John Gibson

John Gibson
Water processes

PhD (Waterloo)


I obtained a B.Sc. in Geology from the University of Toronto (1989) and an M.Sc. (1991) and Ph.D.(1996) in Earth Sciences from the University of Waterloo. From 1996 to 2000, I conducted postdoctoral research at the National Hydrology Research Centre, Saskatoon, at the Wetlands Research Centre, Waterloo, and in association with the University of Alberta, Edmonton. In 2000, I obtained a professional appointment at United Nations Headquarters in Vienna, Austria where I served as Associate Officer with IAEA's Isotope Hydrology Section. In 2002 I moved to Victoria BC to work as a Research Scientist for Environment Canada's National Water Research Institute. In 2007 I joined Alberta Research Council (now Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures) as a Senior Hydrologist and Professor based in Victoria BC. Today, I also serve as Lead of AITFs Integrated Water Management Team with 9 staff based in Victoria, Calgary, and Waterloo. I am a Limited-Term Professor of Geography, University of Victoria since 2002, with my main role being supervision of graduate students.

Over the past 25 years, I have participated in a wide variety of field-based hydrology and geochemistry projects.  I served as President of the International Tracer Commission of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences, and am founder and Past Chair of the Committee on Isotopic Tracers of the Canadian Geophysical Union. I regularly serve as reviewer for a variety of international journals including Applied Geochemistry, Science of the Total Environment, Chemical Geology, Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta, Geophysical Research Letters, Journal of Geophysical Research, Journal of Great Lakes Research, Global Biogeochemical Cycles,  Limnology and Oceanography, Journal of Hydrology, Hydrological Processes, Nordic Hydrology/Hydrology Research, Water Resources Research, Journal of Hydrometeorology, Journal of Climate, Global and Planetary Change, Tellus, Arctic Antarctic and Alpine Research, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Naturwissenschaften,  and Biogeochemistry. Based at the University of Victoria, I currently supervise 2 M.Sc. students and maintain an active research portfolio in collaboration with Canadian and international researchers. 


My research focuses on development of stable isotope techniques for analysis of local- to regional-scale hydrologic processes and variability, and application of isotope hydrology, in combination with other methods, to investigate water-related issues such as the impact of oil sands extraction, acid deposition, forestry, mining, and past climate changes on aquatic ecosystems. Ancillary research includes the study of surface water/groundwater contamination from mining and mine-waste repositories. Funding for recent projects in British Columbia, Alberta, and across Canada was obtained through research grants from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF), NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada), Environment Canada, CEMA (Cumulative Environmental Management Association), Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), US National Science Foundation, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. 

My international experience has included coordination of water and climate research activities of the Isotope Hydrology Section, IAEA during 2001-2002, including research projects and working groups on: Isotope tracing of hydrological processes in large river basins, isotopes in water cycle models, groundwater sustainability, and integrated climate systems. During 2005-06 I assisted the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization to develop and implement a national strategy for incorporating isotope tracers in hydrometric monitoring networks, helped to refine the Science Implementation Plan for the Murray-Darling Basin GEWEX study in cooperation with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, and assisted with recruitment and long-term planning within ANSTOs Environmental Research Division. 

Recent work has included field-based assessment of surface/groundwater interaction in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, continental scale assessments of lake water budgets across Canada and the continental United States, isotope tracing of hydrological processes in large river basins across Canada, and critical loadings assessment for Canada-wide aquatic surveys.


As a faculty member engaged mainly in research my teaching is restricted largely to graduate student supervision. I encourage broadly based course work for students in Geography and Earth and Ocean Sciences as preparation for graduate work in hydrology and geochemistry, and offer significant opportunities for hands-on field-based training during thesis work at the M.Sc. and Ph.D level in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region. A total of 37 students, technicians, postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists have been trained by our group since 2002.  


Google Scholar Profile

Gibson, J. J., Reid, R. (2014) ‘Water balance along a chain of tundra lakes’ Journal of Hydrology 519 2148-2164

Brooks, J. R., Gibson, J. J., Birks, S. J., Weber, M., Rodecap, K., Stoddard, J. L. (2014)  ‘Stable isotope estimates of evaporation:inflow and water residence time for lakes across the United States as a tool for national lake water quality assessments’ Limnology and Oceanography in press.

Yi, Y., Gibson, J. J., Han, J., Borchers, C. H. (2014) ‘Comment on “Profiling oil sands mixtures from industrial developments and natural groundwaters for source identification”’ Environmental Science and Technology 48 11013-11014

Stadnyk, T. A., Gibson, J. J., Longstaffe, F. J. (2014) ‘Basin-scale assessment of operational baseflow separation methods’ Journal of Hydrologic Engineering doi: 10.1061/(ASCE)HE.1943-5584.0001089

Jasechko, S., Gibson, J. J., Edwards, T. W. D. (2014) ‘Stable isotope mass balance of the North American Great Lakes’ Journal of Great Lakes Research 40 336-346

Jasechko, S., Sharp, Z. D., Gibson, J. J., Birks, S. J., Yi, Y., Fawcett, P. J. (2014) ‘Brief communications arising, reply to A. M. J. Coenders-Gerrits et al., Uncertainty in evapotranspiration rates’ Nature  506 E2–E3 doi:10.1038/nature12926.

Gibson, J. J., Fennell, J., Birks, S. J., Yi, Y., Moncur, M., Hansen, B., Jasechko, S. (2013) ‘Evidence of discharging saline formation water to the Athabasca River in the northern Athabasca oil sands region’ Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, Published on the web 21 October 2013 doi: 10.1139/cjes-2013-0027.

Jasechko, S., Sharp, Z. D., Gibson, J. J., Birks, S. J., Yi, Y., Fawcett, P. J. (2013) ‘Terrestrial water fluxes dominated by transpiration’ Nature 496 347-350

Jasechko, S., Gibson, J. J., Birks, S. J., Yi, Y. (2012) ‘Quantifying saline groundwater seepage in the Athabasca oil sands region’ Applied Geochemistry 27 2068-2076

Yi, Y., Gibson, J. J., Cooper, L. W., McClelland, J. M, Holmes, R. M, Peterson, B. (2012) ‘Isotopic signals (18O, 2H, 3H) of six major rivers draining the Pan-Arctic watershed’ Global Biogeochemical Cycles 26 GB1027 doi: 10.1029/2011GB004159

Whitfield, C. J., Aherne, J., Gibson, J. J., Seabert, T. A., Watmough, S. A. (2010) ‘The spatial and temporal geochemical analysis of three boreal peatland complexes’ Hydrological Processes 24 2143–2155 doi: 10.1002/hyp.7637

Schmidt, A., Gibson, J. J, Santos, I. R., Shubert, M., Tattrie, K., Weiss, H. (2010) ‘The contribution of groundwater discharge to the overall water budget of lakes in Alberta/Canada estimated from a radon mass balance’ Hydrology and Earth Systems Sciences 14 79-89

Scott, K. A., Wissel, B., Gibson, J. J., Birks, S. J. (2010) ‘Limnological characteristics and acid sensitivity of boreal headwater lakes in northwest Saskatchewan, Canada’ Journal of Limnology 69 (Suppl. 1), 33-44 DOI: 10.3274/JL10-69-S1-05

Jeffries, D. S., Semkin, R. G., Gibson, J. J., Wong, I. (2010) ‘Recently surveyed lakes in northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada: characteristics and critical loads of acidity’ Journal of Limnology 69 (Suppl. 1) 45-55 DOI: 10.3274/JL10-69-S1-06

Gibson, J. J., Birks, S. J., McEachern, P., Hazewinkel, R., Kumar, S. (2010) ‘Interannual variations in water yield to lakes in northeastern Alberta: Implications for estimating critical loads of acidity’ Journal of Limnology 69 (Suppl. 1) 126-134 - DOI: 10.3274/JL10-69-S1-13

Gibson, J. J., Birks, S. J., Jeffries, D. S., Kumar, S., Scott, K. A., Aherne, J., Shaw, P. (2010) ‘Site-specific estimates of water yield applied in regional acid sensitivity surveys in western Canada’ Journal of Limnology  69 (Suppl. 1) 67-76 DOI:10.3274/JL10-69-S1-08

Yi, Y., Gibson, J. J., Helie, J.-F., Dick, T. A. (2009) ‘Synoptic and time-series stable isotope surveys of the Mackenzie River from Great Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean, 2003 to 2006’ Journal of Hydrology 383 223-232 doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2009.12.038

Gibson, J. J., Reid, B. (2009) ‘Stable isotope fingerprint of open-water evaporation losses and effective drainage area fluctuations in a subarctic Shield watershed’ Journal of Hydrology 381, 142-150

Birks, S. J., Gibson, J. J. (2009) ‘Isotope Hydrology Research in Canada, 2003-2007’ Canadian Water Resources Journal 34(2)163-176

Cooper, L. W., McClelland, J. W., Holmes, R. M., Raymond, P. A., Gibson, J. J, Guay, C. K., Peterson, B. J. (2008) ‘Flow-weighted values of runoff tracers (18O, and concentrations of DOC, Ba, Alkalinity) from the six largest Arctic rivers’ Geophysical Research Letters 35, L18606, doi:10.1029/2008GL035007

McClelland, J. M., Holmes, R. M., Peterson, B. J., Amon, R., Brabets, T., Cooper, L. W., Gibson, J. J., Gordeev, V. V., Guay, C. K., Mulburn, D., Raymond, P. A., Shiklomanov, I., Staples, R., Striegl, R. Zhulidov, A. V., Zimov, S. A. (2008) ‘Development of a Pan-Arctic database on for river chemistry’ Trans. AGU (EOS).89(24)

Gibson, J. J., Birks, S. J., Edwards, T. W. D. (2008) ‘Global prediction of A and 2H-18O evaporation slopes for lakes and soil water accounting for seasonality’ Global Biogeochemical Cycles doi:10.1029/2007GB002997

Gibson, J. J., Sadek, M. A., Stone, D. J. M., Hughes, C., Hankin, S., Cendon, D. I., Hollins, S. E. (2008) ‘Evaporative isotopic enrichment as a constraint on reach water balance along a dryland river’ Isotopes in Environment and Health Studies 83-98 44 DOI: 10.1080/10256010801887489

Bennett, K. E., Gibson, J. J., McEachern, P., (2008) ‘Water yield estimates for critical loadings assessment: comparisons of gauging methods vs. an isotopic approach’ Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 65 83-99

Prowse, T. D., Wrona, F. J., Reist, J. D., Gibson, J. J., Hobbie, J., Levesque, L., Vincent, W. (2007) ‘Climate change effects on hydroecology of Arctic freshwater ecosystems’ Ambio 35(7) 347-358

Prowse, T. D.,  Wrona. F. J., Reist, J. D., Gibson, J. J., Hobbie, J., Levesque, L., Macdonald, R., Vincent, W. (2007) ‘Historical changes in Arctic freshwater ecosystems’ Ambio 35(7) 339-346

Fekete, B., Gibson, J. J., Aggarwal, P., Vorosmarty, C. (2006) ‘Application of isotope tracers in continental scale hydrological modeling’ Journal of Hydrology 330 444-456

Gibson, J. J., Prowse, T. D., Peters, D. L. (2006) ‘Partitioning impacts of climate and regulation on water level variability in Great Slave Lake’ Journal of Hydrology 329 196-206

Gibson, J. J., Prowse, T. D., Peters, D. L. (2006) ‘Hydroclimatic controls on water balance and water level variability in Great Slave Lake’ Hydrological Processes 20 4155-4172

Prowse, T. D., Beltaos, S., Gardner, J. T., Gibson, J. J., Granger, R. J., Peters, D. L., Pietroniro, A., Romolo, L. A. (2006) ‘Climate change, flow regulation and land-use effects on the hydrology of the Peace-Athabasca-Slave system; findings from the Northern Rivers Ecosystem Initiative’ Journal of Environmental Monitoring and Assessment DOI: 10.1007/s10661-005-9080-x, 31

Stadnyk, T. A., St. Amour, N. A., Kouwen, N., Edwards, T. W. D., Pietroniro, A., Gibson, J. J. (2005) ‘A groundwater separation study in boreal wetland terrain: the WATFLOOD hydrological model compared with stable isotope tracers’ Isotopes in Environmental and Health Studies 41(1) 49-68

St. Amour, N. A., Gibson, J. J., Edwards, T. W. D., Prowse, T. D., Pietroniro, A. (2005) ‘Isotopic time-series partitioning of streamflow components in wetland-dominated catchments, lower Liard River Basin, Northwest Territories, Canada’ Hydrological Processes 19 3357-3381

Gibson, J. J., Edwards, T. W. D., Birks, S. J., St. Amour, N. A., Buhay, W., McEachern, P.,

Wolfe, B. B., Peters, D. L. (2005) ‘Progress in Isotope Tracer Hydrology in Canada’ Hydrological Processes 19 303-327

Hayashi, M., Quinton, W. L., Pietroniro, A., Gibson, J. J. (2004) ‘Hydrologic functions of interconnected wetlands in a discontinuous permafrost basin indicated by isotopic and chemical signatures’ Journal of Hydrology 296 81-97

Fitzgerald, D. F., Price, J. S., Gibson, J. J., (2003) ‘Hillslope-swamp interactions and flow pathways in a hypermaritime rainforest, British Columbia’ Hydrological Processes 17 3005-3022

Gibson, J. J., Aggarwal, P., Hogan, J., Kendall, C., Martinelli, L. A., Stichler, W., Rank, D., Goni, I., Choudhry, M., Gat, J., Bhattacharya, S., Sugimoto, A., Fekete, B., Pietroniro, A., Maurer, T., Panarello, H., Stone, D., Seyler, P., Maurice-Bourgoin, L., Herczeg, A., (2002) ‘Isotope studies in large river basins: a new global research focus’ Trans. AGU (EOS)  83(52) 613, 616-617

Birks, S. J., Gibson, J. J., Gourcy, L., Aggarwal, P. K., Edwards, T. W. D. (2002) ‘Maps and animations offer new opportunities for studying the global water cycle’  Trans. AGU (EOS) 83(37) + electronic supplement (

Gibson, J. J. (2002) ‘A new conceptual model for predicting isotope enrichment of lakes in seasonal climates’ IGBP PAGES News 10(2) 10-11

Gibson, J. J., Edwards, T. W. D. (2002) ‘Regional surface water balance and evaporation-transpiration partitioning from a stable isotope survey of lakes in northern Canada’ Global Biogeochemical Cycles 16(2) 10.1029/2001GB001839

Gibson, J. J. (2002) ‘Short-term evaporation and water budget comparisons in shallow arctic lakes using non-steady isotope mass balance’ Journal of Hydrology 264 247-266

Gibson, J. J., Prepas, E. E., McEachern, P. (2002) ‘Quantitative comparison of lake throughflow, residency, and catchment runoff using stable isotopes: modelling and results from a survey of boreal lakes’ Journal of Hydrology 262 128-144

Gibson, J. J., Prowse, T. D. (2002) ‘Stable isotopes in river ice:  identification of primary over-winter streamflow signals and their hydrological significance’ Hydrological Processes 16 873-890

Wolfe, B. B., Aravena, R., Abbott, M. B., Seltzer, G. O., Gibson, J. J. (2001) ‘Lacustrine cellulose oxygen-isotope records of paleohydrology and paleohumidity  in the Bolivian Andes’ Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeooceanography 176(1-4) 177-192.

Gibson, J. J.,  Aggarwal, P. K. (2001) ‘Revisiting climate changes: isotope studies open scientific windows to the past’ IAEA Bulletin 43(2) 1-3 [Published in English, French, Spanish and Russian]

Gibson, J. J. (2001) ‘Forest-tundra water balance signals traced by isotopic enrichment in lakes’ Journal of Hydrology 251 1-13.

Prepas, E. E., Planas, D., Gibson, J. J., Vitt, D. H., Prowse, T. D., Dinsmore, W. P.,Halsey, L. A., McEachern, P. M., Paquet, S., Scrimgeour, G. J., Tonn, W. M., Paszkowski, C. A.  Wolfstein, K. (2001) ‘Landscape variables influencing nutrients and phytoplankton communities in Boreal Plain lakes of northern Alberta: a comparison of wetland- and upland-dominated catchments’ Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 58 1286-1299

Gibson, J. J., Price, J. S., Aravena, R., Fitzgerald, D., Maloney, D. (2000) ‘Streamflow generation in a hypermaritime bog-forest upland’ Hydrological Processes 14 2711-2730

McEachern, P., Prepas, E. E., Gibson, J. J.,  Dinsmore, P. (2000) ‘The forest fire induced impacts on phosphorus, nitrogen and chlorophyll A concentrations in boreal sub-arctic lakes of northern Alberta’ Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 57 (Suppl. 2) 73-81

Gibson, J. J.,  Prowse, T. D. (1999) ‘Isotopic characteristics of ice cover in a large northern river basin’ Hydrological Processes 13 2537-2548

Gibson, J. J.,  Edwards, T. W. D., (1999) ‘The evaporation pan technique revisited: old theory and a new application for time-weighted synoptic tracing of the isotopic composition of atmospheric vapour’ Water and Environment News 8/9 9-10 (ISSN 1020-7120)

Gibson, J. J., Edwards, T. W. D., Prowse, T. D. (1999) ‘Pan-derived isotopic composition of water vapour and its variability in northern Canada’ Journal of Hydrology 217 55-74

Gibson, J. J., Reid, R., Spence, C. (1998) ‘A six-year isotopic record of lake evaporation in the Canadian Subarctic’ Hydrological Processes 12 1779-1992

Gibson, J. J., Edwards, T. W. D., Prowse, T. D., (1996) ‘Development and validation of an isotopic method for estimating lake evaporation’ Hydrological Processes 10 1369-1382

Gibson, J. J., Prowse, T. D., Edwards, T. W. D. (1996) ‘Evaporation from a small lake in the continental arctic using multiple methods’ Nordic Hydrology 27 1-24

Gibson, J. J., Edwards, T. W. D., Bursey, G. G., Prowse, T. D. (1993) ‘Estimating evaporation using stable isotopes: quantitative results and sensitivity analysis for two catchments in northern Canada’ Nordic Hydrology 24 79-94

Gibson, J. J., Edwards, T. W. D., Prowse, T. D. (1993) ‘Runoff generation in a high boreal wetland in northern Canada’ Nordic Hydrology 24 213-224

(ii) submitted or under review (5)

Gibson, J. J., Birks, S. J., Yi, Y. ‘Stable isotope mass balance of lakes: a contemporary perspective’ Quaternary Science Reviews submitted

Gibson, J. J., Birks, S. J., Yi, Y., Vitt, D. ‘Runoff to boreal lakes linked to land cover, watershed morphology and permafrost melt: a 9-year isotope mass balance assessment’ Hydrological Processes, submitted.

Skrzypek, G., Mydłowski, A., Dogramaci, S., Hedley, P., Gibson, J. J., Grierson, P. F. ‘Estimation of evaporative loss based on the stable isotope composition of water using “Hydrocalculator”’ Journal of Hydrology submitted.

Yi, Y., Han, J., Birks, S. J., Borchers, C. H., Gibson, J. J. ‘Comprehensive profiling of organic compounds in the oil sands region using ultrahigh resolution fourier transform mass spectrometry’ Talanta submitted

Yi,Y., Birks, S. J., Cho, S., Gibson, J. J. ‘Characterization of organic composition in snow and surface waters in the Athabasca oil sands region, using ultrahigh resolution Fourier transform mass spectrometry’ Science of the Total Environment submitted


Gibson, J. J., Fekete, B., Bowen, G. (2010) ‘Stable isotopes in large scale hydrological applications’ Chapter 18 in Isoscapes: Understanding movement, pattern, and process on Earth through isotope mapping West, J., Bowen, G., Dawson, T., Tu, K., Springer, USA. 389-406 

Darling, G. Bath, A., Gibson, J. J., Rozanski, K. (2005) ‘Isotopes in water’ Chapter 1 in Leng, M. J., (ed.), Isotopes in Palaeoenvironmental Research,  Developments in Paleoenvironmental Research Series, Springer, Netherlands 1-66

Wrona, F., Prowse, T., Reist, J., Beamish, R., Gibson, J. J., et al. (2005) ‘Freshwater Ecosystems and Fisheries’ Chapter 8, In: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Cambridge University Press 354-432

Edwards, T. W. D., Wolfe, B. B., Gibson, J. J., Hammarlund, D., (2004) ‘Use of water isotope tracers in high-latitude hydrology and paleohydrology’ Chapter 7, In Pienitz, R., Douglas, M. S. V., Smol, J. P., (eds.) Long-term Environmental Change in Arctic and Antarctic Lakes Springer, Netherlands 187-207