Trent University Graduate Mike Stefanuk identified new ways to study Northern Ontario Wetlands

Have you ever witnessed the beautiful wetlands of Northern Ontario?

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If you have, you’ll know that wetlands are absolutely breathtaking – sometimes people even pull over on the road to bask in their beauty! (If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?! Get outside and visit 😉 )

Not only are wetlands beautiful, but they also provide unique habitats and can even filter fresh water!

Although wetlands are mesmerizing, they can be tricky for researchers to access and study in order to protect them – especially in Northern Ontario. Northern Ontario is made up of MANY different types of wetlands!

Trent University graduate Mike Stefanuk studied ways to make it easier for scientists to research wetlands.

While completing his undergraduate degree in Environmental Sciences, he worked under Dr. Steven Franklin.

Mike’s research focused on wetlands near the Victor Diamond Mine in Northern Ontario.  The Victor Diamond Mine is the first Canadian diamond mine located in Ontario and is located in the Northern Ontario Ring of Fire in the James Bay Lowlands.

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If scientists had a better way to examine wetlands remotely from their offices to save time and money, it could help them spend more time on better understanding the impacts of development. Mike’s research was in testing a new way to identify different types of wetlands.

Using remotely sensed data, Mike proved it was easier (and cheaper!) to really understand and “see” these wetlands at the Victor Mine – without needing to be there physically.

Mike took optical data (like what we see with our eyes) and radar data (which is able to look through plants to see the water in wetlandsand combined them together in the hopes of making a more robust dataset. This would allow researchers and scientists to “see” and understand these wetlands, even from afar in front of a computer screen.

Mike found that the classification accuracy of the wetlands jumped from about 80% to using either data set alone to over 90% when combining optical data and radar data together!

Part of this increase came from being able to ‘see through’ the greenery in an area to ‘see’ whether the ground was wet or not, which is obstacle to identifying wetlands using conventional techniques.

This shows that combining different types of remotely sensed data can allow researchers to identify and differentiate different types of wetlands quite accurately – all from the comfort of the office!

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Mike tells us:

“If we have a better way to “see” wetlands we can find them and get a picture of how healthy they are. The technique I used can be used by government agencies or private industry in different areas. In Northern Ontario this will be increasingly important if mining in the Ring of Fire is to go forward. Understanding wetland landscapes will allow for better environmental assessments and more environmentally friendly development. I thank Trent University and Dr. Steven Franklin for my research  – it has been influential in developing my academic and professional career. I also thank Erik Skeries and Dr. Oumer Ahmed who were big players in making this project a success.”

Remember:  wetlands are important!

If we find better ways to understand them more quickly, we will have more chances to protect them from developments and from the negative impacts of climate change.

If you want to learn more about Mike’s research, here is a link to the published paper on the report! Congratulations Mike!

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