Month: March 2020

Coronavirus and the unexpected beneficiary – Environment

The coronavirus pandemic is something novel that is leaving people around the world stopped in their tracks. Nations across the globe are being advised to stay home and reduce contact with others to stop the transmission of this new virus. As a result, schools are canceled, businesses are closing except for the essentials, flights are limited, and day-to-day life is changing at an unprecedented rate. These times can leave people anxious and worried while wondering what to do with themselves, but the impact of this pandemic is not all doom and gloom. This pandemic has had some positive effects on the environment despite the rather unfortunate circumstances.

China was the first nation to be hit with the virus. COVID-19 started to exponentially affect people at the beginning of the year. Chinese New Year rolled around and as per usual business shut down to celebrate which results in lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which happens every year. But this year was different. The levels of GHG emissions stayed low after the Chinese New Year as a result of people staying at home due to the virus. The results can be seen from space. One indicator of GHG is nitrogen dioxide emissions (NOx). With lower production of coal as well as red reduced automobile use, the country has seen some significant reductions in emissions and improved ait quality. Some experts speculate that the increase in air quality will save more lives in the long term.

The lower levels of pollution are not exclusive to China. Other countries are also emitting less. Many people are transitioning to working from home. As a result, the emissions from commuting have been drastically reduced. Another reduction in GHG due to COVID-19 comes from planes. Planes are a large producer of GHG but since many airlines have reduced or stopped flights together there are fewer GHG being released to the environment. The reduction of GHG can be seen from space

There are other benefits for the environment that have resulted from this unfortunate pandemic. The Venice River in Italy has remarkable changes to its water quality since Italy has been under lockdown from the virus. The river is typically full of pollution and the absence of life, but the river is now flowing clearly. Some people have provided false information about dolphins returning, but other organisms such as fish have started to occupy the waters again. Cruise ships typically dock at the port in Venice, but since cruise ships are a breeding ground for the virus and Italy being on lockdown, they haven’t been able to dock, and the river has had a chance to expel its dirty water and cultivate life again.

Although these grim times have resulted in reduced pressure on the environment, these benefits for the environment may not last forever. The health of citizens is important to a country, but so is its economy. The crisis has resulted in harsh economic times. Businesses are closing, some temporally and others potentially for good. People are losing jobs or getting reduced hours. These changes have temporarily benefitted the environment, but they may not be long-lasting. A growing economy is typically very energy demanding and once the virus subsides the race to get back on top will likely result in reduced emissions policies and production of energy from high polluters such as coal. the future regarding COVID-19 is unknown, but that doesn’t mean the future has to be grim.

This current pandemic we are experiencing is proof that humans are capable of drastically altering their lives. The coronavirus outbreak gives a glimpse of how nations can come together to fight an issue. These times pave a way for what is possible when it comes to climate change. The coronavirus is a global emergency but so is climate change. The current situation we are in gives proof that change can happen. Environmentalists warn that although the effects of climate change seem far away, they are just as big as a threat as COVID-19, if not larger than COVID-19. This global action is living proof that nations can come together to immense issues.

Although this time is tough for many people, there are still things people can do to maintain their mental and physical health. It is critical to practice social distancing, but as of now, people are still allowed to go outside and go for a hike, run, bike, etc as long as they are social distancing. If you want something a little more slow-paced, try visiting a forest and reap the benefits that nature can provide. These current times involve adjusting our lives, but maybe schedule some time to get outside and appreciate what nature has to offer, even if it is just in your own backyard.

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Watch out for flooding this spring

Flooding of river in spring in town during melting of snow. Flooding city. Flood between private houses. Flood on spring river. Natural disaster. Big water in city

With the onset of spring comes potential floods. The Lakehead Region Conservation Authority (LRCA) has issued flood warnings for the Lakehead area. The LRCA continues to monitor conditions and provide updates. Whenever there is a potential for a flood the LRCA will issue and Flood Watch which will be terminated once the risk is gone.

Warm days with rain precipitation can induce floods by accelerating the melting of snow and ice and increasing runoff into the waterways. Areas with limited permeability such as roads, driveways, parking lots, or any low-lying areas are places where floods are higher risk.

This year, Lake Superior experienced near record-high levels and even set a water level record in February. The lake levels are currently on par with last year’s levels and remain well above average. They are only 4 centimeters lower than the March record high water level set in 1968., but 64 centimeters lower than the 100-year flood level for Lake Superior. The high-water levels lead the lake more susceptible to floods and the LRCA is monitoring the conditions accordingly.

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Rain-gardens – the secret tool to reduce stormwater runoff

Temperatures are slowly starting to rise and the grass is starting to make an appearance, some may suggest that spring is on the way. With the onset of spring comes getting outside, digging in the dirt, biking to work, and busting out a pair of shorts. But the onset of spring also brings spring floods, melting snow, and precipitation in the form of rain. This results in the amount of runoff going into waterways to increase. Runoff can potentially be harmful because it increases flows that can increase rates of erosion. Runoff can also carry possible pollutants such as sediments, nutrients, hydrocarbons, bacteria and other pollutants from the land to our aquatic ecosystems.

Runoff is accelerated when it comes into contact with impervious surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways, roads, or any other surface that black the percolation of water. One way that is relatively inexpensive that reduces runoff into waterways is through rain gardens.

Rain gardens are a relatively inexpensive way to prevent excess runoff from entering the waterways. Rain gardens reduce and retain stormwater runoff as well as increase percolation and evapotranspiration which can reduce storm flows and pollutants from entering the water.

Raingardens typically replace areas that once had a non-permeable surface. They are usually in a depression which contains a soil mixture of sandy loam, mulch, and plants that can withstand wet and dry water conditions. The mulch layer can sometimes be omitted, but it has been found that the mulch is a good mechanism for increasing pollutant absorbency. Raingardens can connect to a natural groundwater recharge system, or they can have an impervious boundary at the bottom to collect water.

Most studies on rain gardens take place in a temperate region, but Thunder Bay typically has below zero temperatures from October to April and depending on the season freezing conditions can be even longer. A study from Norway looked at the role of rain gardens in a cold-environment and found that things behave a little differently when temperatures drop below freezing. In cold-climates such as Thunder Bay, the soil moisture prior to freezing plays a critical role in the effectiveness of reducing runoff which depends on infiltration rates.

Raingardens work because water can percolate through them rather than running off them like a sheet. In order for water to infiltrate effectively through frozen or partially frozen soil, the soil must be frozen with certain moisture content. Frozen soil takes three general forms, concrete, granular, and porous. Concrete soil occurs when saturated soil is frozen and creates an impermeable layer. Granular soil occurs when unsaturated soil freezes and creates a permeable layer that can sometimes outperform unfrozen soil. Porous soil is in between concrete and granular. Rain gardens are effective in cold climates when concrete soil conditions are avoided. One way to increase winter infiltration is to increase the sand content of your soil.

We are currently in a unique time where gardening can serve as a tool to get outside for some sunshine while socially distancing yourself from others. Building a rain garden is a great activity that will benefit you and the environment. Just remember to practice advice from healthcare providers if you need to venture out to get supplies.

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Forest Therapy in Thunder Bay

Forest therapy is coming to Thunder Bay. The Global Institute of Forest Therapy (G.I.F.T) is an organization that promotes nature connection and forest therapy to improve physical and mental health. They have been researching the benefits of forest therapy since 1980. GIFT wants to see forest therapy expand into the college and university setting so they visited Lakehead University to share the benefits of forest therapy as well as the opportunity to become a forest therapy guide in Thunder Bay.

Forest therapy is based on a curriculum that combines indigenous knowledge with traditions that originally stemmed from Japan. There is emerging research that shows that being out in nature has many positive health impacts. 

To begin the presentation, participants were handed a business card made from sustainably sourced wood which had tree essential oils embedded into the card. Participants went through a mindfulness exercise for a couple of minutes where they put the card to their nose, closed their eyes, and immersed themselves in their favorite forest setting through visualization and scents from the card. 

Nature connection is found to be important for health and well-being, and more and more research is coming out that supports these claims. Forests are a unique ecosystem that mirrors a healthy functioning system. They typically contain fractals which are patterns that repeat within which when noticed can provide health benefits. The forest usually produces phytocides which are airborne essential tree oils. Phytocides can prevent the tree from bacterial, fungal, and insect infestation. These chemicals also have positive benefits for humans and have the possibility to halt the release of cortisol. When people are in an open space like a forest there is room for their entire energy which can help ground them when they are angry or upset. The forest has an abundance of trees which are intelligent organisms which the “Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wholleben describes. There is running water within a forest that can provide negative ions that are essential for health. If you’ve ever put your feet in running water you know it can be a wonderful feeling that can also be quite healing. Breathing in the fresh forest air can also be quite beneficial. Nature is an entity with the potential to connect things. 

When people are hiking, running, biking, canoeing, or doing any sort of fast-paced movement in nature, their bodies activate their sympathetic nervous system. This is the nervous system that keeps people in the fight or flight response. Exercising in nature is beneficial, but forest therapy is unique because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the state of healing, where the body can perform different kinds of processes that regenerate cells, clear toxins and helps produce clear minds. The presenters suggest that this system can only be tapped into when people stop and slow down. Forest therapy offers a unique opportunity to activate this system.

There are multiple benefits that forest therapy brings to the hustle and bustle of society. Forest therapy offers the opportunity to connect with the more than human world. It can provide a driving force for mitigating climate change and earth stewardship. It brings pleasure to the present moment. There are many physical and mental health benefits that a forest therapy session can bring. A forest therapy session typically consists of a walk that covers a trail that’s 500m to 1km long and is three hours in duration. Within the three hours, there will be a series of invitations that bring you closer to nature. Each invitation ends with a sharing circle, which is one of the few times where talking is allowed. There are typically 3-5 invitations. The invitations vary in their nature but all have the goal of making you slow down, reflect, and gain clarity. 

Forest therapy can be beneficial to nearly everyone. The average Canadian spends 90-95% of their lives indoors. Forest therapy provides the opportunity to escape the monotony of the indoor rat-race. Forest therapy is not unique to only forests and trees. There are invitations and opportunities to reap the same benefits with a connection to water. There is also emerging research on “blue mind” that focuses on the specific benefits that come from connecting and being around water. Being around water can bring people into a meditative state which can bring them away from the anxious state of the typical day-to-day lifestyle. Taking time to connect with nature is an important factor for well-being.

Thunder Bay is proud to be one of the hosts for GIFT training sessions in 2020. The training is an 8-day intensive from May 16-23 that develops the necessary skills to become a forest therapy guide. If you are interested in more information on how to become a forest guide visit https://www.giftoftheforest.com/. Thunder Bay is also looking to develop a self-guided forest therapy trail that has invitations posted throughout the route. 

Schedule some time for nature and reap the many benefits that nature connections can offer. Take some time to benefit from the big lake at our doorsteps. Try something new and sign up for a forest therapy walk. Being out in nature and taking time to slow down can benefit you in all aspects of your life. 

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Get Active this Winter and Explore the North Shore of Lake Superior

The wintertime can leave many of us house-bound and wishing for better weather. But that doesn’t have to be the case. The winter is a wonderful time to experience new adventures and see places in a new way. Here on the north shore of Lake Superior, there are many events that can allow you to appreciate the winter, get active, and bring you closer to Lake Superior. Try something new, break a sweat, and cultivate an appreciation for the winter and the lake.

Fatbiking in Thunder Bay

Maybe biking is your thing. You cycle in the summer and enjoy ripping through the roads or trails. You’re getting tired of your trainer and counting down the days till you can cycle outside again. Fortunately, cycling doesn’t need to only be a fair-weather activity. You can still conquer the trails or roads. Sign up for a fat-biking race or rent one from one of the local bike shops in town. Sign-up for the sleeping giant fat-bike loppet to bring you close to Lake Superior. You don’t need a race to get out on the bike. Rent a bike and take it out on one of the numerous trails that surround the beautiful lake. Or if the ice is safe, go for a ride on the lake, but remember to practice ice safety.

Skating on Lake Superior

Maybe you’re looking for something a bit more relaxed. Bring your skates and head to Red Rock for Parks Canada’s free event: Fire & Ice – Skate on the Lake. Enjoy your afternoon skating on the 700m skating trail on the Lake. Finish off your afternoon with a mug of hot chocolate by the campfire. You could also attend the evening session and enjoy the trail lit by fire. Bring the whole family and experience Lake Superior. Afternoon sessions run from 12-4 pm and are (Monday, Feb 17th, Saturday, Feb 29th and Saturday, Mar 21st). The evening session is 5-9 pm on Saturday, March 7th.

https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/amnc-nmca/on/super/activ/guidees-guided?fbclid=IwAR2WsWDIu-lgF0KaMKRVeNy-_rbxoAf5lO9uEdyo9iod-6_LYYRZCL88hWU

Skiing at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Maybe you’ve been skiing for years or wanting to get into the sport. The Sleeping Giant Loppet is a wonderful event for people of every skill level. Distances are 8km, 20km, 35km, 50km. And are offered in classic or skate still. Enjoy warm juice and cookies on the trails or push your limits and compete. The trails wind around the Sibley Peninsula located on Lake Superior to give you a new appreciation for the lake. The loppet is on March 7th, 2020 and is located in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park on the shore of Lake Superior. The trails are open outside of the loppet to enjoy and explore the beautiful north shore.

https://www.sleepinggiantloppet.ca/

Bust out of your winter funk and get out and enjoy the wonderful winter on Lake Superior.

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Celebrate Canada’s Water Week on March 15, 2020

Water is one of the most valuable resources. It is essential for all forms of life on earth. During March, Canada celebrates water week from March 15-21 and the United Nations water day is March 22. To commemorate this beautiful, life-giving fluid, Confederation College, along with a multitude of sponsors are hosting a free event. The event takes place Sunday, March 15, from 12 pm to 4 pm. There will be lots of opportunities to challenge your detective skills, learn about rain gardens and aquatic bugs. There will be water-themed crafts for the family to take part in as well as a test to see how good your knowledge of water conservation is. On top of that, there will be cool prizes, and free giveaways, the chance to meet new people, and of course the fun will be endless.

Date: March 15, 2020

Time: 12pm to 4pm

Location: TEC Hub Atrium, Confederation College, 1450 NAKINA DR Thunder Bay, ON Canada

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Seeking Input on North Harbour Options

There was an engagement meeting for the North Harbour on Wednesday, February 26th at the Delta Hotel. The meeting discussed options to remove the contaminated mercury sediments in the North Harbour. We are looking for public input on the three short-listed remediation options:

Option A: Dredging and Disposal at an On-Site Confined Disposal Facility

Option B: Dredging and Disposal at Mission Bay Confined Disposal Facility

Option C: Construction of an In-place Barrier and Infilling

Please consider filling out our survey:

Public Survey Link

For more information and updates in the future, please see our page http://rap.infosuperior.com/NorthHarbour

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Surfing Lake Superior in Winter?!

Adam Breedon riding a wave.

With the low ice cover, the surfing season on the Great Lakes has extended well into the winter. I sat down with Adam Breedon, a student from Lakehead University, president of the Lakehead Surfing Club to talk about surfing on Lake Superior.

How did you get into surfing on the great lakes?

I got into surfing through friends who aren’t from the area. One is from England, and the other is from Vancouver and both grew up surfing. They discovered the North Shore surfing community. They went to the Waasaashkaa Gathering (Waasaashkaa means “the lake has whitecaps” in Ojibwa) and got connected to the North Shore surfing community. After connecting wit other surfers, they realized that they could surf on the lake. One friend Simon, gathered some gear and took me and some friends out. We decided to start a club to get more people out on the lake. As of now, we have partnerships with Surf Ontario and Xcel Canada to sponsor some events. The goal of the club is to try to gather enough gear so we can take people out. Wetsuits are the major barrier since it’s a lot easier to pass a board along then it is to change a wet wetsuit. Surfing on Lake Superior is not like surfing in Hawaii, we need a lot of gear to surf on Lake Superior. As of now, we have 8-9 wetsuits with only 4 good for winter. We want to get as many people out as possible. We are constantly looking for sponsors and fundraising events so we can make the club more accessible to students. We are hoping to do our own event in the fall since we have more fall gear to get more people out.

Why do you like it?

Surfing is really hard. It’s hard to get better. You can’t just take a ball out and kick it around like you can with soccer. With surfing, you might catch 3 or 4 waves in an hour. It’s great exercise because you are constantly paddling. But it’s hard to get good.  You have to constantly be catching waves, but they aren’t constant. I’m a competitive person so I like the challenge. Sometimes you’ll be paddling for an hour just searching for waves, getting cold, and you’ll want to give up, but then you catch a wave and ride it out and it becomes totally worth it.

When is the best time for surfing on Lake Superior?

Sadly, there isn’t good surf in the summer due to limited swell. The best time is from fall to spring when there isn’t ice. Thunder Bay is pretty secluded, so it gets iced over pretty quickly. We went out to one of our surfing spots over at Chippewa beach in November, but it was frozen over. One of our go-to spots is Terrace Bay. There are around 5 different spots within a small area that allows for really great waves. We also go down to Grand Marais in Minnesota where it is more open and good to catch waves. But people surf all over Lake Superior. As long as there are good waves, there are people that surf them.

Surfing in January, 2020.

Do you get cold?

Yes. Very. When you are paddling you stay very warm, but when you’re out on the backline waiting for waves you get very cold. The worst part is not being in the water, but getting changed. Once you’re wet and cold you stay that way. We have to get dressed out in the elements and we get very cold. Sometimes we change in the car, but when a lot of people come there isn’t much room left so we are often left changing on the beach or side of the highway.

A packed car in the winter.

What’s the difference between fall and winter suits?

The thickness of the suit. I have a 4, 5, 6 hood.  There is a hood built-in and the 4, 5, 6 is the thickness in millimeters. 6mm is the torso, 5mm is the mid area and legs, and the 4mm is the sleeves and the hood, which makes this suit good up to late fall. Winter ones get thick and always have a hoof. But in the summer, they are thinner and often don’t have hoods. We also wear booties and mitts that are 7 or 8mm. The only thing showing in the winter is your face. When you get a wave in the face it’s a crazy brain freeze.

How much is a wetsuit?

A used fall wetsuit is around $150 for a decent fall one. But a good new winter suit is $600-$700. So it becomes a decent investment. We are constantly looking for used ones for our club.

How will climate change affect surfing on the great lakes?

Surfing, in general, is getting affected by climate change. On the great lakes, I can imagine bigger storms and altered seasons. The reduced ice cover could increase the length of the surfing season which is a plus for surfing, but for the environment. The increased erosion could also limit access and take out some of the beaches used for surfing.

Do you notice pollution or bacterial growth when you surf?

Yes, one of our spots is Chippewa beach and there is always a sign there for E.coli which concerns us. We try to keep our mouths closed so we don’t ingest it. But over by Terrace Bay, the water is super clear. You’ll get hit in the face and get a nice drink of water. It’s super refreshing. Sometimes we notice garbage, but we also make sure to pick up what we can. The Waasaashkaa gathering has a lot of people that all bring their own food so we are super diligent about cleaning up and leaving it better when we leave especially with the stereotype that goes along with surfers.

How does surfing on Lake Superior compare to surfing in other places?

I’ve only surfed on Lake Superior, but I’m familiar with other places. The lake swell is all wind-generated which leads to inconsistent waves. We want the storm to be away from where we surf because the farther the waves travel the cleaner the waves are. It’s ideal when there’s a big storm in Duluth that sends the waves to Terrace bay. We look for big waves with little wind for consistent waves. Sometimes we are out in the storm and there are waves breaking from every direction and we often end up having our boards get pulled under. On the other hand, in the ocean, there’s a groundswell that makes more consistent waves. The ocean is connected, so a storm in Japan will cause big clean waves in Hawaii because there is so much time for it to clean up.  When we surf on Lake Superior it is usually overcast and pretty grey. It’s not the sunny warm environment like surfing in Hawaii or California.

How often do you get out to surf?

It depends on how consistent the waves are. There is usually a good swell every two weeks. In December and January, all the good waves were down on the south side over in Michigan. Recently there has been some decent stuff in Duluth and Terrace Bay so we’ve been going around there. A lot of it is luck.

How do you keep track of the waves?

We use NOAA data. We look at their wind and wave monitoring date. But there is also an app called “Great Lakes Surfing” that uses the same NOAA data. It creates animated GIFs that show the waves and wind. There is a 72hour window that the app shows, so we’re often checking that to plan our trips.

Are there particular lake characteristics that make for better surfing?

There are a few different types of breaks. There are beach breaks where waves break on the beach and those aren’t good for surfing. We prefer reef or sandbar breaks where they break well before the beach and then you can ride the wave in. There are also point breaks where there is a short peninsula where the wave breaks along the coast of the point. We have spots that we go to, but sometimes we just drive and look for places. There are certain things to look for though. We look for where it’s breaking, how it’s breaking, can I get out there? and for rocks or debris. You also have to look and scope out a route when you get there. Sometimes I get too excited and end up having to come back in and find a better way to get out there because I rushed my plan. There is limited access. Between Thunder Bay and Nipigon, it is hard to see the lake from the highway, so it limits where we go since we don’t want to trespass. We usually stay with open beaches that are accessible to the public or places that are known for surfing. Some people surf at Sleeping Giant, but I have never been there.

What would you suggest for people who want to get into surfing?

Check out the Waasaashkaa gathering Facebook or Instagram page. The gathering is every fall in October. The time changes based on the waves. The people at the festival are super inclusive and want to grow the community. If you want to come to the festival, you can post on the Facebook page and Chris and Yaeko are the admins of the page. They will do their best to find you a suit. I’ve borrowed suits for a six-pack of beer. For any students, we have our club at Lakehead. You can find us on Instagram @ Lakeheadu_Greatlakes_surfing, and I’ll answer any questions. If surfing isn’t your thing, there are also people that come out that whitewater kayak, kitesurf, stand up paddleboard. The surfing community is not exclusive to surfing. It’s for anyone who loves to get out on the water.

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