David Schindler | The Canadian Encyclopedia


David Schindler

David William Schindler, OC, FRSC, FRS, AOE, scientist, limnologist (born 3 August 1940 in Fargo, North Dakota; died 4 March 2021 in Brisco, BC). Schindler was an outspoken researcher who advanced the understanding, protection and conservation of Canada’s fresh waters.

Key Term

Eutrophication: The process by which nutrients (e.g., phosphorus and nitrogen) enrich waters and increase the growth of algae and aquatic plants. Eutrophication can harm water quality and destroy animal habitats.

Education and University Affiliations

David Schindler earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology at North Dakota State University in 1962. He completed his PhD as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. In 1966, he took a teaching position at Trent University. Trent recruited him as part of an international team of young scientists to begin a series of whole lake studies. Starting in 1968, he worked with the Freshwater Institute (FWI) of the University of Manitoba. He was the founding director of the FWI’s Experimental Lakes Area freshwater research program in northwestern Ontario. Schindler left the FWI for the University of Alberta in 1989.

Research Highlights

In the 1960s, a popular theory held that carbon caused the over-fertilization problems of lakes. David Schindler’s research disproved this theory. He found that phosphorus was the key stimulator of plant growth and animal population changes in lakes. He pioneered a new method of research, using whole-ecosystem experiments carried out on an entire lake. His research on the harmful effects that acid rain and phosphorus-rich detergents have on fresh water is world renowned. This work has led to important public policy changes. It underpins restrictions on acid emissions and legislation controlling phosphorus in soaps and detergents.

Schindler later studied the combined effects of climate change, UV radiation — the result of ozone depletion — and increased acidity on boreal lake ecosystems. He also studied the restoration of mountain lakes damaged by stocked alien fish species. ( See also Invasive Species in Canada: Animals.) Themes in Schindler’s late-career research included the effects of oil sands mining on the Athabasca River, as well as the restoration of eutrophic lakes.

Honours and Awards

David Schindler received honorary degrees from universities in Canada and the United States. In 2008, a private gift to Trent University established a professorship in his honour. The David Schindler Endowed Professorship in Aquatic Science is reserved for leading scientists in the field. Schindler’s other honours include:

  • Fellow, Royal Society of Canada (1983)
  • Stockholm Water Prize, Stockholm Water Foundation (1991)
  • Volvo Environment Prize (1998)
  • Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (2001)
  • Fellow, Royal Society (2001)
  • Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences (2002)
  • Elected Foreign Member, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Science (2003)
  • Officer, Order of Canada (2003)
  • Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2006)
  • Member, Alberta Order of Excellence (2008)
  • Sandford Fleming Medal, Royal Canadian Institute (2009)
  • External Links


    Donate to The Canadian Encyclopedia this Giving Tuesday!

    A donation to The Canadian Encyclopedia today will have an even greater impact due to a generous matching gift from an anonymous donor. Starting November 28 until December 5, 2023, all donations will be matched up to $10,000! All donations above $3 will receive a tax receipt. Thank you for your support of The Canadian Encyclopedia, a project of Historica Canada.