Inaugural Bocock chair

(Edmonton) Agricultural and environmental research at the University of Alberta received a major boost as the first Bocock Chair in Agriculture and the Environment started his new duties earlier this month.

William Shotyk, an internationally renowned soil and water scientist, plans to develop a world-class centre at the University of Alberta for agricultural and environmental research and teaching, emphasizing chemical transformations at the water-air-soil interface.

“Soil is where the action is,” says Shotyk, who specializes in environmental pollution by heavy metals. “Consider the discussion about oilsands, heavy metals and water quality . . . there are basic questions about what’s actually in the water, how much is associated with soil particles and how much is really dissolved in the water and accessible to organisms. The molecular transformations of elements between environmental compartments are in urgent need of study.”

One of the first things Shotyk will do in his new position is deliver the annual Bentley Lecture in Sustainable Agriculture on Oct. 13 at 3 p.m. in the Myer Horowitz Theatre. The title of his talk is “Soil and water: Our key to survival.”

Shotyk spent the last decade as professor at the University of Heidelberg where he was also the director of the Institute of Environmental Geochemistry. He and his research team studied the natural and anthropogenic geochemical cycles of trace elements and used ice cores from the Canadian Arctic as archives of global environmental change. Prior to that, he spent a dozen years at the University of Berne, developing the use of peat bogs worldwide as archives of environmental pollution and climate change.

His research at the U of A will examine the linkage between agricultural practices and greenhouse gas emissions, eutrophication of wetlands, landscape homogenization, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion and issues in water management. Using the structure and function of natural ecosystems as a guide, the long-term objectives of his research will lead to a better understanding of how to sustainably manage our natural resources, maintain productive ecosystems and foster human health.

Shotyk will have all the tools needed to look at those issues in a systematic way with the construction of a new clean lab. The lab is being designed to study the cycling and transformations of trace metals in soils, water, air, manures and plants from both agricultural and natural ecosystems. The lab will be a state-of-the-art analytical facility, the first of its kind in North America, and one of only two in the world to combine colloid and particle separation with trace element and Pb isotope analysis. The lab is scheduled to be completed by October 2012.

Shotyk is originally from Ontario and is cross-appointed between the Department of Renewable Resources in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences and the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in the Faculty of Science.