Gunilla Öberg

Professor, IRES


Dr. Gunilla Öberg is inspired by her deep knowledge in chlorine biogeochemistry, environment and sustainability, and her experience as a leader of complex interdisciplinary research and education. Her recent projects address sustainable sanitation planning, particularly in growing urban areas. Questions that drive her work include: What kind of knowledge is needed, used and trusted? How does the knowledge used impact perceived solutions and how are risks and benefits distributed? Research of late involves land-application of biosolids/sewage sludge, contaminants of emerging concern and sustainable sanitation solutions for informal urban settlements. Dr. Öberg also pursues innovations in science education including how to: learn/teach science while recognizing its limits; internalize ideas about bias, uncertainty and ignorance; and distinguish between absence of proof versus proof of absence. Her new pedagogy initiatives include directing UBC’s “First Year Seminar in Science” and developing “Sustainability for the Community and the World”, a 4th year capstone course in UBC’s emerging sustainability concentrations.

Google Scholar:



Use of knowledge in environmental decision making.

My projects in this field focus on the use of knowledge in policy and I have led projects on acidification, critical loads, and climate change and my most recent projects deals with sustainable management of sewage and contaminated sediments in growing urban areas. What kind of knowledge is needed, used and trusted? How does this impact perceived solutions? The studies are conducted in collaboration with industry and community partners.

Interdisciplinary environmental education

These projects focus on method development and the question “how does one conduct rigorous interdisciplinary research and education?” In 1997, I was in charge of the development of the interdisciplinary environmental program at Linköping University, which was deemed exceptional by the Swedish Agency for Higher Education due to its novel approach and structure, designed to facilitate integration of subject matter from various disciplines and scholarly traditions. My publications in this area are steadily gaining in reputation. For example, my 2007 paper “Communicative aspects of environmental management by objectives – examples from the Swedish context” (co-authored with Drs. Victoria Wibeck and Madelaine Abrandt Dahlgren) is among the top ten most read papers in Qualitative Research and has been chosen to be re-printed in a major reference collection as part of SAGE Benchmarks in Social Research Methods. My most recent book “Interdisciplinary environmental studies – a primer”, published in December 2011 by Wiley & Blackwell, is a much needed practical hands-on guide book.

Chlorine biogeochemistry in soil.

These studies integrate knowledge from a number of disciplines such as biogeochemistry, soil science, analytical environmental chemistry, microbiology, enzymology and hydrology.


RMES 502 Interdisciplinary Case Analysis and Research Design
SCIE 113 First Year Seminar in Science

Featured Publications

Brent C. Chamberlain, Giuseppe Carenini, David Poole, Gunilla Öberg, and Hamed Taheri 2013. A Decision Support System for the Automation and Evaluation of Sustainable Wastewater Solutions. IEEE Transactions on Computer Science. Special issue on Computational Sustainability. (in press)

Gunilla Öberg, Gabriela Merlinsky, Alicia LaValle, Margaret Morales, and Melina Tobias. 2013. Institutional inertia – a study of sewage infrastructure planning in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Vancouver, Canada. Ecology and Society (submitted)

Per Bengtsson, David Bastviken and Gunilla Öberg. 2013. Possible roles of reactive chlorine II: Assessing biotic chlorination as a way for organisms to handle oxygen stress. Environmental Microbiology and Environmental Microbiology 15 (4): 991-1000

Jacqueline A. Belzile, and Gunilla Öberg 2012. Focus Groups. In: Measurements, Indicators, and Research Methods for Sustainability. Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability 6/10.

Jacqueline A. Belzile and Gunilla Öberg 2012. Where to begin? Grappling with how to use participant interaction in focus group design. Qualitative Research 12 (4): 459-472

Malin Gustavsson, Susanne K. Karlsson, Gunilla Öberg, Per Sandén, Teresia Svensson, Valinia, S., Ives Thiry, David Bastviken, 2012. Organic matter chlorination rates in different boreal soil — the role of soil organic matter content. Environmental Science and Technology 46 (3): 1504–1510.

Margaret Morales and Gunilla Öberg, 2012.The Idea of Sewage as a Resource. An Introductory Study of Knowledge and Decision Making in Liquid Waste Management in Metro Vancouver, BC. Canada. UBC’s Program of Water Governance Report.

Gunilla Öberg, 2012. Qualitative and quantitative studies. In: Measurements, Indicators, and Research Methods for Sustainability. Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability 6/10.

Gunilla Öberg, Louise Fortmann and Tim Gray 2012 Is interdisciplinary research a mashup? In: Interdisciplinary progress in environmental science and management. (ed. Nicholas V.C. Polunin) Cambridge University Press. (accepted)

Molodovskaya, M., Warland, J., Richards, B.K., Öberg, G. and Steenhuis, T. 2011. Nitrous oxide emission from heterogeneous agricultural landscape: analysis of source contribution by eddy covariance and static chambers. Soil Science Society of America Journal 75 (5): 1829-1838

Current Students

Manuel Colombo,
Liz Ferris,
Alicia LaValle,
Hamed Taheri,
Matt Dolf,
Daniel Klein,

Contact Details

AERL Room 447
2202 Main Mall
The University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4