Protecting Great Lakes focus of multi-million dollar research project

The Great Lakes are under constant stress from pollution, habitat loss, climate change, invasive species and over-exploitation, but a group of University of Windsor researchers have received about $6.7 million in research dollars to find ways to improve and preserve their health.

On Friday, Essex MP Jeff Watson and Teresa Piruzza, MPP for Windsor West and Minister of Children and Youth Services, announced funding to the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI), and the University of Windsor.

The funding includes:

  • $2.52 million from CFI, a federal agency that provides research infrastructure funding for post-secondary institutions
  • Another $2.52 million from MRI’s Ontario Research Fund, which is committed to building a stronger, more competitive research sector in Ontario
  • $458,000 from the University of Windsor, and another $1.2 million in in-kind contributions
Dan Heath

Dan Heath.

“The Great Lakes are internationally important,” said GLIER Director Dan Heath. “They hold 80 per cent of North America’s fresh water and are critical to Canada’s economic and social well-being in such key areas as transportation, energy, potable water, recreation and food. To effectively manage them we must address environmental stressors by assessing, analyzing and finding ways to remediate the problems they’re facing.”

Funding will be used primarily for the purchase of state-of-the-art scientific equipment to be used by GLIER researchers, as well as some from Chemistry and Biochemistry, Biological Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering. The new facilities and infrastructure will foster links between environmental researchers, creating a world-class, integrated and multi-disciplinary research group.

Watson says all Canadians are affected by the health of the Great Lakes and research to protect them is vital.

“Partnering with the University of Windsor on this important work will give us the information we need to manage the health of our Great Lakes many years into the future.”

The funding will help researchers expand their expertise in three areas:

  • Biogeochemical function analysis, which will provide a better understanding of metals, sediments, and micro-organismal systems and more in-depth knowledge about potentially harmful contaminants and microbes in lake sediments and coming from such sources as sewage and agricultural waste;
  • Environmental Genomics and Proteomics, which will provide sensitive and powerful sub-organismal based genetics technology to assess responses to disturbances in aquatic ecosystems from, among others things, climate change, pollution and invasive species;
  • Ecological Tracers, which will provide a broader knowledge of overall lake health through a better understanding of interactions among organisms. This is critical for the understanding of ecosystem structure and health, and will have important implications for improving fisheries while protecting endangered species.

“This infrastructure will further promote GLIER and the University of Windsor as the major centre in Canada for the development and application of interdisciplinary environmental assessment, analysis and remediation research in the Great Lakes region,” Piruzza said.

UWindsor Vice-President, Research, Michael Siu said the funding will enable GLIER to examine critical issues of Great Lakes health from a variety of perspectives and open opportunities for collaboration across disciplines.

 “This will foster partnerships among researchers and students working on alleviating stressor effects and allow researchers from areas across campus to collaborate with GLIER on a wide variety of issues.”