and programs to ensure the sustainability of our mountainous regions,” Silver said.

The Canadian Mountain Network will be a collaborative research program, involving scientists, community members, Indigenous groups, municipalities, businesses, governments and post-secondary institutions.

The network plans to support reconciliation through research by creating opportunities for collaboration on projects led by Indigenous communities and based on Indigenous research methodologies.

“We are harnessing existing capacities and seeking new research relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers and communities,” Boutin said.

The Canadian Mountain Network is the fourth federally funded Network Centres of Excellence program to be housed at the U of A. It already hosts similar centres of research on glycomics, forest management and protein engineering.

“The U of A has developed an international reputation for mountain research over the past few decades,” said U of A president David Turpin. “We’re very proud to host the Canadian Mountain Network at the U of A, and we’re excited to build on that expertise as a centre of excellence.”

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