Data-driven Approaches to Illuminate the Responses of Lakes to Multiple Stressors (2019-2020)


Freshwater resources have enormous value to society, but climate change and the growing human population present challenges for the sustainability of these ecological goods and services. Long-term records and whole-ecosystem experiments illuminate the responses of freshwater systems to stressors, informing water quality management efforts.

Research at the IISD-Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA) has yielded seminal findings of the effects of key stressors on lakes, including acidification, nutrient loading, heavy metal contamination, food web alterations and oil spills. While the results of these studies are widely published in scientific journals and textbooks, the key findings are often not conveyed to nonspecialists in a meaningful way.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will advance education and public literacy in aquatic science by leveraging data-enabled approaches to detecting and understanding lake stressors and their effects on aquatic ecosystems. Key aims of the project are to create a data-enabled storytelling platform to highlight iconic ecosystem experiments and long-term monitoring efforts at the IISD-ELA and to investigate the effects of climate change on lakes across time and space.

These aims will be achieved by weaving together three topical areas: science, storytelling and web design. Team members will develop a web-based data-enabled storytelling platform that will serve as a tool for teaching and public engagement. Site users will be able to explore classic whole-lake experiments conducted at IISD-ELA and use interactive data visualization tools to explore relationships among variables over time (long-term records) and space (multiple lakes). The intention is to provide nontechnical audiences with engaging and interactive virtual tours through iconic ecosystem experiments, in order to promote public understanding and education in aquatic science.

The team will also examine temperature-associated changes occurring in lakes at IISD-ELA over the course of five decades, targeting 15 lakes with long-term monitoring records. Reaching this goal will involve statistical analysis of long-term changes in temperature and water quality, as well as application of a MATLAB-based model to quantify the individual and interacting effects of climate stressors on seasonal ice cover, thermal stratification and surface temperature of lakes.

Anticipated Outcomes

Web-based, data-enabled storytelling platform housed on IISD-ELA website; modules from web-based platform for future multimedia museum exhibit; 1-2 manuscripts for publication; proposals for future funding


Summer 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Summer 2019: Process data from lake monitoring and experiments; develop R Shiny app, curated stories and data playground; consult with IISD-ELA staff on communication strategy; travel to IISD-ELA; conduct data collection with scientific staff; generate data for model input files
  • Fall 2019: Weekly student team meetings; bimonthly meetings with core team; improve and expand web modules; unveil website and museum exhibit; statistical analysis of long-term monitoring data; application of MATLAB-based model to IISD-ELA lakes; develop and publish climate effects web module
  • Spring 2020: Continue and complete activities

Team Outputs to Date

Science Under the Surface

This Team in the News

Bass Connections Teams Share Research Highlights in a Virtual Showcase

See related Data+ summer project, Data-driven Approaches to Illuminate the Responses of Lakes to Multiple Stressors (2019).


Image: Seagram Lake outflow, by Kevin Teague, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Seagram Lake outflow.

Team Leaders

  • Kateri Salk-Gundersen, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Jory Weintraub, Science & Society

/graduate Team Members

  • Kimberly Bourne, Civil & Environmental Engg-PHD
  • Sena McCrory, Master of Environmental Management, Ecotoxicology & Environmental Health
  • Yike Xu, Master of Environmental Management, Global Environmental Change

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Lingrong Jin, Statistical Science (BS), Biology (AB2)
  • Henry Mukherji
  • Nicholas Peoples, Environmental Sciences (BS)
  • Margaret Reed
  • Yunqi Shi, Environmental Engineering(BSE)
  • Vincent Wang

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Emily Bernhardt, Arts & Sciences-Biology
  • Wenhong Li, Nicholas School of the Environment-Earth and Ocean Sciences

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Pauline Gerrard, IISD-ELA
  • Scott Higgins, IISD-ELA
  • Michael Paterson, IISD-ELA
  • Angela Reeves, IISD-ELA