Experimental Lakes teams weather season

·2 min read

The team at the IISD Experimental Lakes Area is celebrating a successful, albeit pared down, research season and preparing to continue COVID-19-safe protocols into the winter.

This spring, the spread of the global pandemic made it clear a regular season at the world-renowned freshwater research facility operated by International Institute for Sustainable Development (about 70 kilometres east of Kenora, Ont.) would be impossible.

“This year, we decided to really prioritize our long-term monitoring work for our 52-year data set, which tells us about how our lakes are changing in everything from fish populations to insects to water chemistry,” said ELA deputy director Pauline Gerrard.

That long-term data set has proved especially important in the study of climate change and the impact on the boreal forest’s water systems. It is one of the most comprehensive freshwater data sets in the world.

In a normal year, some 60 staff and scientists would be out at the lakes.

This year, research was conducted by small teams of seven people. The teams isolated for two weeks before arriving at ELA, as well as two weeks after their return home.

One team was assigned to conduct water chemistry monitoring, another went out in the spring and fall to collect fish samples and analyze them.

They were also able to squeeze in monitoring for a long-term oil spill study ongoing at the remote research centre, Gerrard said. The best news of all: there were no COVID-19-positive tests among researchers.

However, the remote research teams did not have the same break from pandemic isolation periods the rest of the public had this summer, and with Manitoba now back under code red restrictions, it’s been a long year for her team, Gerrard said.

“There’s definitely just a fatigue with isolation,” she said. “But I think people felt proud and pleased to be able to get the work done.”

The priority now is to keep this up through the winter, and to begin planning possible ways to start new projects at ELA in 2021. A key priority is starting work on a microplastics project, led by University of Toronto researchers.

Gerrard is also hard at work on a fundraising campaign so the facility might be able to get some more up-to-date lab equipment. With a smaller team on a time crunch, the need for better equipment out there was highlighted, she said.

Sarah Lawrynuik, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press