Stephen Déry

Stephen Déry

Environmental Science and Engineering
University of Northern British Columbia

Chair title

NSERC/RioTinto Industrial Research Chair in Climate Change and Water Security

Chair program

Industrial Research Chairs program


Senior Chairholder since 2019


Western Canada is undergoing rapid climate change, with impacts to its regional weather, hydrology and, hence, water security. As air temperatures continue to warm, seasonal snowpacks and glaciers are diminishing in extent and volume, altering their contributions to river flows in watersheds such as British Columbia’s Nechako Watershed. The 500-km-long Nechako River drains part of the Coast Mountains and then the Interior Plateau before reaching the Fraser River in Prince George. Rio Tinto manages the upper Nechako Watershed through reservoir operations and a diversion of water to the coastal Kemano Watershed for hydro power production in support of an aluminum smelter in the coastal community of Kitimat. With the recent expansion of Rio Tinto’s operations in Kitimat and the growing demands for renewable sources of energy such as hydro power, there is an urgent need to better understand the effect of climate change and reservoir operations on the water supply and security of watersheds such as the Nechako.

The long-term goals of the NSERC/Rio Tinto Industrial Research Chair in Climate Change and Water Security are to better monitor and assess recent changes in weather and precipitation patterns affecting the Nechako Watershed; and to establish their impacts on changing seasonal snowpack evolution and on the vast network of streams and rivers of the Nechako Watershed. Efforts will be made to assess how climate change affects so-called “Pineapple Express” storms and their associated precipitation across the Coast Mountains and their rain shadow in the Interior Plateau. Moreover, historical and future potential trends in river flows and water temperatures will be established through computer modelling, taking into consideration the roles of both climate change and reservoir operations in the Nechako Watershed. Implications of changes in water supply and temperatures to keystone fish species such as trout, salmon and white sturgeon will also be explored.

This program of research will provide unique training experiences to 13 university students and researchers, which will prepare them for future employment opportunities in all sectors; it will foster close interactions with various Nechako Watershed stakeholders including local communities and First Nations, other industries and non-governmental organizations; and it will help guide Rio Tinto’s future management of the Nechako reservoir, ensuring both socioeconomic and environmental benefits.

The Chairholder, Dr. Déry, has three university degrees in atmospheric science, and he pursues research in cold region hydrometeorology using a combination of field and satellite observations, various hydroclimatic data sets and computer modelling. He has led the development of the Cariboo Alpine Mesonet, a network of 15 automatic weather stations in remote locations in northern British Columbia, to better understand the impacts of climate change on snow and water resources. Dr. Déry works closely with a vast network of collaborators in Canada and abroad, and consults regularly with many stakeholders including within the Nechako Watershed.

Outcomes from this program of research will benefit Rio Tinto’s water management, reservoir operations and decision-making processes to secure long-term hydroelectricity generation at the Kemano Powerhouse and job security for its nearly 1,000 employees at its BC Works operations based in Kitimat. Findings from this research will also benefit the many communities and other industries in northern British Columbia that rely on surface water in the Nechako Watershed for their day-to-day activities. Finally, this work will lead to improved knowledge on the effect of climate change on key aquatic species such as trout, salmon and white sturgeon, as well as on their habitat.


  • Rio Tinto

Contact information

Environmental Science and Engineering
University of Northern British Columbia



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