Acadia researcher focuses on loons contaminated with mercury at Kejimkujik

Wendy Elliott
Published on August 11, 2014

Researchers began worrying about mercury contamination at Kejimkujik National Park back in the early 1990s, after scientists found loons at the park have the worst mercury contamination in all of North America.

Now, Acadia University’s Dr. Nelson O’Driscoll will be receiving approximately $45,000 in federal funding to update lab equipment used to provide state-of-the-art analysis of mercury contaminants in the park’s air, water, soils and organisms. 

His research focuses on methylmercury, the most dangerous form of the element, which is absorbed by plants and animals and passed along the food chain. He has been conducting research at the park for over a decade.

O’Driscoll wants to know why the mercury levels are so high in Keji. His desire to understand why some ecosystems are susceptible to mercury should lead to better protection and preventative measures to ensure the health and well-being of Canadians, he says.

“This NSERC RTI funding will allow for automated analysis of methylmercury in my research program at Acadia,” explained O’Driscoll.

“Methylmercury is a key pollutant and neurotoxin found in Nova Scotia and globally. This equipment will continue to facilitate the research on environmental health in the Centre for Analytical Research on the Environment (CARE) at Acadia and is critical to ongoing student training.”    


Funding announced for four researchers

West Nova MP Greg Kerr announced recently that nearly $280,000 will go to four researchers and trainees at Acadia University, including Dr. Nelson O’Driscoll and Dr. Philip Taylor. The monies are part of the national Discovery Grants program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

“The NSERC Discovery Grants Program is one of Canada’s largest sources of funding for basic research,” said Kerr.

He added the funding at Acadia University “will lead to new discoveries in water and wetlands management that will help protect and improve the quality of life of Nova Scotians and all Canadians.”

Acadia’s president, Ray Ivany, said that the university has a significant number of faculty members, across several academic disciplines, who are conducting research that will have both local and global implications.

“Through funding support from NSERC and other granting agencies, and the work of Dr. O’Driscoll and his colleagues, Acadia is able to tackle some of the planet’s most persistent problems while teaching undergraduate and graduate students the powers of inquiry and curiosity that will prepare them for the future,” he said.

Ivany added that small universities, like Acadia, can have a larger research impact than many large corporations.

Taylor is currently studying the movement behaviours of blackpoll warblers in Nova Scotia from the end of their breeding season through to the end of their migratory period. Through the use of small radio transmitters and automated receiver stations, his five-year, $135,000 project will follow the birds’ flight paths to identify the causes of particular movement patterns with research applications ranging from wildlife ecology to wildlife conservation and management.

In addition, approximately $100,000 will be made available to graduate students through research scholarships.

“Research at Acadia has defined who we are as an institution and the academic experience students can expect to receive here,” said Dean of Research Dr. David MacKinnon.

“In the Canadian post-secondary landscape, research at smaller institutions like ours plays a vital role in its direct contributions to the quality of classroom instruction, and in creating an environment where both graduate and undergraduate students have experiences in undertaking rigorous inquiries and receive training on sophisticated equipment that would not be possible at many larger universities.” MacKinnon said Acadia’s graduates are evidence that this model works and funding for students and faculty needs to grow, both in terms of funds available from granting councils and breadth of coverage, from small institutions to large.