University of Saskatchewan

July 24, 2014   

Water, Water Everywhere

John Pomeroy, B.Sc., Ph.D.

Highlights

"Water is a funny thing. When we have enough of it, it has almost no value whatsoever. If you have lots of water you don’t even think about it. But if we don’t have enough, it becomes priceless and the most valuable resource there is."

Background

1988 Ph.D., (Agricultural Engineering) University of Saskatchewan, Canada
1983 B.Sc., (Geography) University of Saskatchewan, Canada

Published

97 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters
4 books
61 reports and published proceedings papers

Editorships

Associate Editor, Atmosphere-Ocean
Chief Editor, Hydrological Processes for Annual Eastern/Western Snow Conference Special Issue
Co-editor, Elements, Bulletin of the Canadian Geophysical Union

Mentored

6 post-doctoral fellows
18 graduate students
Developed the first Water Science B.Sc. program in the United Kingdom

Committees

Science Steering Group, International Decade for Prediction in Ungauged Basins, International Association of Hydrological Sciences
Chairman, Working Group on Snow-Vegetation Interactions, International Commission on Snow and Ice
President, Eastern Snow Conference
Executive Committee, Hydrology Section, Canadian Geophysical Union
Founder & Chairman, Canadian Snow Committee, Canadian Geophysical Union
Executive Board, Working Group on Snow Ecology, International Commission on Snow and Ice
Science Advisory Committee, Prince Albert National Park
Working Group on Snow and Climate, International Commission on Snow and Ice

Meetings and Presentations

Acted as convenor, chair or president for six major international hydrology conferences in Japan, France, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Canada

Honours

  • Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change, Tier I
  • Japan Government, Research Award for Foreign Specialists
  • Environment Canada, Citation of Excellence
  • Honour Paper, Eastern Snow Conference

Contact Information

John Pomeroy
Phone: (306) 966-1426
Email: john.pomeroy@usask.ca

Dr. John Pomeroy

Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change

The key to managing water is developing an improved understanding of hydrology and having accurate models of how vital water resources move through the environment. Unfortunately, the water cycle on the Prairies and in the boreal forest is not fully understood.

“In some climate change models, they basically treat snow as white soil,” he says.

Dr. Pomeroy explains that current watershed models are based on much wetter and more temperate climates. When soils have high water content, a large part of the rain and snowfall ends up in creeks, rivers and lakes. These models are of little use on the Great Plains of North America, where watersheds cover hundreds of thousands of square miles, but very little precipitation ends up as runoff. Most is soaked up by the soil or evaporates. Pomeroy’s own research shows that even in winter, up to 40 per cent of the snow pack on the Canadian Prairies disappears into the atmosphere through sublimation of blowing snow. Other sublimation losses, such as during chinooks, are less well understood.

Accurate computer models to assess water supply are critical both to help communities to adapt and to allow governments to make and implement water agreements. For example, in the Saskatchewan River system, upstream provinces are required to send through a percentage of the natural flow. Without accurate models, there’s no way to know if this is can be sustained, given increasing water use in the basin. Likewise, international agreements drawn up in wet decades may demand that Canada send more than its fair share of water south of the border when the climate gets drier.

Dr. Pomeroy intends to establish a new Saskatchewan Watershed Research Facility (SWRF). The facility will be devoted to gathering data, improving the understanding of prairie hydrology and creating improved computer models that can more accurately predict water supply; the interaction of climate and water; the effects of agricultural and forestry practices; and the impact of climate change.

The University of Saskatchewan academic climate is well suited to this research. An informal poll revealed what is perhaps the highest concentration of water-related research talent in Canada, and the National Hydrology Research Centre is located just north of campus at Innovation Place. This is fertile ground for a new Centre for Hydrology at the University, with the SWRF at its core.

There are already tools and techniques to manage water resources. For example, minimum and no till farming have prevented the dustbowl conditions of the 1930s, in part because stubble traps winter snows that might otherwise sublimate or end up in large drifts, unavailable for crops. However, Dr. Pomeroy says hydrologists haven’t studied how these practices have had an impact on larger scale water resources, have not examined the impact of crop diversification on water nor have they developed accurate models to help us use Prairie water resources wisely. And Nature, as always, has the final say.

“The best we can do in a changing climate is to increase our understanding of hydrology, and then use this to improve the predictive tools for water supply and to develop better water management techniques,” he says.

“The climate has always changed and water-stressed civilizations have always either adapted or perished. We must choose to adapt.”


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