Month: August 2017

Superior Safety

Swimming
Enjoying the waters at Neys Provincial Park, Lake Superior.

The InfoSuperior Team is committed to bringing you Lake Superior news to the very best of our ability and resources. While developing the September 1st edition of our newsletter, we noticed a disturbing trend in recent headlines: drownings, accidents, and near-fatal experiences. Among the reports:

Accidents and drownings are not a new topic for Lake Superior news. Earlier this summer, we reported in our May 1st newsletter on a drastic increase in Lake Superior drownings and new technology being developed to help aid rescuers. It doesn’t bring us any pleasure to rehash these tragic stories. They’ve been well-covered elsewhere. Collectively, these stories serve as a reminder of the importance of safety on Superior’s shores, and respect for its sheer size and unpredictability. Our intent isn’t, in any way, to blame victims of accidents on Gitchigumee. Even the strongest swimmers and most experienced boaters and recreationists can find themselves in a life-threatening situation.We only hope to offer reminders for water safety with the hope that it will help keep readers and their loved ones safe in the future.

The InfoSuperior Team considers themselves members of the broader Lake Superior community and wishes to extend its utmost sympathies to the families of those lost.


Lake Superior Swimming Safety Tips (adapted from Northern Michigan University)

  1. If possible, swim where there are lifeguards, especially with children.  Never swim alone.  Before entering the water, make sure someone knows you are doing so.
  2. Check your city, township, region, or county’s tourism websites for swimming, boating, and weather advisories. Many provincial parks along Lake Superior have designated swim guides. Also check the National Weather Service’s Rip Current Forecast, the swim hazard risk for beaches like Park Point (the Duluth spit) and use common sense, river mouths with strong currents, especially where the current pushes against large waves coming in from the lake, can be very dangerous.
  3. Rock formations are a likely place to find dangerously strong rip currents. Avoid swimming in these areas.
  4. Know how to “break the grip of a rip.” A rip current can be identified best on a sunny day as an area of darker water where less (or no) waves are breaking.
  5. If you see someone caught in a rip current, going into the rip current area yourself is not the best solution.
  6. Strong winds on Lake Superior that create huge waves are amazing to see and photograph, but they too, can be deadly.  Do not go into the water or out onto breakwalls during high waves and winds,

If caught in a rip current:

  • You may not immediately be aware you’re being pulled by a rip current. You may be pulled from shallow to deep water in a matter of minutes, or seconds.
  • Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
  • Never fight against the current.
  • Think of it like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, which you need to step to the side of.
  • Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle – away from the current – towards shore.
  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arm and yelling for help.

If you see someone in trouble, don’t become a victim, too:

  • Get help from a lifeguard
  • If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1
  • Throw the rip current victim something that floats – a lifejacket, a cooler, an inflatable ball
  • Yell instructions on how to escape
  • Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.

Lake Superior Boating Safety

1. Skills and Certs. Haven’t you heard? Mad boating skills are all the rage these days – not to mention legally mandatory. Before you access a boat (or board, or jet ski, etc.) on any body of water (not just Lake Superior!), be sure you’ve got up-to-date safety courses and certifications in check. Safe boating courses could be the deciding factor in what saves your life, especially where inexperience is an issue. U.S. Coast Guard reported the that in 2016, 77% of deaths in boating accidents occurred where the operator had not received boating safety instruction. Find which boating safety courses are offered in your city or region, and sign up to get certified – even if you’ve been on the water for years. 

In Canada, boaters must carry Proof of Competency on board vessels with motors. Typically, this is the Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC), or alternately-approved certificates by  Transport Canada. If you don’t, you’ll get a big ol’ fine courtesy of the OPP.

Check out the Boat Canada Course page for info on how to obtain the PCOC, and its reciprocity across provincial and state lines.

2. Safety First. We see you, cool guys and girls who feel like life jackets ride up to your chin and cramp your style. But here’s your reality check. The U.S. Coast Guard swoops in again with a jaw-dropping stat: 80% of fatal boating accident victims drowned, and 83% of those victims were without a life jacket.

Capt. Scott Johnson the Chief of  Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety, told Boating Magazine that “Wearing a life jacket, regardless of whether or not a state or federal law requires one to be worn, is the single greatest factor in preventing death from drowning. All boaters should wear a lifejacket at all times when on the water, no matter your age, physical ability, or condition.”

So invest in safety equipment folks.

3. Rules & Regulations. Everybody’s favourite! Look, we know you’ve got enough of these to deal with on land: at work, on the road, in the Monopoly games your cousin’s always trying to rig in his favour. Like it or not, rules and regulations are what ensure we’re not jerks to each other on the water, same as everywhere else. They also keep us out of shipping lanes, which is best for everyone involved.

Rules and regs go in line with skills and certifications, but it’s a continuing education. Brush up on the rules and regulations for the park, city, province/state, and country you’re boating in. Make sure to particularly note age of operators, speed, and max capacity for your craft. Once again, the Boat Canada Course page has assembled boating rules and regulations for many (but not all) provinces under ‘Boating in Your Province.’ Ontario’s requirements, rules, and regulations can be found here.

4. Check the weather. Rev. George Grant said in 1872 that “Those who have never seen Superior get an inadequate idea by hearing it spoken of as a lake. Superior is a sea. It breeds storms and rain and fog like a sea. It is cold, masterful, and dreaded.” The “sea” of Superior is large, strong, and unruly enough to wreck massive freighters. If it was enough to take down the Edmund Fitzgerald, it’s definitely enough to take down your pleasure cruiser of choice.

Before heading out on the water, check your local forecast and the marine weather forecast for Lake Superior region, provided by Environment Canada. It’s handy and colour-coded with four different advisory levels. Be leery of even moderate advisories, because weather can turn abruptly on Lake Superior. If possible, it’s safer to have a marine radio and listen for storm warnings.

5. Float Plan. If you’re headed out on the water, even just for a few hours, it’s a good idea to file a float plan with loved ones or other responsible persons, like a coworker or friend. Float plans are also called sails, trips, or rescue plans. They include your planned travel route, basic description of your vessel and yourself. If you’re not sure what info to include, Boat Canada Course has a handy form drafted for you, found here. It’s got all the pertinent details so you leave your mates on land with something more than a Tweet, but less than Moby Dick. 

6. Don’t boat while impaired. This one bears repeating ad infinitum. At the risk of sounding like your mom or a 90s P.S.A., don’t drink and boat (or drug and boat, for that matter). In 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard noted that “alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 15% of deaths.” Just as you wouldn’t drink and drive while on land, don’t drink and drive on water. It’s common sense, and we know you’ve got plenty of that knocking around!

Further reading:

U.S. Coast Guard 2016 Recreational Boating Statistics

U.S. Coast Guard Historic Recreational Boating Statistics

Transport Canada’s Office of Boating Safety (includes Safe Boating Guide!)

Lake Superior Boating Guide: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

 


 

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First Ever Climate Change Forum coming to Lakehead University

To address local climate change issues, and work towards research solutions, Lakehead University is holding its first Climate Change Forum on September 28 & 29, 2017. The forum’s focus will rest on four broad topics: water and Lake Superior, bio-economy, climate modelling, and social impacts. Information will be presented through a variety of programs including panels, lectures, debates, and a photo-voice exhibit lead by EarthCare Thunder Bay.

 

The Lake Superior Action and Management Plan recognizes climate change as a significant factor affecting Lake Superior. In fact, the initiative produced the 2014 Lake Superior Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Report, which notes, “Changing climate conditions will impact efforts to protect and restore Lake Superior. Current observations in the Lake Superior basin demonstrate that some changes in climate are already occurring, including increases in surface water and air temperatures and a decrease in the extent and duration of ice cover. Projected climate changes could have a range of future potential effects on Lake Superior ecosystems, including a decrease in the abundance of cold water fish and changes to coastal wetlands” (p. 8).

The LU Climate Change Forum provides an exciting new outlet to discuss Lake Superior restoration and protection efforts with a fresh new lens. As the world evolves, so to do environmental priorities.

If you’re interested in how climate change will affect our region, be sure to attend the Forum event devoted to it: “Climate Change Impacts on the Lake Superior Watershed”, a panel to be held from 9 am – 10:30 am on September 29, at the Bartley Residence Conference Room. The event will be moderated by Rob Stewart, head of the RAP program in Thunder Bay and Chair of the Geography & Environmental Sciences Department at Lakehead University. Panelists involved will be Tom Beery (Minnesota Sea Grant, University of Minnesota Duluth), E.J. Isaac (Grant Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa), Carl Lindquist (Superior Watershed Partnership), and Alyssa Ray (Red Rock Indian Band).

Other events not to be missed are:

  • a student-led debate on whether or not humans are rising to tackle the climate change crisis
  • “Boreal Heartbreak: Emotional Impacts of Climate Change in Northwestern Ontario” – lecture by Fulbright Scholar Kelsey Jones-Casey
  • “Climate Change Impacts of Indigenous Peoples’ Health: Stories from Around the World” – lecture by Sherilee Harper
  • panels on Climate Modelling and Data Use; The Bio-Economy and Climate Mitigation; and Community Awareness Perspectives
  • “Ontario’s Aboriginal Communities: On the Frontline of the Fight Against Climate Change” – a lecture by representatives of First Nation Technical Services

All of these topics are intricately linked. For those invested in the Lake Superior watershed and eco-health of the community around Lake Superior, attending multiple events will help create linkage for brainstorming across disciplines. The Forum’s principle organizer, Sudip Rakshit, a chemical engineering professor and Canada Research Chair, initially conceived the forum as an “interdisciplinary event bringing together members of the public, community organizations, academics, and students to discuss local climate issues and develop research-based solutions for these issues.” He is personally most excited to witness the student-led debate, and hopes the forum can continue to bring in speakers throughout the year to continuously engage climate discussions.

For more info on the Lakehead University Climate Change Forum, visit climatechange.infosuperior.com. The LUCC website is being as this article goes to press and will be continuously updated with event logistics (when to attend, where to go, whom to contact); agenda of events; speakers’ biographies, and more. Please note: the LUCC agenda will be updated as events and speakers are finalized, and will reflect only most recent changes. Continue checking for updates as the Forum approaches. There may be last minute changes in scheduling. 

 

 

 

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North Harbour Tour Brings Fresh Perspectives

North Harbour Boat Tour August, 2017
Academics and researchers from Lakehead University tour the Thunder Bay North Harbour site on August 2nd. Among the departments represented were Chemistry, Engineering, Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Science.

On August 2nd, a diverse group of academics and researchers from Lakehead University toured a contaminated area of Thunder Bay harbour commonly referred to as the “North Harbour” area.

North Harbour is located near the mouth of the Current River and the former shipyards, adjacent to a paper mill which has been torn down. The area is contaminated with mercury and other substances, a legacy from decades when less strict environmental regulations were in place. Several studies have been conducted to quantify technical aspects of the contaminated site and to understand impacts of the contamination. Most of these studies and other additional information is available at rap.infosuperior.com/northharbour. The studies provide several cleanup options. Next steps for cleanup have not yet been finalized.

The boat tour was meant to familiarize academics and researchers with the North Harbour site and the challenges associated with cleanup.  Additionally, engagement of this diverse group of experts may spark innovative ideas for dealing with the contamination.

Engagement of expertise from Lakehead University is an outgrowth of the “Mercury Roundtable” held on March 7th as part of the university’s “Research and Innovation Week.” At the roundtable, some of Canada’s formemost experts on mercury stressed the importance of engaging the local community, as well as developing and bringing to bear local expertise. A March 14th article in Infosuperior providing an overview of the roundtable is accessible below.

Roundtable Discussions: What Can we Do About Mercury in Our Water?

For photos from North Harbour, click here. 

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Degradation of Plankton BUI nears Delisting for Thunder Bay

Since 1987, Thunder Bay has been designated as an Area of Concern (AOC) due to several environmental issues, or “Beneficial Use Impairments” (BUIs). One of these impairments is degradation of phyto- and zooplankton populations. Scroll to the bottom of this post for background information about plankton from Biology Online.

To address Beneficial Use Impairments affecting the Thunder Bay Area of Concern, a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) Team was formed and is comprised of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and Lakehead University. 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.

Plankton research being undertaken in the waters of Thunder Bay on board the “Kiyi “– a United States Geological Survey ship.

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

In addition to effluent treatment and water quality improvements, 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 designated as impaired have been addressed. Negative influences such as nutrient and contaminant loading are no longer considered a significant concern. Furthermore, Kaministiquia River receiving waters for effluent and oligotrophic Lake Superior have a large assimilative capacity, are not prone to algae blooms, and are capable of supporting healthy fish populations.

Removing Plankton From the Impairment List

Based upon the rationale laid out above, RAP Team agencies are recommending that the “Degradation of Phytoplankton and Zooplankton Populations” be removed from the list of impairments for Thunder Bay and be “redesignated” to”not impaired” status. RAP Team member agencies welcome input, comments and questions regarding their recommendation to redesignate. Correspondence can be addressed to jfbailey at lakeheadu dot ca.

Ongoing Monitoring

Monitoring of 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.

A Plankton Overview from Biology Online

 

Biology Online provides the following information about plankton:

Plankton are microscopic organisms that live suspended in the water environment, and form a very important part of the freshwater community. They move via convection or wind induced currents. In almost every habitat of a freshwater ecosystem, thousands of these organisms can be found, and due to their small size and simplicity, they are capable of occupying large expanses of water and multiplying at an exponential rate. 

Plankton can be subdivided into two categories.

  • Phytoplankton – Phytoplankton are microscopic plants which obtain their energy via photosynthesis. However, some species of bacteria are also capable of photosynthesis and also fall under this taxonomic category. They are important to the ecosystem because they are part of the primary producing community and assist in recycling elements such as carbon and sulphur which are required elsewhere in the community.
  • Zooplankton – Zooplankton consist mainly of crustaceans and rotifers, and on the whole are relatively larger than their phytoplankton counterparts.
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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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