NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

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


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Casting a high tech sampling net to learn more about the Great Lakes ecosystem

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Researchers at GLERL are using a new tool, a MOCNESS, to study the Great Lakes.

In the Great Lakes, communities of plants and animals vary depending on where and when you look. They are dispersed up and down and all around in the water, making it tricky to collect them for research studies. To answer questions about these organisms and how they interact in the Great Lakes ecosystem, scientists from NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and CIGLR (Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research) are using a new high tech sampling tool called a MOCNESS (Multiple Opening and Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System).

GLERL’s MOCNESS is the first of its kind to be used in a freshwater system. Scientists are hopeful that this technology will lead to new discoveries about the Great Lake ecosystem, such as where plankton (microscopic aquatic plants and animals) live and what causes their distributions to change over space and time. The MOCNESS will also help scientists learn more about predator-prey interactions that involve zooplankton (microscopic aquatic animals), phytoplankton (microscopic aquatic plants), and larval and juvenile fishes.

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A closer look the MOCNESS (Multiple Opening and Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System)

Keeping track of changes in plant and animal communities in the Great Lakes over time is important, especially with changes in climate, the onslaught of invasive species, and land use practices causing increased nutrient runoff into the lakes.

The MOCNESS is a big improvement over the traditional single mesh sized sample collection nets. The sampling system provided by this new tool has a series of nets of different mesh sizes to collect different sized organisms (see a few examples in the gallery below). The operator can remotely open and close these nets, much like an accordion. At the heart of the system is a set of sensors that measure depth, temperature, oxygen, light levels, and the green pigment found in algae, Chlorophyll-a. Because this data can be viewed in real time on the vessel, the operator can better determine what is going on below the water surface and choose where and when to sample different sized organisms.

Here are some of the key questions that the scientists hope to answer using this advanced technology:

  • How do plankton and larval fish respond to environmental gradients (water temperature, dissolved oxygen, UV radiation) over the course of the day, season, and across years?
  • What are the major causes for changing distributions of the animals across space and over time (long-term, seasonal, 24-hour cycle)?
  • How do these changes in affect reproduction, survival, and growth of individuals and their communities?

The MOCNESS has been tested in the waters of lakes Michigan and Huron for the past three years. The team, led by Dr. Ed Rutherford, is supporting GLERL’s long term study of the Great Lakes food webs and fisheries. “The MOCNESS will enhance the ability of our scientists to more effectively observe the dynamics of Great Lakes ecosystem over space and time—a critical research investment that will pay off for years to come,” says Rutherford.

This year, the team is actively processing samples that were collected in the spring and will continue to collect more samples through the fall. The MOCNESS will support ongoing ecological research on the Great Lakes and the results will be shared with others around the region who are working to make decisions about how to manage Great Lakes fisheries and other water resources.

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Embracing Collaboration and Partnerships: A Way of Life at GLERL

The science community in the Great Lakes region holds a long history of partnership building, extending across jurisdictional, institutional, and disciplinary lines. These partnerships have been evolving in the region for decades as a means to leverage the intellectual capital and financial resources needed to address the environmental challenges (sediment and nutrient loading, toxic pollution, invasive species) threatening the integrity of the Great Lakes.  Agreements and programs established in the region—such as the Great Lakes Water Quality (1972), Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (2005), and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (2010)—are celebrated for their unique partnerships of federal, state/provincial, and tribal and local governments.

GLERL has embraced the Great Lakes tradition of collaboration and partnership building in the development and implementation of its scientific research program since the laboratory’s inception in the mid-1970s.  As a primary organizational goal, GLERL envisions partnerships as a way to strengthen capacity in the conduct of its interdisciplinary research. One way that we accomplish this is by providing a hub for collaboration at GLERL’s Ann Arbor facility—such as space for meetings and workshops to help in the coordination of scientific research and policy—as well as at GLERL’s Lake Michigan Field Station in Muskegon where vessels and laboratory space are made available to support scientific investigations.

Also notable is GLERL’s historical partnership with the NOAA Cooperative Institutes (CIs). The CIs are academic research institutes, frequently co-located within NOAA research laboratories, to create a strong, long-term collaboration among government scientists in the laboratories and the associated academic institutions. Currently, there is great excitement at GLERL for the newly established Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR), formerly known as the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research. CIGLR, hosted by the University of Michigan’s School of Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), collaborates with nine university partners as part of the institute’s Regional Consortium. This collaborative arrangement expands the research capacity, intellectual expertise, and geographic reach of CIGLR and all its partners, while increasing GLERL’s ability to fulfill NOAA’s mission in the Great Lakes.

In keeping with the Great Lakes tradition of collaboration and partnership building, we are pleased to announce the creation GLERL’s new webpage, Collaborating with GLERL. Provided on the webpage is specific guidance on how to pursue collaboration and partnerships with GLERL in areas such as research partnerships, data access, event hosting, vessel operations, as well as internships and fellowships. Through this webpage, we hope to enable our partners to benefit from the valuable resources offered by NOAA GLERL.  We invite you to browse this webpage so you are fully aware of the opportunities that GLERL offers to help keep the Great Lakes great.

Visit the new webpage at https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/about/collaborating.html.