Nadja Kunz

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not looking for graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows. Please do not contact the faculty member with any such requests.

Assistant Professor

Research Interests

Decision Analysis
Environmental engineering
Risk management
Systems engineering
water resources management

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters

Research Options

I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.

Research Methodology

Social Network Analysis
Qualitative comparative analysis
Systems modelling

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Climate risk and adaptation management in mine closure planning in mountainous watersheds (2022)

The mining industry has the potential to play a leading role in contributing to sustainable development in societies. This is particularly important in mountainous regions because the livelihoods of many rural communities rely on ecosystem services from watersheds surrounding mining operations. It is therefore critical that mine closure planning adopts a social-ecological approach. Climate variability exacerbates the importance of this issue because it increases the risks of extreme events and may result in potentially large environmental impacts. Reassessment of mine closure strategies and management of associated ecosystem services may be required. Although the mining industry has improved energy efficiency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there is currently a lack of effective tools to quantify the extent of climate-related risks during mine closure design.The purpose of this research is to improve fundamental knowledge in this field and identify practical strategies for proactively managing climate-related risks during mine closure planning. A new framework for climate risk assessment is proposed that can assist companies in considering hazards, vulnerabilities, and exposures within a social-ecological system to integrate human and ecosystem components during mine closure planning. The research adopted a multi-method approach. A systematic review was conducted of publicly available data and self-reported information from the global top ten mining companies by market capitalization. The assessment used a benchmarking methodology to analyse industry’s current approach to climate risk management. Secondly, to understand the practices that could facilitate adaptation to climate risks during mine closure, a group of experts was assembled to reach consensus on this topic through a Delphi survey. Following a review of climate risk assessment protocols in other areas, including public infrastructure, cities, and rural development, a novel framework was developed to support climate risk assessment during mine closure planning. This framework was tested through a qualitative case study focused on the Mine Closure Plan for Teck’s Elkview Operations in British Columbia. The research illustrates the importance of adopting an ecosystem-based adaptation approach to inform sustainable mine closure planning and produces a novel framework to support improved decision making.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Remote detection of the impact of mines on local landscapes : lessons for the low-carbon energy transition (2023)

The low-carbon energy transition is an essential feature of avoiding climate crisis, but it raises additional concerns due to the mineral extraction required to initiate such a large-scale technological shift. Among the many anticipated impacts, changes in land cover represent a significant threat which have flow-on implications including for Indigenous rights-holders. Land cover impacts were assessed through Geographic Information Science (GIS) and remote sensing methodologies. Previously, studies which have assessed mining impacts through GIS and remote sensing methods have been limited to the scale of one mine, limited to measuring impacts at one point in time, and/or limited in the reliability of how they predict the extent of future mining impacts. A novel methodology was developed which allowed for the assessment of land cover impacts for 77 mines in British Columbia using the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) as a metric for environmental degradation. Ten buffers were drawn around each mine in 1-kilometer intervals and the mean NDVI within each buffer was calculated from 1984-2022 using Landsat Best-Available-Pixel composites. T-tests and Kruskal-Wallis significance tests were run testing the relationship between NDVI and three parameters: distance from the mine, mine size, and primary commodity. The majority of parameters had no statistically significant impact on NDVI. However, significance was found in the case of copper mines and mine sizes between 24,000 and 140,000 tonnes up to a maximum distance of 4 km. BAP composites were inspected for five case studies to identify features which could impact the results of the NDVI analysis. The case studies revealed that non-mining disturbance such as harvest or forest fires and cloud cover can influence NDVI and be falsely attributed to mining through this methodology. The results of this study have indicated that the land cover impacts of mining may be limited to the extent of the mine from an areal perspective. Studies which aim to predict the future impacts of mining should exercise caution when choosing standard buffer distances that are much greater than 4km to estimate the potential area of influence of a mine.

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Developing a local procurement framework for mining companies operating in Mongolian rural communities (2022)

There is an increasing pressure for mining industry to guarantee that sustainability considerations are included in business policies. The traditional philanthropic response to economic, social and environmental issues is shifting towards new models that embrace the importance of community engagement on all levels to create value for industry and society. Local procurement, in this regard, has been justified as an effective tool to foster community engagement, thus obtaining social license to operate and create shared value. The research used a case study approach using Erdene Resources Corporation’s Bayan Khundii gold project and asked, “How can mining companies develop their local procurement strategies in Mongolian regions where businesses and services are limited?”. The data is collected through twenty-four semi-structured interviews. The interview participants represent industry representatives, academics, local stakeholders, investors, and consultants with diverse experience and insights into the mining industry. Qualitative interview data was scrutinized using the NVivo 12 data analysis software and collectively reviewed for main themes and patterns. The study findings identified a definition for “local” and challenges, strategies to overcome the obstacles and impacts and benefits related to local procurement initiatives. When defining “local,” any business registered within any administrative division in Mongolia could be considered “local,” provided that employment is created within the local community. The most significant challenge is the lack of awareness of commercial mining projects. The most relevant benefits for local communities and mining companies are creating job opportunities and improving community engagement or maintaining the social license to operate, respectively.In summary, this project defines “local,” addresses the main challenges related to local procurement initiatives, finds potential strategies to overcome the obstacles, and indicates impacts and benefits. These advances shape a local procurement framework for mining companies operating in Mongolian rural communities, eventually helping local businesses grow, develop, and build mining share value.

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The Large-Scale Mining (LSM) - Artisanal-Scale Mining (ASM) interface in Peru: exploring a key policy "bottleneck" through Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) (2020)

Approximately 20% of the world's gold is produced by the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASSM) sector and over 150 million people depend on the activity to sustain their livelihoods. Between 2002 and 2012, the price of gold in the international metal market caused an explosion of informal ASM activities in Peru, modifying, in key “mining corridors”, the relationships between formal mining (mostly Large-Scale Mining or LSM and Medium-Scale Mining (MSM) and informal mining (mostly Artisanal-Scale Mining or ASM). It is estimated that there are between 300,000 and 500,000 artisanal miners in Peru and further 1 million people linked to the activity, which produces 20% of Peruvian gold. Only 60,000 are registered in the State’s formalization process but to complete the formalization process, at least 64% of these cases require an “Exploitation Contract (EC)”, granted by the formal concession holder. This instrument has been the main “bottleneck” in the Peruvian formalization process and at the interface between these types of mining since 2012. This study applies a Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) methodology to explore the influence that 5 theorized conditions may have played in bringing about an Exploitation Contract between formal-LSM and informal-ASM scales. The absence or presence of these 5 conditions are arranged in a binary “Truth Table” for an intermediate “N” of 20 cases of the interface, representing diversity in terms of positive and negative outcomes. The results indicate that arriving at an EC in Peru, due to the lack of state presence in mining regions, is an issue to be solved mainly among private parties. Accordingly, the QCA application indicates that there are two necessary conditions to arrive at an EC: (1) a strong willingness to formalize a mining business on behalf of ASSM producers and, (2) a strong corporate incentive or “business case” for LSM companies to support ASM formalization within their concessions. In addition, the participation of a third actor or State’s active role, and a corporate culture appropriate to engage ASM producers, while not necessary conditions to bring about the EC, are consistently present in the “pathways” or “solution formulas” that arrive at an EC.

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Value creation from internalizing non-technical risks in projects: mining sector case (2020)

The mining sector faces both technical and non-technical risks (NTRs). Technical risks are defined as engineering-related risks whereas NTRs emerge primarily due to inadequate management of social and environmental issues. Research shows that mining projects are mostly designed with a focus on technical risks. This is surprising because there is evidence that the main causes of project capital overruns and delays arise from the less tangible non-technical risks, either real or perceived,. Furthermore, industry surveys in both 2019 and 2020 have identified social license to operate as the number one business risk facing the mining sector. Through direct engagement with industry practitioners, this thesis investigates differences in perceptions about the definition of NTRs, considers the extent to which NTRs are currently integrated into project assessments and identifies reasons for the neglect or undervaluation of NTRs in global mining projects. The research is informed by primary data collection in accordance with the grounded theory approach, which was employed for the study design. An exploratory and qualitative approach is adopted, comprising of semi-structured interviews with 20 professionals working for mining companies who are recognized as leading players in sustainable development performance. The research focus is fine-tuned from “infrastructure projects” to “large capital projects” to “mining” to “ESG leaders” to “project stage” (pre-feasibility stage). NTRs are currently undervalued in the decision-making processes of major mining companies. This is concerning. It suggests that projects assessments are not undergoing a complete risk analysis because projects are designed with a focus on mitigating “risks to the project” instead of “risks to people”. Project professionals demonstrate high motivation to integrate NTR into projects appraisals, but they face disincentives from corporate short-termism perspectives, decision bias, lack of expertise and miscommunications across departments. Structurally, Chapter one provides an introduction, Chapter Two discusses the main findings of the literature review, Chapter Three explains the research design and methodology, and Chapter Four presents the research results, Chapter Five discusses and analyzes key data outcomes, and Chapter Six identifies recommendations for decision-makers, and notes both academic contributions and opportunities for future research.

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Coping with resource curse: examining the case of extractive industry transparency initiative of Mongolia (2018)

This study examines the case of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative of Mongolia (EITIM) through the lens of collaborative governance theory as a coping mechanism for a type of wicked problem known as the resource curse phenomenon. Wicked problems are problems with no definitive solutions that cannot be traced to source causes. They often encompass a set of interlocking issues that are changing constantly. The resource curse is the paradox of mineral wealth leading to poor development outcomes in developing countries (Auty 1993), and is characteristic of a wicked problem. This case study employs a mixed method approach in understanding how and why the EITIM has been successful. The methodology and conceptual framework are grounded in holism, mutual causality, and interdependence theory. Descriptive analysis, quantitative analysis, and social network analysis were applied to examine the four components of the conceptual framework: system context, institutional design, collaborative process, and performance productivity. Key contributions from this work include: extracting key factors contributing to the successful practice of collaborative governance, expansion of the resource curse phenomenon and wicked problem theories, and establishing the importance of recognizing the resource curse as a wicked problem. This perspective shifts the approach, strategy and expectations around how to approach and resolve the resource curse phenomenon. It’s problem-solving approach, strategy and expectations are embraced in the research design and provide new insight into effective strategies for collaborative governance.

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