Month: August 2017

Degradation of Plankton BUI nears Delisting for Thunder Bay

Since 1987 Thunder Bay has been identified as an Area of Concern due to a number of different environmental issues, or “Beneficial Use Impairments” (BUIs). One of these impairments was the degradation of phyto- and zooplankton populations.

To address the Beneficial Use Impairments affecting the Thunder Bay Area of Concern a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) Team, comprised of government agencies that include Environment Canada (EC), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (OMOE) and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) was formed. A Public Advisory Committee (PAC) was also formed in order to ensure community goals were incorporated based upon measures which were technically, socially as well as economically feasible.

The RAP Team now considers phytoplankton and zooplankton populations no longer an environmental issue within the Thunder Bay Area of Concern.  The team has therefore proposed that this BUI be removed from the list of impairments for Thunder Bay.

Plankton research being undertaken onboard the Kiyi – a United States Geological Survey ship near Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Original Rationale for Listing

In the report “Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan Stage 1: Environmental Conditions and Problem Definition” (1999) the assumption was made that plankton populations were impaired; however, there were no studies completed to document this assumption, one way or the other. As the report states:

“This use is assumed to be impaired. It is generally recognized that plankton are also affected when water quality and benthos are degraded. Populations are assumed to be degraded in the Kaministiquia River and in the harbour, within the breakwall. However, it is also assumed that plankton will respond to improved water quality” (page 36)

Actions and Assessments

Since the outset of the RAP program, many different water quality improvements have been made to effluent treatment within local industrial and municipal facilities, including a new secondary treatment plant for City of Thunder Bay wastewater, at a cost of $73.5 million. The water quality in the Thunder Bay AOC has improved dramatically since the inception of the RAP, so much so, that the conditions contributing to the degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations have been eliminated. It should also be noted that the continued regulatory vigilance respecting effluent from industrial and municipal sources will help ensure continued success.

In addition to effluent treatment and water quality improvements, there have also been several assessments of plankton have been conducted since the initial designation. Some of these assessments include the “Great Lakes Reconnaissance Survey” (1999), an “Assessment of Total Phosphorus and Chlorophyll in Thunder Bay” (2005), as well as the Great Lakes Nearshore Index Station Network surveys of 1999, 2005 and 2011. In addition, a summary of the previous plankton assessments conducted was prepared by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (2015). Overall these reports show that the key factors which led to plankton being listed have been addressed. The negative influences such as nutrient and contaminant loading are no longer considered a significant concern. Furthermore, the receiving waters for the effluent in the Kaministiquia River and oligotrophic Lake Superior have a large assimilative capacity, are not known to be prone to algal blooms, and are capable of supporting a healthy fish population.

Ongoing Monitoring

Monitoring of the water quality and plankton populations in the Thunder Bay Area of Concern will continue every six years through the Great Lakes Nearshore Index Station Network. Monitoring was previously carried out in 2005 and 2011 with monitoring planned for the summer of 2017 and again in 2023.

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Porphyry Lighthouse Book Makes International Splash

Lake Superior’s stunning North Shore imagery comes to life in Jean Pendziwol’s new novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, which was released to critical acclaim in July 2017. Deemed “a haunting tale of nostalgia and lost chances that is full of last-minute surprises” by Kirkus ReviewsDaughters follows the tale of two women whose lives become intertwined while reading journals belonging to a former Porphyry Island lighthouse keeper.

Thunder Bay, ON author Pendizwol is enjoying success at home: the novel maintains a spot on The Globe and Mail‘s top 10 Bestsellers in Canadian Fiction as of August 5th, 2017.  But her riveting story, characters, and patently Lake Superior setting are about to gain international exposure: CBC Thunder Bay reported  that Daughters is set to be published in over 10 countries around the world, such as China, Italy, Spain, and Brazil.


For inspiration, Pendizwol drew on her vast experience with Lake Superior to complete the novel, her first work of adult fiction. She explained to CBC that her affinity for the novel’s setting came from time her family spent sailing:

“From a very young age, our family had a sailboat and … all of our weekends and summer vacations were spent out on Lake Superior,” she said.

“I have a lot of fond memories of being in anchorages along the north shore, the isolation … the stunning beauty of Lake Superior.”

She also interviewed people who worked previously at Porphyry Island lighthouse to gain intimate understanding of the lifestyle of someone who spent their lives in a remote, isolated location with such a demanding job.

Journals such as Quill & Quire and The Walleye Magazine provided excerpts to tempt readers. The story revolves around Morgan, a rebel teenager doing community service in a senior centre who meets Elizabeth, the near-blind daughter of a former Porphyry Island lighthouse keeper. Over the course of a summer, Elizabeth asks Morgan to read her father’s journals to unravel family mysteries of the past and present.

Located 40 km east of Thunder Bay on the eastern side of the Black Bay Peninsula, Porphyry Island lighthouse is increasingly becoming tied with culture in Thunder Bay. As an iconic landscape, local artists draw inspiration from the lighthouse and create artistic works celebrating it. The Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior group encourages the link between the lighthouse and local lore by offering an artist in residence program that runs through the summer.

CLLS has worked hard to restore the Porphyry to its former glory. Built in 1873, the lighthouse was the second to be constructed on Lake Superior, and was serviced for 106 years by a light keeper. It went automatic in 1989, but is now leased from Department of Fisheries & Oceans and maintained by CLLS staff who welcome any visitors who wish to explore free of charge.


To purchase a copy of The Light Keeper’s Daughters and see Porphyry Island through Jean Pendizwol’s detailed perspective, click here.

Further Reading

“Thunder Bay, Ont., author’s new book drawing international attention” CBC Thunder Bay, 6 July 2017. 

Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior Porphyry Island page

Photos of Porphyry Island Lighthouse by InfoSuperior’s Jim Bailey

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Thunder Bay Port News

Exciting things are afloat at Pool 6 in the port of Thunder Bay, ON. In case you’ve missed CBC’s recent scoops, we’ve compiled them for you here.

Breaking the Ice: Alexander Henry Greets Pool 6

In early August, CBC reported that the Alexander Henry found a new home at Pool 6 in the Thunder Bay harbour. Though the icebreaking vessel has been lounging in Thunder Bay’s port since journeying from Kingston in June, it was granted permission to move to Port 6. Thunder Bay Port Authority will negotiate a lease with Thunder Bay City Council, giving it a chance to return home permanently.

The Alexander Henry was built by the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Company after being commissioned in 1959. It worked the Great Lakes for almost three decades, until the mid-1980s. It was replaced by the Samuel Risley, which is still in operation.

photo credit: Bill Burd, via CBC

Since its retirement, the Henry has been residing at the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes in Kingston. When the museum lost its space, the Lakehead Transportation Museum Society approached city council in December 2016 to purchase the Henry. They pitched it as a tourist attraction, and council provided $125,000 needed for the tow between ports. Since June, the ship has resided at a private dock, but will relocate to Pool 6 when the city and port authority are done negotiating.

Charlie Brown, president of the LTMS, expressed his enthusiasm to CBC.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Charlie Brown, president of the Lakehead Transportation Museum Society (LTMS). “We’re thrilled — it couldn’t be any better.”

“I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that we can get it up and running early in September,” he said. “We’re looking at holding a big grand opening for the public.”

The ship will likely remain at the private dock until negotiations are completed. In the mean time, Brown says that maintenance and cleanup work will need to be done at Pool 6, including bringing in fencing, wiring electrical hookups, and landscaping, among others. Stay tuned to CBC and local news outlets for announcements on the grand opening.

Ahoy to Cruise Ships in 2018

For the first time in six years, CBC reports a cruise ship is scheduled to visit Thunder Bay port’s Pool 6. Paul Pepe, the City of Thunder Bay’s tourism manager, announced that the Victory II (owned by Victory Cruise Lines), will be hosted in Thunder Bay in late July 2018. It will be the first turnaround cruise ship the city has ever hosted. A turnaround vessel finishes a voyage and then starts another from the same port. The route will run from Chicago to Thunder Bay, and back.

The Victory II, owned by Victory Cruise Lines. photo credit: Victory Cruise Lines

Pepe pointed out that a turnaround voyage offers economic benefit to the city. He noted that passengers who are either finishing or embarking on a cruise usually stay an extra night in the city, fly through Thunder Bay’s airport, and both the ship will need stock up on supplies when it docks. Presumably, they’d also patronize businesses in downtown Port Arthur, which is close to the port.

The Victory II is newly-commissioned, reportedly hosting 220 passengers and 70 crew. It is a sister ship to the Victory I, in service since 2001. Cruise industry on Lake Superior is relatively limited due to logistical issues in crossing the Canada-U.S. Border running through the middle of the Great Lakes, and limited capacity in locks that dot the St. Lawrence Seaway. Pepe told CBC that

“There’s not a lot of cruise ships that are [St. Lawrence Seaway] compliant, in the sense that they they can fit through the locks, they don’t have any protrusions,” he said. “A lot of the big cruise ships that people are familiar with, they have life boats that protrude, they have bridge wings that protrude, and those things can not go through the seaway safely.”

Pepe does mention, however, that Great Lakes cruise tourism is growing, with “record numbers” of vessels in the lower Great Lakes, and a spate of new seaway-compliant vessels being built to service growing demand.

Further Reading:

“Cruise ships returning to Thunder Bay port” CBC Thunder Bay, July 28, 2017.

“Alexander Henry finds a home at Pool 6” CBC Thunder Bay, Aug 2, 2017. 

Victory Cruise Lines – announcement on the Victory II and information on cruise vacations

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Clicks and Waves: New UMD Lake Superior Research

There’s a lot going on beneath the surface, and researchers from the Great Lakes basin are out to solve mysteries of the deep in Lake Superior. Here are two exciting research headlines out of University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Superior Soundscape

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. So goes research effort by Jay Austin, a professor from University of Minnesota-Duluth whose previous study to track Lake Superior’s currents and movements of ice sheets has been turned into something new. Austin and his fellow researchers attempted to track ice flow with sound, but ran into issues with data corruption due to Superior’s natural soundscape. Not to be deterred, they rejigged the experiment to address an entirely new focus – the lake’s soundscape in and of itself.

credit: Jay Austin, Large Lakes Observatory with UMD, via CBC Thunder Bay.

In conversation with Austin, CBC Thunder Bay reported that the researchers will use a hydrophone to record sound below the lake’s surface. Similar soundscape mapping has been done by oceanographers for decades, primarily for defence strategy and submarine warface. Austin told CBC that “no such threat [exists] in lakes, and so they’ve sort of gone unnoticed.”

As Austin and his fellow researchers have embarked on their fieldwork, they’ve detected sounds of wind, noise from passing lakers and salties, and – the most surprising – clicking sounds. Referencing existing research, Austin suggests to CBC that the mysterious clicks could be from burbot, a type of large freshwater cod. Austin’s hope is to work with biologist to decipher what the clicks might represent – whether they’re merely a function of the fish’s movement, or if they represent a form of communication. While Austin expressed skepticism that the clicks were communication, he mentioned that the researchers found the burbot appeared to stop making the sounds when ships passed nearby.

In addition to understanding more about the unique noises weaving their way through Superior’s soundscape, Austin believes the research could have positive benefits for those looking to efficiently take stock of fish populations, overcoming seasonal obstacles to  tracking wind speed, and even use for experimental musicians who want to use Lake Superior sounds for their songs.

Underwater Waves

A recent article from Wisconsin Public Radio reports that research has begun on a National Science Foundation-funded initiative which will study internal waves in Lake Superior. The goal of the research is to gain an understanding of how these underwater waves affect lake temperatures. The National Science Foundation has granted roughly $1 million USD to support the project, which will focus on “[predicting] the strength of the waves, when they’re generated, how they spread, and when they break.”

credit: Dan Titze w/ the Large Lakes Observatory UMD, via WPR.

In conversation with WPR, principal investigator Sam Kelly explained that temperature is integral to the formation of internal waves, which occur when warmer surface water and colder deep water meet and mix. Kelly is an assistant professor with the Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Jay Austin, who is studying the underwater soundscape of Superior, is also affiliated with the Large Lakes Observatory, and acts as co-principal investigator in this project.

So far, researchers have installed 10 moorings in the western arm of Lake Superior between Grand Marais, MN, and Ontonagon, MI, to establish data on temperature and currents. This data will be used to inform preliminary findings by next year. Kelly identifies the following research benefits: to help predict how surface water temperatures may change during storm events, and potentially to help predict currents.

Kelly explains the mechanics of internal waves to WPR:

“These waves are generated when the wind blows over the lake and sort of pushes the surface water up against the coast, and that sort of pushes this interface up or down depending on the direction of the wind,” he said.

“The bottom of the lake is always 4 degrees Celsius, so the temperature at the surface that we measure really depends on how much mixing goes on between the surface and the bottom of the lake,” he said. “So you could have a very warm, very thin surface layer, or if you had a bunch of wind and it mixed up the colder, deeper water, you could have a relatively deep surface layer that’s much cooler.”

The research commenced in September 2016, and is expected to culminate in August 2020. To date, $626, 197.00 has been awarded to the project. The abstract, and updates for funding and completion dates, can be founded here. 

Further reading

“Lake Superior researcher studies the big lake’s sounds – underwater.” CBC Thunder Bay, July 19, 2017. 

“Researchers Study Waves Under the Waters of Lake Superior” Wisconsin Public Radio, July 24, 2017. 


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