THUNDER BAY - In order to maintain the important research into areas like environmental science and climate change, one research station is continuing its work, but scaling back operations.
The Experimental Lakes Area, comprised of 58 small lakes and watersheds located in the Kenora area, will continue conducting research this summer, but some projects are being deferred to next year and there will be a limited number of staff on site.
“What we wanted to do is maintain our 52-year record,” said Vance Palace, head research scientist with the Experimental Lakes Area. “We have a database that is very valuable and important and amongst the most convincing across the globe in terms of the effects of climate change.”
Normally there are between 50 and 70 staff members working in the area. Palace said the COVID-19 virus poses a significant risk to staff due to how closely everyone works together.
“The field station is a very tight knit, close group,” he said. “We’ve learned from experience that when a cold or a flu gets into a research station that it quickly makes the rounds and everybody gets sick. We were aware that could be the case if COVID ever got in.”
As a result, work this summer will be reduced on site, with only a core group of between 10 and 12 staff members working at a time.
“A lot of people have heard we are shutting down for the summer, but that is not the case,” Palace said. “We are maintaining those core activities. We are restricting the number of new projects that are happening at our station this year, so any new projects are being deferred to next year. The ongoing projects and our responsibilities to continue that data collection is something we are going to continue to pursue.”
Some of the ongoing projects include research into oil spills, plastics contamination, pharmaceutical pollution, and algae blooms.
There will be challenges though, Palace said, with some projects requiring work to begin in May.
For example, this month several enclosures were to be studied using micro-plastics and researchers need to begin that as soon as possible in the spring season.
“Unless you can get those enclosures in at the beginning of May, because the season is quite short, unless you can do that, you have to defer that to next year,” Palace said. “Other things like monitoring past experiments, how the system is recovering, how have changes occurred because of different manipulations, we will continue to do that this year.”
Funding for the Experimental Lakes Area has not been affected and no cost extensions have been applied for deferring some of the projects to next year.
“You can imagine as a graduate student, a delay of a year is a big deal if you are enrolled in a three year program,” Palace said. “In some instances we have recognized those programs so things like literature reviews, things that can be done remotely, are being done now, so the next time we can get out to the field, those students will have the opportunity to do that with the support of the funding bodies we have been working with.”
Contingency plans are in place and all staff will practice proper physical distancing and the site and equipment will be disinfected on a regular basis.
Palace said he wants to emphasize that the site is not shutting down and there will still be a lot of important research conducted this summer.
“We have a lot of data going on. Sometimes it’s a treadmill. You keep collecting data but don’t get a chance to write some of that stuff up,” he said.
“I think what you’ll see is, this year, although we have less experiments going on, we will be actively communicating the research we have done because we will have an opportunity to compile that data, interpret it, and analyses it and get that information out to our patrons who are interested in our site.”