Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats on the Contact Us page.
Help the Government of Canada organize its website!
Complete an anonymous 5-minute questionnaire. Start now.
Great Lakes Surveillance Program
Specialized equipment is used for monitoring trace quantities
of metals and organic contaminants that may be present in
Great Lakes waters
Environment Canada conducts open lake cruises to provide information on water quality in the Great Lakes. The main objectives of the Great Lakes Surveillance Program are to ensure compliance with water quality objectives, evaluate water quality trends and identify emerging issues. The Surveillance Program is delivered as part of Canada’s commitment to the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The Program also responds to the needs of the binational Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative, the Lakewide Management Plans, the Binational Toxics Strategy and the Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network.
The Great Lakes Surveillance Program, lead by scientists at the Ontario office of Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, has monitored water quality in the Great Lakes for over 40 years. The program provides some of the most comprehensive, systematic and detailed information that is available in the world for large lakes.
In the on-board laboratory, samples for soluble
nutrients are conducted immediately after sampling
The first Great Lakes Surveillance cruises were conducted in 1962 on Lake Erie and 1965 on Lake Ontario, and the Surveillance Program was formally launched in 1968. Until 1974, data collection was of a research nature and the study objectives changed with each year. Since then, the surveillance program has been standardized, and monitoring is alternated between each of the Great Lakes (except for Lake Michigan, which is located entirely within the United States) so that each lake is generally monitored every second year, with multiple cruises conducted during the year (one spring cruise, one summer cruise and occasionally one fall cruise).
Water quality monitoring is conducted primarily from the CCGS Limnos, a research vessel with laboratory space and 24-hour sampling capacity. The monitored parameters include physical parameters (such as temperature, clarity, pH) nutrients, major ions, some biological parameters (such as chlorophyll-a), metals, and organic contaminants. Surveillance may also be conducted for selected compounds of emerging concern. The majority of the laboratory analyses are conducted by Environment Canada’s National Laboratory for Environmental Testing. The data are stored at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington, Ontario, in the Storage And Retrieval Database and can be retrieved upon request.
The water samples are drawn from the Rosette to
containers for analysis in the laboratory
- Station depth
- Dissolved oxygen and temperature depth profiles
- Secchi disc depth
Major Ions and Nutrients (surface samples, depth profiles at selected stations)
- Total phosphorus (filtered, unfiltered)
- Alkalinity, pH
- Magnesium, sodium, potassium, calcium
- Dissolved silica, chloride, sulphate
- Ammonia, nitrate-plus-nitrite, soluble reactive phosphorus (spring only)
- Total Kjeldahl nitrogen
“Biological” Parameters (depth-integrated samples)
- Chlorophyll a
- Particulate organic carbon
- Particulate organic nitrogen
Metals and Organics (spring cruises only, selected stations)
- Trace metals (includes silver, aluminum, arsenic, boron, barium, beryllium, bismuth, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, iron, gallium, lanthanum, lithium, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, lead, rubidium, antimony, selenium, strontium, thallium, uranium, vanadium, zinc)
- Total mercury
- Trace organics (including chlorinated benzenes, organochlorine pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls)
- Current-use pesticides (at selected sites and on selected cruises only)
Approximately 100 stations are monitored on Lake Ontario, 55 stations on Lake Erie, 68 stations on Lake Huron, and 26 stations on Georgian Bay. Approximately 73 stations were historically monitored on Lake Superior, but this has been reduced since the mid-1990s and currently approximately 50 stations are monitored. All regions of the lakes are monitored, including U.S. waters. The ship can access nearshore regions to a minimum depth of approximately seven metres.
Lake Superior Monitoring Locations
Lake Huron and Georgian Bay Monitoring Locations
Lake Erie Monitoring Locations
Lake Ontario Monitoring Locations
Struger, J., S. L’Italien and E. Sverko. In-use Pesticide Concentrations in Surface Waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes, 1994-2000. Ecosystem Health Division, Environmental Conservation Branch, Ontario Region, Burlington, Ontario, 2003. Report No.: EHD/ECB-OR/03-04/I.
Marvin, C., S. Painter, D. Williams, V. Richardson, R. Rossmann and P. Van Hoof. 2004. Spatial and temporal trends in surface water and sediment contamination in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Environmental Pollution 129: 131-144.
Holeck, K.T., J.M. Watkins, E.L. Mills, O. Johannsson, S. Millard, V. Richardson and K. Bowen. 2008. Spatial and long-term temporal assessment of Lake Ontario water clarity, nutrients, chlorophyll a, and zooplankton. Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management 11(4): 377-391.
Chapra, S.C., A. Dove and D.C. Rockwell. 2009. Great Lakes chloride trends: Long-term mass balance and loading analysis. Journal of Great Lakes Research 35: 272-284.
Dove, A. 2009. Long-term trends in major ions and nutrients in Lake Ontario. Aquatic Ecosystem Health Management 12(3): 1-15.
Dove, A., S. L’Italien and D. Gilroy. Great Lakes Surveillance Program Field Methods Manual, Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, Environment Canada, Burlington, Ontario, Canada. Report No. WQMS-09-001.
Malkin, S.Y., A. Dove, D. Depew, R.E. Smith, S.J. Guildford and R.E. Hecky. 2010. Spatiotemporal patterns of water quality in Lake Ontario and their implications for nuisance growth of Cladophora. Journal of Great Lakes Research, doi:10,1016/j.jglr.2010.06.007
Gao, H., J. Ma, Z. Cao, A. Dove and L. Zhang. Trend and climate signals in seasonal air concentrations of organochlorine pesticides over the Great Lakes. Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres. In press.
All Great Lakes Surveillance Program data are stored at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington, Ontario, in the Storage And Retrieval Database and can be retrieved upon request.
Binational.Net - Binational.net is a collaboration between the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada, to provide a single window for information on joint Great Lakes programs.
- Date Modified: