Manitoba Great Lakes Project


For Manitoba, an abundance of clean, reliable freshwater is the centrepiece to the province’s economic and social infrastructure. From clean drinking water and agricultural irrigation to hydroelectric power and recreational activities, the very identity of Manitoba is built upon its freshwater supply.

With a combined area of 34,508 km2, Lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Winnipegosismake up nearly 5.5% of the total land area of the province and act as major waterways in the Hudson Bay watershed, one of the largest watersheds in North America, draining water from as far west as the Rockies and as far east as Quebec into Hudson Bay. This interconnected lake system (collectively called the upper Manitoba Great Lakes) is important to Manitobans for recreational activities, commercial and recreational fishing, and as a source of drinking water.

The MBGL program is led by researchers at the Centre for Earth Observation Science (CEOS) at the University of Manitoba (UM) and comprised of a series of sub-projects, engaging researchers from a variety of disciplines to work on specific questions. Collaboration from all disciplines is invited.

Manitoba Great Lakes Program

Principal Investigators: Dr. David Barber and Dr. Tim Papakyriakou
Project Lead: Dr. Greg McCullough
Project Field Lead: Claire Herbert

To view stories from the field, written by our researchers and summer students, click here.

Click here to view our data on the DataHub

Project 1 - Open water season monitoring with in-lake Moorings, 2012 - present

UM Participants: Dr. David  Barber, Dr. Greg McCullough

From 2012-2015, three in-lake moorings were placed - one in Lake Manitoba, one in Lake WInnipegosis and one in Lake Waterhen, to collect high frequency data. An ecotriplet collects turbidity, chlorophyll, fluorescence and phycocyanin data, while an Alec CT collects temperature and conductivity data at 10 minute intervals. The sites were sampled once per month for more detailed water chemistry, using a surface grab method and a plastic Nalgene bottle. Visual information on wind speed, direction, wave height and cloud cover was also recorded.

manitoba great lakes mooring set up

Mooring setup. The ecotriplet is at the bottom

Project 2 - Nutrient flow through the upper MBGL,  2016 - present

2020 U of M Participants: Victory Iyakoregha, Shae Laurencelle, Casey Clair
Partners: Hedy Kling (Algal Taxonomy and Ecology Inc.), Alex Salki (Salki Consultants), Mike Stainton (Lake Winnipeg Foundation)

For more information contact: Claire Herbert at claire.herbert (a)

The upper MBGL act as filters that intercept nutrient flow from Lake Winnipeg’s watershed, both as natural nutrient sinks and especially through operation of the Portage Diversion.  Climate change is known to exacerbate the impact of land use processes such as agriculture - both through:

  1. Direct lake warming (intensification of in-lake processes); and
  2. Increasing flood frequency
    •  floodwaters leaching nutrients and contaminants from the land;
    • flood control including diversion of nutrient-rich waters through Lake Manitoba

yet biogeochemistry of this are is too poorly understood, therefore adequate prediction of responses and understanding of effects downstream in Lake Winnipeg and into Hudson Bay cannot be undertaken. This leads to lake management governance being decided without adequate scientific support.

Basic baseline information such as water chemistry and documentation of physical parameters for all three MBGL lakes had never been conducted, so in 2016, the mooring project was expanded to incude three open water season sampling surveys.  Sample sites were established on all three lakes:

  • Lake Manitoba: 14 stations
  • Lake Winnipegosis: 11 stations
  • Lake Waterhen: 1 station, 2 stream stations

Physical and Chemical Sampling

Samples were taken using a variety of instrumentation to record conductivity, temperature, depth, oxygen and light, using manual methods for water chemistry and biologial samples for algae and zooplankton.

Instrumentation to collect detailed water profiles was used. They include:

     1.Conductivity, Temperature, Depth Profiler (Idronaut CTD)

    • Lowered slowly throughout the water column to collect conductivity, temperature, turbidity and depth data

Idronaut CTD profiler

     2.Seabird Profiler

    • Lowered slowly throughout the water column to collect depth, temperature, oxygen, salinity (PSU), turbidity, fluorescence and Irradiance (PAR) profiles
Seabird profiler

Seabird profiler

     3. 2019 - BBE Fluoroprobe

    • collects algal pigment profiles through the water column

Biological samples for phytoplankton and zooplankton were taken using surface water grabs, bottom samples using a Van Dorn Sampler (below) and using zooplankton and phytoplankton nets.

Project 3 - Comparison of satellite algorithms for water quality in the upper Manitoba Great Lakes, 2016 - present

Claire Herbert Masters Thesis
Supervisors: Dr. David Barber, Dr. Greg McCullough
Partners:  Hedy Kling (Algal Taxonomy and Ecology Inc.), Alex Salki (Salki Consultants)
Partial funding:  Lake Winnipeg Foundation

For more information contact: Claire.herbert (@)

Through 2016-2017, we conducted open water season sampling for chemical, biological, and physical parameters on the upper MBGL. From 2017 to 2019 we collected in-situ measurements of spectral reflectance paired with water quality parameters to test possible Sentinel 3 OLCI reflectance algorithms for determination of chlorophyll-a, suspended sediment and coloured dissolved organic matter.  Our goal is to develop local validation for satellite methods to be used in conjunction with in situ data to support management of these lakes as a single, complex hydrological system.

Project 4 - Carbon transport through the freshwater-marine spectrum, 2018 - present

2020 U of M Participants: Dr. Tim Papakyriakou, Dr. Dave Capelle, Ashley Soloway, Rachel Mandryk, Yekaterina Yezhova
Partners: Manitoba Hydro

For more information

Our research is centred on how carbon is transported and modified as it flows through Manitoba rivers and lakes to Hudson Bay.

This work is useful for industries, like Manitoba Hydro, who want to know how their operations affect the natural exchanges of greenhouse gases in the aquatic network, as well as the general scientific/public community because it helps understand the overall ability of the terrestrial/aquatic system to store CO2, and how this might respond to natural changes (seasonal and decadal cycles) vs. human activity like agriculture and urbanization.

Most of our research is conducted either on Lake Winnipeg, using the M.V. Namao managed by the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium (LWRC), or on the Nelson River, the only outlet from Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay. Full details of the Namo surveys conducted by the LWRC can be found on the LWRC website.


2018 Survey Summary

Survey 1
On June 4th, the Namao entered dry dock at Hnausa. Therefore the first part of the survey was conducted using the Fylgja and the "workboat".

Part A: Sampling started on Monday, June 11, which was a weather day. Sampling was cut short Tuesday, June 12 due to strong winds. Sampling did not occur over the June 16-18th weekend. It restarted Monday, June 18 and finished Thursday, June 21.

A pCO2 box (which measures carbon dioxide and oxygen) has water continuously flowing through it while the ship is moving. It is attached to an Algal Online Analyzer (AOA) instrument which counts the major algal classes. At certain stages, whole surface water samples are also taken and will be sent to the Freshwater Institute, Winnipeg for Suspended Carbon and Nitrogen, dissolved organic carbon, pH, alkalkinity and conductivity. In-line water samples taken from the pCO2 box will be taken and analyzed at CEOS for dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), Total alkalinity (TA), 13C-Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (13C-DIC) and methane (CH4).

Pco2 and AOAsetup on the Fylgja

pCo2 and AOAsetup on the Fylgja

Project 5 - Changes in runoff and nutrient loading in major rivers in the Lake Winnipegosis watershed

Katelyn Rodgers Masters Thesis
Supervisors: Dr. David Barber, Dr. Greg McCullough

For more information contact: rodgersk(@)

Many major rivers in one sub-watershed (Winnipegosis) in the Lake Winnipeg watershed have several decades of water quality and water discharge data, but very little research and literature with this information are available. A couple of rivers in the Swan River area have been selected for examination. Using previously collected water quality, discharge and precipitation data, I will examine for annual and seasonal changes in runoff and nutrient loading in these rivers with the influence of precipitation and surrounding land use changes.

Manitoba Great Lakes Image Gallery


Project 6 - Greenhouse Gas Monitoring at the Keeyask Reservoir, 2017-present

2020 U of M Participants: Dr. Tim Papakyriakou, Ashley Soloway
Partners: Manitoba Hydro

For more information contact: Ashley Soloway - ashleydawn.soloway (at)

This multi-year study is devoted to the understanding of the greenhouse gas (GHG) exchange dynamics in on the Nelson River. The GHG fluxes are being monitored both pre- and post- flooding of the future Keeyask Hydroelectric reservoir to account for the changes in rate, variability and controls on GHG exchange as the natural peatland and river become part of a reservoir. Currently we monitor on the main channel of the Nelson River and within natural wetlands branching off the main channel. The project implements multiple strategies for measurements including eddy covariance measurements, submersible aquatic GHG sensors and discrete water samples. As the project continues to develop, measurements will continue in a similar fashion within the newly created reservoir, back bays that may develop, and within the generating station itself. While the study has economic implications for Manitoba Hydro and the promotion green energy, there are also important implications environmentally for all involved, as the Keeyask reservoir is projected to be one of the larger flooded areas on the Nelson River (containing multiple hydroelectric reservoirs), but also that the flooded area will consist of peat soils with discontinuous permafrost, containing significant amounts of organic carbon stored within.


Project 7 - Water quality monitoring through airborne remote sensing

Agoston Fischer - Master's Thesis
Supervisor: Dr. David Barber

For more information contact: fischer5 (@)

Using an approach that combines airborne remote sensing and in-situ water sampling, this project studies whether imagery from an RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system, or drone) can be used to predict water quality parameters. The spectral reflectance of water-leaving radiance is measured using a multispectral camera mounted on an RPAS, which is then flown in transects over water. Whole water samples are analyzed for a suite of parameters including chlorophyll-a, total suspended solids, coloured dissolved organic matter, algal community composition, and nutrients such as suspended phosphorus, suspended carbon/nitrogen, and dissolved nitrogen/phosphorus. Equipment used during sampling also includes an Idronaut CTD probe, a Secchi disc for determining water clarity, an ASD HandHeld spectroradiometer, and a Biosonics aquatic echosounder.

For the 2020 field season, research for this project focused on two stormwater retention ponds located in the SmartPark on the University of Manitoba campus. These neighboring ponds present a unique study environment as their designs are different; one is conventional with a gravel shore and the other is naturalized and surrounded by a riparian area. Plans for the 2021 field season include sampling Lake Manitoba and the Churchill River estuary to broaden the scope of the study and include water types across the freshwater-brackish-marine spectrum. This study aims to improve the monitoring of water quality and harmful algae blooms through the development of remote sensing techniques that allow for more a time efficient, cost-effective, and less labor intensive approach than in-situ water sampling.



Project 8 - Indigenous engagement in the Lake Winnipeg Basin - Building watershed resilience,  2020 - present

Principal Investigators: Dr. David Barber
2020/21 U of M Participants: Dr. Tim Papakyriakou, Ashley Dawn Soloway, Claire Herbert, Dr. Greg McCullough
Partners: Manitoba Metis Federation

For more information contact: Claire Herbert at claire.herbert (a)

This project will expand upon previous research conducted on the Manitoba Great Lakes (MBGL—Lakes Winnipegosis, Waterhen, Manitoba, and Winnipeg) by researchers at
the Centre for Earth Observation Science (CEOS), University of Manitoba (UM).

Key objectives include:

  • Creation of a partnership between CEOS and the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) that will provide support to the Métis Nation in increasing their capacity to conduct
    scientifically credible research of MMF prioritized environmental issues within the Lake Winnipeg Basin; and
  • Increasing the MMF’s capacity to engage in decision-making processes and actions regarding nutrient reduction activities within the Lake Winnipeg Basin;
  • Increasing MMF representation on committees through the development of a joint science stakeholder committee to identify common water quality priorities in the Lake
    Winnipeg Watershed

Water-weather keeper and water quality monitor pilot programs were developed through consultation with the MMF and were designed to build Indigenous capacity in water
quality management activities and increase Indigenous ability to make science-based decisions about climate and nutrient issues in the basin. These programs will underpin a co-developed and jointly managed monitoring network that will allow for a system-level understanding on how the MBGL respond to land-use change and variability in weather,
including those elements influenced by regional changes in climate.

Through this pilot project, the ability of the MMF to conduct scientifically credible climate and water quality research and monitoring in support of science-informed policy
decisions regarding watershed management will be enhanced. Ongoing lake, river, and watershed sampling and existing moorings programs (temperature, chlorophyll, and
turbidity) will be supplemented with new automated meteorological stations operated by members of the Métis Nation’s Manitoba Métis Community (MNMMC). MNMMC
members will be trained in weather observation and lake sampling methods (for nutrients, suspended solids and chlorophyll) and provided with analytical support and training by
CEOS personnel. Collectively these components are key elements of our water-weather-keeper and water quality programs that are more fully described in subsequent sections.
We will continue and expand on current programs in remote sensing and modelling of water quality parameters to bring additional value to the project and aid in improving our
knowledge of phosphorus, nitrogen and carbon loading to, and transport through this system, and ecosystem response to changes in these parameters (e.g. algal biomass
monitoring by remote sensing) ultimately providing additional support and increasing the MMF’s ability to inform science-based management and decision-making processes for
these ecosystems.

The data collected in this project will be summarized clearly and concisely to help inform Métis commercial fisherman on the water quality and weather conditions on the upper
MBGL’s. Commercial fishing is a major driver of the Manitoba economy. The vast majority of commercial fishers in Manitoba are Indigenous and the majority of Indigenous
fishers are Métis citizens. The Métis government in Manitoba regularly consults with its citizens on issues of resource management, impacts to the environment and climate
change targets. Water quality is among the priorities identified by the citizens at these consultations. The water-weather keeper project will teach Métis fisherman water sampling
and weather station monitoring techniques while generating scientifically accurate data available for Manitoba Métis Citizens on weather conditions and water quality parameters
on lakes they rely on for their livelihood.

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