save the lakes, for science

This is a total shill for my thesis advisor, but so be it.  She did get me through grad school after all…

Canada has this really cool resource called the Experimental Lakes Area.  Being so big and unpopulated, the Canadian government set aside 58 lakes in rural Ontario that could be manipulated for the purposes of science.  It has been 44 years, and you should see the list of papers that have been published from this area (partial list here).  One of the greatest scientific breakthroughs from these lakes was the understanding of the role of phosphate and nitrate in the eutrophication process (photo in link).  Without a remote area to perform whole-lake studies, we might still be sorting out exactly what chemicals lead to eutrophication.

I find the idea of having a whole lake on which to perform one’s experiments very intriguing.  But then I worry that we scientists tend towards “mad” ideas when given too much power…

Well, unfortunately, this remote resource is under threat.  No, it’s not some Canadian developer who wants to build condos and mansions along the remote lakefronts, it’s government.  The Experimental Lakes Area is funded by “Fisheries and Oceans Canada” (DFO), and it’s on the chopping block for 2013, as of March 31.  We figured out eutrophication, so why retain this large space?  I would argue that there are plenty of unanswered questions about endocrine disruptors/emerging contaminants, viruses, natural organic matter, and even climate change’s impacts on freshwater ecology that merit further research.  One of these things could be the “eutrophication” of the 21st century.

Generally I think it’s a bad policy to cut back on science funding, especially funding that is rather applied to problems of the day — there are implications for drinking water treatment and water supply in all of this research.  I hope that the Canadian government would listen to my advisor and other scientists out there, and find a way to keep the Experimental Lakes Area going.

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