A new professor at ETS

Richard Arsenault joins the Construction Engineering Department

October 24, 2017
Floods were particularly devastating around the world this year, and Québec was not spared. However, fortunately, there are individuals like Richard Arsenault, who was recently recruited to join the Construction Engineering Department at ÉTS as a Professor-Researcher. His main areas of expertise include water resources management, the automation of hydrological forecasts and the impact of climate change.

Until recently, Professor Arsenault was a Researcher on the team that was responsible for hydroelectric generation for the two generating plants owned by Rio Tinto in the Saguenay region. His mandate was to optimize dam management tools in order to produce the best possible forecasts, despite the inherent uncertainty of weather forecasting. This was the perfect opportunity to apply his theoretical knowledge to a very practical situation.

An ÉTS man

Richard Arsenault is well known at ÉTS. You could say that he first found ÉTS in 2007, when he started his undergraduate studies. Ten years later, after being honoured with a number of prestigious awards – including the NSERC Vanier Scholarship – he joins our team as a Professor-Researcher.

Without question, Richard Arsenault is a star in his filed. He discovered his interest in research while still an undergraduate student, and took on the role of Research Assistant during his graduate years. During his Master’s studies, he was an intern with the DRAME Research Group Specialized in Applied Research on Water Cycle Modelling, and he carried out his Doctoral studies while interning at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, through the Ouranos Consortium, of which ÉTS is an Affiliated Member. “It was a great experience, both in in terms of research and life”, says Professor Arsenault, an avid hiker who proposed to his wife at the summit of the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany.

He began his Master’s studies in Construction Engineering with a specialization in Hydrology in 2010, and went on to earn his Doctorate in the same field in 2015. During that time, he taught more than 30 courses at ÉTS, primarily in the areas of water resources management, fluid mechanics and thermodynamics.

Mathematics and statistics: The tools of the trade for hydrological research

A fellowship at Université Laval allowed him to round out his training by enhancing his knowledge of mathematics and statistical hydrology, which are essential to his research. Professor Arsenault was then offered a position in Chicoutimi by Rio Tinto – which funded his post-doctoral project – as a Water Resources Analyst Engineer. This incursion into the world of industry would prove to be crucial to his return to ÉTS, because industry experience is a requirement for the hiring of all professors.

Optimization and automation of the hydroelectric generation value chain

Richard Arsenault maintains solid ties with Rio Tinto, and is involved in a number of NSERC programs, including two Engage projects and soon a CRD (Collaborative Research and Development) project that will constitute the foundation for his first research project at ÉTS on the optimization and automation of the hydroelectric generation value chain. Professor Arsenault explains: “Hydrology is a stochastic field that is limited by random knowledge. Forecasts are always based on estimations, despite the development of hydrological models.” However, he remains convinced that there are elements of the forecast chain that can be optimized, and that his research will contribute to the complete automation of the hydrological forecast chain.

The youthful Professor is acting as either Director or Co-Director for a number of Master’s and Doctoral students, and is actively seeking students who possess an expertise in mathematics and statistics, among other areas, so that these concepts can be applied to hydrology.

Catastrophe avoided

Lac Saint Jean awoke from its slumber this summer. The region had received 124% of its normal annual snowfall, and 185% of its normal amount of precipitation. Richard Arsenault was on the job, working for Rio Tinto at the time, and took part in the flood-control operations. In 1996, the Saguenay region experienced catastrophic flooding that destroyed everything in its path. The “Saguenay Flood” remains a part of history, but the risks of a similar occurrence are greatly decreased thanks to researchers like Professor Arsenault, who worked to develop better management practices for hydroelectric generating plants. The proof is in the pudding, and the worst-case scenario was avoided this summer, because the proper measures were applied.

Going the extra mile

Richard Arsenault has obtained his pilot’s licence, and he even dreams of becoming a commercial pilot. His love of adventure has led him to conquer some of the highest peaks in the Americas and in Europe, and he is now looking toward Patagonia and the Torres del Paine National Park, which has been designated a “World Biosphere Reserve” by UNESCO. But that will have to wait, because his young children are his main priority for now … not to mention his students!

Pour information
Service des communications ÉTS
Emmanuelle Berthou
514 396-8427


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