Our field season involved three intensive 7-10-day trips in May, July and September, an approach that allows us to monitor various lake ecosystem processes during the ice-free season. Much of the research we are conducting is to establish the foundation of an aquatic ecosystem monitoring program for the Peace-Athabasca Delta (PAD), 80% of which is located in Wood Buffalo National Park. This year, members of our lab group spent nearly 52 hours in a fixed-float helicopter, sampling ~62 lakes and 9 rivers in the PAD, an area that spans approximately 6,000 square kilometers! More specifically, at each site we take numerous photographs, record water colour, clarity and types of vegetation. We also collect water (~5 L) and phytoplankton samples for various analyses, all in about 5 minutes!
In addition to our 3 sampling episodes, we deployed periphyton samplers and water level loggers in all ~62 lakes from May until September. Retrieving these pieces of equipment is not an easy task because some of the lakes are so large and are covered in water lilies, it can make it difficult to spot the buoys from above. In addition, this year we deployed an EXO2 multi-parameter sonde into 7 of the lakes, which span a gradient of productive and hydrologic conditions. This instrument measures pH, turbidity, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, temperature and depth every hour. This information is both unique and exciting, considering the difficulties associated with accessing remote locations, and is going to provide the framework for quantifying seasonal aquatic productivity and hydrologic variability in these lakes.
Once we return to our field house in Fort Chipewyan, we process all the water and phytoplankton samples. Water is filtered to obtain the following water chemistry properties: dissolved and total nutrients, dissolved organic and inorganic carbon, alkalinity, pH and turbidity. In addition to water chemistry, we fill a 30 mL bottle for water isotope analysis. From the water isotope data, we have been able to track hotspots of flooding and drying in the delta during the past 5 years. For example, our water isotope results were used to delineate the extent of a major ice-jam flood event in the southern portion of the delta during this past May.
Our field season was not all work and no play. In May, our field sampling crew spent a day canoeing and fishing at Dore Lake and enjoyed the warm and unusual 28 oC temperature. In July, a local from Fort Chipewyan, Robert Grandjambe, took us out on his fishing boat, where we successfully caught our dinner for the night. Finally, in September, after we became exhausted from losing countless rounds of euchre, we set out to see the northern lights, which made a brief appearance near the end of our September trip.
We are grateful for the many agencies and funding sources that support our research, including Northern Water Futures.
Authors: Laura Neary (MSc Student, UW) & Tanner Owca (MSc Student, WLU)
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