NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

The latest news and information about NOAA research in and around the Great Lakes


1 Comment

Millions of Microbes: The Unexpected Inhabitants of Lake Huron’s Underwater Sinkholes

When most people think of sinkholes, a massive cavity in the ground opening up and swallowing a car is what usually comes to mind. But when scientists at the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) hear “sinkholes,” their minds jump to an unusual place — the bottom of a Great Lake.

Aerial view of research boat on green water
Researchers on GLERL’s R/V Storm study sinkholes in northern Lake Huron off the coast of Alpena, Michigan. (Credit: David J Ruck/Great Lakes Outreach Media)

Thousands of years ago, off the coast of Alpena, Michigan, patches of ground beneath Lake Huron collapsed to form a series of underwater sinkholes — some measuring hundreds of feet across and up to 60 feet deep. You may have read this NOAA.gov article about how these sinkholes are contributing water to Lake Huron, but did you know they also support a huge kingdom of microorganisms?

Microbes might be tiny, but they’re one of the biggest research topics in the Great Lakes. They thrive near the sinkholes because the groundwater seeping in has the perfect chemistry for their survival: low oxygen levels and lots of chloride and sulfate, which come from the dissolved limestone underlying the lake. These factors make the sinkholes inhospitable for fish and other wildlife normally found in the Great Lakes, which means these microbes have a much easier time surviving there than other creatures. With perfect living conditions and little competition, they’re so abundant that they form purple, green, and white microbial mats that cover the lake floor like a colorful carpet.

Floor of Lake Huron covered by purple and white microbial mats with bubbles in them.
Purple microbial mats in the Middle Island Sinkhole in Lake Huron, June 2019. Small hills and “fingers” like this one in the mats are caused by gases like methane and hydrogen sulfide bubbling up beneath them. (Credit: Phil Hartmeyer, NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary)

Scientists at GLERL are collaborating with partners from the University of Michigan and Grand Valley State University to see just what these microscopic lake dwellers can teach us. This video by Great Lakes Outreach Media highlights how they can even give us a deeper insight into the history of Earth itself.

Associate Professor Greg Dick from the University of Michigan discusses cyanobacteria’s important role in Earth science. This clip is from Great Lakes Outreach Media’s upcoming documentary, “The Erie Situation.”

Some sinkholes are so deep that sunlight can’t reach them, but that doesn’t stop some microbes from calling them home. They’re able to live their entire lives in complete darkness, because they get their energy from the added minerals in the water rather than from sunlight — a process called chemosynthesis. But whether they need sunlight or not, several of the microbial species present have proven to be full of surprises.

“In the near-shore systems, the cyanobacteria we found have DNA signatures that come closest to comparing to the cyanobacteria found at the bottom of a lake in Antarctica. So that’s a strange coincidence,” said Steve Ruberg, the scientist in charge of sinkhole research at GLERL. “Some of the other bacteria we’ve found in the deeper systems have only been found off the coast of Africa.”

Fish sitting on a rock, which is covered by purple and white microbes
A burbot resting on rocks covered in purple and white microbial mats inside the Middle Island sinkhole in Lake Huron. (Credit: Phil Hartmeyer, NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary)

The particular sinkholes we’re studying are located within NOAA’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, an area of Lake Huron that’s federally protected for the purpose of preserving nearly 200 shipwrecks. In fact, the only reason we know about these sinkholes is because they were discovered by accident only 18 years ago, on a research cruise documenting the shipwrecks.

Close up of rocks covered in  purple, white and green microbes on the bottom of Lake Huron, with a diver in the background.
A diver observes the purple, white and green microbes covering rocks in Lake Huron’s Middle Island Sinkhole (Credit: Phil Hartmeyer, NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary)

So why did this microbial paradise come into existence in the first place? The story goes back much further than the sinkholes’ discovery in 2001. About 400 million years ago, before the Great Lakes even existed, a layer of limestone bedrock formed beneath what is now Lake Huron. Then around 10,000 years ago, underground caves were created when a chemical reaction between the limestone and acidic groundwater dissolved away holes in the bedrock. All that was left were weakly supported “ceilings” that eventually collapsed into the sinkholes we — and the microbes — know and love today.

Close up of rocks covered in purple, white and green microbes on the floor of Lake Huron
Purple cyanobacteria and white chemosynthetic mats on the floor of Lake Huron with Lowell Instruments current meter. (Credit: Phil Hartmeyer, NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary)

Since Lakes Michigan and Erie have the same limestone bedrock as Lake Huron, GLERL scientists think these lakes could be home to more of these fascinating underwater features. So while the excitement of this fieldwork has died down for the year, our research on Great Lakes sinkholes and their tiny inhabitants is far from over.


Leave a comment

Ron Muzzi: An inquisitive mind opens the door for a career in marine engineering at NOAA GLERL

Profiler Deployment Aug 1999

A profiler, deployed in August 1999, was designed by Ron Muzzi, to autonomously climb up and down a mooring cable in Lake Michigan. The profiler (above) carried a CTD sensor providing water quality measurements on conductivity, temperature and density throughout the water column.

Ron Muzzi has led the life of a marine engineer at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) since 1979.  Throughout his career, Ron has worked to extend the reach of technology to study the Great Lakes. In leading GLERL’s Marine Instrumentation Laboratory (MIL) team of engineers, he has worked on the development of instrumentation and equipment to monitor the physical, chemical, and biological changes of our freshwater lakes. Some of these monitoring tools have been invented by Ron and his MIL team and others adapted from oceanographic equipment to large freshwater lake use.

So what would lead a 19 year old electrical engineering student at the University of Michigan (UM) to pursue a life-long career as a marine engineer? Ron, a self-professed tinkerer, thinks it’s probably his keen sense of curiosity.  Ron recalls that from a young age, “I was constantly experimenting—taking things apart and then putting them back together in the process of fixing things.” He actually built his own computer (known as the COSMAC ELF) while still in high school.  It was programmed with a hex keyboard and display, but would also play simple video games programmed by Ron.

Ron launched his career at GLERL as a part time engineering aid when he was a college freshman. In the process of completing his college education while working at lab, he followed the advice of his supervisor by taking courses that built broad foundation in math, science, physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics. This foundation has served Ron well as an electronics engineer, a position that later transitioned into MIL team lead for GLERL.

In doing the job of a marine engineer, Ron describes himself as being a ‘jack of all trades’ as he manages the front lines in delivering real time data from the Great Lakes back to the lab for analysis and modeling. Speaking from many years of experience, Ron stresses that our monitoring systems must be designed and built to stand up to the rugged environment of the Great Lakes. These monitoring systems— made up of integrated electrical and mechanical components—must not only survive working in the water, but also reliably provide accurate data. He identifies one of the most challenging aspects of his job is “knowing what to do when things go wrong in the field and how to solve those problems, including when problem solving needs to be diagnosed remotely from the lab.”

CurrentMeters_Circa_1980-90s

Current meters instruments used from the 1970s to 1990s that measured current velocity and direction on a cassette tape that was transferred to a main frame computer.

In looking back to the mid-1980s, early on in Ron’s career, lake hydrology was one of the focuses of GLERL research. In a project to predict the fluctuating Great Lakes water levels, measurements were taken in real time of the flow rate (velocity) of the Detroit River. To accomplish this, Ron and his team deployed an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) (left). Ron recounts one of his experiences using the ADCP: “During a strong wind event, the ADCP accurately measured a temporary river flow reversal that occurred throughout the water column. Up until that time, this had never been measured before. The event was observed to occur after a strong south wind pushed the water in Lake St. Clair to the north, making the level of the south end lower and then shifted to a strong east wind that pushed water into the western end of Lake Erie making the level of that lake higher. So until it could re-balance itself, the water level at the source of the Detroit River was lower than the water level at the mouth of the Detroit River, causing the river to flow upstream.  For about an hour the Detroit River was actually flowing north!”

Ron recognizes the importance of listening carefully to the scientists to make sure he understands what they are trying to learn about the Great Lakes in their research pursuits. In doing so, Ron is better able to configure the tools needed to monitor changes in the lakes to meet GLERL’s research goals and objectives. Frequently, this involves designing a new instrument or adapting an existing one designed for the ocean for freshwater use.

Ron compares the challenges in his work as a marine engineer to solving puzzles, as he expresses, “I am really inspired by the creative process of designing and putting together innovative monitoring tools that are efficient, reliable, economical, and functional in rugged conditions. Being reliable in the harsh environment of the Great Lakes is especially critical. If our desktop computer crashes, we can easily reboot it, but that’s not an option when the computer is located inside a buoy a few miles from shore on a stormy day.” Ron is also inspired by working as a team in MIL as he knows all too well, “no one person can do this type of work on their own— it takes a team effort, always.”

One important development that Ron has helped advance is NOAA GLERL’s Real-Time Environmental Coastal Observation Network (ReCON) buoys, expanding GLERL’s capacity to monitor the Great Lakes. In working with the MIL team, Ron helped build and maintain the ReCON network—a system of wireless Internet observation buoys positioned at coastal locations around the Great Lakes covering approximately 800 square miles. The system of buoys, powered by solar energy, collects meteorological (Met) data and also provides sub-surface measurements of chemical, biological, and physical conditions. ReCON buoys obtain on the water data in real-time that is accessible to the public and ensures the safety of user groups going out on the water, such as surfers, anglers and boaters, duck hunters, sailors, as well as researchers.  See slide show below for ReCON related images.

Muzzi on ReCON_-EMUTour-2013

Muzzi explains how the ReCON system is used to track meteorological conditions around the Great Lakes basin with real-time meteorological data, animations, and photographs available for each met station shown on the Great Lakes map above.  

Ron identifies one of the ongoing challenges in doing research on the Great Lakes is monitoring the five-lake system—massive in scope, covering  a surface area of 94,250 square miles with a volume of 5,439 cubic miles. While acknowledging this as a steep challenge, Ron discussed how newly developed technology, such as the Autonomous Unmanned Vehicles (AUVs), has increased GLERL’s capacity to monitor larger areas of the lakes more efficiently. GLERL also does more with cameras images and videos taken from aircrafts to increase monitoring capacity. Ron is optimistic that as robotics and imagery improves, we can continue to expand the scope of our research monitoring work.

Ron’s advice for young people interested in marine engineering harkens back to how he spent his childhood. “Young people need to experiment on their own, play around with science and technology kits, and get a good foundation in the basic sciences and mathematics. You may even consider exploring music.”  Ron plays the piano and organ as well as directing his church choir and strongly believes that his musical pursuits have transferred over to strengthening his engineering skills. “Designing requires a creative spirit which should be explored at a young age.” 

Lesson_Circuitry_Muzzi

Muzzi teaches a lesson to a group of elementary students visiting GLERL on electrical circuitry which included a group challenge exercise for our next generation of scientists/marine engineers.

Applyicaiton_Circuitry_Muzzi

In looking to the future of Great Lakes research, Ron believes that one of the most significant challenges we face is getting the research done with limited resources as well as keeping the focus to a manageable number of projects. He hopes that the pioneering spirit of GLERL’s scientists and engineers continues in the spirit of developing innovative instrumentation to monitor the Great Lakes. And as a society, we all must take responsibility in being good stewards of the lakes for generations to come.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Leave a comment

Exploring the diversity of native species with Great Lakes Water Life

From prehistoric-looking lake sturgeon to colorful crayfish, the Great Lakes are alive with thousands of remarkable native species. To document and celebrate the diversity of fauna native to the Great Lakes, NOAA-GLERL has partnered with US EPA and the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network to launch the new Great Lakes Water Life database: a comprehensive, accessible inventory of aquatic species found throughout the region.

Three researchers aboard a boat hold up a large lake sturgeon that is as long as they are tall.
Researchers hold a lake sturgeon, one of the many species native to the Great Lakes (photo courtesy of Todd Marsee, Michigan Sea Grant).

Great Lakes Water Life (GLWL) is designed to support environmental researchers and managers by hosting a broad range of ecological information and tools: identification guides for native species, records of rare or unfamiliar taxa, lists of expected species in a specific area, summaries of broad-scale biodiversity patterns, and more. This site is also available for public use to students, citizen scientists, and other Great Lakes residents who want to learn about native species in their area, providing new opportunities for outreach and education online.

“This user-friendly database captures the unique biological diversity of the Laurentian Great Lakes,” said Debbie Lee, Director of the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.  “The search function invites the curious to learn about the amazing water life native to the largest surface freshwater system on earth.”

A screenshot of the Great Lakes Water Life home page, featuring an about section, a search tool, additional resources, and a contribution portal.
The new Great Lakes Water Life landing page.

GLWL allows users to search for species by taxa, origin, domain, and broad geographic location. Each species result links to taxonomic information, a bibliography of references and sighting information, links into Barcode of Life DNA markers, and more. The database also includes links to other taxonomic keys and field guides to native species, information about the purpose and history of this project, and a user contribution portal where researchers can share new photos, sightings, and collection records to be added to the site.

A screenshot of the Great Lakes Water Life search results, showing several species of native fish.
Users can search for native species to learn more about taxonomic information, geographic location, DNA markers, and more.

This database builds on a previous project known as the “Great Lakes Waterlife Gallery,” originally created in 2002 in support of Sea Grant’s Great Lakes Fisheries Leadership Institute in partnership by NOAA-GLERL and the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network. 

Another NOAA-led regional database, the Great Lakes Nonindigenous Species Information System (GLANSIS), runs in parallel with GLWL to more comprehensively document the non-native aquatic species that have been introduced to the Great Lakes. Cross-linking the two systems helps GLANSIS to provide DNA information on non-native species and identify species that may be expanding their ranges, highlighting the value of the native species inventory to monitoring for and understanding the impact of aquatic invaders. Great Lakes invaders shouldn’t get all the press coverage, however — researchers hope that the Great Lakes Water Life database will help fellow scientists make informed management decisions and help the public get to know more about the unique native creatures that inhabit the Great Lakes.

To learn more about the Great Lakes Water Life database or contribute information, please visit the site or contact Rochelle.Sturtevant@noaa.gov.


Leave a comment

Special Two-Day Science Translation Session at IAGLR 2019

This June, fellow researchers from around the world will gather in Brockport, New York, on the shores of the Erie Canal for IAGLR’s 62nd annual Conference on Great Lakes ResearchHosted by The College at Brockport, State University of New York, the conference will feature four days of scientific sessions and speakers focusing on the theme Large Lakes Research: Connecting People and Ideas. Mark your calendars for June 10-14, 2019. You won’t want to miss it! 

During the conference there will be a special two-day session that highlights the importance of science translation.  The session, Beyond Peer Review: Why You Must Connect Your Science to Stakeholders (and how to do it), will consist of several components—17 formal presentations, a moderated panel discussion, a synthesis discussion with Q&A, as well as a Skills Café. Conference attendees are welcome to join us for any and all portions of this session. We hope to see you there!


Day 1 – Tuesday, June 11th

On Tuesday, the SciComm session will include 12 presentations and a panel moderated discussion with science communication thought leaders Peter Annin (Author), Andrea Densham (Shedd), Sandra Svoboda (DPTV) & TJ Pignataro (Buffalo News). The panelists will explore what they see happening now and what they think the future looks like for connecting people and ideas for large lakes research.

Tuesday Morning (Edwards Hall Room 103)

Tuesday Afternoon (Edwards Hall Room 103)

  • 1:40-3:20 pm – 5 presentations
  • 3:20-3:40 pm – Break
  • 3:40-5:20 pm – 4 presentations

Day 2 – Wednesday,  June 12th

On Wednesday, the SciComm session will continue with 5 formal presentations, and a synthesis discussion in the morning and a Skills Café in the afternoon.

Wednesday Morning (Edwards Hall Room 103)

  • 8:00-9:20 am – 3 presentations
  • 9:20-9:40 am – Break
  • 9:40-10:20 am – 2 presentations
  • 10:20-11:00 am – Interactive Synthesis Discussion and Question & Answer Session with Peter Annin (Author), Andrea Densham (Shedd), Sandra Svoboda (DPTV) & TJ Pignataro (Buffalo News)

Wednesday Afternoon (Edwards Hall Room 102)

  • 1:40 – 5:00 pm – Skills Café  –  This series of short interactive workshops will allow participants to practice a variety of skills that will make them more effective at communicating the “so what” of their research to lay – but key – audiences. 

The Panel: Hear the latest from science communication thought leaders!

Peter Annin, Author and Director of the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation

Peter Annin is the director of the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation and the author of The Great Lakes Water Wars, the definitive work on the Great Lakes water diversion controversy. Before coming to Northland College in 2015, Peter served as a reporter at Newsweek, the associate director of the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources, and the managing director of the University of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative. He continues to report on the Great Lakes water diversion issue and has published a second edition of The Great Lakes Water Wars. 

Andrea Densham, Senior Director of Conservation and Advocacy at the Shedd Aquarium

Andrea Densham joined Shedd Aquarium in 2017 to lead the newly launched Conservation Policy and Advocacy team. Created to enhance Shedd’s position as a policy expert, Densham’s team develops and implements the institution’s policy goals. A government affairs thought leader and advisor, she brings more than 20 years of experience in not-for-profit management, strategic planning, research, and public policy and advocacy.

 

TJ Pignataro, Environmental Reporter for the Buffalo News

T.J. Pignataro has been a staff reporter for The Buffalo News for more than 20 years and the environment and weather reporter since 2013. He holds a juris doctor degree from SUNY Buffalo Law School and is completing his Certificate in Weather Forecasting this spring from the Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science. TJ uses Twitter to convey Great Lakes environmental news, weather emergencies and Great Lakes science in plain language. 

Sandra Svoboda, Program Director, Great Lakes Now, Detroit Public Television

A nine-month stint with The Associated Press brought Sandra to Detroit … 29 years ago. She earned a bachelor’s in journalism from Indiana University and holds two master’s degrees from Wayne State, one in public administration and one in library and information science. The Special Libraries Association IT Division recognized her research with its 2018 Joe Ann Clifton Student Award for her paper on how Detroit voting dynamics can inform citizen engagement strategies. Sandra has worked for The (Toledo) Blade covering education/children’s issues, Detroit’s Metro Times and FEMA, where she deployed to Louisiana to help coordinate/communicate about community rebuilding/planning efforts for/after disasters. Sandra has won awards for broadcast, print, digital and community engagement work from the Michigan Associated Press, the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, State Bar of Michigan, Michigan Press Association and Society of Professional Journalists-Detroit chapter, and Wayne State’s public administration program recognized her with the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015 for her work covering Detroit’s bankruptcy. She has taught communications, writing, public policy, and political science at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn. As the Great Lakes region has always been her home Sandra has traveled between Minnesota and Tadoussac, Quebec, both on the water and on land. A competitive sailor, she races hundreds of miles each season on the Great Lakes, and once threw out a pitch at a Detroit Tigers game as recognition of her win with her team at the U.S. Women’s Match Racing Championship. She’s also eaten Asian carp as part of her coverage of invasive species.


The Skills Café: Get help communicating your research!

WHO: Do people’s eyes glaze over when you begin to talk about your research? Do you believe your research has the ability to make a difference, but you’re not sure how to get others excited about it too? Then this session is for you! For the researcher looking to improve their accessibility in attaining broader impacts; the early career professional seeking tips on how to set theirselves apart in a competitive market; the passionate scientist looking for ways to ensure their work makes an impact . . . the Skills Cafe is your opportunity to grow and try new things in a fun and supportive setting.

WHAT: This series of short interactive workshops will allow participants to practice a variety of skills that will make them more effective at communicating the “so what” of their research to lay—but key—audiences. Get tips on interacting with the media, hone your speaking skills, get feedback from a mock interview, and learn from the trials and tribulations of your peers!

WHEN: 1:40-5:00 pm on Wednesday, June 12.

WHERE: Edwards Hall, Room 102

For more information and a detailed schedule of activities stop by the NOAA exhibitor booth.


About IAGLR 2019: The 2019 International Association for Great Lakes Research Conference is hosted by The College at Brockport, State University of New York, June 10-14, 2019. The conference will feature four days of scientific sessions and speakers focusing on the theme “Large Lakes Research: Connecting People and Ideas.”

photo of building in water with skyline of city in backgroun


Leave a comment

NOAA and partners team up to prevent future Great Lakes drinking water crisis

A new video SMART BUOYS: Preventing a Great Lakes Drinking Water Crisis released by Ocean Conservancy describes how NOAA forecast models provide advance warnings to Lake Erie drinking water plant managers to avoid shutdowns due to poor water quality.

An inter-agency team of public and private sector partners, working with the Cleveland Water Department, are addressing drinking water safety for oxygen depleted waters (hypoxia). By leveraging NOAA’s operational National Weather Service and National Ocean Service forecast models and remote sensing for the Great Lakes, NOAA’s latest experimental forecast models developed by its Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory can predict when water affected by harmful algal blooms and hypoxia may be in the vicinity of drinking water intake pipes. Advance notice of these conditions allows water managers to change their treatment strategies to ensure the health and safety of drinking water.  

“Hypoxia occurs when a lot of organic material accumulates at the bottom of the lake and decomposes. As it decomposes, it sucks oxygen from the water, can discolor the water and allow for metals to concentrate,” explains Devin Gill, stakeholder engagement specialist for NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, hosted at the University of Michigan.

Low dissolved oxygen on its own is not a problem for water treatment. However, low oxygen is often associated with a high level of manganese and iron in the bottom water that then leads to drinking water color, taste, and odor problems. In addition, the same processes that consume oxygen also lower pH and, if not corrected, could cause corrosion in the distribution system, potentially elevating lead and copper in treated water.

“Periodically, this water with depleted oxygen gets pushed up against the shoreline and the drinking water intakes pipes,” said Craig Stow, senior research scientist for NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. “We have buoys stationed at various places and those guide our models to let us know when conditions are right for upwellings that would move this hypoxic water into the vicinity of the drinking water intakes.”

NOAA provides advanced warning of these events so that drinking water plant managers can effectively change their treatment strategies to address the water quality, which is a huge benefit in the water treatment industry.


For more information on NOAA GLERL’s harmful algal blooms and hypoxia research, visit www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/HABs_and_Hypoxia.


Leave a comment

The HAB season is over, but the work goes on

It’s nearly winter here in the Great Lakes—our buoys are in the warehouse, our boats are making their way onto dry land, and folks in the lab are working hard to assess observed data, experiments, and other results from this field season.

habtracker2018

This is a retrospective animation showing the predicted surface chlorophyll concentrations estimated by the Experimental Lake Erie HAB Tracker model during the 2018 season. Surface chlorophyll concentrations are an indicator of the likely presence of HABs. For more information about how the HAB Tracker forecast model is produced and can be interpreted, visit our About the HAB Tracker webpage.

The harmful algal bloom (HAB) season is also long over in the region. The final Lake Erie HAB Bulletin was sent out on Oct. 11, as the Microcystis had declined in satellite imagery and toxins decreased to low detection limits in samples. In the seasonal assessment, sent out by NOAA’s Centers for Coastal Ocean Science on Oct. 26, it was determined that the season saw a relatively mild bloom—despite its early arrival in the lake—and the bloom’s severity was significantly less than that which was predicted earlier in the season. These bulletins and outlooks are compiled using several models. Over the winter, the teams working on the models take what they learn from the previous season, and update their models for future use.

Back in the lab, the HABs team—researchers from both GLERL and the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR)—will spend the winter analyzing data they collected through a variety of observing systems. This summer was packed with the use of new observing technologies, like hyperspectral cameras and the Environmental Sample Processor (in case you missed it, check out this fun photo story of the experimental deployment of a 3rd generation ESP). In addition, GLERL and CIGLR staff maintained a weekly sampling program program, from which scientists are analyzing and archiving samples and conducting experiments.

43447135081_b893240224_o.jpg

Aerial photograph of the harmful algal bloom in Western Basin of Lake Erie on July 2, 2018, (Photo Credit: Aerial Associates Photography, Inc. by Zachary Haslick). Pilots from Aerodata have been flying over Lake Erie this summer to map out the general scope of the algal blooms. In addition to these amazing photos, during the flyovers, additional images are taken by a hyperspectral imager (mounted on the back of the aircraft) to improve our understanding of how to map and detect HABs. The lead researcher for this project is Dr. Andrea VanderWoude, a NOAA contractor and remote sensing specialist with Cherokee Nation Businesses. For more images, check out our album on Flickr.

This lab work is super important for understanding the drivers of toxic algae in the Great Lakes. For instance, in a new study released this month, researchers looking at samples from previous years found that “ . . . the initial buildup of blooms can happen at a much higher rate and over a larger spatial extent than would otherwise be possible, due to the broad presence of viable cells in sediments throughout the lake,” according to the lead author Christine Kitchens, a research technician at CIGLR, who works here in the GLERL lab. This type of new information can be incorporated into the models used to make the annual bloom forecasts.

As you can see, our work doesn’t end when the field season is over.  In spring 2019, when the boats and buoys are back in the water and samples are being drawn from the lakes, researchers will already have a jump on their work, having spent the winter months analyzing previous years, preparing, and applying what they’ve learned to the latest version of the Experimental HAB Tracker, advanced observing technologies, and cutting-edge research on harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes.


Leave a comment

A message from the director: A global community convenes on the shores of Lake Geneva, France to share lessons learned on large lakes

I had the pleasure of attending the European Large Lakes Symposium (ELLS) – International Association of Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) 2018 international conference entitled “Big Lakes, Small World” during the week of September 23-28, 2018 in Evian, France on the shores of Lake Geneva.  

IMG_6688

The ELLS-IAGLR symposium drew scientists studying large lakes systems from around the world to the shores of Lake Geneva in Evian, France.

This symposium was notable for many reasons, including being the first IAGLR meeting held outside of North America, in conjunction with the 5th European Large Lakes Symposium. I was impressed with the strong Great Lakes presence at ELLS. In addition to myself and Philip Chu representing the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), colleagues from the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR)—Tom Johengen, Dmitry and Raisa Beletsky—also attended. There were also a number of our Laurentian Great Lakes partners from around the basin participating in the symposium.

Like French cuisine, the conference “menu” was jam-packed with scientific gourmet entrees, which we gorged on each day from 8:45 in the morning until after the poster session concluding at 7:00 each evening.  The conference was held in the historic Palais Lumiere (below), formerly a bathhouse, circa 1902, converted into a convention and cultural center in 2006—where better to hold a conference focused on water?

IMG_6698

The symposium was held at the historic Palais Lumiere  formerly a bathhouse, circa 1902, converted into a convention and cultural center in 2006.

Presentations featured an array of topics, including the chemical, physical, and biological aspects of lakes exotic as the Amazonian floodplain lakes and Russia’s Lake Peipsi, as well as those large lakes familiar to us, such as the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, and Lake Tahoe. Common issues of concern raised during the symposium involved the dynamic changes caused by multiple stressors, namely, increasing temperature, human populations, invasive species, and harmful algal blooms. One observation that I’m excited to report is the number of times NOAA data, products, and services were referenced in talks—a telltale sign that scientists worldwide are relying on NOAA expertise. Items ranged from a Great Lakes sticker on monitoring equipment to the use of graphics like NOAA global surface temperature maps and GLERL food web charts (twice!).  I also spotted a quote pulled from our 5-year science review and even one from our venerable Craig Stow (see image below). I counted at least 18 presentations that cited a connection to NOAA.

As a Great Lakes stakeholder attending this international symposium, I would like to convey to our Great Lakes partners from around the region that we, as a community, can take pride and satisfaction that our daily work results in global impact on large lakes—small world!

IMG_6709

Michelle Selzer, Lake Coordinator with the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, quotes GLERL’s Craig Stow on the topic of establishing phosphorus load targets in Lake Erie: “Going forward, our willingness and ability to monitor, evaluate, and update the targets will be more important than the original targets.”

IMG_0324

Philip Chu with Ph.D candidate Theo Baracchini and Dr. Shubham Krishna of Physics and Aquatic Systems Laboratory, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

IMG_0321

CIGLR scientist, Dmitry Beletsky, presents at ELLS on a CIGLR/GLERL research project to advance hypoxia forecasting.