Climate Connection through Changing Currents

Date: September 22, 2017 Author: Kanchana Madulaarachchi Categories: Latest

Climate change and the recent severe weather events that have come with it are a growing concern around the world. One way scientists see the impacts of climate change is through environmental monitoring. EcoSpark’s Changing Currents program has been inspiring and empowering youth to monitor their local water quality for over 15 years! In celebration of Science Literacy Week, a celebration of scientists and scientific communication, we are highlighting some of the impacts of climate change that we are beginning to see in our local streams through Changing Currents.

Students sampling benthosOver the years we have monitored sites all over the Greater Toronto Area and beyond, using little critters called Benthic Macroinvertebrates (BMIs) to assess water quality. The standard protocol we use requires the collection and identification of at least 100 BMIs for a stream study to be valid. In a typical Changing Currents season, a large number of our studies meet this standard, but this spring was a little different. We conducted over 20 stream studies in the spring and of those studies, only seven were valid. That’s right, just seven or 35%!

In an average year we have no problem hitting the 100 BMI mark in our local waterways. But this spring, in areas throughout southern Ontario including Jackson Creek in Peterborough, Little Rouge Creek in Scarborough and Duffins Creek in Pickering, students following our protocol alongside staff were struggling to meet the 100-bug count. They were coming up 37 to 90 bugs short! So, what was going on here?

This spring, much of Ontario and Quebec experienced above average rain falls. The water in Lake Ontario rose to record breaking levels with the daily water level reaching 75.82 m by May 12th, 2017 compared to the average 75 m level at that time of year. Considering the size of Lake Ontario, this is a significant increase!

The heavy rain impacted not only our human communities, but also our BMI communities. The bugs were washed downstream of their homes by the rain, leaving slim pickings in areas that are usually monitored by our Changing Currents students. Usually BMIs are an indicator of water quality but the lack of BMIs was an indicator in and of themselves that this was an atypical season. In other words, the lack of data was data!

We also monitored many sites in the fall of 2016 that also did not meet the 100 BMI count. However, in contrast to spring 2017, the lack of bugs in fall 2016 was due to unusually dry conditions, resulting in lower water levels and high water temperatures that made life difficult for our BMIs populations.

Students sorting through benthosA hallmark of climate change is an increase in severe and unpredictable weather patterns. The results from our most recent Changing Currents studies highlight one of the impacts of severe weather on our local streams.

Through continued water quality monitoring, we will learn even more about the impacts of climate change on our local ecosystems and empower even more students to take action and protect their environment. As we begin our fall season of Changing Currents during Science Literary Week with students from Brookside PS, Branksome Hall, Earl Grey PS and Port Hope SS, I can’t wait to see what the data will tell us in the seasons to come!

To learn more about the impacts of climate change around the world and what you can do to help visit Want to learn more about those Benthic Macroinvertebrates? Check out our Bug Blog series! And Happy Science Literacy Week!