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Oil & Canada's Freshwater

The lab has ongoing research characterizing the impacts of oil spills on freshwater ecosystems.  As part of the Boreal Oil Release Experiment by Additions to Limnocorrals (or BOREAL) project at the IISD-ELA we collaborated with colleagues at the University of Ottawa and Queen’s University to understand the fate and effects of diluted bitumen on lake ecosystems.  Starting in 2023, we are continuing this work and collaboration at the Quensel River Research Station to look at river ecosystems, with a focus on salmon, and their responses to spilt oil.

Freshwater Salinization

With the concentrations of salts in freshwater systems rising globally, the lab is interested in characterizing the ecological risk associated with salinity and salinization in Canadian surface waters.  We are currently characterizing exposure levels, as well as identify possible sources and drivers of salinity in the Lake Winnipeg watershed, and have partnered with the Lake Winnipeg Community-Based Monitoring Network (LWCBMN) to engage citizen volunteers in collecting water samples from more than 130 sites. Additionally, we are conducting mesocosms experiment at the Prairie Wetland Research Facility to investigate the impacts of freshwater salinization on wild rice, zooplankton, emergent insects, and freshwater clams. 

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Method Development

New techniques to assess toxicity and contaminant exposure continue to be an area of ongoing research.  We have contributed significantly to the creation of new passive samplers in the form of the diffusive gradients in thin films technique for organics (o-DGT), which has been deployed successfully in freshwater and marine systems, including the Arctic.  Recently, we published on a new method to assess toxicity using an Arctic marine diatom, which should help better inform ecological risk assessments in the region.  Ongoing work includes developing and validating lab assays with wild rice (Zizania palustris).

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Data Quality and Reporting

Decisions (and risk assessments) are only as good as the data upon which they are built.  The lab was work collaboratively to promote and encourage better data reporting and study conduction so as to enhance environmental protection overall.  This includes outputs from a SETAC Pellston Workshop on Data Quality and Reporting, an update to the Chemical Response to Oil Spills Ecological Effects Research Forum (CROSERF) toxicity testing protocols, and the state of Arctic ecotoxicology.


A key aspect of ecological risk assessment is accurate and precise exposure characterization.  These data give the context needed to interpret toxicity data and determine a contaminant’s risk.  Recognizing this, the lab has helped to be the first to characterize pharmaceutical loadings released by rural wastewater storage lagoons in Manitoba and the Arctic and to report on the presence of microplastics and antibiotic-resistant microbes in effluents and receiving waters.

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