For questions about research currently being conducted at IISD-ELA, or if you would like to discuss potential research topics for the site, contact Vince Palace, Head Research Scientist, at [email protected].
You can also take a look at our research and data in the Researchers section of this website.
IISD Experimental Lakes Area is the world’s freshwater laboratory—a natural research laboratory made up of 58 small lakes and their watersheds.
As one of the world’s most influential freshwater research facilities, we conduct experiments on real lakes and ecosystems—one of the only places in the world you can do this.
Over the last 5 decades, we have conducted research projects to explore the impacts of—and solutions to—algal blooms, climate change, agricultural runoff, contaminants such as mercury and estrogen, oil spills, and a growing list of threats to freshwater supplies.
We are located on Treaty 3 territory, the traditional land of the Anishinaabe Nation and the homeland of the Métis Nation. This land is in a sparsely populated area of northwestern Ontario in Canada, approximately 300 km east of Winnipeg, Manitoba and 100 km west of Dryden, Ontario.
IISD Experimental Lakes Area was originally created as a response to the growing concern surrounding algal blooms on the Great Lakes, specifically Lake Erie. In 1966, the Freshwater Institute was established in Winnipeg by the Fisheries Research Board of Canada. They appointed J.R. (Jack) Vallentyne as Director and W.E. (Wally) Johnson as Head Scientist to address the problem of eutrophication. In 2006, two new staff and student residences were constructed on-site and were named after the founding scientists, Vallentyne and Johnson.
In partnership with the governments of Canada and Ontario, a section of land and water was designated as the Experimental Lakes Area. The Experimental Lakes Area officially opened in 1968 with David Schindler as Leader of Experimental Lake Investigations, a position he held until 1989.
In 1991, Dr. Schindler was awarded the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize, the highest award in limnological research, for research into excess nutrification and acidification of freshwater lakes. Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten Dr. Schindler in our growing list of named residences! The Schindler cabin is a small, off-grid cabin on the north shore of Lake 239, only a short canoe trip away from camp.
In 2014, the International Institute for Sustainable Development assumed control over the Experimental Lakes Area from the Government of Canada under three new agreements to ensure the facility’s long-term operation. IISD Experimental Lakes Area celebrated 50 years of groundbreaking scientific research in 2018.
The IISD Experimental Lakes Area research facility is located down a 30-km beautiful and bumpy gravel road. As you enter the camp, first you will see our workshop where our facilities manager works to keep our motorized equipment in working order. Next, you will see the fish laboratory and the chemistry laboratory. The chemistry laboratory building also provides space for offices and laboratory benches to house visiting researchers and the Hydro-limnology, Toxicology, Zooplankton, and Education and Outreach teams. On the other side of camp, Hungry Hall serves as both a dining hall and group use area for seminars, meetings, and just plain old relaxing. Surrounding Hungry Hall and the laboratories are several residences for staff, students, and visitors, including the Vallentyne and Johnson Residences. The site also has smaller cabin-like residences for scientists with families in the part of camp we fondly call Suburbia. All together, we can comfortably accommodate about 55 people.
Click here to go on a virtual fly-over of IISD-ELA’s research facility!
Or, click here to view camp from Artist in Residence, James Culleton’s point of view.
The IISD Experimental Lakes Area research facility is located on the shores of two of 58 experimental lakes, Lakes 239 and 240. These are two significant lakes, as Lake 239 serves as a Long-Term Ecological Research lake (see FAQ #4), and Lake 240 serves as a reference lake for our ongoing METAALICUS study.
After working hours, families, staff, and students relax at the beach on the shore of Lake 239, enjoy the beach volleyball court, canoe, and prepare for the annual talent show, Variety Night, at the end of the season.
Even in winter, the science doesn’t stop! Our facility manager lives at camp year-round, and our scientists visit monthly to perform winter sampling tasks, such as collecting temperature data or flow data. And, if we didn’t already collect enough data, each morning, an individual at camp will collect data and perform maintenance tasks at the Canadian Air and Precipitation Monitoring Network meteorological site. This station was established in 1969 by the federal government and has been voluntarily run by IISD-ELA staff ever since.
Additionally, our Education and Outreach Team just completed their very first annual winter field course in early 2020.
IISD-ELA conducts whole-ecosystem experiments on entire lakes in the boreal forest. Using both physical (reservoirs and dams) and chemical (algal blooms, acid rain, hormones, mercury, pharmaceuticals, and microplastics) manipulations, scientists can gain a greater understanding of how historical and current issues are affecting freshwater ecology.
A team of scientists with Ph.D. and masters degrees, as well as undergraduate students, perform the science at IISD Experimental Lakes Area. They are supported by a Board of Directors, the Education and Outreach team, and the Operations team, which includes an on-site chef. Click here to learn more about who we are.
In addition to individual projects, we also use long-term monitoring techniques in our Long-Term Ecological Research program. This program uses five lakes to monitor chemical and physical properties, including but not limited to temperature, chlorophyll, turbidity, and oxygen level. Our science has had major impacts around the world, from influencing policy on mercury emissions to reducing phosphorous use in detergents.
Click here to see the Research Highlights section of our website.
Fresh water supports all life on earth. Without water, we would not have the world we have today. Can you think of a time you forgot to water your garden or house plants? Without a drink, plants become droopy, brown, and will die if left long enough.
Humans also depend on freshwater resources for survival and personal wellness. Freshwater lakes and streams are often important sources of food. Humans cannot drink salt water, so the fresh water held in groundwater, lakes, streams, and ice are all we have.
Human cultures across the world build water into their value systems. Lakes may be areas of inspiration and sustenance, while springs offer space for gathering, and rivers serve as connections between different ecosystems.
Research has shown that human actions—through things like water and air pollution, climate change, and habitat modification—can negatively impact the quality of water and the health of ecosystems. Changes to lakes and streams have the potential to harm the organisms that depend on that water resource for a home, for food, as a water source, and for personal or cultural wellness.
Answering this question can be challenging because the actual definition of a lake varies. The basic definition of a lake is that it is a large, inland waterbody with slow-moving water.
Lakes form in diverse ways, range in depth and shape, differ in water chemistry, and interact with the surrounding landscape in different ways. Because of these variations, more specific definitions of lakes will differ depending on where you are in the world.
An individual person’s knowledge of water bodies will also shape how they define and identify lakes. While one person may recognize a lake as an area for recreation, someone else may think about how a lake supports survival, and still another may identify lakes by their spiritual characteristics.
The great variability in lakes means that individual lake ecosystems vary and are unique. At IISD-ELA, we research lakes in the boreal ecozone of Canada. Boreal lakes are known to be cold, deep, and seasonal, and have cold-loving fish, like lake trout.
When it comes to using animals in research, IISD Experimental Lakes Area recognizes that it is a privilege and that animals must be treated with the utmost respect. With animal research, we focus on “The Three Rs” of animal use (replacement, refinement, reduction) and decrease harm wherever possible, including the prioritization of non-lethal sampling methods.
Fish are included in our experiments. IISD Experimental Lakes Area lakes contain small populations of fish, such as fathead minnows, pearl dace, white sucker, lake trout, and northern pike. Projects involving wildlife go through an extensive review process prior to start-up. This process ensures that all wildlife within the experiment are being treated with respect and compassion according to the guidelines created by the Canadian Council for Animal Care.
Some exciting avenues of research we are pursuing at IISD-ELA include the pioneering of non-lethal testing methods. Imagine if you could gauge an animal’s health just through their mucus. Sounds miraculous, right? In reality, such sampling methods might be reliably used in our not-too-distant future.
We recognize and support the essential need for responsible animal research. The use of animals in research is a privilege. IISD-ELA requires researchers to practice “The Three Rs” of animal use (replacement, reduction, refinement) and use non-lethal sampling methods whenever possible. Invertebrate organisms other than crayfish do not require permits. If you wish to use the IISD-ELA facility to conduct research on vertebrate animals or crayfish (in the field or laboratory), you must follow these steps:
Contact IISD-ELA researchers to discuss the proposed project, including species, target lakes, and methodologies. Please provide as much notice as possible: at least 9 months prior to the commencement of research (to provide time for the Research Advisory Board application, described in Step 2).
Your project may require approval by the IISD-ELA Research Advisory Board (RAB). Proposals should be submitted to the RAB at least nine months in advance of the commencement of research. Please contact Vince Palace to discuss your project and application requirements as soon as possible.
Provide IISD-ELA with an Animal Use Protocol (AUP) that describes the research in detail and has been reviewed and approved by the Animal Care Committee at your home institution. Approved AUPs must be submitted to Lee Hrenchuk at least one month prior to the commencement of research at the IISD-ELA facility. AUPs are not required for research involving crayfish.
All individuals who will handle animals as part of your project must be named on your AUP(s). Individuals who are not named on the AUP(s) may not handle animals.
Submit approved collection permits/licences for the target organisms to Lee Hrenchuk at least one month prior to the commencement of research at the IISD-ELA facility.
All individuals who will handle animals as part of your project must be named on your licence(s). Individuals who are not named on the licence(s) may not handle animals.
An OMNRF Wildlife Scientific Collector’s Authorization will be required for all other vertebrate species. Please contact Karissa Jackson at Karissa.J[email protected] or 807-220-5422 to discuss your project needs.
A good way to learn about what happens at IISD Experimental Lakes Area is to follow the work we are doing through our newsletter (check out how to subscribe here). When you’re in between newsletter reads, take a look at blog posts that members of our team have written about our work and the science it is based on.
If you have a more targeted question, we encourage you to reach out to a member of our team. For a list of everyone, look under the “About” section in our top banner bar or click this link. Each member of our team is very friendly and, even if they can’t answer your question, will do their best to help.
IISD Experimental Lakes Area is a not-for-profit, and any work we do is thanks to the generosity of other people who love fresh water. If you’re interested in offering this kind of support, check out our donor page. To find out how to make donating work for you, we encourage you to talk to our philanthropy officer, Erin Bend, about the different options.
If donating just isn’t in the cards for you right now, start helping us by telling your friends, family, and dog about the great work we do at IISD Experimental Lakes Area. There are many ways to be lake friendly!