Science Overview

The responsibilities of the Ministry require the development of scientific knowledge. Science at the Dorset Environmental Science Centre (DESC) focuses on the water quality and the health of Ontario’s inland waters. Focused long-term and large-scale monitoring for trends and changes as well as site-specific investigations are an essential part of the information needed to support the protection, conservation, and restoration of these ecosystems. This work improves our understanding of the state of the environment and our ability to model and predict changes. This knowledge is a critical input to subsequent evidence-based policy-making.

Lake Partner and Broadscale monitoring lakes

To understand water quality issues across large areas of the province, DESC operates or supports three lake monitoring programs. The Lake Partner Program (LPP) in partnership with the Federation of Ontario Cottage Associations, Broad Scale Monitoring (BSM) in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Ontario Benthic Biomonitoring Network (OBBN). These programs exist to understand the importance of change at a provincial scale - so we can understand where stressors occur and when they change, how they relate, what it means, and what actions to take.

DESC's core long-term monitoring looks at the physics, chemistry, and biology of Ontario's inland waters - assessing how changes in the watershed can affect the inputs to streams and lakes, which in turn can affect the animals that live there. Observations here happen at a far higher frequency, from bi-annual to weekly trips to our ‘A’/‘B’ lakes and our ‘A’ streams. In so doing, we incorporate all aspects of the ecosystem to understand ‘why’ we see the things we are seeing which also informs what actions to take.

Dorset lake and stream monitoring sites

Below is a representation of the most basic features of a very complex lake ecosystem. Our monitoring is designed to capture many of the interactions occurring in this simplified example. It is essential for watershed managers to appreciate the range of natural processes at work. Further, it is crucial to recognize how observed change affects inland waters and can endanger the benefits we enjoy in unforeseen and potentially very costly ways.

Model of watershed ecosystem dynamics

Work at DESC shows that lakes are responding not only to the familiar issues of phosphorus and acid rain but also to the interactive effects of many multiple stressors. These stressors include things like climate change, road salt, invasive species, calcium decline, and the effects of extreme events. While the research conducted at the DESC points to on-going recovery from some problems like acid rain, there are new emerging issues, the effects of which we cannot yet fully predict but are working to understand.