Month: April 2017

Lake Superior Water Levels Down

Lake Superior Water Levels
Lake Superior water levels were down more than usual in March.

Net water supplies to Lake Superior were below average in March.  The level of Lake Superior fell 5 cm/2 in. last month, while on average the lake declines 1 cm/.39 in. in March. The Lake Superior level at the beginning of April is 14 cm/5.5 in. above average, 11 cm/4.3 in. below the level recorded a year ago at this time, and 17 cm/6.6 in. above its chart datum level. The level of Lake Superior is expected to begin its seasonal rise in April.

The International Lake Superior Board of Control, under authority granted to it by the International Joint Commission (IJC), has set the Lake Superior outflow to 2180 cubic metres per second (m3/s) for the month of April, effective April 4th.  The outflow is as prescribed by Plan 2012 and may at times vary due to weather events and changes in hydrologic and ice conditions.

Maximum flows will be discharged through the three hydropower plants in April.  Accounting for required maintenance outages expected at the plants this month, their combined capacity is expected to be a total of 1954 m3/s.

Most of the remaining flow (approximately 215 m3/s) will be passed through the St. Marys Rapids.  To achieve this, it will be necessary to increase the gate setting at the Compensating Works.  This will be done as soon as ice conditions permit and is expected to occur before the beginning of May.   The current setting equivalent to one-half gate open will be maintained until that time. There will be no change to the setting of Gate #1, which supplies a flow of about 15 m3/s to the channel north of the Fishery Remedial Dike.

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LU to Host September Climate Change Conference


Save the date.

Lakehead University will host a network of researchers, community workers, academics and government agencies involved in Climate Change adaptation and mitigation for a two day climate change seminar on September 28th and 29th, 2017. The event agenda is currently being developed and will cover a wide range of themes. Keynote speakers will be featured and a section of the conference will deal specifically with water and Lake Superior. The event will be held at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Some of the topics which will be considered at the conference include water, the bio-economy, climate modelling, education, policy and health. Steps are being taken to ensure the views and perceptions of Indigineous peoples will be an integral part of proceedings.

Please save the date. More information about the seminar will be posted on Infosuperior as it becomes available.

Seminar funding from a variety of sources is growing including commitments from the Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bio-Economy. This project has received funding support from the Government of Ontario. Such support does not indicate endorsement by the Government of Ontario of the contents of this material.


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Live at the Shipyards – April 29th

Support the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra by attending their unique April 29th event at the Port Arthur Shipyards.

On Saturday, April 29th, the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra presents the event of the year in the most unlikely location. The Port Arthur Shipyards.

As the Symphony puts it, “The shipyard’s industrial backdrop provides a unique stage for the musical experience of a lifetime.”

The event also features Chef Andrew Stone from Daytona’s Kitchen and Creative Catering with a selection of enticing food stations throughout the evening. A cocktail bar curated especially for the night by Frape and Sons Bitters and award-winning, locally-brewed beers from Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. and Dawson Trail Craft Brewery will also be featured.

The evening also features four local guest vocalists and will include dance favourites and feature music from artists David Bowie, Prince and more!

The business community has donated services, products, art and experiences for  bid at Silent Auction.

The evening’s proceeds will go to support the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra’s Youth and Education Programs, dedicated to providing a well-rounded education and enriched life.

For more information contact: TBSO Office 807.474.2284 or visit the event page on Facebook.

Minimum age requirement: 19 years

Get Tickets!


401 Shipyard Rd, Thunder Bay, ON

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Canada Ratifies Minimata Convention on Mercury

Mercury collected in schools within the Lake Superior basin with support from the Lake Superior Binational Partnership.

Canada announced on April 7th that it has ratified the Minimata Convention, a global agreement to reduce human generated mercury releases to the environment, both in Canada and abroad.

A news release from the government of Canada states that, “Exposure to mercury is known to cause negative health effects to those who are most vulnerable, particularly fetuses, infants, and young children. In addition, northern peoples are especially vulnerable to mercury as it tends to accumulate naturally in the Arctic, and it affects local food sources like fish and marine mammals.”

Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna said, “Ratifying the Minamata Convention will help us deliver on our commitment to protect the environment, the health of Canadians, and the global population from mercury emissions and releases.”

The Convention is a legally binding treaty negotiated under the United Nations Environment Programme, which will ensure that mercury—a toxic substance—is managed effectively, traded responsibly, and used only where no feasible alternatives exist. The Convention addresses all aspects of the life cycle of mercury, including requiring controls and reductions across a range of products, processes, and industries.

The media release from Environment and Climate Change Canada also states that, “As an Arctic country, Canada will be one of the main beneficiaries of this agreement. While we have reduced our own mercury emissions by over 90 percent in the last 40 years, more must be done to reduce global emissions that have had an impact on Canada and its Arctic ecosystems. Over 95 percent of the mercury deposited in Canada from human activity comes from foreign sources.”

Mercury in Common Products

Ratification of the treaty comes after years of work to reduce or eliminate mercury. This includes conversations with organizations like manufacturers with a direct stake.

Mercury has been used in many products for decades. These products include standard wall-mounted thermostats present in homes and standard flourescent lights and compact fluorescent lights. While work continues to reduce or eliminate mercury in products, older mercury thermostats are still in use in some homes. There is no risk associated with use of these thermostats, however upon disposal, the mercury they contain may end up in the environment. These mercury-switch thermostats should be disposed of as household hazardous waste.

Mercury is still present in fluorescent lights being manufactured today, including compact fluorescent lights,  but in greatly reduced quantities over older fluorescents. Flourescent lights can be in service for long periods of time however so older lights containing higher quantities of mercury are common. Fluorescent lights should be disposed of as household hazardous waste.

Globally, coal combustion is the largest source of human generated mercury. Mercury is a natural element, not a chemical, and is present naturally in the environment. Mercury is a natural constituent in coal and upon combustion is released, falling out on land, lakes and rivers as atmospheric deposition. Mercury in the atmosphere may circle the globe several times before falling out. The former coal-fired power plant in Thunder Bay was one of the largest sources of mercury in the Lake Superior basin, however this source is dwarfed by global sources.

Almost every lake in the Lake Superior basin, on both the Canadian and U.S. sides, including Lake Superior itself, has government advisories recommending limits to fish consumption. The most common pathway for ingestion of mercury is through consumption of fish. Atmospheric deposition is the primary contributor to consumption advisories. Information about fish consumption advisories from the Ontario Government can be accessed here.

Lake Superior

In parallel with international efforts, substantial and very innovative efforts have also been carried out regionally. For many years, the U.S. – Canada Lake Superior Binational Partnership has worked very hard to reduce mercury inputs to the Lake Superior basin. These programs have been very successful and operated with the support of Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and partner state environmental agencies. Programs to collect and recycle older thermostats containing mercury and also flourescent lights have collected thousands of such implements in communities around Lake Superior. Mercury from these collections was recycled and reused, rather than entering the environment through the waste stream.

The Binational Partnership also supported work to remove mercury from schools. Mercury is often present in old implements like thermometers, barometers and pressure gauges and even in jars and containers of the silver liquid metal, sometimes present in back storage rooms adjacent to school chemistry labs. Mercury is a volatile substance which constantly 0ff-gases if not enclosed. Mercury vapor is the most toxic form of mercury, even more toxic than “methyl mercury”, a form of mercury found in the environment and the primary substance contributing to fish consumption advisories.

Quick facts

  • Parties to the Minamata Convention include the United States, China, Japan, Switzerland, and Mexico.
  • The first Conference of the Parties (COP-1) has been scheduled for September 23, 2017, in Geneva.
  • The Minamata Convention on Mercury will enter into force after 50 governments have ratified it.
  • Indigenous peoples and northern communities have been working in partnership with scientists and the Government of Canada to better understand this issue, using both scientific and Indigenous knowledge, and they have succeeded in contributing to this historic convention.
  • In 2014, Canada published the Products Containing Mercury Regulations, which prohibit the manufacture and import of most mercury-containing products.
  • Coal combustion, particularly for the generation of electricity, is the major source of mercury to the Canadian environment.
  • Canada became the first major coal user to ban the construction of traditional coal-fired electricity generation units.
  • Canada’s greenhouse gas regulations also require existing coal-fired units to close or to install carbon capture and storage once they reach a defined period of operating life (generally 50 years).
  • In November 2016, the Government of Canada announced its intent to accelerate the transition from traditional coal power to clean energy by 2030.
  • Our greenhouse gas regulations for coal-fired electricity are also expected to result in reductions of mercury emissions from that sector.
  • In 2017, Canada published the Export of Substances on the Export Control List Regulations, which prohibit exports of mercury, with limited exceptions, to continue implementing Canada’s domestic mercury strategy.


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Study looks at the visual capabilities of deep water fish in Lake Superior

The siscowet lake trout is only found in Lake Superior and is the main predator in the deepwater region of the lake. (Photo: Shawn Sitar/Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

Lake Superior as compared to the other Great Lakes consists of a relatively simple food web consisting of few major predators and prey fish. The interactions of the predator and prey community in the deep offshore regions of Lake Superior have been well studied except for the role that vision plays in these fish. To learn more about these predator and prey deepwater interactions the University of Minnesota Duluth Biology Department conducted a study on the Visual Sensitivity of Deepwater Fishes in Lake Superior that was published in PLOS, a multidisciplinary open access journal.

The study focused on three key fish that inhabit the deepwater environment of Lake Superior: the siscowet lake trout, deepwater sculpin, and kiyi.

It was found in this study that visual interactions are possible at the depths and times when this major predator and two prey fish overlap in the water column indicating that vision may play a far greater role at depth in freshwater lakes, such as Lake Superior, than had been previously documented.

Read more …

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Scientists Puzzled by Rise in Mercury in Great Lakes Fish

Mean mercury concentration in lake trout/walleye from 1999 through 2009 (Source: US EPA).

Though advisories about toxic mercury in fish have continued in Michigan and the surrounding Great Lakes, with recommendations to limit consumption of certain species to a few times per month, the amount of mercury found in fish tissues has dropped steadily over decades since the 1970s. That corresponded with the reduction of pollution coming from Midwestern smokestacks as regulations tightened, pollution prevention technology improved, and coal-fired factories and power plants went offline.

But over the last several years, that started changing. Scientists are finding mercury levels rising in large Great Lakes fish such as walleye and lake trout. Curiously, it’s occurring with fish in some locations but not others. Researchers are still trying to figure out why.

The mercury levels are not surpassing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thresholds. But researchers want to determine if what they are seeing is a temporary trend or a trajectory that’s only going to worsen.

Scientists only have hypotheses regarding why this is occurring. The trend of warming Great Lakes could be a factor, said Shane De Solla, an ecotoxicologist with Environment Canada and co-author on the recent study.

Many types of mercury in the environment tend to pass through fish when ingested. But a type known as methylmercury tends to be absorbed into fish tissues. As small fish eat contaminated insects, and medium-sized fish eat the smaller fish, and large game fish eat the medium fish, those mercury concentrations get magnified exponentially, a process known as bioaccumulation.

“The lakes are slightly warmer, and that increases the production of methylmercury,” De Solla said.

The region’s more frequent and intense storms in recent years could also be a factor, says Agnes Richards, a research scientist with Environment Canada.

“That results in a lot of flooding, and the re-suspension of sediments,” she said. “What was buried before can become exposed, and that can increase the conversion of mercury to methylmercury.”

Read More …

Full-Text of the Research Article


Mercury Levels in Herring Gulls and Fish – Trends in the Great Lakes (Text)

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