6/28/13

In the news: Lake George monitoring project could scale up to the Great Lakes

Researchers and resource managers in New York are currently working on a project that would turn Lake George "into the 'smartest lake in the world,'" collecting data and offering insights into runoff, water levels, and much more.

From WMBF News:
"Sensors analyzing the likes of stream runoff, rainfall, wind, currents, salinity, chlorophyll and nitrogen will be placed around Lake George this year and an IBM supercomputer will crunch the data to provide three-dimensional pictures of the lake. It's a model that scientists think could be used elsewhere, using a uniquely sophisticated monitoring system to help scientists predict the peril posed by threats like road salt and invasive species.

‘We can turn the lake back from the edge of the abyss,’ said Fund for Lake George executive director Eric Siy. ‘We do not have a complete picture of Lake George scientifically, and we need it.’
The advocacy group is joining IBM and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Thursday to announce the comprehensive three-year project. Lake conditions will be monitored by a series of devices - some visible from land - including stream gauges, self-propelled underwater robots, weather stations, Doppler units and sensors running along lines anchored from buoys. The information will be fed into an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer along with data collected over the past 30 years about the chemical composition of the lake.
The same sort of research is being done around the Great Lakes, but not in such a concentrated fashion. Research on the massive lakes is moving in that direction, said Guy Meadows, director of Michigan Tech's Great Lakes Research Center."
Follow the link above to read the complete story, and learn more about one of the current Lake Michigan monitoring projects IISG is involved in here.

6/27/13

IISG summer intern helping spread AIS info to tournament fishers

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s summer interns are already hard at work assisting specialists in several areas, working directly on important issues and getting the public involved in problems facing the Great Lakes. 

Alice Denny, one of the interns working with the aquatic invasive species team, has been working with AIS specialist Sarah Zack to bring important invasive species prevention information to fishing tournament organizers and participants. She just recently attended the first of several tournaments slated for this summer, and wrote in to tell us about the internship experience thus far. 
“It has been a busy week for me at the AIS office. This summer I am primarily working with fishing tournament organizers and anglers to better understand their attitudes and practices in AIS prevention. Last weekend, I attended my first fishing tournament and had a great time. Although the weather was less than ideal at North Point Marina, Clean Boats Crew and I were able to reach out to the salmon and trout anglers in the Geoffrey Morris Memorial Tournament. Sarah and I attended the rules meeting Friday evening to talk about simple steps tournament anglers can take to prevent the spread of AIS. Then on Saturday I went to the weigh-in to speak with anglers one-on-one and hand out educational material. There were around 70 boats participating in the tournament, with multiple anglers per boat. The audience was receptive and I really enjoyed speaking with them about the importance of AIS prevention. I’ll be attending another tournament in Indiana next weekend, and I’m hoping for nice weather and lots of fish so I can reach as many anglers as possible! Overall I’m really enjoying working with this audience over the summer as I’m getting lots of experience with outreach.”
Several of our interns wrote about their experiences at the IAGLR 2013 conference, and there are many more events and projects they’ll be updating us on throughout the summer.

6/26/13

In the news: Personal care products accounting for Great Lakes plastic pollution

Recent research has shown that pharmaceuticals and personal care products can cause significant problems for waterways, affecting not only water quality but also negatively impacting the processes that plants and animals need to survive and thrive.

One way that those products are causing pollution in the Great Lakes may not just be due to the chemicals they are made from, though.

From Scientific American:
"Rather, small plastic beads, known as micro plastic, are the offenders, according to survey results to be published this summer in Marine Pollution Bulletin. 'The highest counts were in the micro plastic category, less than a millimeter in diameter,' explained chemist Sherri 'Sam' Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia, who led the Great Lakes plastic pollution survey last July. 'Under the scanning electron microscope, many of the particles we found were perfectly spherical plastic balls.'

Cosmetics manufacturers use these micro beads, or micro exfoliates, as abrasives in facial and body scrubs. They are too tiny for water treatment plants to filter, so they wash down the drain and into the Great Lakes. The biggest worry: fish such as yellow perch or turtles and seagulls think of them as dinner. If fish or birds eat the inert beads, the material can deprive them of nutrients from real food or get lodged in their stomachs or intestines, blocking digestive systems."
These latest findings help provide additional information on how these common products can cause environmental problems. For more information, read the complete article at the link above and visit our Unwanted Meds website.

6/25/13

More than just fish on the list of aquatic invasive species to watch out for

Aquatic invaders come in a number of shapes, sizes, and varieties, and aren't limited to mussels or fish. In addition to our "Be A Hero - Transport Zero" campaign asking boaters and water users to be on the lookout for invasive species, IISG has helped fund "Hydrilla Hunt!," a program to keep this invasive plant from overtaking Illinois' waters.

Hydrilla verticillata, commonly known as "hydrilla," is an aquatic invasive "superweed" - a non-native plant that can grow quickly in waterways and cause serious environmental and economic damages. But before this species takes over, Illinois partners are asking water lovers for their help in preventing hydrilla's spread.

From the press release:
"Recognized as one of the world’s worst weeds, hydrilla can grow an inch per day and form dense mats of vegetation at the water surface. Within the past few years, hydrilla has been discovered in Wisconsin and Indiana and it is expected to arrive in Illinois very soon. Our desirable native aquatic plants, sport fishing, native wildlife, waterfront property values, and recreational uses might all be seriously impacted. 

'Early detection of hydrilla could save Illinois millions of dollars in control costs,' noted Cathy McGlynn, coordinator for the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership (NIIPP). 'Experience from other states shows that once a waterway becomes infested with hydrilla, it’s nearly impossible to control. Our hope in Illinois is to identify the plant at a very early stage when populations are still small enough to eradicate and manage,' added McGlynn."
Because this species can spread so quickly, the "Hydrilla Hunt!" program is asking boaters, fishermen, swimmers, sailors, and more to help locate it and notify them via e-mail with photos if possible. 

Find out more about the program and hydrilla as an invasive species by visiting the "Hydrilla Hunt!" website

*Photo courtesy of the Indiana Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey Program

6/24/13

In the news: Lake Erie once again at risk from toxic algae

Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes that began to rebound significantly thanks to the Clean Water Act and several cleanup projects, is being threatened by toxic blue-green algae. Fed by fertilizers and runoff, the algae can deplete oxygen levels in the water and be detrimental to the lake's health.

From The Plain Dealer:
"The Western Basin of Lake Erie, located roughly from Toledo to Huron, is becoming seriously affected with toxic blue-green algae. During the summer months, the algal blooms have been so bad that swimmers have emerged from Lake Erie covered in green slime. So far, swimming in Lake Erie has not been prohibited as it was in Grand Lake St. Mary's, however, the thick algal blooms are not very inviting to swimmers and tends to affect the taste of our drinking water. 

The enjoyment of Lake Erie for boating and fishing has also become hampered by the costs to repair clogged engines and the costs of reduced economic drivers, such as fishing charters and other recreational opportunities. We are dangerously close to severely restricting our use and enjoyment of one of the world's greatest natural resources."
Read the complete article at the link above to learn more about threats to Lake Erie, and read more about Great Lakes health issues and research at our web page.

6/21/13

Dispatch from Lake Ontario: Creating new learning opportunities

Allison Neubauer is IISG’s Great Lakes education intern working this summer with Kristin TePas, our community outreach specialist and a liaison to the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office. Both Allison and Kristin have been on Lake Ontario onboard the U.S. EPA R/V Lake Guardian this week.

Here is Allison’s post from Thursday, June 20, 2013:
Working aboard the Lake Guardian on Lake Ontario this week has been a blast! Interacting with the scientists and crew on the ship has been very fun and insightful. I even had the chance to lend a hand with some of Clarkson University’s contaminant surveillance sampling yesterday evening- so cool! Tonight I’ll be helping pick out mysids (small, shrimp-like crustaceans) from zooplankton net samples.
 In this first photo, Clarkson University’s Tom Holsen is dumping sediment from Lake Ontario into the elutriation table (a device that helps scientists rinse organisms out of the mud so that they can be more easily collected).



Here, Kristin (right) and I are rinsing the collected organisms into a sample bottle. 
 My main focus has been working with Kristin to develop educational outreach materials to engage students and the general public in Great Lakes exploration and broaden their understanding of Great Lakes health. A crucial component in this quest has involved testing several methods of video casting from the ship with some very patient coworkers, friends and family back on shore. Our goal is to find a setup that would allow teachers and students in their classrooms to connect with the ship to see real-time research in action. Scientists would be able to explain the background behind their research, show live footage of sampling equipment and processes, and then field questions sparked in the curious minds of students. 
 After many trials and tweaks early on in the cruise, we finally found a successful setup and tested it with a fourth grade class in Detroit, Michigan this afternoon! It was awesome to hear how excited the students were to see the ship and learn about work and life onboard, as well as have their questions answered by U.S. EPA and Clarkson researchers and Guardian crew. 
I'm videocasting in this photo as Beth Hinchey Malloy, U.S. EPA scientist, (left) talks to the students from Detroit. Beth is explaining how the multi-corer works, using terminology that would resonate with 4th graders.  
Along with testing and conducting video casts, I was really excited to interview some of the crew and scientists onboard about how they got into their field of work and what they do in their position. These interviews were recorded and will be an excellent resource for students to learn about science and nautical careers that are available, with the inside scoop from people who know the ins-and-outs! 
In this photo, Kristin and I are filming an interview with Max, a Lake Guardian marine technician.








So many awesome things are happening aboard the Lake Guardian, and I am really looking forward to finding other interesting and unique ways to share it all with folks back onshore. 





6/20/13

In the news: Asian carp eggs can incubate in more areas

From The Detroit News:
Asian carp could do more damage than previously believed because the number of Great Lakes tributaries that could provide adequate spawning conditions for them is greater than realized, according to a study released Tuesday by the U.S. Geological Survey. 
The conclusions by Geological Survey officials are based on a three-year study on four rivers connected with the Great Lakes — the St. Joseph and Milwaukee connecting to Lake Michigan and the Maumee and Sandusky connecting to Lake Erie.
The results indicate Asian carp could thrive under less restrictive conditions than scientists had initially thought — potentially expanding the number of rivers and streams that could be affected if the invasive species made its way here.
Read the rest of the story here. Learn more about how Asian carp can impact the food chain from an IISG Discovery Grant project featured on page 5 in the latest issue of the HELM.

6/17/13

In the news: Lake trout regaining ground in Lake Michigan

Invasive species such as lamprey eels and zebra mussels have impacted native species in the Great Lakes, but recent observations show that lake trout may be making a strong and steady comeback.

From Fox 11:
"Dale Hanson is looking for what he calls the perfect lake trout. The fisheries biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting a survey in Lake Michigan. Nearly a mile of nylon netting is set about two miles off the Sheboygan shore…

Hanson says lamprey eels, zebra mussels and little fish called alewives have hurt the lake trout. Hanson says salmon have gobbled up many of the alewives, and the lake trout have started to reproduce on their own. 
‘Right now, in areas of the lake, we're seeing roughly 20 percent of the fish are unclipped, but that is by no means observed on a lake-wide basis,’ said Hanson."
While not definitive, the indications are good that lake trout have begun reproducing in the wild. Read the complete article at the link above.

6/14/13

New campaign asks water lovers to help stop aquatic invaders

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are collaborating on a new campaign to get boaters, fishers, divers, and everyone who loves spending time on the water involved in protecting the environment. 
 
Be a Hero – Transport Zero” is a multi-season message that strikes at one of the big problems facing our waterways – aquatic invasive species. With three simple steps, though, everyone can help stop the spread of these aquatic invaders. Each time you leave a body of water, just take a minute to go through these easy procedures: 

 - Remove any plants, animals, and mud from boats, trailers and equipment

 - Drain everything (bait buckets, live wells, etc.)

 - Dry everything with a towel

From boaters and kayakers to waterfowl hunters, scuba divers, sea plane operators, and more, everyone can help prevent invasive species from taking over their favorite waterways with these three actions. 

Throughout the outdoor season, look for our television spot on both Outdoors Traditions and Illinois Outdoors TV, listen in to WGN Radio for our commercials, and check out our print ad in Illinois Outdoor News. You can also watch Kevin Irons of Illinois DNR talk about the campaign on WICS news.

And visit www.TransportZero.org to learn more about preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species.

6/13/13

In the news: Cities going green with water management options

Cities throughout the U.S., especially those with aging infrastructure and water management issues, are implementing more and more green features in their planning. Some simple changes and additions can help reduce the burden on older systems, reducing issues of flooding, runoff, and more. 

From The Atlantic Cities
"Portland, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and Seattle are just some of the cities that have pioneered green infrastructure projects. In Philadelphia, the city will spend some $3 billion over 25 years on such infrastructure as part of its Green City, Clean Waters program.

In the Midwest, Indianapolis is leading the way. Stormwater planters and bioswales with native grasses run almost the entire length of the city’s Cultural Trail, a state-of-the-art bicycle and pedestrian route built over the past six years that wends its way for eight miles through the downtown streets of Indiana’s largest city."
Read the complete article at the link above, and find out more about green infrastructure and land use on our planning page.

6/12/13

Teachers can set sail for science this August

The Center for Great Lakes Literacy and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant education team are preparing for a day-and-a-half long water quality workshop for teachers this August. 

The free workshop, scheduled for August 22-23, offers teachers an opportunity to get hands-on training, lesson ideas, and more, all while setting sail on the S/V Denis Sullivan - a recreation of a classic 19th-century Great Lakes schooner.


Visit the S/V Denis Sullivan's official website here. Visit Center for Great Lakes Literacy site for additional upcoming opportunities and workshops.

6/11/13

In the news: U.S. and Canadian officials committed to AIS action, divided on solutions

Governors of the Great Lakes states and Canadian officials have recently vowed to work more closely to combat aquatic invasive species that threaten the Great Lakes system, but disagreements over the best course(s) of action linger.

From The Detroit News:
"But the difficult balancing act of weighing the economic and transportation interests of the eight states and two Canadian providences against the long-term ecological stability of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway was on full display Saturday at the Mackinac Island summit of regional officials.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, whose state has faced criticism and lawsuits for moving too slow to combat the invading Asian carp, surprised fellow governors by shifting the state's position to support the sealing off of the manmade Chicago waterways that connect the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes.

'Ultimately, I think we have to separate the basins,' Quinn said at the first meeting of the Council of Great Lakes Governors in eight years. 'I really feel that is the ultimate solution. We have to do it.'
Quinn's endorsement of separating the two basins, seen as a potential breakthrough by environmentalists, was criticized by neighboring Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, even as the Great Lakes leaders sought to appear united on other issues at the summit.
Pence said his state remains opposed to closing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal's connection to Mississippi River tributaries that provide a southern transportation route for freighters carrying $1.9 billion in goods annually from Indiana factories and farms."
Read the complete article at the link above.

6/10/13

IISG interns relate their IAGLR 2013 experiences

Three of IISG’s interns were among the hundreds of scientists, researchers, educators, and more in attendance at last week’s IAGLR 2013 conference. Each of them wrote in to tell us more about their experiences at the conference, and some interesting things they took away from the sessions. 

Emily Anderson, interning with IISG’s environmental social scientist Caitie McCoy, learned more about the major issues facing the Great Lakes: 

“During the week I spent at the IAGLR conference I gained a greater understanding of how researchers, policy makers, and citizens alike have to be included in the conversation for the Great Lakes to be restored, conserved, and used sustainably. Through the talks I attended I learned a lot about how harmful algal blooms, personal medications, and impermeable surfaces can affect the health of the Great Lakes, but what I found most interesting was witnessing the cooperative efforts between the United States and Canada. I found it so encouraging to watch as representatives from the two countries shared data and other resources to face the challenges affecting the health of the Great Lakes region jointly. The IAGLR conference was a magical experience for me; I saw with my own two eyes the genesis of future policy and research. Most importantly for my position as an IISG intern, I now understand where Sea Grant fits into the equation of Great Lakes protection with research, education, and outreach.”

Allison Neubauer, a Great Lakes education intern working with IISG’s Kristin TePas, was aware of a number of environmental issues, but was still surprised to learn about the wide range of current and potential problems facing the Great Lakes:

“The greatest take-away from my week at IAGLR would have to be the myriad issues affecting the Great Lakes, and the critical importance of continued research and education to addressing them. In spite of my general understanding of environmental science and the Great Lakes, I was woefully under-informed about the more-than-50 different issues that had entire sessions devoted to them.

For this reason, my favorite part was sitting in on the educator-scientist roundtable discussion. The goal was to bring real issues into the classroom with place-based learning. Teachers and researchers alike proposed many exciting ideas for incorporating Great Lakes research into science lessons. It was awesome to see how enthusiastic educators were about collaborating with scientists and going the extra mile to make science more relevant and fun for students. In my mind this was the most important facet of the IAGLR conference because students need to be exposed to real, current issues surrounding them and affecting the vital resources of the Great Lakes. I think this collaborative effort could spark career-building education for future scientists and very possibly inspire them to be Great Lakes researchers giving their own talks at an IAGLR conference years from now.”

Cait Lackey, who will be working with Greg Hitzroth and the IISG aquatic invasive species team, was excited to learn more about the many areas where Sea Grant works to help protect and preserve the Great Lakes: 

“Prior to the IAGLR conference my knowledge about the Great Lakes was limited. At the conference I learned that there are a multitude of issues facing the Great Lakes, many of which I wasn’t familiar with. Some of my favorites included the effects that the Great Lakes have on tourism, marketing strategies for invasive species in the Great Lakes, and the use of landscape architecture for restoration ecology.

At IAGLR I also learned about the various roles Sea Grant plays in protecting the health of the Great Lakes. Just from meeting other Sea Grant employees and interns and hearing some of their presentations, I learned that the Sea Grant staff works to educate many people and audiences including teachers, students, fisherman, local residents, and retailers. I also learned that Sea Grant staff works to research and present solutions to problems the Great Lakes currently face. I had the opportunity to see presentations given by Sea Grant Staff that involved a great deal of research and development, and attending the IAGLR conference showed me that the work Sea Grant participates in is detailed, diverse, and at times very challenging.”

Find out more about IAGLR and the annual conference at the link above, and follow IAGLR on Twitter as well.

6/7/13

Blue Island stormwater program gets major recognition

With such a rainy and flood-producing spring, one's thoughts may just turn to something practical--rain barrels. Let's look back on last fall's rain barrel project in Blue Island. 

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant was one of five lead partners in the “Blue Island, Blue Water” community-based program designed to reduce stormwater overflows and flooding issues in the Chicago suburb. Over the course of the project, more than 140 volunteers installed rain barrels at 33 different residential locations and three institutional buildings. Additionally, more than 1000 plants and nearly 100 trees were planted to help improve water management and beautify neighborhoods at the same time. 

Keeping water out of sewers also reduces run-off, which in turn reduces pollution in the Cal-Sag Channel. The Cal-Sag is an increasingly popular destination for Chicagoland kayakers and nature lovers, but the channel requires a strong commitment to water quality, since it runs through densely built residential and industrial areas that are potential sources of pollution. Thus, stormwater management in Blue Island represents a key effort in which ‘local, state and county governments work together to really make an impact in our neighborhoods,’ according to (zoning administrator and director of special projects Jason) Berry.”
The “Blue Island, Blue Water” project was also chosen as a 2012 Millenium Reserve Model Project. The project’s inclusion also makes it part of the President’s “America’s Great Outdoors Initiative," which helps align federal efforts and funds with conservation and recreation projects on the local level where they can make real and immediate impacts. You can learn more about the project at the links above and at this ABC 7 news report from earlier this year. And read more about the Millennium Reserve’s place within the initiative here


6/6/13

IAGLR Day 4: Edging closer to tipping points

IISG's science writer, Anjanette Riley, is at the 2013 International Association for Great Lakes Research conference at Purdue University. She’ll be blogging from the sessions all week providing an inside look at the newest research on the health of the Great Lakes. Here’s today’s post: 

“I have spent the last day of the conference learning about tipping points—the thresholds that, if crossed, will change the state of an ecosystem. Think of water in winter. When temperatures first start to fall, the water will stay in its liquid form. But the nature and function of that water will change dramatically as soon as the temperature reaches freezing. 

The work discussed in a session that began yesterday afternoon and carried into today was focused on finding the land-use thresholds that would change how aquatic ecosystems function if crossed. Many of the presentations talked about causal relationships between things like water temperature and the development of different species of salmon, or a loss of oxygen and the health of the food web. Understanding these relationships moves us towards identifying specific land use practices that, for example, could change water temperature or oxygen levels so much that an ecosystem could no longer function like it should.

Some presenters, though, did report on specific tipping points they had uncovered. For example, communities can expect to see impaired ecosystems when the relative amount of medium-high density urban land in a river basin exceeds 10 percent. Much of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois have either already passed this threshold or are close to it.

Several presenters were quick to remind me and my fellow attendees that ecosystems are complex and interconnected. Crossing a single tipping point will not necessarily have as dramatic a result as the water temperature reaching freezing. The more land-use thresholds a community crosses, the more impaired the nearby waterways will become.

During the session, we were also taken through a new web-based system that uses the tipping points identified by researchers to help land-use planners make sustainable decisions. The system helps planners identify natural resources like open spaces and surface water in their area, assess their conditions and where they stand relative to known tipping points, determine where they will be in the future if land use practices stay the same, and identify how to avoid crossing a tipping point or restore ecosystems that have already been altered. With these tools in hand, it will be easier for planners to identify at-risk areas and determine the most effective actions to take.”
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The research and the support tools Anjanette discussed are part of a 4-year project funded by EPA and NOAA. The project is a collaboration of outreach specialists and researchers from universities across the basin and various Great Lakes Sea Grant programs, including IISG.

6/5/13

IAGLR Day 3: Great Lakes get low grades on basin health report card

IISG's science writer, Anjanette Riley, is at the 2013 International Association for Great Lakes Research conference at Purdue University. She’ll be blogging from the sessions all week providing an inside look at the newest research on the health of the Great Lakes. Here’s today’s post: 

“The Great Lakes got their report card this morning during a three-part presentation by members of the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC). It wasn’t good. In two of the three categories used to evaluate the health of the basin—water quality, aquatic wildlife, and landscapes and natural processes—the lakes were declared 'fair and deteriorating.’ It was only in the third category, which covers things like habitat restoration and land use, that the region showed clear signs of overall improvement. 

Most of the drivers behind worsening water quality and wildlife health likely sounded familiar to everyone in the room. Clodophora, a green algae common in the region, is washing up on more and more shorelines and threatening drinking water. New contaminants are being introduced to aquatic ecosystems. Invasive species are out-competing native fish and permanently changing the food web. And coastal wetlands used by fish for spawning are disappearing. 

What was not as familiar, at least to me, were concerns over the spread of nutrients throughout the lake. In recent years, nutrients that are carried into the lakes in stormwater runoff, like phosphorus, have built up along the coastline instead of being pushed to deeper waters. In nearshore waters, these trapped nutrients mean more algae; so much more that it can block sunlight and reduce oxygen that fish and other wildlife need to survive. Offshore, though, the loss of nutrients means that there is not enough phytoplankton for wildlife to feed on. Paul Horvatin, one of the presenters, told the room that it is still unclear why the nutrients are not moving as they should. 

But there were some improvements over past years. The most notable to me was the growing number of restoration and dam removal projects that are opening up new waterways for fish to spawn, restoring the natural flow of rivers and tributaries, and reconnecting habitats, some of which have been divided for close to 100 years. The region has also seen improvements in land use practices, such as reforestation and increased reliance on green infrastructure. Extensive development and agriculture in the southern part of the Great Lakes basin, though, have caused enough damage in the past that more modern changes to land use practices and policies will take time to really show results. These ecosystems are more stressed then their northern counterparts and will require ongoing restoration and impact mitigation.”

6/4/13

IAGLR Day 2: Lowdown on Great Lakes water levels

IISG's science writer, Anjanette Riley, is at the 2013 International Association for Great Lakes Research conference at Purdue University. She’ll be blogging from the sessions all week providing an inside look at the newest research on the health of the Great Lakes. Here’s today’s post: 

"It was during a presentation today on the impacts of climate change to water levels that I learned a startling fact: Lake Erie's water level trends have in essence made a 180 degree turn. Historically, water levels in the Great Lakes are at their highest in summer when increased rain and stormwater runoff add more water to the lakes than they lose to evaporation, and levels are lowest in the winter months. In recent decades, though, this trend has been reversing, leaving water levels higher in January than they are in June. 

According to data collected by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL), one of the biggest driving forces behind this shift is increased evaporation over the lake during the hot summer months. 

Evaporation is also a primary culprit in Lake Superior's falling water levels. Here, though, warmer water temperatures that mean less ice in winter are causing greater evaporation across seasons. And less water is entering the lake from rain and stormwater runoff.
The story is different still in Lakes Michigan and Huron, where water levels reached an all-time low in the 1990s and have largely stayed there since. 

Of course, there is still some variation in water levels year over year. The water in Lake Erie, in fact, rose by almost 3 feet over the course of just four months in 2011. But these jumps, as the presentation attendees were told, appear to be the exception to the rule. In these three lakes, water levels are trending down."

Michigan City buoy returns to nearshore waters for the season

Swimmers, boaters, and anglers visiting Indiana’s coastline this summer will again be able to learn about conditions in Southern Lake Michigan thanks to real-time data collected by the Michigan City buoy. The buoy, launched for the first time last fall, returned to its post four miles from shore last week to collect data on wave height and direction, wind speed, and air and surface water temperatures. It will stay in the water until November. 

The relaunch comes just in time to help make summer trips to Michigan City and the Indiana dunes safer. Throughout the season, scientists at the National Weather Service (NWS) in northern Indiana will use wave height and frequency data collected by the buoy to better anticipate likely locations of strong waves and rip currents that cause dangerous swimming conditions. The only one of its kind in the Indiana waters of the lake, the Michigan City buoy gives forecasters access to historically unavailable nearshore data where conditions are much different than at the center of the lake. Real-time data from the buoy has already helped NWS improve their wave height forecasts. 

“This information is vital for NWS forecasters to access and accurately forecast the potential for dangerous swimming and boating conditions along southern Lake Michigan,” said John Taylor, a meteorologist with the NWS office in northern Indiana. “Our hope is that by accurately forecasting when high waves and rip currents along the shoreline will result in dangerous swimming conditions, we can reduce the number of tragic drownings that occur in these waters every summer.”

As with last year, all of the data collected can be seen on IISG’s website. The site lets visitors see real-time snapshots of lake conditions—updated every 10 minutes—as well as trends over 24-hour and 5-day periods. 

And this year, the Michigan City buoy joins the ranks of environmental monitors that contribute to NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center. The addition makes it possible for people to easily access data older than five days and track trends over longer periods of time. This archived data is particularly important for researchers and natural resource managers who rely on the buoy’s data to improve weather forecasts, protect water quality, and predict where best to fish. To learn more about how the buoy helps scientists and forecasters better understand how the lake works, visit the website and click on the stories at the bottom of the page. 

The buoy launch also coincides with Rip Current Awareness Week, and is just one piece of a larger effort to protect people from the dangers of rip currents. Visit the Rip Current Awareness Week website to learn more about rip currents and what you can do to protect yourself this summer.

6/3/13

IISG's science writer reports in from IAGLR 2013 - Day 1

IISG's science writer, Anjanette Riley, is at the 2013 International Association for Great Lakes Research conference at Purdue University. She’ll be blogging from the sessions all week providing an inside look at the newest research on the health of the Great Lakes. Here’s today’s post:  
"There is more food for Asian carp in Lake Michigan than people thought. In a morning filled with new insights into these invasive species’ biology and potential impact in the Great Lakes, this fact rang the loudest for me. I have read some of the research in recent years speculating that Asian carp could not survive in much of the Great Lakes, which have less of the phytoplankton and zooplankton than the ravenous eaters need. What my fellow session attendees and I learned this morning, though, is that the plankton population has been underestimated. There are more--much more--of the smallest species living in the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan than previously believed. 

According to researchers from the Illinois Natural History Survey, the cause of the miscalculation is a common testing method that uses a filter too large to trap many of the microscopic species in the lake. Additional testing measures show that the number of some plankton species found in the lake is roughly the same as in rivers where Asian carp are known to thrive, like the Ohio and Missouri Rivers. And there are plankton species in the lake that are not found in many of these waterways. Taken together, this means that likelihood that Asian carp can make Lake Michigan their home may be higher than previous data has indicated. 

The session this morning also taught me that carp will branch away from their favorite dish to eat the particulates from decomposed animals and plants that line the floors of lakes and rivers. These exist in much higher numbers than plankton and their stock is continuously replenished as aquatic matter dies. Although it is still unknown whether Asian carp would choose this food over others (or eat it only when there is nothing else), this could mean that plankton in the Great Lakes may not have to bear the brunt of the carp's huge diet alone if the invasive fish were ever to take up residence."

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