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No full lakes to be used in upcoming oil spill studies, say Experimental Lakes Area researchers

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

By Michael Christianson

The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is planning to do a simulated oil spill this summer to better understand the effects on fresh water.

The study will add crude oil and diluted bitumen to shoreline enclosures to see how they are affected by waves and the influence each type of oil has on the environment.

The rationale behind the experiments is based on a report in 2015 issues by the Royal Society of Canada.

“That report, a 500 page report from the Royal Society, we read and as we read through it we went ‘Geez there’s a lot things in here that could be addressed with some studies of the sort that we do at the Experimental Lakes Area,” said IISD Experimental Lakes Area’s Senior Research Scientist Vince Palace. “The Royal Society for example pointed out that when oil gets spilled into the aquatic environment it changes over time, that there is are varying efficiencies with which we can remove it from the aquatic environment but in terms of what we know about how it behaves, we know less about it in the fresh water aquatic environment then we do in the marine.”

Palace says we do know quite a bit about how oil interacts with fresh water but they want to learn more to reduce risks of spills and to learn the best way to clean up any spills with minimal damage to the environment.

Palace adds that the benefit of the ELA is that they have been studying their lakes for 50 years so they have a good baseline of information for the area, a luxury that is not often afforded at a real oil spill. 

Along with that the experiments will be more contained than others on the lakes. 

“While the Experimental Lakes Area is known for its full lake experiments, this is not a full lake experiment,” said Palace. “We are working in small, contained environments; we’re talking about mesocosms that are 10 meters in diameter. So they are able to encompass components all of an aquatic ecosystem, the algae, the phytoplankton, the zooplankton, the bugs as well as the fish but they’re not a whole lake. We can still look at those with a small amount of oil spills rather than contaminating a whole lake.”

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