Experimental Lakes Area

Called a nature’s laboratory and a freshwater research area, the Experimental Lakes Area includes a total of 58 lakes that are used for the purpose of scientific research. Scientists study the ecosystem and its different components and how they respond to change. The goal is to develop and implement sound and cost-effective management practices, regulations, and policies to protect freshwater sources and supplies. The research station was founded back in 1968 to study trends and emerging concerns over time.

Environmental Preservation

Thousands of fish are caught and killed each year in Canada so that scientists can monitor and study how industrial pollution affects water supplies. This is not a sustainable solution for small freshwater sources such as rivers and lakes. To this end, researchers aim to develop a better way of monitoring pollution and freshwater fish. The project is one of eleven underway in the Experimental Lakes Area, and the goal is to develop more humane sampling and monitoring methods. The scientists focus on a couple of lakes where they conduct experiments, and the rest are used as control lakes.

A number of projects have been implemented over the years, with a focus on emission controls, waste water management, the effect of birth control medications on freshwater populations, etc. One project focuses on the impact of water clarity on trout. A channel to Lake 626 was cut off to increase water clarity and temperature. The goal is to monitor the level of chemical markers in slime to find out how pollutants affect fish in a drier environment. Another project is also underway at Lake Ice, and the goal is to measure and examine snow and ice thickness as well as the duration of ice cover. Scientists study the effects of climate change on the ice cover.

Priorities and Research Projects

Scientists who work in the Experimental Lakes Area focus on priorities such as water management, methodologies and methods for ecosystem assessment, ecosystem management and recovery, eutrophication, contamination, and climate change. Eutrophication refers to the harmful effects of algal blooms on marine and freshwater ecosystems due to the right amount of fertilizers, carbon dioxide, and sunlight. Algal blooms affect recreational water facilities, fisheries, drinking water, and aquatic ecosystems. The fact that toxic algae proliferate can have dramatic consequences. They have become a threat to public health in some parts of the world. In fact the Experimental Lakes Area was founded to address this issue, and there are projects underway at present. Ecosystem recovery is also a research priority, and experiments focus on different factors that aid recovery. Contaminants are monitored as well as the impact of ecosystem interactions on toxicity and the extent of contamination. Experiments in the area also include mercury and nanosilver. The latter is used across industries to manufacture washing machines, cutting boards, baby bottles, socks, etc. Scientists study the effect of nanosilver on ecosystem health and metabolism and how contamination affects fish populations. Scientists also experiment with mercury to study mercury in fish, released by coal-fired industrial plants.

Researchers in the Experimental Lakes Area increased the level of mercury deposition to prove that atmospheric deposition adversely affects fish populations. This experiment is conducted in support of legislation to reduce the level of mercury disposition in water supplies through scrubber installations on smokestacks. Radioisotopes in fish are the focus of another project that aims to study isotope change that took place as the result of nuclear bomb testing. Climate change due to changing patterns of precipitation and the global warming is also a research priority.  Climate change has a profound effect on ecosystem health not only in Canada but around the globe. Ongoing research in the lake area aims to examine the effect of climate change on lake ecosystems. The team of researchers works in collaboration with universities in Manitoba, Toronto, Minnesota, and Winnipeg as well as Environment Canada, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change of Ontario, and other key players.