Heat waves causing ripples in lake ecosystem, expert says

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The dry and hot weather conditions this year are exposing tangible consequences for local ecosystems, an expert in the field says.

Xinyu Sun, a Queen’s University PhD candidate in aquatic ecology, told the Whig-Standard that one of the most noticeable results of an unstable climate this summer has been the rising heat, which has had an impact on lakes.

“Heat waves have become more frequent, longer and more intensified than before,” Sun said, explaining that research predicts this trajectory will continue into the future.

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“Those exposed to weather conditions (during a heat wave) experience short-term but more extreme temperatures compared to typical long-term warming.”

This can cause acute disturbances for organisms who’s temperature limit can’t withstand high heat, she added.

“I study zooplankton — tiny little animals that live in the water. They’re the main food sources of large invertebrates and fish,” she said.

In her studies, Sun found that zooplankton are sensitive to drastic changes in temperature and, as a result, heat waves can cause huge decline in their presence.

“They play an important role in aquatic systems … they eat algae and we expect that declines in zooplankton abundance could trigger algae bloom,” she said.

Algae bloom occurs when there’s a rapid accumulation of algae in freshwater. The greenish substance we often see in Lake Ontario would grow excessively.

“What’s even worse is that some of the algae can produce toxins and release them into the water, then making the water toxic to humans and animals,” Sun said.

Ecosystems are very delicate, Sun said. When a species disappears, it triggers imbalance. Since zooplankton are also food for other organisms, it could cause a decline in fish and impact commercial fisheries.

Such issues are difficult to navigate, according to Sun, as there isn’t much we can do in terms of big changes. However, it is still important to be cognizant of one’s own footprint.

Climate anxiety has been affecting the mental health of the world population, especially young people growing up with alarms ringing about the future of the planet. They are mostly worried that they don’t have the power to make necessary changes and pivot from catastrophe.

Sun said she shares the frustration but tries to focus on what she can control.

“Yes, climate change is happening, but all ecosystems are really disturbed by more than one stressor,” Sun said. “Climate change is affecting these ecosystems, but we are also polluting the environment.”

Littering, hunting and driving excessively can strain the already fragile environment, she said.