Current Projects

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.

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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.

Oilsands Hydrology

Monitoring impacts of distrurbances and reclaiming landscapes impacted by oilsands development are critical components of any oilsands project. Detailed study and long-term monitoring of these areas is necessary to determine the success of various management strategies.


AU Hydrology is currently working with industry partners on reclamation hydrology of closure landscapes, as well as evaluating the impact of linear features and in-situ infrastructure on wetlands hydrology and waterfowl habitat. By improving our understanding how the near-surface soil-water interface responds and evolves in both newly constructed and newly reclaimed sites, we can help reduce the impact of these activities.

This project involves collaboration with Dr Rich Petrone's Hydrometeorlogy Research Group at the University of Waterloo. Click below to learn more about their work!

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Boreal Ecosystem Recovery and Assessement (BERA)

Alberta's boreal region is under increasing pressure from natural resource extraction. The cumulative environmental effects of roads, well pads, seismic lines (petroleum-exploration corridors), forest-harvest areas, and other human elements influence vegetation communities, wildlife, hydrology, and carbon dynamics.


AU Hydrology is now part of the Boreal Ecosystem Recovery and Assessment (BERA) project: a not-for-profit multi-sectoral research partnership working to understand these effects and develop strategies for restoring disturbed landscapes. Our research focuses on the soils and ecohydrology of disturbed areas at SMHCO and nearby sites. Graduate students working on this project are co-supervised by either Dr Maria Strack (University of Waterloo) or Dr Greg McDermid (University of Calgary).


This work will contribute to future restoration efforts in system that is already under pressure from climate change.

Canada Wildfire NSERC Strategic Network

Wildfires are becoming larger, more frequent, more intense, starting earlier and continuing later into the season. The carbon released into the atmosphere fuels climate change which further increases temperatures that amplify the risks of wildfires and their widespread health and economic impacts on Canadians. Investment in wildland fire science research was also declining prior to 2019 resulting in fewer wildfire education options and fewer trained fire experts.


This collaborative research network intends to address these issues by increasing wildfire knowledge and training new wildfire experts. AU hydrology is currently working to integrate knowledge of SMHCO peatland characteristics into the wildfire risk assessment toolbox in partnership with Dr Mike Waddington's research team at McMaster University.

Broadening wildfire knowledge and research capacity will ultimately help Canadians better prepare for future wildfires.

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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.

Boreal Wetland Centre

Wetlands remain an integral ecosystem under immense pressures from human development. Connecting people to the importance of local wetlands is vital for the protection of these areas.

Dr Ketcheson has partnered with Ducks Unlimited to establish a wetland hydrology monitoring network at the Wetland Centre near Grand Prairie AB. The Centre has recently launched a new branch of iWetland: a citizen science project that invites the public to participate in measuring water levels along an interpretive trail. 

Future expansion of the monitoring network and citizen science program will continue to promote wetland science, appreciation, and protection.

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