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Stony Mountain Headwater Catchment Observatory

SMHCO was created to determine the hydrological and geochemical function of headwater catchments and their importance for water availability in the Athabasca River Basin: one of Albert'a largest and most important river systems. It uses innovative technology and research techniques to further our knowledge of these vital landscapes. Overlooked, these ecozones may well have a disproportionally significant hydrological significance on Alberta's river systems.

The project aims to determine the redistribution and storage of water between and among forested hillslopes, wetlands and watercourses - thus unlocking the key to understanding water quantity and quality at a much larger scale. The underlying hydrological and biogeochemical processes that impact these important ecosystems may well be determined by the function of these headwaters. Increasing our knowledge will better help manage these wetlands and provide better tools for long term sustainability.

SMHCO is funded by an NSERC Discovery Grant and supported by the Canada Research Chair Program.


Remote Sensing Equipment for Environmental Research

The group has been collaborating with Riot Technology Corp. (RT) to provide real-time in field implementation of their technology. Riot Technology Corp. (RT) has been developing and testing a newer, innovative technology that is capable of much greater communication distances between individual nodes, while consuming far less power called ‘Low Power Wide Area Sensor Networks’ (LPWAN).


The AU Hydrology lab is testing these innovative technologies for field measurements and developing an ongoing network for distributed environmental data collection across scales.

This project aims to understand the underlying controls on the communications capabilities of the technology and goes far beyond simply field-testing the RT technologies.


Communication performances will be related to detailed landscape (e.g., distance, topography and vegetation) and meteorological (e.g., rain events, air temperature) analyses to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the underlying variables that govern communication capabilities and ultimately improve the collection of data in remote locations.


Biogeochemical Processes of Catchment Wetlands

Wetlands are key ecosystems for the storage, transformation and transport of nutrients and potentially dangerous contaminants. Carbon and nutrient fluxes can drive methylation and demethylation rates of Hg creating dangerous bioaccumulative risks that can impact the entire region.


This project involves a collaborative effort with Dr Colin McCarter (McMaster University) and Dr Carl Mitchell (University of Toronto) to better characterize the driving mechanisms that govern water quality throughout the SMHCO catchment. Incorporating a suite of biogeochemical tests along with the fundamental hydrological connectivity, the group is creating a functional framework for the management of headwater catchments.


Observations of mercury, major ions, nutrients and isotope tracers establish useful tools to better improve and protect Alberta's water quality.


Recent Publications

Application and performance of a Low Power Wide Area Sensor Network for distributed remote hydrological measurements

Scott Ketcheson, Vitaly Golubev, David Illing, Bruce Chambers and Sheldon Foisy

A new technology for wide area data collection in remote areas was tested at the Stony Mountain Headwater Catchment Observatory over one year.

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