Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Ecologist will use paleolimnology to take audience ‘back in time’

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair

Ecologist will use paleolimnology to take audience ‘back in time’

November 15, 2005

Palelimnology is the study of fresh water ecosystems in the past. On Thursday November 24th the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) will host another keynote seminar in this year’s theme “Change in our Natural World”. The guest speaker is Dr. Brian Cumming, Associate Professor in the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory at Queens University (PEARL). The PEARL scientists use techniques of paleolimnology to provide an historical perspective on environmental change. Data collected is used to determine natural environmental variability in the past and to test models used to study current global environmental change.

Dr. Cumming’s research can track natural changes in an ecosystem over impressively long time periods (millions of years) in the past while at the same time uncovering detailed decade by decade information about this time period. Sophisticated sampling techniques and analyses can reveal patterns of temperature, acidity and other changes in a lake over long periods of time. Changes in lake temperature for example affect the type of algae and other species which will flourish. These changes can then be ‘reconstructed’ from analyzing fossil algae preserved in the lake sediment. Dr. Cumming’s work has spanned the continents and the millennia and includes work on environmental assessment of lakes in Norway, Costa Rica and Africa as well as the impact of historic climate change, drought, acid rain, and clear cutting on lakes in the Adirondacks and many sites in Canada.

For the upcoming MVFN presentation the focus will be his research on the natural cycles of drought on the Prairies. Dr. Cumming has found that abrupt millennial-scale shifts in climate were likely common on the North American continent in the past six thousand years. These natural shifts are more severe and prolonged than the meteorological and historical records indicate. Although the mechanisms behind these changes are unclear, the findings have profound implications for the natural environment and the infrastructures of our communities. Water management plans, for example, may be inadequate if predictions of variations in water availability and water levels are based only on short-term records.

This event will be held on Thursday, November 24th at 7:30 p.m. at the Almonte United Church, Elgin St. Members of the public are welcome ($5 non-member fee) and refreshments will be offered. For further information, contact Tine Kuiper at 256-8241 or visit our website at