Interview with Dr. Linda Campbell, professor in the School of the Environment.
As a full-time professor in the School of the Environment, Dr. Campbell’s research focuses on one of the world’s most valuable assets: our aquatic ecosystems. More specifically, Dr. Campbell’s work at Saint Mary’s—and around the globe—aims to improve our understanding of both anthropogenic and natural impacts on aquatic environments.
We chatted with Dr. Campbell to find out more about her work in the School of the Environment and what we can do as everyday global citizens to lessen our impact on these precious aquatic environments.
Q: Dr. Campbell, your research aims to improve our understanding of both anthropogenic and natural impacts in the environment, with particular attention to aquatic environments. How did you develop an interest in this specific field?
A: Well, I’ve always enjoyed outdoor work and the environment, so I chose an area of study—zoology and biology—that would allow me to be outside as much as possible. And so far, I think that’s been working out pretty well for me!
Q: Is your research with Saint Mary’s based primarily in Nova Scotia, or does it take you farther than that?
A: I’ve been working and researching primarily in Nova Scotia, but I’ve also been involved in a variety of international projects. Most recently, for example, I’ve been involved in a project in Argentina for about the last two and a half years.
Q: Some of your current research focuses on historical Nova Scotian goldmine remediation and its impacts on aquatic environments. Can you elaborate on the project at all?
A: Years ago, in the 1800s, people recognized that there was a quite a bit of gold here in Nova Scotia, so it became a very well-known gold rush location at the time. People moved here from all over the place to mine for gold, and at that time, gold was extracted from the mines using mercury. The mercury dissolved the gold, and would then be heated until it evaporated, leaving just the gold. So, you can imagine just how much mercury was used at the time because proper laws and regulations had yet to be established.
Also, the rocks in the region have a naturally higher arsenic levels, so when the rocks were crushed in the mining process, the bioavailability of arsenic increased in the surrounding areas, which can also impact the environment.
So, while there’s been some great research in this area from a terrestrial point of view, not a lot has been done from an aquatic point of view, which is quite important considering the amount of water used in the mining process. So, this has been an incredibly exciting and rich area of research for me.
Q: What can we do on a day-to-day basis to lessen our own impacts on aquatic environments?
A: Well, there a few things. First, we need to be careful with how we use fertilizers, because excess fertilizer can end up in our water systems, which can ultimately impact the growth of many algal blooms. Another issue that is not as well understood, is the use of road salt. An excess of salt can also make its way into our water systems, negatively effecting the life within, so we really need to be cognizant of just how much we use, and where it’s applied. And finally, I would say we need to be careful with our sewage and septic systems, ensuring that we manage these effectively so as not to negatively interfere with the aquatic environments around us.
Q: How would you describe the research opportunities for students—in your field, specifically—at Saint Mary’s University?
A: At Saint Mary’s, there are many opportunities. Students have the chance to develop a diverse range of research skills; from how to use tools in the lab and out in the field, to identifying animals and plants in our environment, to collecting samples, and how to become more science literate. The research opportunities at SMU are also a great jumping-off point for future successes. Based on their research experience, a lot of my students go on to pursue a variety of different careers within government, medicine, and as environmental counselors. So, there’s quite a range of opportunity that comes with this field and research at SMU.
Q: What do you love about teaching at Saint Mary’s University, and what makes SMU such a great school for researchers?
A: Some of the things I love most? Definitely the small class sizes. Also, SMU students get a lot more interaction with their professors and more opportunities to work with professors in their labs. And I really believe that’s the best way to pick up and hone your skills as a budding environmental scientist. And finally, there’s a lot of support at SMU for students who wish to be successful in their chosen fields of study.
Q: Do you have any advice for a future SMU student with a passion for environmental studies?
A: Come to SMU! Really, the best advice I can give is to get to know your professors and don’t be shy! Get involved with different organizations, like the SMU environmental society. This is a great group where you can be part of a variety of environmental projects and extracurricular activities throughout the year with likeminded students in your field.
Q: Finally, what excites you most about your upcoming research at Saint Mary’s?
A: Well, if I had to pick just one… our group is finding and discovering important things that, until now, no one has really known about. For example, we’re learning exciting new things about how historical Nova Scotian goldmines affect aquatic systems. That’s all new information to the field, and it’s important because it can help lead the way for new governmental and environmental decision-making in the province. And that’ the thrill of it: knowing that we’re making a difference and helping the world become a better place. And we’re able to do that right here at home.