Norman Yan – the lake doctor

Although Ontario contains over 250,000 lakes, these little wet pockets of life and evolution are, for the most part, only 10,000 years old. In recent years, however, mankind has interfered extensively with the natural world, disturbing the delicate balance of ecosystems in a variety of ways, from fishing to polluting. But what exactly is the extent of this damage? And can these lakes recover?

Recipient of a Premier’s Research Excellence Award, Norman Yan (right), biology professor in York’s Faculty of Pure & Applied Sciences, has spent the last 30 years attempting to answer these questions, quantifying the single and joint effect of multiple stressors – both natural and man-made – on these lakes.

In collaboration with York University and the Ministry of the Environment, Yan works on questions that are of vital importance to the management of North America’s lakes, exploring the impact that acid rain, ultraviolet radiation, climate change and invading species pose to the natural world.

Yan heads a team of students who conduct field experiments, most recently examining falling calcium levels to see if they are having a negative impact on the ecosystems contained in lakes, and how invading species have effected animal plankton. He also investigates the pace of recovery of some of these ecosystems.

With the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and the support of Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Yan has helped develop the Field Laboratory for the Assessment of Multiple Ecological Stressors (FLAMES), a facility that will support up to six students.

As well as from the environment ministry and CFI, funding for Yan’s research comes from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Ontario Innovation Trust, Premier’s Research Excellence Award, EJLB Foundation and Canada Trust Friends of the Environment Foundation.

Jason Guriel is York’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada SPARK student (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge), wrote the above article for YFile. Guriel, a second-year graduate student in English, will be writing stories on York NSERC-funded researchers throughout the year.

SPARK is a program that was launched in 1999 at 10 universities across Canada. Through SPARK, students with an aptitude for communications are recruited, trained and paid to write stories based on the NSERC-supported research at participating universities. Information on the NSERC Spark Student program is available at