Montreal’s water drops under the researchers’ magnifying glass

We talk a lot about global warming, but do we know the effects of our local environment on the climate? At UQAM, a team of researchers is launching a new participatory research project, called Collect’O. By installing 100 precipitation sample collectors in Greater Montreal for a year, she seeks to better understand the city’s effects on water resources. Citizens are invited to participate in the collection of samples.

“Montreal is the best terrain in eastern Canada for understanding the impact of the urban environment on precipitation patterns,” says Florent Barbecot, professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at UQAM and holder of the Research Chair in Urban Hydrogeology. He does not hide his enthusiasm for the research project that he coordinates with the doctoral student in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Cécile Carton. After comparing different cities in the east of the country, the doctoral student demonstrated that Montreal is the most affected by changes in precipitation (rain, hail, ice and snow).

“Studies have assumed that the main impact of the city on precipitation would be related to heat islands, human activities (water vapor and aerosol emissions) and city morphology, for example shape and form. the density of buildings, ”explains Cécile Carton. The study, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Geotop interuniversity research center, will help refine our understanding of these phenomena. “We expect these factors to be in competition, but we do not yet know the weight of each, for lack of adequate measures”, explains Florent Barbecot.

The memory of water

To carry out its study, the Collect’O team has a valuable tool: an isotopic measurement laboratory. “It’s a bit like a magic wand to help us read things (evaporation, condensation, etc.) that cannot be seen on any other plotter,” describes Florent Barbecot. By analyzing the natural isotopes of the water molecule, one can visualize minute differences in the mass of atomic nuclei, which provides important information about the conditions and trajectories of precipitation. “Isotope analyzes are the only ones that allow us to read the memory of water,” summarizes the professor.

The tool has been used for more than 50 years to work on the water cycle, but researchers do not have easy access to samples, which limits studies. ” In [nous] Based on collective participation, we will have samples from the entire agglomeration of Montreal, on an unprecedented scale for this type of approach! »Rejoices Florent Barbecot.

A participatory and didactic project

Twenty-seven first collectors have already been set up by volunteers from the University network and partner organizations. To carry out its research, Collect’O needs to install more collectors (the size of a birdhouse), in particular in the vicinity of Montreal. Every citizen is invited to participate by standing as a candidate for the project website. “You have to have an open area, far from trees or buildings that can influence precipitation,” asks Cécile Carton. Ideally, volunteers should be able to return their samples to UQAM.

The participants are informed by the research team as they go along. “There is a didactic aspect in our approach. By launching our first campaign, we explained to participants the dynamics of the rainy element, and we are sending them the results to involve them in our understanding process, ”explains Florent Barbecot.

A reflection to air condition our cities

In this period of climate change, ensuring the sustainability of water resources in urban areas is a major challenge. The Collect’O project will be able to help nourish reflection on the city. “These questions do not arise only in Canada or Quebec, but on a global scale”, underlines Florent Barbecot, who aroused the interest of his international colleagues during meetings at the International Atomic Energy Agency. (IAEA), an organization under the aegis of the UN which is interested in water management.

“The city’s local effects on precipitation are greater than those of global climate change that we talk about every day,” said Barbecot, who intends to export a new study model. “We want to show that we can set up participatory networks that are very interesting for science from an economic point of view, which make it possible to obtain relevant information on questions that are asked all over the world”. Without neglecting the human dimension of the adventure. “People are attentive to this understanding of their immediate environment, and we have rich exchanges with the participants”, rejoices the one who hopes to promote the natural air conditioning of our cities in the future.

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