While the Ring of Fire area is grabbing the attention of the mining industry, it is also on the radar of the scientists at the new Vale Living with Lakes Center, home of the Co-operative Freshwater Ecology Unit.
The Living with Lakes Centre on the shores of Lake Ramsey also accommodates offices of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.
The award winning building will use 77 per cent less energy, almost 80 per cent less water and cost less than $75,000 a year to operate compared with a conventional building. The centre boasts multimedia rooms, several labs, and research vaults.
Its design integrates with the wetlands surrounding the building. Rain, run-off and grey water is filtered through a bioswale, a landscape element designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water, before being collected in an existing wetland. The buildings will draw water from the wetland for flushing toilets, cleaning boats and irrigation. This will reduce the use of potable water use by almost 80 per cent.
Along with the Ministry of the Environment, it helps with long term monitoring programs that measure how the area lakes have changed and in what direction the chemistry is going. “We deal with a lot of mining and climate change research,” said Gunn. “There is a thread of mining and resource development in all our projects.”
“Vale supports this research because it is proof positive that their billion dollar investment in the emissions reduction program is paying dividends,” said Gunn.
Research teams are able to identify areas that should absolutely not be disturbed, advise mining companies about sacrificing one area over another and help with the creation of artificial wetlands,” said Gunn.
The challenge for the Freshwater Ecology Unit is keeping up with the pace of industrial development. “The damming of lakes and road construction through wetlands to access mining are an enormous challenge. Five of Canada’s greatest rivers are in the Ring of Fire area. There is a woodland caribou reserve, polar bears and beluga whales in this area,” said Gunn.
Another concern is “what happens when all the methane gas comes out of the wetlands. It is the third largest wetland on Earth. If we dried that area out, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would go crazy.”
“Wetlands recover much more rapidly because of the internal processes that go on in them,” said Gunn. “They produce high quality food material, capture the minerals and manage water fluctuations. Wetlands need far more recognition for their role in land restoration,” said Gunn.
“One of our key projects right now is a five-year project with Vale, Xstrata, York University, Trent University, Queens University and Wilfred Laurier University to study wetlands disturbed by mining and ask how do the wetlands produce all their useful functions?”
Biological standards are derived from this research, which then provides benchmarks for new mines and ongoing monitoring.
“We have nearly 30 years of continuous records, making a marvelous database for the mining industry. They can track improvements.”
There are currently seven research projects in progress. “The plan is to have eight teams of about 10 under a lead scientist,” said Gunn. The new 30,000 square foot facility will greatly enhance the Unit’s capability to take on more projects and staff.