A Day in the Life of a Lake Sampler

Have you ever wondered what it is like to participate in citizen science programs? Or maybe head out on a frozen lake for science? Or maybe both?? Well, you'd be in luck! Today's story is all about a day in the life of a lake sampler... specifically in the WINTER! 

First off, do you know what citizen science means? Citizen science means that members of the public volunteer to help gather information for scientific research. Anyone can do it! But the things you need to know and do for each project are different! Volunteers usually have straight forward instructions to follow or go through short tutorials and training sessions to make sure the information gathered is being done the same way as everyone else so that the information is comparable in the end. Next, have you ever heard about the Alberta Lake Management Society's (ALMS) different citizen science opportunities? Our friends at ALMS have a bunch of different programs and opportunities available for individuals or groups to help across Alberta! One of those programs is the Winter LakeKeepers program! The LSWC is a proud supporter and volunteer to the LakeKeepers program! 

So.. back to that 'day in the life' stuff! 

We start out at the LSWC office, making sure we have ice packs, sample bottles prepared and ready to go, and all the tools we will need to gather our information! It might be funny to think we need ice packs in the winter, but we need to make sure our samples stay cold before they make their way to the lab for analysis! We make sure to have a measuring tape, cooler and our bottles, long insulated gloves, an ice scoop, field sheets, our fancy probe and of course, an ice auger! Once we are all packed up, we start our journey to the lake! 

Watershed Coordinator Kate Lovsin (L) and Executive Director Meghan Payne (R) filtering Chlorophyll-a, Winter 2022. 

The LSWC currently samples 2 sites on Lesser Slave Lake for this program: one site near Joussard, AB. and one near Canyon Creek, AB. It is important that we only go out to sample when the conditions are safe! The ice must be thick enough, visibility must be good, and the temperature is not too cold! Once it is safe, we head out to the lake, starting in Canyon Creek! Driving out onto the ice, we make our way out to a cluster of ice shacks just offshore and pick our spot. Next, we grab the GPS coordinates for the spot and drill a hole in the ice with our auger! From there, we start to gather all the information we need! 

We use our tape measure to measure the ice thickness, note the weather conditions and how much snow is on the ice on our field sheet! Next, we measure how deep the water is with our weighted tape measure. Our lake is so big and has 2 different basins that act like different lakes! So, the depth at one site might be very different from the other site! After those physical measurements are done, we move on to filling our sample bottles and adding preservatives to the ones that need them! This is where the long-insulated gloves come in handy! Water below the ice is very cold and you must reach down the hole to grab water from the bottom of the ice! The arm pit long gloves with an elastic cinch help keep the cold and the water out! And they come in safety yellow! 

Once the bottles have been filled, we move on to measuring the chemical characteristics of the water: pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature! This is where our fancy probe comes in! We set up chairs and sit around our hole, just like we were fishing, but instead of fish, we're looking for data! At each meter from the top of the water to the bottom, we write down all our numbers. But what do the numbers mean?

Well, pH is a reading on a scale from 1 to 14 that tells us how acidic or basic the water is. Anything from 1-7 is considered acidic. 7 is considered neutral and usually is the number you'd expect in freshwater systems like our lake. That leaves 7-14 being basic. 

Another value we are looking for is conductivity, which means the amount of electricity that water can conduct (or carry) because of how many salts are in the water. Don't worry... the water can't electrocute you on its own. These readings measure very small numbers! 

Dissolved oxygen is another value we look for! It tells us how much oxygen there is in the water for living things in the water! This number can be measured as a percentage or as a mg/L value!

Temperature is the last one. Did you know colder water holds more oxygen than warmer water? This is how fish and other living organisms make it through the winter! Warmer water is usually found at the bottom of the lake thanks to lake turnover and lake stratification! 

Once we have all our numbers, samples and data gathered, we pack up and head to our next location, Joussard, and do it all over again! When we are finished with both sites, we head back to the office to filter our Chlorophyll-a sample! This sample helps tell what kinds of plant matter is growing in our water! The process involves pushing water collected through a filter to catch all the little bits and pieces that might have been floating in the water! We wrap these in tin foil and freeze these samples so make sure nothing grows on the filter papers between when we collected them to when the fine folks at ALMS can examine them! We keep these filter papers and send the bottles off to Edmonton for analysis!

And that is that! A whole day of lake sampling in the field during the winter! 

Want to participate in the ALMS Winter LakeKeepers program on your favorite lake? Contact ALMS at 780-702-2567 or visit the LakeKeepers website for more information! 

By: Kate Lovsin