News | Nov 18, 2020 | By Sumeep Bath, Communications Manager

Five Things to Expect From the World’s Freshwater Laboratory This Winter

As the world continues to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyday citizens must make sacrifices and our lives are looking markedly different.

Life and research at IISD Experimental Lakes Area are no exception.

This summer, the unprecedented circumstances saw us first, as always, prioritize the health and safety of our staff and local community by ensuring most people worked from the safety of their own homes.

Then, with careful and limited access to the site, a small group of researchers hit the road to ensure that our 52-year dataset on everything from the temperature and chemistry of the water to the fish populations of our lakes remained unbroken.

Research continued at the world’s freshwater laboratory over summer 2020, albeit at a much reduced scale

As was to be expected, it wasn’t all good news. We were unable to start any of the new research projects we had planned for 2020, such as those exploring what microplastics do to fresh water and how anti-depressants that get flushed down the toilet affect lake ecosystems.

You can read more about what our most unique summer research season looked like here.

Or, better yet, just ask Lee Hrenchuk, our Senior Biologist, who was part of our pared down team this year.

Every field season at IISD-ELA is different, and this year was certainly no exception.

The dedication of the team was incredible, both during periods of isolation (14 days at home prior to each trip to camp) and while on-site conducting field work.

We set out in May with a six-month plan without knowing if we would be able to achieve it, and in the end were able to do even more than expected.

Of course, this was far from a perfect situation. But despite the strict protocols, the limited number of people, and the challenging weather (super hot summer, super cold fall), we all pulled together to make a successful, efficient season happen. (And we had a bit of fun too).

Now our focus is carefully planning to open our doors wider for summer 2021, to start some much-needed new research on plastics and anti-psychotic drugs.”

Lee Hrenchuk, who worked out at the site this summer, poses with a lake trout. The fish was captured from Lake 223 in a trap net then anesthetized, weighed and measured, and had its ID tag scanned before it was released back into the lake.

Now summer turns to fall. And fall turns to winter. And the pandemic remains.

For those who follow us, you likely already know that the world’s freshwater laboratory does not close during the winter. And those of you who have been paying extra close attention will know that our winter work usually only requires a small team to go out. You can read more about what a regular winter at IISD-ELA looks like here.

Bearing all that in mind, here are five things you can expect to see at the world’s freshwater laboratory this winter:

1 We will be monitoring our lakes to maintain our long-term dataset

Usually, over the winter, we continue to monitor our lakes and to contribute data to our long-term ecological research database, but at a reduced scale. We focus only on temperature, oxygen profiles, water chemistry, and zooplankton populations.

This year, while we will all be socially isolating for two weeks before and after we head out to the site, our team of seven will still be making sure we get those lakes monitored and tracked.

2 Our research on the impacts of climate change will continue

Everything from the depth and duration of ice cover to water temperature and where fish are located in the lake help us understand the impact of climate change on our lakes.

This winter, we will be maintaining this research and sampling, as we do every winter.

During the winter, we usually send smaller teams out to the site to monitor the lakes and conduct research, so this winter will look pretty similar to most winters

3 Most of us will be working in Winnipeg—which is pretty normal for us anyway…

Winter is often a time for us to analyze results collected during the summer, write up research, and, of course, catch up on emails—all in the warmth and comfort of our Winnipeg headquarters.

This year will look rather similar, although most of us will likely be crunching those numbers and data from the comfort of our own homes.

4 The weather will still be tracked!

Here is the ultimate test to determine if you are an IISD-ELA SuperFan™ or not: do you know what we mean when we say, “Met Site”? Ten points for those who knew that it is our Meteorological Site, where we have been tracking many facets of the weather since 1969.

As always, we have been heading to the site once a day throughout this year, and this winter will be no exception.

5 We will continue planning for whatever next year may bring…

Here at the world’s freshwater laboratory, we want to get back to researching threats to the health of fresh water across the world—from the impacts of plastics to anti-psychotic drugs—as soon as possible.

While the safety of our staff and the local community will always come first, as we near summer 2021, we will be planning to ensure that we can start some of this critical research.

You know that ground-breaking freshwater research you just read about? Well, that’s actually down to you.

It’s only thanks to our generous donors that the world’s freshwater laboratory—an independent not-for-profit—can continue to do what we do. And that means everything from exploring what happens when cannabis flushes and oil spills into a lake, to how we can reduce mercury in fish and algal blooms in fresh water—all to keep our water clean around the world for generations to come.

We know that these are difficult times, but the knowledge to act on scientific evidence has never been more important. Neither has your support.

If you believe in whole ecosystem science and using it to bring about real change to fresh water around the globe, please support us in any way you are able to.