Philippe Van Cappellen

Philippe Van Cappellen

Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ecohydrology

University of Waterloo

“Known for his stellar international reputation, as well as his expertise in developing a new research area in ecohydrology, we welcome Philippe Van Cappellen to the University of Waterloo as we continue to build upon our already world-renowned program in hydrology.”

― David Johnston, past president, University of Waterloo


Philippe Van Cappellen is to biogeochemistry what a conductor is to an orchestra—an expert who brings together disparate groups and creates something infinitely more wonderful than the sum of its parts.

Van Cappellen joined the University of Waterloo in 2011. He was previously the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Global Environmental Studies in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was also a part-time professor in the department of earth sciences at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Van Cappellen holds a PhD in geochemistry from Yale University, and a master’s and bachelor’s degree in geology and mineralogy from the Free University of Brussels, Belgium.

Some of Van Cappellen’s important professional accomplishments include acting as the director of the Center for Soil, Water and Coastal Resources at Utrecht University, and participating in various European research and training networks. He was a visiting scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa. He has also served as co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Hydrology, and associate editor of the American Journal of Science, Geology, and the Geomicrobiology Journal. He recently joined the editorial board of the newly launched journal Limnology and Oceanography: Fluids and Environments.

Defining the Future of Water Resource Management

The availability and quality of fresh water is critical to both human health and the functioning of the world's essential ecosystems. However, the sustainability of the Earth's fresh water supply is being threatened by overuse and environmental stresses, such as climate change and pollution. To tackle these threats and ensure the future of our remaining fresh water, policy-makers need new approaches and tools for managing this vital resource.

People often think of surface water (the water of rivers and lakes) as the world’s main source of fresh water. However, the most available and abundant source of fresh water is groundwater—the water beneath the Earth’s surface, which supplies wells and springs.
Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ecohydrology Philippe Van Cappellen is increasing our understanding of how groundwater and surface waters interact, and how these interactions affect the health of aquatic ecosystems and, ultimately, the well-being of human populations.

In particular, Van Cappellen focuses on the movement of nutrients and toxic metals between groundwater and surface water. Combining laboratory and field experiments with mathematical modelling, he is able to define the accompanying biogeochemical changes and their impacts on water quality and ecosystem health.

With his research team at Waterloo, Van Cappellen is using experimental data and theoretical modelling to develop environmental simulation tools that can be applied to river catchments around the world. These models will ultimately be capable of predicting how hydrological systems, which are crucial to our social and economic well-being, respond to natural and human-induced changes.

Van Cappellen’s research is revolutionizing global strategies for managing water resources by revealing the range of effects that groundwater withdrawal, land use and climate change have on the chemical and ecological status of groundwater and surface water. It also allows policy-makers and stakeholders to make responsible decisions about water resource management that will balance the needs of human and ecosystem health.



Release date

October 11, 2011

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Read the Transcript

Philippe Van Cappellen, University of Waterloo

So my name is Philippe Van Cappallen, and I'm the CERC nominee in ecohydrology, at the University of Waterloo. The goal of my research is to better understand the chemical interactions between groundwater and surface water, and then to use this understanding to predict how increased consumption of water, or land-use changes or climate change affects water quality and the health of aquatic ecosystems.

The achievement I'm probably most proud of is just a large number of graduate students and postdoctoral associates who have passed through my lab over the years, and now have gone out to better things and great careers, and at the last count, my former PhD students, and postdoctoral researchers are now active in over 10 countries world wide.

The University of Waterloo is internationally recognized as a centre of excellence for both fundamental and applied research on water-related issues, and it has one of the largest concentrations of engineers and scientists working in that field. So for me, it's the ideal place to build a new program, at the interface between hydrology, so the signs of water, and ecology, the signs of living systems.

On a more personal basis, moving to Waterloo is also kind of a homecoming for me, since I have very strong family ties in Canada.

My research will better characterize, or delineate how humans are impacting water quality, and the availability of groundwater resources, so that we'll also yield guidelines on how to better manage this limited resource, by balancing the needs for water of society with those of natural ecosystems.

The most beneficial outcome will be that we will have a better characterization of how humans impact water quality and water quantity, and that will then provide guidelines on how to better manage this limited water resource, by balancing the water needs of society with those of natural ecosystems.