Once a notorious sulphur emitter, Sudbury is becoming a world leader in ecological restoration research
By Cynthia Reynolds
|Students working at the Vale Living With Lakes Centre prepare for field sampling. (Photo: Laurentian University)|
Talk about redemption. In the 1960s,
the nickel mines around Sudbury,
Ont., made the region the world’s number
one sulphur emitter. The “Nickel City”
was home to 7,000 acid-ravaged lakes, and
its 80,000 hectares of barren land drew
embarrassing comparisons to the moon.
Today, however, the city is emerging as
a global leader in the science of ecological restoration and mining rehabilitation.
Sudbury’s Vale Living with Lakes
Centre, which opened in August 2011, is
the latest evidence of the city’s reformed
reputation, with scientists at the centre
studying how to reclaim freshwater systems
damaged by mining activities.
John Gunn, director of the centre and
Canada Research Chair in Stressed
Aquatic systems at Laurentian University,
is leading a five-year study to investigate
what kind of vegetation acts as “herbal
tea,” detoxifying acid- and metal-damaged
waters downstream. The land, he
says, governs the health of the lakes.
Gunn credits long-term monitoring
and restoration programs with providing
the grist for the innovative research projects
the centre is currently conducting,
including how to use bottom-dwelling
macroinvertebrates to indicate water quality.
A collaborative effort by Laurentian
University scientists, government and
mining companies, these programs have seen sulphur emissions reduced by more
than 90 percent over the past 50 years
and thousands of hectares of once-barren
land be regreened.
The centre’s scientists are looking further
afield as well, to a region that could
represent their biggest challenge yet.
More than 500 kilometres to the north of
Sudbury are the Hudson Bay Lowlands,
a 245,000-square-kilometre swath that
comprises the world’s third largest wetland.
It’s a globally significant carbon
sequester, but new mineral finds are set
to open the area up to development. This
is especially true in a 5,120-square-kilometre
patch inside the lowlands known
as the Ring of Fire, where the recent
discovery of chromite, a metal used in
the production of stainless steel, is producing
the biggest rush of mining claims
Ontario has seen in a century. The transport
infrastructure necessary to exploit
the site already has Gunn and his team
applying their knowledge for the purposes
of protection, before the region is
developed. “We want to prevent another
Sudbury from happening,” says Gunn.
“We must learn from our mistakes.”