Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Field Naturalists Took Temperature of Mississippi River Watershed

Field Naturalists Took Temperature of Mississippi River Watershed

August 17, 2006

by Cliff Bennett

When a child is showing signs of stress, we naturally take its temperature. With the potential of climate change to stress the Mississippi River watershed, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) decided to take its temperature. So, from Upper Lake Mazinaw at one end, to the Ottawa River at the other, we took the temperature of lakes and rivers of the watershed. The volunteer driven water-temperature survey, conducted on the August holiday weekend, was one of 75 projects celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Ontario Nature, formerly The Federation of Ontario Naturalists. As an outreach project, the goal was to engage the public in considering the implications of future climate change for the Mississippi River.
The health of our lakes and rivers is important to us: the watershed is where we live and play. Water temperature, levels, flow patterns and distribution of flora and fauna are not static; change can occur quickly in response to various environmental stresses. Water temperature, specifically maximum surface-water temperature, usually occurring during the first week of August in our watershed, is one important control on the distribution of aquatic plants and animals which can be measured.

Eighty to one hundred people, MVFN members and other volunteers, thermometers and home-made water-samplers in hand, set out in canoes, row boats and motor boats to take the watersheds’ temperature in the perfect weather of August 5-7th. From families in rented canoes, people in motor boats, and those sampling from bridges and docks, we thank all participants who helped make the survey a success! Please send in your location and temperature data if you have not already done so, as information on all lakes and river sections within the watershed is valuable. Raw data will be archived with MVC and the field naturalists.

The water-temperature survey project was a result of nearly a year of planning by MVFN organizers, coordinated by Cliff Bennett and including Paul Eggington, Michael Macpherson, Michael McPhail, Howard Robinson and Pauline Donaldson. Of course, MVFN could not have completed this Herculean effort without partnerships with Lake Associations, local Fish and Game Clubs, and volunteers from NRCan, to which heartfelt thanks and congratulations are extended. Special thanks go to Mississippi Valley Conservation (MVC) staff member Susan Lee and summer student Tom Thistle, whose efforts in contacting and encouraging the Lake Associations were outstanding.

In all, an estimated 500 plus temperature readings were collected, both at the surface and one metre deep across the watershed. Collected at a single point in time they will provide a baseline of data on temperature distribution across the watershed. The baseline can be used for assessing future change. In addition, lake associations and other groups can use the data in a more specific way, for example to look at temperature variations within their lake or river area to locate useful sites where data loggers could record future change as it happens. Already, as a result of this project, temperature loggers were installed by lake conservationists in Buckshot Lake, Clayton Lake and White Lake, and plans are underway to install them in additional places. Valuable ongoing monitoring work also continues to be done by volunteers such as Lake Stewards and organizations such as MVC and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Future climate change is only one environmental stress which may change our watershed. The provincial government and MVC have now begun serious consideration of the implications of future climate change. Hopefully, our work will encourage the local public to engage in discussions about how we can manage future change. Just what is at risk and how can we best adapt to changes that are already underway?

Once all of the water temperature results are in, MVFN will prepare a summary report of the 2006 water-temperature survey for public release. Copies will also be sent to participating groups and individuals and posted on our website at www.mvfn.ca. For further information on this or other MVFN projects, please contact MVFN President Michael McPhail at 613-256-7211 or .