The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is a unique Canadian facility for ground breaking freshwater research and the only one of its kind in the world. An outdoor laboratory where whole-ecosystem research on environmental problems are carried out, the ELA provides the world with vital information about fresh water.
Founded in 1968, ELA offers scientists the unique opportunity to do applied research on entire freshwater ecosystems. The ELA is located on the Canadian Shield in northwestern Ontario, about 250 km east of Winnipeg and 50 km east of Kenora.
Fifty-eight small lakes and their catchments are managed through a joint agreement between the Governments of Canada and Ontario. The lakes range in size from 1 ha to 84 ha in surface area and are typical of small Canadian Shield lakes that many Canadians use for recreation. The ELA laboratory and lodging began in trailers and over 44 years these trailers have slowly been replaced with permanent yet modest buildings.
Studies conducted at the ELA have provided sound scientific knowledge for the development of environmental policies both nationally and internationally. Some key areas of influence have been in understanding and managing algal blooms, acid rain, climate change, mercury pollution, greenhouse gas fluxes from hydroelectric reservoirs, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
In addition to whole-ecosystem manipulations intended to address specific questions, ELA researchers have conducted consistent long-term monitoring of physical lake characteristics, watershed hydrology, water chemistry, and food web composition and abundance over a 44 year period. This monitoring has yielded what is probably the richest dataset for freshwater research in the world. ELA Researchers receive numerous data requests each year from scientists around the world wishing to compare their data to those collected at the ELA.
The scientific output of ELA is impressive. It has produced 735 peer-reviewed scientific articles, 126 graduate theses, 102 book chapters and synthesis papers, 185 data reports, and several books. ELA scientists have been the recipients of numerous prestigious international water awards, including the Stockholm Water Prize, the International Tyler Prize for Environmental Science and the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.
The ELA is Canada’s flagship environmental research centre. For more than 40 years, ELA researchers have studied environmental problems of the greatest importance to Canadians and provided the world with vital information to manage and protect fresh waters. Current and future problems facing the health of fresh waters, such as harmful algal blooms, acid rain, nanosilver pollution, climate change, mercury pollution, fish farming, greenhouse gases, hydro power development and much more need to be studied at the depth and scale that only ELA can provide. Canada needs the ELA, and Canadian policy makers will greatly benefit from allowing research at the ELA to continue.