On Monday, students from Carlton Comprehensive High School gave a virtual presentation about their study of fish population declines in three northern lakes.
The students analyzed soil samples from Namekus, Kingsmere and Crean Lake and presented their findings to the Canadian Light Synchrotron Center (CLS) located at the University of Saskatchewan.
Carlton teacher Trent Armitage supervised the “Beam Team” program with teacher Kristyn Nemish. He said the students were excited to participate.
“It was really a great experience for the students, to have the opportunity to do this,” he explained. “It was a brilliant experience for the high school students to go in between, make all the contacts and talk to everyone involved. they work at a level beyond their years.
The CSL is Canada’s only synchrotron. It produces high-powered light, which allows scientists to examine chemical compositions in detail. CSL also runs a program called Students on the Beamline, which allows high school students to work with PhD-level scientists on real-life research.
“They have to look for questions that don’t have just one easy answer, so this is the real deal,” Armitage said. “It’s real research.”
Carlton’s Beam team is made up of students in grades 9-12. Due to COVID, the experience was still virtual, so students could not visit the beamline in person. However, Armitage said he was able to work with scientists remotely.
“We did all the sample prep here, and then we (worked remotely) with them,” he explained. “The kids ran the computer and everything there to run the beamline.”
Each year, students tackle a different question on a different topic. This year, the question was about the northern lakes, in collaboration with Parks Canada, and their biologists and ecologists who study the sediments of certain lakes to see if the concentrations have changed over time.
Parks Canada provided the students with test samples, some of which were over 100 years old. The cores were collected by Parks Canada as part of its Traces of Trout program.
“They (the students) would also test samples from the bottom of the lake that go back to around 1913 and then gradually to 2021,” Armitage said. “They did this for Kingsmere, Crean and Namekus.”
Armitage added that one of the students came up with the idea and had a connection with Parks Canada, which agreed to the partnership after being approached.
“Indigenous knowledge keepers said there was once a lake trout population in Lake Namekus,” Armitage said. “The oral history says there used to be lake trout in Lake Namekus, but there aren’t any now, so they had taken these samples to check the DNA.”
The Beam team was looking for specific metals. There is no longer a population of lake trout in Namekus Lake and the Crean Lake population has declined over the past 20 years. Overall, the lake trout population has declined over the past 40 years.
Parks Canada has begun to investigate what may have contributed to this decline. Their efforts, including a virtual town hall meeting about two months ago, where they solicited feedback from residents of the North The students played their part in checking samples for metals or changes in a pathway.
“What the results that we obtained and presented today indicate that there has been no significant change in the elements present in the three lakes over the past 115 years, I suspect,” Armitage said. “Our results would indicate that changes in toxic metal concentrations over time are unlikely to have contributed to the decline.”
Armitage added that the two cores were indeterminate in terms of providing scientific data.
“Our results show that the concentrations remained stable over time,” he explained. “If we were to summarize, they were just looking at the lake trout population decline in Kingsmere Lake in Prince Albert National Park and our results are indeterminate.”
After presenting their findings to Parks Canada, the students plan a public presentation of their work.
“Kids walk away with an authentic science research experience,” he said.
Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald