Dr. Nigel T. Roulet is a James McGill Professor of Biogeosciences in the Department of Geography. He obtained a joint Honours B.Sc. in Biology and Geography (1979) and a M.Sc. in Watershed Science (1981) from Trent University, and his PhD in Physical Geography, with a specialization in hydrology from McMaster University.
Dr. Roulet started his academic career in the Department of Geography at York University in 1985 and moved to McGill University in 1994. He was the Director of the McGill School of Environment from 2003 to June 2008, the Director of the Centre for Climate and Global Change Research at McGill University from 1996-2002, and the Director of the Global Environmental and Climate Change Research Centre at McGill University from 2011-2014. Dr. Roulet became the Chair of the Department of Geography on September 1, 2014. He was a Group Chair of the Geosciences for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Discovery Grants and Scholarships program and currently serves on the NSERC Vanier Scholarship Committee.
Dr. Roulet’s research interests focus on the interactions among hydrology, climatology, and ecosystems processes in peatlands and forested catchments of the temperate, boreal, and arctic regions. He has published over 170 scientific papers, book chapters and monographs and was a contributing author to the 2nd through 4th scientific assessments of climate change by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Dr. Roulet recently served as a member of the Ontario Far North Act Science Advisory Panel (2008-2010). He is currently an Associate Editor of Global Biogeochemical Cycles and Hydrological Processes, and is a frequency guest editor of PNAS, and has been an associate editor of Wetlands and the Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences.
In November 2014, Dr. Roulet was elected as a fellow of the Academy of Science of the Royal Society of Canada.
The countries who participated in COP21 in Paris, December 2015 agreed to take steps to limit emissions so that the global mean annual temperature would rise no more than 2°C of the pre-industrial mean. To accomplish this there needs to be not only a massive (>50%) and rapid (<50 years) decarbonisation of energy production but also a reduction in carbon emitted to the atmosphere due to land-use change. Most global carbon budgets indicate that 90% of the CO2 emitted is from the combustion of fossil fuels while 10% is due to CO2 release during land-use change. To minimize the effect of land-use on the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere we need to ensure that our land-use activities do not reduce the carbon on the land, reduce the productivity of ecosystems, and/or reduce the duration of time the carbon stays in storage.
Since the end of the 19th century land-use change has resulted in a 2 to 3 Gt C added to the atmosphere each year and it was only after World War II that the emissions from fossil fuels exceeded those due to land-use change. Up until now the majority of land-use change carbon has come from the temperate and tropical regions through the conversion of forests to agriculture. However, well over a 40% of the Earth’s terrestrial carbon remains relatively undistributed in the ecosystems of the Boreal, Subarctic and Arctic regions. Unlike tropical ecosystems, much of this carbon is stored in soils.
Canada contains, and therefore has stewardship over, a disproportionate amount of the Earth’s undisturbed terrestrial carbon. For northern countries like Canada it is critical to understand how sensitive the soil carbon is to climate change (climate – ecosystem feedbacks) and how the stores of carbon could change with development on the northern landscapes so we do not repeat large emissions that occurred from the development of the southern latitudes.
In the development of climate policy the complexities of land-use change need to be considered. Canadians are looking north at the vast untapped resources. Aspirations (e.g. Ontario’s Far North, Quebec’s Plan Nord) express a desire to pursue development of the north sustainably. What do we mean by sustainable northern development? We are beginning to develop the north with all the knowledge of development in the south and a fairly good idea of the large stores of carbon on the northern landscape. This knowledge and understanding should provide the foresight and awareness to develop innovative strategies and safeguards to sustain this large land carbon store. The necessity is clear – we cannot afford to duplicate the emissions of greenhouse gas from land-use change that have occurred over the past 100-200 years, over the next 100 years and maintain a global temperature increase below 2°C.