Jennifer Baltzer, an associate professor in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Biology, has been named University Research Professor for 2020-21. The annual internal award recognizes excellence and leadership in research and provides time and funding for the winner to complete a major research endeavour.
Baltzer is the Canada Research Chair in Forests and Global Change and studies the impacts of climate change on forest ecosystems.
As part of Laurier’s longstanding research partnership with the Government of the Northwest Territories, Baltzer’s recent work has focused on how the effects of climate warming, including permafrost thaw and unprecedented wildfires, are impacting Canada’s boreal forest and tundra.
“Dr. Baltzer is a fantastic researcher and this award is a fitting recognition of her many accomplishments,” said Jonathan Newman, Laurier’s vice-president: research. “The selection committee was impressed by both the quality and quantity of Dr. Baltzer’s research publications, as well as the wonderful graduate student and postdoctoral fellow training program she runs. Her research has impact far beyond academic circles.”
– Jonathan Newman
Baltzer co-authored a 2019 paper in Nature which found that extreme fires in Canada’s North are both caused by and contributing to climate change, and that carbon stored for centuries in the soils of boreal forests will be released by more severe and frequent wildfires as the climate warms. Her wildfire field research began in 2015 following the Northwest Territories’ largest fire season in recorded history.
“After the fires, the Northwest Territories government realized it needed to understand the impacts of extreme wildfire on lands and people so it could better plan and adapt,” said Baltzer.
“Our research has really advanced our understanding of the tremendous impact large fire years have on globally critical stores of carbon and other important boreal forest functions such as the provision of wildlife habitats. We are translating biological research into knowledge to support decision-making and adaptation planning in Northern communities.”
Baltzer is also supporting Northern communities through her work with Global Water Futures (GWF), the world’s largest university-led freshwater research program. She is the principal investigator of the GWF-funded Northern Water Futures, an interdisciplinary research project aimed at supporting water resource management in the Northwest Territories. She also leads two innovative on-the-land training and knowledge-sharing initiatives: the GWF-funded Water Knowledge Camps and the NSERC-funded Northern Youth Leadership Camps. These camps help support the development of Indigenous-led community-based monitoring programs and engage youth in research and traditional activities.
Since joining Laurier in 2011, Baltzer has published 40 peer-reviewed articles in top-tier journals. As principal investigator, she has secured more than $5.5 million in research funding, in addition to $15 million as a co-investigator. Baltzer is a sought-after expert in her field and has developed international collaborations with the Smithsonian Institute and NASA. In 2017, she was selected for membership in the prestigious College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada.
As recipient of the University Research Professor award, Baltzer will receive a $10,000 research grant and time to investigate the variable impacts of climate warming and associated disturbances on the productivity of sub-arctic forests.