Trainee Research Projects

Our trainees are involved in research ranging from mapping & modeling of species' range changes due to climate change, to modeling of air pollutants in B.C. and analyzing functional genomics between species

Danielle Beaulne – M.Sc. Candidate (Queen’s University)

Developing a habitat and landscape model using remote sensing and genetic data
Supervisor: Georgia Fotopoulos

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Mike Brown – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Adaptive introgression and ecology of hybridization in New World flying squirrels
Supervisors: Jeff Bowman and Paul Wilson

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Chris Blackford – M.Sc. Candidate (University of Toronto)

Spatial design of Marine Protected Areas in the Canadian Pacific Ocean
Supervisor: Marie-Josée Fortin

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Alexander Myette – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Predator-prey interactions in amphibians in southwestern Ontario (Pelee Island)
Supervisor: Dennis Murray

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Spencer Walker – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Effects of climate change on species’ distribution using geomatics
Supervisor: Dennis Murray

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Lindsey Bargelt - M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Fragmentation & corridor network analysis of protected areas in Ontario
Supervisors: Dennis Murray and Marie-Josée Fortin

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Justin Johnson – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Niche dynamics and effects of hybridization in gray wolves
Supervisors: Paul Wilson and Dennis Murray

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Jasper Leavitt – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Population dynamics of small-mouth salamanders
Supervisor: Dennis Murray

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Felipe Torres Vanegas – Ph.D. Candidate (University of Toronto, Mississauga)

Effect of tropical forest fragmentation on gene flow in a keystone plant species
Supervisor: Helene Wagner

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Samantha Morin – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Habitat selection and competition between lynx and bobcat in Canada
Supervisors: Jeff Bowman and Marie-Josée Fortin

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Luis Antonio Arias Medellin – Ph.D. Candidate (University of Toronto, Mississauga)

Effect of tropical forest fragmentation on plant population dynamics
Supervisor: Helene Wagner

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Rebecca Hudson – M.Sc. Candidate (Queen's University)

Use of multi-platform remote sensing data for geological applications
Supervisor: Georgia Fotopoulos

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Harry Kessels – Ph.D. Candidate (Trent University)

Modeling of long-term trends in sulphur & nitrogen emissions and their impacts
Supervisor: Julian Aherne

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Conor Gaffney – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Assessing spatial variability of forest soils to resist change from acidic deposition in Kitimat Valley, BC
Supervisor: Julian Aherne

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Emily Olmstead – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Predicting forest soil properties in Kitimat Valley, BC using state-of-the-are digital mapping techniques
Supervisor: Julian Aherne

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Liz Kierepka – Postdoctoral fellow (Trent University)

Landscape genetics, spatial statistics, simulation modeling and GIS technology
Supervisor: Dennis Murray

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Dom Chabot – Postdoctoral fellow (Trent University)

Applications of UAVs (drones) & geospatial data products for environmental monitoring
Supervisor: Steven Franklin

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Jennifer Baici – Ph.D. Candidate (Trent University)

Wild turkey flock movement patterns, genetic and social structure in Ontario
Supervisor: Jeff Bowman

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Stephen MacFarlane – Ph.D. Candidate (University of Toronto)

Barrier effects of roads on vulnerable species in Greater Toronto Area
Supervisor: Marie-Josée Fortin

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Sean Hudson – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Improving detection and ID of critical habitat for at-risk snake species in Ontario
Supervisor: Dennis Murray

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Eric Hileman – Postdoctoral fellow (Trent University)

Parameter estimation of vertebrate populations using retrospective (capture-recapture modeling) and prospective (simulation or matrix modeling) techniques
Supervisor: Paul Wilson (Trent)

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Malcolm MacDougall – M.Sc. Candidate (Queen's University)

Estimating differential vertical motion in Grand Banks region using Glacial Isostatic Adjustment models
Supervisor: Georgia Fotopoulos

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Danielle Beaulne – M.Sc. Candidate (Queen’s University)

Project Description:  My research project relies on the integration of the fields of geomatics, biology, geology, and engineering; it aims to integrate both remote sensing data with small-scale (DNA-level) datasets to generate a robust model of a landscape and predict and model species’ distribution and dispersal. Remote sensing data sets include airborne LiDAR, TerraSAR-X, panchromatic and multi-spectral imagery. The integration of these data will allow for the generation of models of topography, hydrology, geology, infrastructure, drainage paths and water extent/volume in the area of interest. This in turn allows for the development of habitat and landscape models to shed light on the distribution and habitats of targeted species. The primary subject will be the Pseudacris crucifer, a small chorus frog common in eastern North America. Genetic studies, using microsatellite analysis, have already been performed on this subject. These genetic data will be used as a measure of genetic connectivity within and between populations, and used to test the effects of various barriers or corridors predicted in the landscape model.

Professional Placement:  Land Conservancy of Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox Addington (Kingston, Ontario) – July 2017

 

Mike Brown – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Project Description:  Many species are expanding their geographical range in response to climate change, which has the capacity to influence gene flow patterns among species and ultimately evolutionary processes. Introgressive hybridization is the process of genetic material moving from one species to another, which is occurring between southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) and northern flying squirrels (G. sabrinus), as the former expands its range northward in North America. This has resulted in interspecific hybridization, where viable offspring are produced that are capable of reproducing, or backcrossing, with both parental flying squirrel species. I will be examining the adaptive potential of introgressive hybridization between these species and whether this is a creative evolutionary process leading to novel advantageous adaptations, or conversely, if it is an evolutionary “dead-end” where hybrid and introgressed individuals are at an adaptive disadvantage. Using Next-Generation Sequencing technology, I will identify functional genes being exchanged across species boundaries via introgressive hybridization. By understanding the dynamics of this process in this system, we may be able to predict how hybridization will drive evolutionary processes in other wildlife species that are at immediate risk of interspecific hybridization as a result of climate change.

Website

Professional Placement:  Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (Peterborough) – this work will involve working with government researchers on wild turkey surveys and helping to organize the Wildlife 70 Symposium on Long-term Research at Trent University in May 2017.

Chris Blackford – M.Sc. Candidate (University of Toronto)

Project Description:  The Canadian government has committed to establishing a network of Marine Protected Areas that will cover 10% of Canada’s oceans by 2020. It is important that Marine Protected Areas produce conservation benefits, given that biodiversity conservation was the motivating factor behind the 10% target (Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010). This project will propose an optimal spatial network of Marine Protected Areas based on conservation value. There are currently 197 Marine Reserves in the Canadian Pacific Ocean. Many of these will likely be included in Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas so it is useful to understand where they occur in the seascape. We will quantify their spatial distribution, size distribution, and protection type (i.e. which MPAs have what IUCN value) at multiple spatial scales and optimize MPA network using MARXAN.

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Professional Placement:  Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)-B.C. Chapter – this work will involve working on Marine Protected Areas in Vancouver in the summer of 2017.

Alexander Myette – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Project Description:  I am studying predator-prey interactions on isolated Pelee Island (Lake Erie) in southwestern Ontario, particularly how defensive behaviours in salamanders are perceived by predators. I will be creating artificial salamanders which will be deployed in the field where salamanders occur naturally with a diverse population of potential predators. Ultimately, I will deploy >1500 artificial salamanders to assess rates of predation to further understand how predators learn and respond to defensive behaviours and warning signals in prey. My research will simultaneously test a conservation question, by assessing the potential threat of predation on the small-mouth salamander Ambystoma texanum, a species-at-risk in Canada with a range restricted to Pelee Island. Little is known about the current threats to salamanders and their critical habitat on the island, so assessment is necessary for effective conservation. While on Pelee Island I am also actively involved in various aspects of salamander population ecology research and other conservation efforts.

Professional Placement:  Peterborough Field Naturalists – this work involved working on a new study of brook trout populations in Harper Creek in Peterborough, developing stream assessment protocols, and determining the best ‘citizen science’ App for use in Harper Park (June to Sept 2017).

Spencer Walker – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Project Description:  I am determining how direct and indirect effects of climate change influence the distribution of moose across North America using ArcGIS to develop a map of historic and current southern limits of moose, and to generate climate and habitat spatial data to be used in species distribution models.

Professional Placement:  Kawartha Land Trust (Peterborough, ON) – this work in 2016 involved mapping and spatial analysis using GIS, specifically focusing on developing spatial information for conservation projects on Clear and Stoney Lakes in the Kawarthas.

Lindsey Bargelt - M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Project Description:  I will be conducting fragmentation analysis of protected areas in Ontario, which will be followed by overlaying a Circuitscape analysis to identify corridors between them. I will then model the network into the future with climate change and determine if it mismatches species at risk distributions.

Professional Placement:  Kawartha Land Trust (Peterborough, ON) – this work in 2017 involved using spatial analysis to identify potential wildlife corridors in the Kawarthas to help prioritize land securement decisions, as well as providing technical expertise during Land Securement Committee meetings.

Justin Johnson – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Project Description:  I will be investigating niche dynamics resulting from the effects of hybridization, particularly via genetic swamping and introgression, among wild canids in eastern North America. Specifically, I will be using an extensive bank of genetic samples to create species distribution models in order to evaluate niche differentiation among canid groups, with a particular emphasis on gray wolves. These results will be used to predict future niche overlap trends among wild canids in an effort to examine the possibility of historical niche erosion while providing useful models for conservation policy.

Professional Placement:  Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (Peterborough) – this work in 2017 will involve generating a minimum viable population estimate for Algonquin Park’s Eastern wolves.

Jasper Leavitt – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Project Description:  I will be studying the population dynamics of small-mouth salamanders (Ambystoma texanum), a Species-At-Risk in Canada that can only be found on Pelee Island in Lake Erie. Amphibian species are difficult to gather enough information for a population estimate due to their cryptic nature. This problem is compounded in my project due to a separate lineage of female salamanders that can incorporate small-mouth and blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale) DNA into their genome. This unisexual complex makes determining the species of an individual salamander virtually impossible using traditional methods (e.g. by sight), but fairly easy using genetics. My project will develop a non-invasive technique of DNA extraction that we can combine with a standard mark-recapture method to estimate the population size of the small-mouth salamander in Canada.

Professional Placement:  Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (Peterborough) in the fall of 2017

Felipe Torres Vanegas – Ph.D. Candidate (University of Toronto, Mississauga)

Project Description:  Habitat loss and fragmentation together are considered to be primary drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide. Habitat fragmentation can also catalyze increased genetic drift and decreased gene flow between habitat patches, leading to loss of genetic diversity and reduced population fitness and long term viability. I will be exploring the effects that habitat configuration has on pollination dynamics and seed dispersal in Heliconia tortuosa, a tropical keystone plant species. Specifically, I will be determining the relative and combined response of pollen- and seed-mediated gene flow in varying degrees of tropical forest fragmentation, i.e. patch size and patch connectivityThis will be accomplished be quantifying different measures of genetic diversity, spatial genetic structure and contemporary pollen flow, and correlating these findings with habitat configuration. Ultimately, it is hoped that conservation strategies can be developed to maintain and promote gene flow between habitat patches to sustain long term population viability of H. tortuosa, which is dependent on hummingbird pollination.

Samantha Morin – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Project Description:  The Canada lynx, which is federally threatened in the contiguous United States and provincially endangered in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, has undergone a contraction of its historic range throughout North America by approximately 40%. Potential causes include climate change, habitat degradation, forest management techniques, and competition with other predators, including the closely-related bobcat. As the southern range boundary of the lynx has contracted northward, the bobcat has conversely expanded its range into territory formerly and currently occupied by lynx. My research aims to investigate the hierarchical habitat selection of these two species and the potential for their competition in sympatry. I will be assessing the current state of knowledge of factors that limit lynx and bobcats at each level of resource selection, and then use snow-tracking and GPS data from lynx and bobcats on the North Shore of Lake Huron in conjunction with land-cover data to address knowledge gaps. Specifically, I will combine literature review and/or meta-analysis with spatial analysis and modelling, which will inform conservation efforts of the Canada lynx.

Website

Professional Placement: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (Peterborough) – this work in 2016 involved a variety of OMNRF initiatives and field biology work, including bat surveys, flying squirrel surveys, muskrat surveys & vegetation sampling.

Luis Antonio Arias Medellin – Ph.D. Candidate (University of Toronto, Mississauga)

Project Description:  Human landscape alteration, such as tropical deforestation, may affect plant populations beyond initial reduction of population size due to habitat loss, by changing the behavior of pollinators and/or seed dispersers. Recent forest fragmentation in the surrounding area of Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica has affected habitat use of trap-lining hummingbirds, resulting in pollen limitation and reduced seed set of the red twist heliconia (Heliconia tortuosa) in small isolated forest fragments. Whether changes in pollination patterns could be leading to a population decline may depend largely on the effect of forest fragmentation on seed dispersal. I will be determining how forest fragmentation affects plant population dynamics and spatial distribution including indirect effects through alteration of animal-mediated pollination and seed dispersal patterns. I will also predict the effects of human landscape alteration and improve the effectiveness of landscape-scale conservation management. This project represents one of the first attempts to use empirical data to fully parameterize population models in a fragmented tropical system and could serve as a template for research in other systems.

Rebecca Hudson – M.Sc. Candidate (Queen's University)

Project Description:  My research focuses on exploring the reliability, resolvability and utility of various multi-platform remote sensing data for geological applications. While remote sensing data is becoming a more prominent aspect of a geologists workflow (in particular for site investigation), the various spatial and temporal scales of available data implies that there is no straightforward application. The uncertainty in the data sets as well as innumerable processing options, requires that each type data set is investigated thoroughly before the utility to the overall geological workflow can be established. In particular, focus is placed on environmentally sensitive regions with available synthetic aperture radar data on a relatively large scale (tens of kms) and smaller scale rock and fossil studies using very close-range LiDAR data.

Professional Placement:  Land Conservancy of Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox Addington (Kingston, Ontario) – July 2017

Harry Kessels – Ph.D. Candidate (Trent University)

Project Description:  Since the dawn of industrialization, elevated emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides have disturbed ecosystems on a global scale as a result of transboundary air pollution. High levels of acidic deposition to soils and surface waters have been associated with declining biodiversity and forest productivity. Accordingly, emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides have been regulated since the 1980s in North America and Europe through a number of national and international agreements, which has resulted in their significant decline. My research engages statistical and dynamic models to perform systematic assessments and scenario simulations of long-term trends in sulphur and nitrogen deposition and their impact on soils, surface waters and plant species diversity.

Conor Gaffney – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Project description:  As concerns over industrial emissions grow, so too does our need to understand the effects it may be having on our natural resources. Acidic deposition owing to industrial emissions and can lead to soil acidification, potentially leading to significant adverse effects on the surrounding flora and fauna. Soil exchangeable base cation pools are essential to prevent soil acidification. My project involves assessing the spatial variability of soil exchangeable base cation pools in forest soils and their ability to resist change from acidic deposition. The study is being carried within the Kitimat Valley, British Columbia, which after recent industrial development may receive increased sulphur deposition. Soils can vary greatly within a region, as such I will be assessing the magnitude of spatial variability within the study area and using predicted acidic deposition estimate the length of time required for any potential adverse effects to occur.

Professional Placement:  Rio Tinto Aluminium (Kitimat, BC) – this work in July 2016 involved conducting soil sampling and establishing long-term soil monitoring plots for the Environmental Effects Monitoring (EEM) program that is required by the BC Ministry of Environment; working with an environmental consulting company to establish an urban air quality monitoring network within the Kitimat Valley in BC; and completing safety training.

Emily Olmstead – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Project Description:  In 2013, Rio Tinto Aluminium (RTA) received a permit to increase emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) from 27 to 42 tonnes per day at their aluminum smelter in Kitimat, British Columbia. In concert, RTA established an Environmental Effects Monitoring program to ensure that emissions of SO2 do not impact ecosystem health in the Kitimat Valley. Spatial maps of soil properties, such as exchangeable cations, exchangeable acidity, organic matter content, and bulk density, are essential to assess the potential impacts of the SO2 emissions on forest ecosystems; however, they are not available for the Kitimat Valley. My study aims to apply state-of-the-art digital mapping techniques to predict forest soil propertiess in the Kitimat Valley. These predictive maps will allow me to assess the spatial variation of the soil properties, and assees their buffering capacity against predicted sulphur deposition based on permitted SO2 emissions.

Professional Placement:  Rio Tinto Aluminium (Kitimat, BC) – this work in July 2016 involved safety training, and working with Rio Tinto staff on study design and field sampling.

Liz Kierepka – Postdoctoral fellow (Trent University)

Research Interests:  Broadly, I am interested in how landscape heterogeneity and species’ ecologies interact to create genetic structure, particularly in vertebrates. Much of my work falls under landscape genetics where I have been involved in a diversity of projects such as hybridization dynamics, genetic mark-recapture, phylogeography, and genetic impacts of fragmentation and habitat loss. Landscape genetics is a highly integrative field that has allowed me to diversify my skillset into spatial statistics, simulation modeling, and GIS technology while still maintaining my original passion for investigation both evolutionary and conservation-based questions in my academic career. I will also be helping to develop an online graduate-level course on Principles of Environmental Monitoring and Assessment for the CREATE Enviro program.

Dom Chabot – Postdoctoral fellow (Trent University)

Research Interests:  I have a highly applied and multidisciplinary background involving the use of small unmanned aircraft systems (drones) and their geospatial data products for wildlife, habitat and environmental monitoring. Drawing on this experience, I will be developing two online graduate-level geomatics courses that will emphasize cutting-edge technologies, student autonomy, and creative and resourceful use of commercial and freeware analytical tools to tackle real-world geomatics tasks. With a strong focus on specific areas of application (eg. biology, agriculture, forestry, geology, water resources, etc.) prefaced by theoretical fundamentals, the aim of these courses will be to equip students with the knowledge, problem-solving abilities and hands-on skills required to hit the ground running in their professional careers.

Jennifer Baici – Ph.D. Candidate (Trent University)

Research Interests:  Wild turkeys were hunted to extinction in Ontario in the late 1800’s, but have since been reintroduced to the province from populations in the northeastern United States. This species has been successful in re-establishing populations throughout their native range in southern and central Ontario. Wild turkeys have also been able to colonize regions north of their native range primarily due to the expansion of Ontario’s agricultural industry and increasing winter temperatures. When colonizing novel landscapes, species often face unique survival and reproductive challenges. My research aims to investigate these challenges, while also exploring aspects of turkey social behaviour. Through genetic analyses and the use of VHF/GPS transmitters, I aim to explore determinants of winter flock size and membership, the genetics and inter-relatedness of winter flocks, flock information transfer and movement patterns, and the impact that supplemental food sources, made available through the agricultural industry and residential bird feeders, have on winter survival.

Stephen MacFarlane – Ph.D. Candidate (University of Toronto)

Research Interests:  Roads act as barriers to the movement of many animal species.  However, road effects often vary between species- some will not attempt to cross, treating them as impassable features of the landscape; others will attempt crossings but may suffer mortality during the crossing. In my research, I want to identify which factors (such as habitat availability & connectivity, traffic volumes, and road construction features) drive higher levels of road mortality; which species are more vulnerable to road mortality or to the physical barrier effect; how these aspects of the barrier interact in their impacts on metapopulation dynamics within the landscape; and how these impacts can be mitigated through the construction of passageways. I will be working in the Greater Toronto Area with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). The results of these projects will help to model the impacts of roads on landscape connectivity and habitat fragmentation, and can better demonstrate the threat that roads pose to several vulnerable species.

Professional Placement:  TRCA (Toronto) – this work involved analyzing data helping to model impacts of roads on habitat fragmentation and recommend mitigation measures in the summer of 2017.

Sean Hudson – M.Sc. Candidate (Trent University)

Research Interests:  As part of a collaborative research program with Blazing Star Environmental, my research aims to improve detection protocols and identification of critical habitat for at-risk snake species like the Massasauga rattlesnake and Eastern fox snake. These species are elusive, yet often present in areas slated for development in central Ontario. In aiming to develop more reliable protocols for assessing the presence or absence of these cryptic species, my research will have implications for how biological surveys are carried out by developers and their consultants, as well as for the protection and stewardship of lands inhabited by these strikingly beautiful animals.

Professional Placement:  Blazing Star Environmental (Oshawa, ON) – this work will involve conducting field studies on cryptic species with Blazing Star in the Georgian Bay area in the summer of 2017.

Eric Hileman – Postdoctoral fellow (Trent University)

Research Interests:  I’m interested in the effects that natural and anthropogenic factors have on vital rates and the demographic consequences of geographic variation in intraspecific life history traits. More broadly, I am interested in how population parameters and life history traits drive population dynamics. Much of my research involves parameter estimation of vertebrate populations using retrospective techniques, such as traditional and spatially explicit capture-recapture modeling, or prospective techniques, using simulations or matrix models. Because I frequently work with threatened species, the results from my research are often used to inform state, provincial, and federal conservation strategies. More recently, I have applied capture-recapture models to estimate disease prevalence and improve disease detection rates in wild rattlesnake populations.

Malcolm MacDougall – M.Sc. Candidate (Queen's University)

Research Interests:  The Earth’s response to loading and unloading processes is seen through Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (or Post-Glacial Rebound), as evidenced by crustal deformation and vertical motion. Unloading since the Last Glacial Maximum approximately 21,000 years ago has led to vertical crustal motion of varying magnitudes, spatially distributed over a massive region where glaciation had occurred, thus leading to differential vertical motion. In the interest of resource exploration, differential crustal motion can impact hydrocarbon reservoirs by causing surface erosion, deformation, and tilting. As a result, hydrocarbon trapping structures can be destabilized and fluid leakage may occur, leading to tertiary migration of subsurface fluids – including oil and gas – throughout the subsurface. In this project, I will use Glacial Isostatic Adjustment models in conjunction with a number of geophysical and geological data sets to estimate differential vertical motion in the Grand Banks region offshore Newfoundland. These results will be compared to those of previously published literature to interpret the extent and effect of vertical motion on hydrocarbon migration pathways.

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