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Great Lakes Surveillance Program

Program Overview

Specialized equipment is used for monitoring trace quantities of metals and organic contaminants that may be present in Great Lakes waters. Here, the ISOMET sampler, designed and constructed at Environment Canada, is used to sample trace metals in water. | © EC - Photo: Alice Dove
Specialized equipment is used for monitoring trace quantities
of metals and organic contaminants that may be present in
Great Lakes waters

Environment Canada conducts open lake cruises to provide information on water quality in the Great Lakes. The main objectives of the Great Lakes Surveillance Program are to ensure compliance with water quality objectives, evaluate water quality trends and identify emerging issues. The Surveillance Program is delivered as part of Canada’s commitment to the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The Program also responds to the needs of the binational Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative, the Lakewide Management Plans, the Binational Toxics Strategy and the Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network.

The Great Lakes Surveillance Program, lead by scientists at the Ontario office of Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, has monitored water quality in the Great Lakes for over 40 years. The program provides some of the most comprehensive, systematic and detailed information that is available in the world for large lakes.

In the on-board laboratory, samples for soluble nutrients are conducted immediately after sampling because it is known that the concentrations of these substances will change over time if kept in storage. Other samples are processed in the ship’s lab and later analyzed at the National Laboratory for Environmental Testing at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington. | © EC - Photo: Alice Dove
In the on-board laboratory, samples for soluble
nutrients are conducted immediately after sampling

The first Great Lakes Surveillance cruises were conducted in 1962 on Lake Erie and 1965 on Lake Ontario, and the Surveillance Program was formally launched in 1968. Until 1974, data collection was of a research nature and the study objectives changed with each year. Since then, the surveillance program has been standardized, and monitoring is alternated between each of the Great Lakes (except for Lake Michigan, which is located entirely within the United States) so that each lake is generally monitored every second year, with multiple cruises conducted during the year (one spring cruise, one summer cruise and occasionally one fall cruise).

Water quality monitoring is conducted primarily from the CCGS Limnos, a research vessel with laboratory space and 24-hour sampling capacity. The monitored parameters include physical parameters (such as temperature, clarity, pH) nutrients, major ions, some biological parameters (such as chlorophyll-a), metals, and organic contaminants. Surveillance may also be conducted for selected compounds of emerging concern. The majority of the laboratory analyses are conducted by Environment Canada’s National Laboratory for Environmental Testing. The data are stored at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington, Ontario, in the Storage And Retrieval Database and can be retrieved upon request.

The Rosette sampler is capable of sampling at up to six different depths per cast. Here, the water samples are drawn from the Rosette to containers for analysis in the laboratory | © EC - Photo: Alice Dove
The water samples are drawn from the Rosette to
containers for analysis in the laboratory

Monitored Parameters

Physical Parameters

  • Station depth
  • Dissolved oxygen and temperature depth profiles
  • Secchi disc depth

Major Ions and Nutrients (surface samples, depth profiles at selected stations)

  • Total phosphorus (filtered, unfiltered)
  • Alkalinity, pH
  • Magnesium, sodium, potassium, calcium
  • Dissolved silica, chloride, sulphate
  • Ammonia, nitrate-plus-nitrite, soluble reactive phosphorus (spring only)
  • Total Kjeldahl nitrogen

“Biological” Parameters (depth-integrated samples)

  • Chlorophyll a
  • Particulate organic carbon
  • Particulate organic nitrogen

Metals and Organics (spring cruises only, selected stations)

  • Trace metals (includes silver, aluminum, arsenic, boron, barium, beryllium, bismuth, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, iron, gallium, lanthanum, lithium, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, lead, rubidium, antimony, selenium, strontium, thallium, uranium, vanadium, zinc)
  • Total mercury
  • Trace organics (including chlorinated benzenes, organochlorine pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls)
  • Current-use pesticides (at selected sites and on selected cruises only)

Monitoring Locations

Approximately 100 stations are monitored on Lake Ontario, 55 stations on Lake Erie, 68 stations on Lake Huron, and 26 stations on Georgian Bay. Approximately 73 stations were historically monitored on Lake Superior, but this has been reduced since the mid-1990s and currently approximately 50 stations are monitored. All regions of the lakes are monitored, including U.S. waters. The ship can access nearshore regions to a minimum depth of approximately seven metres.

Lake Superior Monitoring Locations

In Lake Superior, approximately 50 stations are currently sampled. Nutrients, major ions and physical parameters are monitored at all locations; additionally, organic contaminants and trace metals are monitored at the 14 stations shown in red. Monitoring stations are located on both sides of the international border. © Environment Canada

Lake Huron and Georgian Bay Monitoring Locations

In Lake Huron, approximately 68 stations are currently sampled, and 26 stations are monitored in Georgian Bay. Nutrients, major ions and physical parameters are monitored at all locations; in addition, organic contaminants and trace metals are monitored at the stations shown in red. Monitoring stations are located on both sides of the international border through Lake Huron. Georgian Bay is the large bay located to the east of Lake Huron; the North Channel is considered part of Lake Huron and is located at the top of the graphic, north of Manitoulin Island.© Environment Canada

Lake Erie Monitoring Locations

In Lake Erie, approximately 55 stations are currently sampled. Stations are located in three basins, demarcated by lines drawn through the lake: West, Central and East basins. Monitoring stations are located on both sides of the international border, and organic contaminants and trace metals are additionally monitored at the stations shown in red. Monitoring is conducted on both sides of the international border. © Environment Canada

Lake Ontario Monitoring Locations

In Lake Ontario, approximately 100 stations are currently sampled. Nutrients and major ions are monitored at all locations, and organic contaminants and trace metals are additionally monitored at the 23 stations shown in red. Monitoring stations are located on both sides of the international border, and also include stations in the Toronto Harbour (top inset) and Hamilton Harbour (bottom inset).© Environment Canada

Recent Publications

Struger, J., S. L’Italien and E. Sverko. In-use Pesticide Concentrations in Surface Waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes, 1994-2000. Ecosystem Health Division, Environmental Conservation Branch, Ontario Region, Burlington, Ontario, 2003. Report No.: EHD/ECB-OR/03-04/I.

Marvin, C., S. Painter, D. Williams, V. Richardson, R. Rossmann and P. Van Hoof. 2004. Spatial and temporal trends in surface water and sediment contamination in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Environmental Pollution 129: 131-144.

Holeck, K.T., J.M. Watkins, E.L. Mills, O. Johannsson, S. Millard, V. Richardson and K. Bowen. 2008. Spatial and long-term temporal assessment of Lake Ontario water clarity, nutrients, chlorophyll a, and zooplankton. Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management 11(4): 377-391.

Chapra, S.C., A. Dove and D.C. Rockwell. 2009. Great Lakes chloride trends: Long-term mass balance and loading analysis. Journal of Great Lakes Research 35: 272-284.

Dove, A. 2009. Long-term trends in major ions and nutrients in Lake Ontario. Aquatic Ecosystem Health Management 12(3): 1-15.

Dove, A., S. L’Italien and D. Gilroy. Great Lakes Surveillance Program Field Methods Manual, Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, Environment Canada, Burlington, Ontario, Canada. Report No. WQMS-09-001.

Malkin, S.Y., A. Dove, D. Depew, R.E. Smith, S.J. Guildford and R.E. Hecky. 2010. Spatiotemporal patterns of water quality in Lake Ontario and their implications for nuisance growth of Cladophora. Journal of Great Lakes Research, doi:10,1016/j.jglr.2010.06.007

Gao, H., J. Ma, Z. Cao, A. Dove and L. Zhang. Trend and climate signals in seasonal air concentrations of organochlorine pesticides over the Great Lakes. Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres. In press.

Data

All Great Lakes Surveillance Program data are stored at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington, Ontario, in the Storage And Retrieval Database and can be retrieved upon request.

Contact: GLSP-PSGL@ec.gc.ca

Binational.Net - Binational.net is a collaboration between the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada, to provide a single window for information on joint Great Lakes programs.

Envrionment Canada: Great Lakes

United States Environmental Protection Agency: Great Lakes