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Dr. Melissa Lafreniere

I was born and raised in Mattawa Ontario, in the Ottawa River Valley. My interest in hydrology and water quality issues sprung from growing up in an environment where much of my well-being was dependant on the flow and quality of the Mattawa River. I obtained my undergraduate degree in Geography from the University of Western Ontario (B.Sc. H. 1996). After completing my B.Sc., I pursued additional undergraduate training in Geology at the University of Ottawa (1996-97). Through these undergraduate experiences I gained an understanding of, and curiosity for, the relationships that exist between the quality and quantity of water, the earth it flows through, human activities, and climate. This led me to the Rocky Mountains and the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta where I studied the role of glaciers in pesticide contamination in alpine lakes (Ph.D. 2003). I spent 7 months as a post-doctoral fellow and sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, before joining the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen’s in July 2004.

My research interests lie in the area of climate change and human impacts on the hydrology and biogeochemistry of alpine and arctic environments. Climate warming and human activities (e.g. urbanisation, forestry, energy production, and agriculture) are altering global biogeochemical cycles (e.g. atmospheric CO2, nitrogen (N), and contaminants) and hydrological processes. Alpine and arctic environments are particularly sensitive to climate change due to feedbacks involving the cryosphere (snow, permafrost and glacier ice) and the cycles of energy and water. High rates of deposition and accumulation of atmospherically-transported chemical also make many cold environments sensitive to anthropogenically-driven changes in atmospheric chemistry. Current research projects are focused on investigating how climatically driven changes in permafrost conditions (warming soils, disturbances (slides, slumps), and deeper thaw) are influencing hydrological processes, and the abundance and composition of dissolved organic matter and nutrients in arctic catchments. These investigations involve a combination of process studies and experimentation in the field, and laboratory analyses of the chemical composition of water.

Graduate students under my supervision can expect to pursue a range of research interests related to climate change, hydrology, and biogeochemistry (nutrients, contaminants, metals) in arctic environments.


I typically accept 1-3 graduate students (M.Sc. or Ph.D.) in the fall of each academic year. If you are a graduate or fourth year undergraduate student interested in field and laboratory based research relating to environmental change impacts on arctic watershed processes and water quality, contact me. My research program and Queen’s Geography and Planning offers a dynamic and collaborative research environment, with unique laboratory and field facilities for graduate research in the Canadian Arctic. For more information on my research program see the projects below, the Queen’s Geography website or the CBAWO website.