According to WDIO (Duluth), UMD researchers have been collecting samples to determine the likelihood of algae growth in Lake Superior waters. The goal of the faculty/student team is to discover how much human action (agriculture, urban growth, industrial use) is driving potentially harmful nutrient levels in the lake.
In July, UMD senior Shannon McCallum and assistant professor Ted Ozersky took samples from the shores of Leif Erikson Park in Duluth, MN. The team dove with wetsuits to procure their experiment: a landscaping tile with rows of clear cups, all of which had been diffusing nitrogen or phosphorus, or both, into the lake for a period of four weeks. The samples will be taken back to the lab to be frozen, dried, and weighed.
Ozersky told WDIO that the goal was to let algae grow in the cups for a month. “We’re trying to see which of these nutrients will stimulate the growth of algae on the lake bottom.”
This process was repeated at nine different locations on Lake Superior’s northern and southern shores. They were placed close to agricultural, urban, and industrial sites so they could measure human impact from things like fertilizer, stormwater runoff, or sewage. Ozersky and McCallum will be studying a variety of data to determine what nutrients are most important to manage to prevent harmful algal blooms from forming.
While some algae growth is normal and healthy, imbalanced nutrient levels and water temperatures can lead to large-scale problems. Look no further than Lake Erie’s consistent problems with algal blooms to see the consequence: they’ve been indicated in large-scale marine wildlife deaths, shellfish poisonings, and increases the risk of non-alcoholic liver disease death.
The study is being funded by a UMD biology grant, and constitutes McCallum’s summer research project.
Lakehead undergraduate researcher Brent Straughn brings you a research update from along the north shore of Lake Superior. Under the supervision of graduate researcher Nathan Wilson and LU staffers Dr. Rob Stewart and Jason Freeburn, Brent has been learning the ins-and-outs of field research in tandem with the Superior Streams project. The objective of this project is to collect data on water quality, fish species and abundance data, information about barriers to fish passage which may impact spawning and other information related to fish populations and overall stream ecosystem health. The project is a cooperative venture between Lakehead University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Science and Superior Streams, a group started by local volunteers. This group is interested in stream ecosystem health, including the health of fish populations. This data collection project is supported by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry through funds of the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA), also by Lakehead University
July 29, 2016
For the past two weeks Nathan and I have been camping at provincial parks along the north shore while we’re assessing streams far east of Thunder Bay. Baseline environmental information for several streams flowing to Superior is being collected as part of our project.
From the 18th to the 22nd we spent our evenings and nights at Neys Provincial Park, and from the 25th to the 27th we were at Rainbow Falls Provincial Park. During these days, we assessed streams from Marathon to Black Bay by driving to road crossings and often walking from the road to railway crossings. Driving along the north shore of Lake Superior to each stream was a great way to get familiar with the local environment. We experienced first hand the importance of small streams as shelter for juvenile fish, and how barriers such as road and railway crossings affect streams and the fish that use them.
Assessing the streams during the day was very informative and fun. The information that we collected from physically walking the streams themselves and the surrounding area helps the project and gives me great work and life experience, as well as learning the fish species in the streams.
When the work day finished, we would head back to the campsite. Camping for those weeks was a great experience. I was able to perfect my overnight camping practices to accommodate for my first week long trip, and was able to enjoy the evenings in the woods and on the lake. With the campsites being right next to the lake, I was also able to cross swimming in Lake Superior off my bucket list.
On our way back from Neys, Nathan and I saw a young black bear on the side of the highway. At first the bear was poking its head out from some tall grasses, but then it got curious. It walked onto the gravel shoulder of the highway to take a closer look at the passing vehicles. Fortunately, the bear got spooked or lost interest and ran back to the safety of the grasses to hopefully continued its search for berries.
The National Water Quality Monitoring Council, based in the U.S., is offering a webinar series geared toward volunteers who want to make an impact in scientific research on water quality.
The webinar is titled “Exploring the Worlds of Citizen Science and Volunteer Monitoring,” and aims to address the growing role of volunteering monitoring in research, restoration, and protection of watersheds.
- Tina Phillips, of the Public Engagement in Science Program at Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- Kris Stepenuck, Extension Program Leader for Lake Champlain Sea Grant
- Julie Vastine, Director of Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (moderator for the webinar)
From the press release:
While aquatic-based volunteer monitoring has been around for more than five decades, the term citizen science is generating a great deal of buzz and attention – resulting in international studies, new articles, and focused mini-conferences. With new agencies and programs coming to the community-based scientific research table, now is the time to discuss what exactly is volunteer monitoring and citizen science, synergies, as well as avenues for collaboration and increased integration.
This webinar will explore the general fields of citizen science and volunteer monitoring, highlight the successes/outcomes of the volunteer monitoring field, and end with a discussion of how to learn from each other strengths, challenges, and discuss avenues for increased collaboration.
In the future, the Kama Creek project will still be subject to monitoring to ensure the results are consistent. Dr. Rob Stewart reports that: “We will continue to monitor Kama for another 4 year cycle to ensure that the creek maintains its ecological integrity and provides numerous public and educational opportunities. We have noticed that some of the pool riffle sequences are degrading as the infrequent discharges of the creek push boulders and cobbles downstream and this may have to be mitigated in the next few years. We are also keeping an eye on the water loss through the berm that exists to block off the old channel as it still allows a small trickle of discharge into the old creek and we want to ensure that does not increase. We will continue to update with future monitoring results.”
Moira Harrington, assistant director of communications for Wisconsin Sea Grant in Madison, published recently in the Duluth News Tribune to give local residents a heads up about thorough, extensive research being conducted on Lake Superior this summer. According to Harrington, “a team of scientists is plying the big lake’s waters this summer to discover hidden reaches and untold stories.”
From July until October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) will be sending vessels out to conduct research over a large expanse of Superior – rather than just one isolated area. Harrington also states that the scope of research itself will be expanded, covering a broader, more in-depth range of considerations.
The EPA will be navigating Research Vessel (RV) Lake Guardian, RV Lake Explorer II, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s RV Kiyi to pre-determined research stations (or ‘sampling sites’). They will also employ the use of autonomous underwater gliders for sampling, one of which will be supplied by UMD’s Large Lakes Observatory. The gliders are described as “yellow, torpedo-shaped samplers . . . guided by satellites and onboard computers.”
The researchers will be studying “lower food web, contaminants, the near-shore environment, deep-water organisms, aquatic invasive species, and what factors might make certain areas of the lake prone to nutrient or algae problems.” They’ll be comparing the results to previous lake studies to look for improvements or degradation in lake conditions.
Harrington also states that 15 educators from around the Great Lakes basin will be joining the scientists on the RV Lake Guardian. Specially selected by the Wisconsin and Minnesota Sea Grant programs, they’ll be assisting in research projects and will be passing their experiences with the project on to students this fall as they return to the classroom.
Harrington reports that the research team focuses on a different Great Lake every year for study. Last year, Lake Michigan was subject to the in-depth scrutiny.
For the first time, the Wisconsin Department of Natural resources is considering a management plan for cisco in Lake Superior. Also known as lake herring, cisco are a primary prey species for whitefish and lake trout, and are a prized catch by foodies: it’s eaten fresh or smoked, and its roe are a delicacy referred to by some as “bluefin caviar.” Cisco populations are under strain due to increased commercial fishery demand, and the DNR is doing research with the consultation of commercial fishermen to establish a quota for catchable population per year.
The Ashland Daily Press spoke with Terry Margenau, DNR Lake Superior fisheries supervisor, who reports that commercial harvest of cisco in Lake Superior spiked after 2008, when commercial processors began to accept whole fish.
“The annual harvest from 2008 to 2014 averaged nearly 1.4 million pounds, a level more than three times the average annual harvest from 2000 to 2007,” Margenau to the Daily Press. “The cisco harvest from Wisconsin waters now accounts for two-thirds of the total Lake Superior harvest and there is concern among Wisconsin fisheries managers as well as those from neighboring states and Canada about survey data that shows declining abundance of the fish.”
If cisco populations are under strain, so too are the lake trout and whitefish which feed on them. These considerations all propelled the DNR’s decision to establish a management plan. DNR officials have held stakeholder meetings in Bayfield and at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center this week, seeking comments on their management proposals. They are proposing a quota of 15 percent of the catchable population per year.
Margenau told the Daily Press that the management plan has two main goals: to create a sustainable fishery, and keep commercial fishermen in business. The DNR are consulting with the commercial fishermen in good faith as they do research to base the management plan on, and Margenau commented that the fishermen have been very helpful in the process because they care about the fishery, and diminishing numbers of cisco can threaten their livelihood.
“They are pointing out some things that we haven’t seen because they are out there a lot and they have made some good points and we have modified the management plan as we have gone along over the past several months,” he said.
Commercial fishermen have even offered to assist with the DNR’s continued research efforts, as the department finds itself short on staffing and budgets.
The Daily Press spoke with fisherman Craig Hoopman of Bayfield, WI, to get his perspective on the management plan research efforts. “It’s actually very simple — at the end of the day, any time you talk about a total allowable catch, or harvest, and they are going to base it on a three-year basis,” he said. “If you don’t spend the next three years collecting all the data for all of the Lake Superior waters in Wisconsin, you won’t get a figure on the actual size of the biomass that is out there.”
Currently, the DNR is studying areas of Lake Superior that are fished heavily by the state’s commercial industry. Last fall, Hoopman observed that the areas studied by the DNR were 10 percent of the waters being fished. Because cisco are a pelagic species, their movement is spread out over the lake and both the DNR and the fishermen are curious to get the bigger picture.
“They could be on the south shore today, they could be headed towards the north shore tomorrow,” he said. “We want to know what the total number is. Right now they are seeing between 14 and 19 million pounds, that is what their acoustic soundings say. We are interested in getting the whole picture of what is out there, so we know we are not over harvesting. Are we under harvesting? What is the true picture?”
Hoopman and other commercial fishermen are lending their aid to the research because the DNR lacks the funding to pursue the research fully. While the DNR has invested to retrofit its boat with equipment to conduct the research, its time on the lake for actual field work has been limited. “It’s a state of the art boat and it should be out there doing it’s job,” Hoopman said. “Let’s get it out there for more than six days for this project. If we have to go to Madison to stress the need to use this boat, we are all on board to do it.”
Every Thursday this summer, InfoSuperior will be bringing you updates from the field as student researchers Brent and Sara plan, develop, and implement stream rehab initiatives in the region under the Superior Streams project. Check out Brent’s latest update below!
Since my last update I have continued in the office preparing for the field. I am currently working on invasive species lists and at risk species lists for the Lake Superior watershed. These lists will be used in the field to assist in the identifying and reporting of invasive and at risk species.
I have the opportunity to go outside and walk around the McIntyre/Neebing River on Lakehead University campus, to refine my fish knowledge and experience. I look for where small fish like to hide along a river system in different weather and water level conditions, and I also get great fish identification practice while I’m out. Some species that I have found in the river and been learning to identify include mud minnows, sculpin, white suckers, longnose suckers, blacknose dace, longnose dace, brook trout fry, rainbow trout fry, and I am slowly learning how to differentiate the many similarly looking minnow species. I also sometimes find other cool things, like a turtle that likes to swim around one section of the river. Some random fun things happen in the office as well: just the other day I had the opportunity to check out a new drone and got a chance to fly it in a flight simulation program.
These trips to the river are not only very fun, but give me practical knowledge that I can use when it comes time to do the field research.
Working with Superior Streams I continue to learn more about the professional world and gain valuable experience. I’m grateful to be in a position where work doesn’t feel like work.
Alright folks! Last week InfoSuperior’s PEERS had a hiatus so this week’s research post will feature not one, but two updates from Sara and Brent, our Superior Streams summer researchers. We’ve also included links to their bios, in case you’d like to know a little more about their background. Enjoy, and don’t forget to visit Superior Streams to see their new website and get more info!
“For the past two weeks with Superior Streams, I have been working in the office preparing for the coming field work. In order to get all our ducks in a row, I’ve been writing protocols for the data collection itself, as well as for the crew’s safety while working in and around streams. Now, of course you’re thinking “wow, that’s the greatest and most fun job ever!”… Ok, maybe you’re not; however, the experience I am gaining is very well rounded and incorporates all aspects of research. I’m not only gaining field experience collecting data and counting fish and plants, I am also learning the logistics and politics that are required before any data is collected from the field…”
“One of my field days I spent exploring McVicar Creek for the first time. Before heading out into the field, I scoped out locations of previous restoration sites, intersections with roads where parking was available, and paths along the stream on Google maps. Camera in one hand, notepad in the other, I set out to explore the mouth of McVicar Creek at Lake Superior’s shoreline. As the location of multiple restoration projects, human effect on the stream was evident just by walking through it…”
In April, InfoSuperior picked up and reported on some disheartening news: a study which showed Lake Superior was the fastest warming of all the Great Lakes, and one of the fastest warming in the world.
According to tbnewswatch.com, sailors aiming to corroborate the findings with both anecdotal and scientific evidence came ashore in Thunder Bay recently. The Gordon family, based out of Minnesota, have been sailing around Lake Superior for three years to give presentations on climate change, and claim they have observed warmer surface temperatures and earlier thaws.
“We have seen an increase in the length of our season since we started sailing,” Katya Gordon told tbnewswatch.com.
“We used to never sail in the month of May, now we sail routinely in May and routinely in October.”
The Gordons sailed into Thunder Bay harbour on May 14th. For this year’s circumnavigation, they are accompanied by a crew of interns and students from colleges and universities around the lake. The students have been conducting research to test the lake warming as the journey progresses, presenting their findings to people around the lake as they go ashore.
While the Gordon family and their crew are delivering unsettling news about the lake warming, they also aim to foster discussion around possible solutions to the mounting evidence that the Great Lakes are experiencing drastic climate change effects.
“We believe solutions come from every level. We discuss little things people can do, things people can do as a community or as a school,” Gordon said.
“(Those actions are) not transforming our world fast enough so we also talk about putting a price on carbon, specifically this legislation called carbon fee and dividend.”
The carbon fee and dividend system proposes to charge a fee on greenhouse gas emitting energy sources (oil, coal, natural gas), progressively increase that fee, and then return the fee to the public. This is a different structure than Ontario’s recently-passed cap-and-trade legislation, which imposes a carbon emission limit on companies, and then allows them to buy or sell credits if they go over or under their limits.
According to data released by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 99 percent of chinook salmon now caught by Lake Superior anglers are born in the wild, not in a hatchery.
The claim is based on several years of data collected by dockside creel clerks, who monitor the difference between wild and hatchery salmon via tagging systems. 1.5 million chinook salmon which have been stocked in Lake Superior since 2012 have adipose fin clips supplied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The clerks count which fish are tagged and which aren’t, and use the ratio to determine whether or not the populations are self-sustaining.
While chinook salmon stocks have dwindled in Lakes Huron and Michigan, Superior’s populations appear to be healthy and consistently self-sustaining, despite the annual catch numbers being smaller in Superior. MLive.com spoke with DNR Lake Superior Basin coordinator Phil Schneeberger, who said that Lake Superior salmon have more prey fish – like smelt or cisco – to feast on in Superior than the lower Great Lakes. Chinook in Lakes Huron and Michigan feed on baitfish, whose numbers are dwindling due to the effects of invasive quagga mussels.
MLive.com reports that on average, 3,000 chinook salmon are caught in Lake Superior, compared to 10,000 coho salmon or 25,000-30,000 lake trout. Fisheries are less robust in Superior because it has colder overall temperatures and lower levels of nutrients. So for the Superior angler, the chinook are prized because, as Schneeberger points out, they are a larger and more elusive catch. They are often termed “king” salmon among angling aficionados.
Though Michigan continues to stock fish in the lower Great Lakes, as it has done for 50 years, it stopped stocking coho salmon Superior in 2005. Schneeberger says that the populations of coho have “maintained themselves quite consistently since then,” and indicates that they are now looking at reducing the number of chinook salmon being stocked.
Michigan continues to stock 400,000 chinook annually in Superior, though Minnesota and Wisconsin stopped their chinook stocking. Ontario contributes 100,000 to chinook salmon stocks annually. Schneeberger told MLive.com that the Michigan DNR would be looking at increasing steelhead stocking.
Photo credit: Garrett Ellison, MLive.com