Thunder Bay

ELA to carry on winter research despite COVID-19

The Experimental Lakes Area, located east of Kenora, Ont., is preparing for its winter season. They do so, despite the impact COVID-19 has had on their research.

No new research was conducted in 2020 due to pandemic

ELA researchers sampling fish on one of the research lakes. (photo: IISD Experimental Lakes Area)

The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), located east of Kenora, Ont., is preparing for its winter season, this, despite the impact COVID-19 has had on their research.

Pauline Gerrard, the Deputy Director of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said the ELA has been collecting data on study lakes since 1968.

The ELA hired same number of summer students as were hired in previous years (19); the difference was the vast majority did not visit the site and had their work reassigned, so they could work at home. This included working on existing data and communications projects.

Gerrard said they still managed to collect significant data.

Pauline Gerrard, Deputy director with IISD, Experimental Lakes Area (photo:IISD Experimental Lakes Area)

"I'm happy to say that we ended up having quite a successful season," said Gerrard. "It was a much reduced season. We did a lot less than we would normally do because we tried to reduce the number of people on site and really limit contact between people. We decided very early on in April that we would prioritize our long-term data set."

Gerrard said 2020 was the 52nd year of long term monitoring on the ELA research lakes. So getting the long term data was the priority for the summer. Now, the team is getting ready to start winter data collection, and she said the situation will be a little easier.

"The winter is usually a slower time in terms of field research for us, and we usually do two field trips out to the facility with our science team," she said. "So they'll go out to five or six lakes, drill holes in the ice, collect water samples to get chemistry, zooplankton and that will happen again.

Gerrard added, "basically, we used that kind of field trip model this past summer. So we're able to continue, and we feel very confident that we'll be able to do what we normally do in the winter this year."

Although no new research was cancelled in 2020, some was postponed until 2021.

 Gerrard said the ELA plans to work with the University of Toronto on a possible micro plastics project. As well, they hope to be working with oil and determine whether constructed wetlands can clean up spills in lakes.

Gerrard said they also continue to study the ongoing impacts of climate change.

"What we found from our climate change data is the biggest changes we're seeing are in the spring and fall," she said. "So the weather is warming up earlier in the spring and it's getting cooler later in the fall. And so ice cover is happening earlier and later. And that has a big impact if you think about Canada and kind of northern roads and that sort of thing."

Sampling and studying on the Experimental Lakes Area, located east of Kenora, Ont., has been under way since 1968 (photo: IISD Experimental Lakes Area)

As for the spring/summer season of 2021, she said they are really trying to think it through and do some preparation for it.

She said the ELA learned a lot from the 2020 experience and about how different organizations and provinces are managing the virus.

Gerrard said that while the news on the vaccine is great, it won't be fully in place by the spring when their field season normally starts. She said they hope to start some new research in 2021, although it likely won't be full capacity."

"One of the things that we're thinking a fair bit about in terms of managing for Covid next year is just how we can use technology and remote monitoring even more because that allows us to get data but not have people close together," she said.

"We have a fair bit of experience thanks to a big grant that we've been running with RBC, looking at how we can use AI to manage and analyze data. And we have a campaign right now to the general public asking to support some lab equipment which would allow us to be able to do more in our labs with less contact between people."


  • A previous version stated no summer students were hired in 2020. The ELA hired the same number of summer students as in previous years (19); the vast majority did not visit the site and had their work reassigned. No research was canceled in 2020. It was postponed until 2021.
    Dec 17, 2020 10:45 AM ET