Global Water Futures holds its Second Annual Open Science Meeting 2019

Much of the world’s population is dependent on water from cold regions, which are at the forefront of global warming and undergoing rapid change and an increase in the occurrence of extreme events.  Finding solutions for how to best forecast, prepare for, and manage water futures in the face of dramatically increasing risk is a global imperative. The Global Water Futures (GWF; Program is a Canadian-led Project, and  Sustainable Water Future Programme”s, Canadian node partner, that funds over 165 professors from 15 Canadian Universities in 45 GWF projects and core teams and works with hundreds of partners from across Canada and internationally.  GWF’s overarching goal is to deliver risk management solutions—informed by leading-edge water science and supported by innovative decision-making tools—to manage water futures in Canada and other cold regions, with a focus on 1) improving disaster warning and developing forecasting capacity to predict the risk and severity of extreme events, 2) predicting water futures through the use of Big Data and improved numerical models to assess change in human/natural land and water systems, and 3) informing adaptation to change and risk management through governance mechanisms, management strategies, and policy tools and guidance.


GWF focuses on major Canadian-US river basins and key ecological, climatological, and physiographic regions across the country (see map), which are representative of the scientific and societal issues faced globally, and especially within “cold regions” where snow, ice, and frozen soils dominate water processes. Canadian landscapes, ecosystems and the water environment are at the forefront of climate change. River basins are challenged by increasing water demands, high nutrient loads, warming temperatures, altered patterns of rainfall, snowfall, snowmelt and freeze-thaw cycling, glacier loss and permafrost thaw, and changes in river flow regimes. Much of Canada is warming 2-3 times faster than the rest of the world and this is leading to profound changes to its cold region hydrology, water management and aquatic ecosystems.  Climate change has increased the severity and frequency of extreme events, leading Canada to experience an unprecedented series of disasters in recent years; the 2001-2004 Prairie droughts, 2013 Alberta/BC floods, 2013 Toronto flood, 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, 2017 BC and New Brunswick floods, 2017-18 British Columbia fires, and 2016-2019 flooding in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick have caused damages approaching CDN$30B.  As a result, federal disaster payments are overspent by an order of magnitude.  In addition to global warming-induced changes, water management impacts even remote river basins for hydroelectric power generation. Infrastructure developments such as dams, hydroelectric generation, diversions, and irrigation networks, along with industrialization and urbanization, have altered the natural water cycle. Pollution from population growth, industrialization, and agriculture has degraded water quality in many regions resulting in hundreds of drinking water advisories for rural Indigenous communities – even in remote parts of Canada. The implications of human-driven changes and their interactions with the natural environment have not been adequately understood and characterized.


GWF is developing a number of important international linkages and expanding its scientific activities well beyond Canada to address these issues globally.  As the Canadian node partner of the Sustainable Water Future Programme, GWF has representation on the SWFP International Secretariat and Scientific Steering Committee, and leads important Canadian and international research initiatives focussing on water resources and climate change in cold regions.  This includes leading a core working group on Climate Impacts on Global Mountain Water Security (, and co-organizing the Water and Climate Change theme of the Water Future Conference – Towards a Sustainable Water Future, in Bengaluru, India, 24–27 September, 2019.  GWF is a regional hydroclimate project (RHP) for the Global Energy and Water Exchanges (GEWEX) Project, and represents an expanded follow-on from the Changing Cold Regions Network RHP (CCRN; 2013–18; and the Mackenzie GEWEX Study (MAGS; 1996-2005 GWF closely interacts with the International Network for Alpine Research Catchment Hydrology (INARCH;, which is GEWEX cross-cut project.  In May 2018, GWF helped host the 8th GEWEX Open Science Conference in Canmore, AB, Canada – the first time GEWEX has met in Canada.  A memorandum of understanding has been signed between GWF and the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Third/Three Pole Environment Initiative—a proposed RHP under GEWEX. Other key linkages include the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Hydrological Programme (IHP), and the UN through its International Water Action Decade: Water for Sustainable Development, 2018–2028.  GWF has formal linkages to the World Meteorological Organization and is co-leading a High Mountain Summit in Geneva, Switzerland in late October 2019.  Major areas of international collaboration and support with GWF involve focus on high mountain and cold regions, and GWF is currently developing plans and allocating funds for toward a planetary water prediction (PWP) effort with a focus on these regions globally.  This involves collaboration with countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe to develop, support, test, and apply coupled climate–hydrology–water quality–water management models globally with an emphasis on river basins where high mountain water supplies feed lowland water demands and ecosystem needs.


GWF recently held its Second Annual Open Science Meeting in Saskatoon, organized and hosted by the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and Wanuskewin Heritage Park (  With over 600 attending, 282 poster and oral presentations and six keynote plenary presentations, this was the largest water science meeting ever held in Canada.  The meeting was open to all members and affiliates of the GWF Program, its extended community of partners, and others wanting to connect.  It included many exciting, informative, and unique events and activities meant to review and better link together GWF’s technical and scientific advancements, whilst promoting further development and training of early career researchers, Indigenization and decolonization of GWF in the spirit of reconciliation, and engagement with partners and stakeholders.


The meeting was notable and unique for including significant contributions throughout from GWF Indigenous community co-led water research projects across Canada, and an Indigenous cultural sharing and learning exchange held at Wanuskewin Heritage Park.  This involved local Elders, community members, Wanuskewin interpretive staff, and the Office of Indigenous Initiatives at USask sharing knowledge of the history, culture, spirituality, and worldview of the Indigenous Peoples of the region.  Attendees divided into groups and moved through various activities, including a Powwow with traditional dancers and drummers; a tour of ongoing archaeological excavations at the Park; sampling of Walleye—a traditional food for the Cree People in the Saskatchewan River Delta region—and stories of the changing environment of the Delta; knowledge exchange on Bison hide processing and its cultural importance; and a showcasing of Indigenous art, crafts, medicines, and ceremonial artifacts.  The meeting also included a keynote presentation from the Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations—a Treaty and Inherent Rights organization that represents 74 First Nations, and over 160,000 Indigenous People—on water issues facing Indigenous Nations.


Parallel thematic sessions focused on i) climate and hydrology, ii) human dimensions and hydro-economics, iii) ecosystems and water quality, and iv) modelling advancements.  These sessions revealed the remarkable range and quality of research being undertaken across GWF, and fostered collaboration, synthesis and discussions on research impact with partners and users.  Plenary sessions featured keynote talks by high-level scientists and leaders on key issues relevant to GWF, linking with each of the themes covered in parallel sessions.  Plenaries also included highlights of some of the research accomplishments from the GWF Program, and provided an opportunity for several rounds of lightning talks—2 minute short summaries to draw attention to individual posters.  A banquet plenary by David Grimes, President of WMO provided a valuable insight into international atmospheric and hydrological initiatives.  A poster and networking session included over 200 posters and provided excellent opportunities for fostering discussion.  Achievements noted at the meeting were the outcomes of the first national flow-forecasting workshop and progress towards a national water forecasting system; a national multiscale, multiphysics coupled meteorological-hydrological-water management-water quality modelling system.  Prototypes of the system are providing physically based river basin predictions that include the impact of climate and land use change and water management and include full representation of the cryosphere.  Modelling components focussing on water quality and hydroeconomics are showing great promise for future coupling.


The meeting provided many opportunities for students and young professionals, and was a wonderful venue for networking.  Ahead of the meeting, there was a one-day series of professional development workshops to build writing skills and strengthen communication and knowledge mobilization abilities.  The GWF Young Professionals organization also had their annual meeting and networking social to highlight the year of YP activities and introduce new executives into the membership.


Finally, the meeting also provided a chance to host a public science outreach event on the evening before it began.  This took place at the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon, and included an overview of the GWF Program, a keynote presentation on existing and emerging water issues and challenges faced in the Canadian Prairie Provinces, and a panel discussion and question and answer forum, where a diverse panel of water experts shared their knowledge and expertise.  This was a well-attended and positive transdisciplinary event, and provided the opportunity to showcase GWF and what it is doing in response to global water challenges and local societal concerns.


Moving forward there are high expectations of the GWF Program and many ambitious goals to achieve.  This meeting in general showed that we are largely on track, there is tremendous energy and excitement, delivery of new results, and many significant advancements being made.  More information on the meeting, a list of presentations and abstracts, and photographs from the various events can be found on the GWF website (  We look forward to our 2020 Annual Open Science Meeting, which will be jointly hosted by the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario next spring.  This will be open to all who wish to connect with GWF.  Stay tuned on our website ( and Twitter (@GWFutures) for more information, or contact us if you would like to become involved with GWF.