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York prof to study effect of fertilization on northern Ontario lakes

York prof to study effect of fertilization on northern Ontario lakes

Lewis Molot, a professor in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, has received more than $265,000 over three years from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The award will fund Molot’s experiment to assess the effect of sulphate levels on several impacts associated with excessive fertilization of lakes. The study will be conducted in a remote, fishless lake in northwestern Ontario’s Experimental Lakes Area.

Right: Lewis Molot

While sulphate occurs naturally, acid deposition has led to higher levels in lakes in Eastern Canada. Sulphate is believed to play a key role in regulating various microbial processes in North American lakes and differences in sulphate concentrations may explain variance among individual lakes.

By adding sodium sulphate to one lake, Molot and his collaborators will be able to observe its effect on several processes, including the abundance and timing of toxic algal blooms and the rate at which mercury is incorporated into the food chain. A set of control experiments will receive sodium chloride, which could provide useful information about how the increasing use of road salt, due to slow yet steady increases in year-round cottage country traffic, is affecting lakes in the province’s central and northern areas.

Molot’s team includes York graduate student Shelley McCabe and researchers at Environment Canada, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, the University of Alberta, the University of Waterloo and the University of Guelph.

“Environmental research is one of York University’s internationally recognized strengths,” said Stan Shapson, vice-president research & innovation. “Research projects such as Professor Molot’s underscore the importance of maintaining sustainable ecosystems in our lakes and protecting our fresh water supply now and in the future.”

The announcement was made by Gary Goodyear, minister of state (science & technology), on Feb. 8. “Our government is investing in research and development to create jobs, strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life of Canadians,” noted Goodyear. “These projects will help universities develop, attract and retain the world’s best researchers, while building a strong foundation for future economic growth across Canada.”

Molot’s project is among 122 chosen to receive a total of $53.5 million in funding under NSERC’s Strategic Project Grants Program, which aims to turn the results of academic research into real benefits for Canadians. It fosters partnerships among industry, academia and governments, and increases research and training in areas that could enhance Canada’s economy, society or environment in the coming decade.

“The research done through these projects will lead to important benefits for Canadians,” said NSERC President Suzanne Fortier. “We expect the results to include advances in renewable energy, progress toward the development of a quantum computer, improvements in screening for cancer and much more.”

For a complete list of NSERC recipients, visit the NSERC Web site.

This research on sulfate levels and lake fertilization attracted on-air coverage from CJRL Kenora on Feb. 11. Professor Molot was also interviewed by CBC Radio in Thunder Bay.

By Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer