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Harper Government to Shut Down Unique Fresh Water Research Area

Science & Tech  (tags: science, scientists, technology, politics, government, Harper, Canada, Ontatio, ELA, environment, research, concept, Experimental Lakes Area )

- 2219 days ago -
After 44 years of providing invaluable research data to scientists in Canada and internationally, the Experimental Lakes Area research facility in Northern Ontario will no longer be funded.

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Michael O (176)
Saturday May 26, 2012, 7:01 am
By Bob McDonald, Quirks & Quarks

Scientists and environmental groups are stunned and concerned by the decision to close down this unique facility.

The Experimental Lakes Area was established in 1968 when acid rain, caused by burning coal, was seen as a major threat to the fresh water systems in Eastern North America. The remote lakes are typical of those found on the Canadian Shield and have offered an untouched natural laboratory, where scientists can monitor changes to entire ecosystems when pollution is introduced.

It was data from these lakes that contributed to eventual legislation curbing acid rain production.

Since then, the lakes have become natural laboratories used to study the impacts of other air pollutants, runoff from agriculture, hormones, heavy metals, and a long list of additional threats faced by our freshwater lakes.

Such work is impossible to do in the laboratory. Samples in test tubes and beakers are just that, samples taken out of context. Lab work can do the surgical work where a specific mechanism, such as how pollutants work their way through a food chain, can be identified. But labs can only go so far - eventually, scientists need to get out into the field to see how those effects trickle down through the rest of the ecosystem.

Very often, these effects take a long time to appear and show up in surprising ways.

Who would have thought that phosphates used in detergents would cause algae to grow out of control in lakes, leading to lower oxygen levels that kill fish, for example? Yet that was exactly the chain of events that was demonstrated in the Experimental Lakes Area and brought about the ban of phosphates in detergents.

Because many of these effects take years to manifest, the 44-year history of the Experimental Lakes Area project is an extremely valuable resource for anyone studying freshwater systems. Scientists around the world use data collected there as a gold standard to which they compare aquatic systems in their own countries.

Throughout its history, the Area has spawned hundreds of scientific papers. Scientists working there have received many awards, including Canada's highest, The Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal. There is nothing like it in the world.

Canada has more fresh water than any country on the planet. Almost a quarter the world's supply of fresh water lies within our borders. That gives us a huge responsibility for stewardship of that water, to ensure a clean supply for future generations.

As lakes and watersheds become surrounded by more cottages, industry, and pollution from far-away sources, we need to have an eye on their response to all the unnatural inputs. Closing down the Experimental Lakes Area is closing our eyes to the most vital resource we have in the country.

Scientists, both in Canada and internationally, are stunned and shocked to the point of signing a petition and writing a letter to Parliament asking to keep this unique facility operating.

Funding cuts to the Experimental Lakes is yet another in a long list of cuts to environmental science in this country. Meanwhile, drastic cuts by the government to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans mean that our ability to monitor what's happening in our oceans has also been severely curtailed. Canada is quickly losing its ability to maintain its international reputation as a leader in aquatic research.

Everyone thinks that future conflicts and wars will be fought over our addiction to oil. But in fact, water - or lack of it - is fast becoming the most important issue of this century, especially in vulnerable and volatile regions like Africa and the Middle East. While we may, eventually, be able to cope with running out of oil, we'll all die if we run out of water. It's a matter of survival.

Past Member (0)
Saturday May 26, 2012, 8:26 am
Wrong again, Harper government. It's getting to be a habit with you.

Sue H (7)
Saturday May 26, 2012, 8:49 am
Is Harper unaware that we are supposed to be the Stewards of our planet? What a shame.

Past Member (0)
Saturday May 26, 2012, 9:30 am
thank you

Sarah M (29)
Saturday May 26, 2012, 10:40 am
Thanks for the article! How terrible that this wonderful facility is being shut down...
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