Named “Canada’s best-known forest hydrologist” and other triumphant monikers by his nominators, Dr. Jim Buttle from the Trent School of the Environment is being recognized for his cumulative academic achievement as the 2021 recipient of the prestigious J. Tuzo Wilson Medal.
“I can think of no one more deserving of this award than Dr. Jim Buttle who is a world expert in hydrology and has worked tirelessly to promote Geography at Trent University,” said Dr. Shaun Watmough, director of the Trent School of the Environment. “This award recognizes his career achievements as a modest, globally-recognized scientist whose achievements are far-reaching.”
Recognizing research contributions
The national honour is awarded annually to recognize scientists who make outstanding contributions to the advancement of knowledge in any research area of the Canadian Geophysical Union. Professor Buttle, who has dedicated more than 30 years to the study of water in changing natural landscapes, is the first faculty member at Trent University to receive this award.
“This award is named after the most important earth scientist this country has ever produced. John Tuzo Wilson was fundamental in advancing the whole field of plate tectonics. He was a legend so to have my name affiliated with his is hard to get my head around,” said Prof. Buttle. “I have always taken the work seriously, so I am happy that it speaks for itself, and I am grateful to be at a place like Trent that has allowed me to pursue research that I find intellectually interesting.”
Prof. Buttle is revered as an expert in forest hydrology. He began his teaching and research career at Trent University immediately after completing his Ph.D. and to-date has published more than 100 papers. Most recently, Prof. Buttle has studied the consequences of changes in land use and changes in land cover on water. In particular, he has examined the consequences of forest harvesting and forest restoration, and what that means for amount and timing of stream flow, which has major implications for water supply and aquatic ecology.
One of Prof. Buttle’s nominators was Professor John Pomeroy, Canada research chair in Water Resources and Climate Change at the University of Saskatchewan and a former J. Tuzo Wilson Medal recipient. In speaking of Prof. Buttle, Prof. Pomeroy said: “Jim Buttle is one of those supportive colleagues who has helped countless colleagues advance in their science and develop novel ideas. He is a builder and the glue that holds much of Canadian hydrology together.”
Celebrating a commitment to teaching
In addition to recognizing Prof. Buttle’s research contributions, this award honours his commitment to training the next generation of Canadian geoscientists, pushing them to think and act as research professionals. He has supervised more than 35 M.Sc. and Ph.D. students, who have gone on to senior positions in the provincial and federal governments and on to academic careers in university.
“As an instructor, I have tried to model myself on the people who impressed me when I was a student,” said Prof. Buttle. “My professors showed me how to excite students, how to get them engaged, how to challenge them intellectually. Over time, I found that I could help students engage with the subject material by appealing to their sense of humour. Seeing students walk out of my classroom having learned something, seeing the light go on when they grasp a key concept, it’s one of the most gratifying parts of the job.”
Almost four decades into his career, Prof. Buttle is now working with researchers across Canada studying issues related to drinking water quality. He is offering his expertise as his colleagues lead efforts to manage Canada’s varied forest landscapes in order to sustain and improve drinking water source protection, which could benefit communities across the country.