Comments and Input Sought
A draft Great Lakes strategy for dealing with mercury has been developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). The document was recently released for public comment and is available here.
For those who would like to comment, email addresses for both Canada and USA are provided:
A Quick Mercury “Backgrounder”
Virtually every lake in the Superior watershed, including Lake Superior itself, has consumption advisories for fish, mainly due to mercury. Additionally, every state and province around Lake Superior provides guidance about the amount of fish which should be consumed. The Ontario guide to eating fish can be found here. Mercury is a naturally occurring element, not a chemical, but human activity has led to larger scale “releases.” For example mercury is a natural constituent in substances like coal. When coal is combusted in power plants, mercury is released as a by-product, falling out through atmospheric deposition onto the environment, including lakes and rivers. Mercury subsequently works its way up the food chain, into fish, and potentially humans. Environmental and human health impacts of mercury have been very well documented over several decades and the US EPA provides an excellent overview on this topic:
The draft “Great Lakes Binational Strategy for Mercury Risk Management” arranges strategies under the following groupings, or headings:
- Regulations, Risk Mitigation and Management
- Compliance Promotion and Enforcement
- Pollution Prevention
- Monitoring, Surveillance, and Other Research
- Domestic Water Quality.
Over several years, both Canada and USA have put in place various efforts and regulations to deal with mercury. For example on April 7th, 2017, Canada ratified the Minimata Convention on Mercury, an international agreement to ensure mercury is managed responsibly and used in products only where no other alternative exists. The draft “Great Lakes Binational Strategy for Mercury Risk Management” builds on this momentum, identifying specific actions, and naming the country associated with each action.
Actions associated with both mercury management and research, as laid out in the document, include:
- Identify manufacturing processes or products that intentionally add mercury (U.S.)
Continuing remediation of mercury-contaminated sites and sediments (Canada and US)
Continuing to reduce mercury emissions resulting from coal-fired generation of electricity (Canada)
- Developing the National Strategy for Safe and Environmentally Sound Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury (Canada)
Conducting additional research on methylation dynamics and the differential impacts of mercury in nearshore versus offshore environments (US)
Continued monitoring of mercury in environmental media in the Great Lakes (air, precipitation, sediment, fish, and other wildlife) and also publishing results in a variety of publications to maximize the intended audience (Canada and US).
Data Gaps and Research
The document also cites the need for more information about mercury, laying out several “data gaps.” These include the influence of changing climate on mercury processes (mercury “cycles” through a number of forms in the environment); the need for better emissions data and improved methods to assist in determining the relationship between mercury emissions and concentrations of mercury in fish tissue; and the effectiveness of the current regime of regulations in managing risks and impacts associated with mercury.
Why would anybody start a winery in northern Minnesota?
What do “Boundary Waters Blend,” “Cabernet Sauvignon,” “Caribou Blend” and “Moose Joose” Have in common? They are all wines and ciders produced at North Shore Winery in Lutsen, Minnesota. Co-owner Jeremy Hanson is quick to point out that they do not grow their own grapes and have never made this claim. Rather, North Shore winery makes wines from grapes grown in California. On the other hand, Sawtooth Mountain Cider House, which is housed in the same facility, uses Minnesota grown apples. (Side note: there are several wines made from Minnesota grapes and berries, such as Painted Prairie Vineyard in the south, and Forest Edge Winery in the north who make wine from cranberries, currants, raspberries and even rhubarb.)
If they don’t have the grapes, why would anybody start a winery in northern Minnesota? That’s simple. Lake Superior. Lake Superior makes Lutsen the place to be—the stunning beauty of the immediate surroundings, the proximity of a great ski hill, the amazing paved bike trail which runs from the junction of Lutsen Ski Hill Road and Hwy. 61, approximately 13 mi./21 km. to Schroeder and the nearby Superior Hiking Trail, which runs from Duluth, all the way to the Canadian border. These Northern Minnesota attributes, including great views from each and every one of them, are popular with visitors and make Lutsen an attractive location for many huge trail running, mountain biking, gravel biking and other events. That’s a lot of traffic that could be interested in a wine tasting or tour.
Tours and Tastings
Thinking about checking it out? North Shore Winery is on the north side of the road to Lutsen ski resort just off Hwy 61. Lutsen is about 21 mi./34 km. south of Grand Marais. Winery owners and staff are very good about taking visitors on winery tours. While many people just show up and are offered a tour, you can also contact the winery through their website. They’ll take reservations for events as well, all hosted next to large oak barrels, used in the wine making process, stacked high against the walls. North Shore winery is open Friday-Monday from Noon- 7 p.m., Thursdays open late for “Date Night” – 2-8 p.m., closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
If you are fortunate enough to visit North Shore Winery in summer, there are chairs and tables out front with Lake Superior just down the hill in the distance. You can buy any of the wines and ciders they have on offer or even taste a sampling of several, at your liesure, for a very reasonable price. If the weather isn’t cooperating, there’s lots of room inside.
Infosuperior promotes connections with Lake Superior. Try sitting outside North Shore Winery on a summer afternoon with a glass of “Cascade White.” The air conditioning will already be flicked to the “on” position, thanks to cooling breezes from the big lake. Take a couple of sips. We guarantee you’ll connect.
The 9th International Charr Symposium will be held June 18th-21st at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Centre in Duluth, MN. Charr, or Char, is a term often used to refer to fish of the genus Salvelinus. These are fish native to Lake Superior and many other cold fresh water lakes around the world. They are often the top predator but have struggled due to changing climate and invasive species.
The symposium gathers scientists interested and involved in charr biology. The conference has been held at various northern locations around the globe since first being established in Winnipeg in 1981. This year the Charr Symposium will be held on the shore of Lake Superior, home to the Brook charr (aka brook trout) and Lake Char (aka Lake trout) for which conservation efforts have recently culminated in a major success story.
Organizers hope to publish proceedings from the symposium in a special issue of Hydrobiologia, the international journal of aquatic sciences (impact factor 2.051) and to use information from some of the sessions in a book on lake charr.
Climate change has been a hot topic for years. Climate change researchers often look at the ocean for clues to determine at what rate our global climate is heating up. Oceans are important indicators; whether you are looking at ice cover, water temperatures and circulation, or carbon dioxide absorption and release. Locally, we often look at the status of the Great Lakes for evidence of climate change, through changes in ice cover and water levels especially. Just how indicative of climate change are these factors?
CO2 Sink or Source
Human-caused carbon emissions are the number one contributing factor in global warming. Thankfully, the effects of these carbon emissions are offset by “sinks” on Earth. The ocean is especially capable when it comes to absorbing emissions and heat. Circulating currents within the ocean pull in CO2 and bring it into the depths of the oceans where it is stored in sediments and phytoplankton. As the ocean heats up, it will have a reduced capacity for absorbing CO2 and atmospheric heat.
Human Carbon Emissions are the number one contributing factor causing global warming. Credit: Text provided by Bloomberg Business. Data provided by NASA GISS and IPCC.
Lake Superior has been known to act as both a sink and a source of CO2. Studies from 1998-2000 suggested that Lake Superior was a net source of CO2. Dr. Soren Brothers and Dr. Paul Sibley recently published their analysis of surface oxygen saturation data collected from Lake Superior between 1968 and 2016. They found that Lake Superior absorbs CO2 from late May to early October but releases CO2 in the Winter. Soren and Brothers believe that a reserve of dissolved CO2 was released due to increased sunlight caused by effects of the 1997-98 El Niño but that Lake Superior is more typically a net sink for CO2.
Ice cover on the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Superior, is of great interest to many. The Ice cover dictates how we use the lake as a mode of transportation and recreation, and it changes the accessibility of remote habitats for wildlife. We also see it as a physical representation of climate change.
Ice cover percentages do not necessarily mirror short-term climate trends. For example this year, a small amount of ice remained on Lake Superior into May while the global climate continues to warm. NOAA–Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) has been monitoring ice cover on the great lakes for more than 30 years and continues to collect and study their data to better understand the long term effects of climate change on Great Lakes ice cover. For more information on the ice cover work by NOAA-GLERL Click Here.
One of the most often touted effects of climate change is an increase in water levels. Although this is fairly certain for the Oceans, the great lakes water levels are more difficult to predict. This is because precipitation is a huge contributing factor to lake water levels but, as anyone who lives around Lake Superior knows, weather is notoriously difficult to predict.
Climate change is predicted to cause an increase in major storms, which could increase precipitation over the Great Lakes, leading to higher water levels; however, we also anticipate more droughts in the years to come, which would increase evaporation. Currently water levels on the Great Lakes are fairly high. Researchers are still trying to develop more accurate models for predicting long term water levels in large lakes like Lake Superior.
An Indirect Measure for Climate Change
The reality is that all of these factors are interconnected and controlled by a variety of ever changing variables. Increased global temperatures can result in any number of changes to lake ecosystems. It may not be possible to accurately predict how climate change will effect the Great Lakes, but the potential for negative reactions is large. For now, we can continue to learn from our lakes and rivers and do our best to reduce the carbon footprint.
The Lake Superior region is fertile ground for mining, particularly along the North shore of Lake Superior—home to the metamorphosed greenstone belts of the Wawa subprovince of the great Canadian Shield. Greenstone belts are known to contain high grade gold, silver, copper, zinc and lead ores.
A young Perth, Australlia based exploration company, Superior Lake Resources Limited, is looking at redeveloping two former copper-zinc mines in this region: Pick Lake and Winston Lake. This project is in the very early stages of development. Superior Lake Resources Ltd has contracted Thunder bay based Nordmin Engineering Ltd as the consultant for the re-development strategy. Nordmin is expected to provide a full report by August 2018 outlining cost estimates for mine de-watering, re-equipment, installation of a new mill and other infrastructure, and a schedule of permitting and licensing requirements for development and start-up of mine operations.
Learn more about this project: ‘Superior’ Small-Cap Gets Set to Cash in on Hot Zinc Market
Zinc is a metallic element that is prized for it’s anti-corrosive properties; it is used to coat steel and galvanize iron. It is in high demand for use in building materials and electronics. At the Pick Lake and Winston Lake mines, zinc occurs as a Zinc-sulfide (ZnS); as a result the mine has the potential of releasing high levels of sulfuric acid into water systems and the environment. Time will tell whether a federal environmental assessment will be triggered and whether or not Superior Lake Resources Ltd will voluntarily undergo a provincial Environmental Assessment.
The 42″ clip is a little grainy, taken on a cellphone, but it does show how plastic nurdles, tiny plastic beads which you’ll see in the video clip (and the raw material for creating all things plastic), have been distributed around Nipigon Bay, and indeed Lake Superior.
From 12 noon-4 pm on June 10th, Parks Canada will be conducting a shoreline clean-up at Mountain Bay. The cleanup is part of Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup efforts. The Parks Canada event will be focused on the shores of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, specifically Mountain Bay on Nipigon Bay. The Nipigon Bay Remedial Action Plan is helping to organize the event. Participants must RSVP Parks Canada to participate. More information here.
After Infosuperior received calls from as far away as Wawa, Ontario, noting the presence of nurdles on otherwise pristine beaches, like those in Wawa, Infosuperior went out after work to verify the situation. Chuck Hutterli, who lives in the Gravel River area, said he had also seen the beads on beaches, including those near Little Gravel River. Dave Tamblyn, who lives in Rossport, Ontario and is Chair of Lakehead University’s Board of Governors, says, “I’ve found them on Wilson, Healey and Nicol islands.”
The nurdles resulted from a train wreck near Cavers several years ago, and Canadian Pacific Railway has spent millions on cleanup. Despite this, and in addition to the efforts of local residents, the video clip demonstrates that nurdles are widespread on Lake Superior. Nurdles are classified as a microplastic under federal Canadian legislation. Like any other pollution problem, emphasis needs to be placed on reduced plastic use and prevention, before the vast array of plastic products reaches our waterways.
Join Parks Canada for the Coastal Clean-up
on June 10th!
From 12 noon-4 pm on June 10th, Parks Canada will be conducting a shoreline clean-up at Mountain Bay. The cleanup is part of Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup efforts. The Parks Canada event will be focused on the shores of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, specifically Mountain Bay on Nipigon Bay. The Nipigon Bay Remedial Action Plan is helping to organize the event.
When: June 10th from 12 noon – 4 pm
Where: Beach access at George and Flora Ozburn’s home, Fire Number 46, at the very end of Mountain Bay Drive
What to bring: a reusable bag (please no plastic bags), sturdy shoes, weather appropriate clothing and sun protection.
Please note that this is a rain or shine event, however it will be cancelled in the event of a thunder storm. Cancellation will be posted on the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area social media pages.
Participants must register in advance. Please RSVP before Tues. June 7th by contacting Sarah Shruiff at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 705-255-8070.
Lake Superior Action and Management Plan
Nipigon Bay has been especially impacted by microplastics, particularly “micro-beads” or “nurdles.” Lake Superior’s Lakewide Action and Management Plan, developed by federal, state, provincial, tribal and First Nations organizations working to restore and protect the lake, sets out specific goals to addresses this issue, as follows:
Increase efforts to educate the public on new and emerging chemicals; their potential toxicity; pathways into fish, wildlife and humans; and how the public can help remove these chemicals from the basin. Put special emphasis on the topics of microplastics and safer alternatives for personal care, household cleaning products, and pesticides/herbicides.
There is broad understanding that addressing the issue of microplastics at the source, rather than cleaning up after these substances enter the lake, is fundamental in addressing this issue. Cleanup is part and parcel of improving the situation however, as is increasing public understanding and engagement.
The International Coastal Cleanup is not specifically focused on plastics but is an example of an activity which addresses one of the emerging issues identified in the action plan for the lake.
Links to related articles:
- Prevention Key to Reducing Great Lakes Plastic Pollution
- Lake Superior Action Plan Presented in Nipigon June 22
- Nurdles in Nipigon Bay: Local Microplastics Concerns
- Nipigon Nurdles Meeting Summary
InfoSuperior.com gratefully acknowledges the support of Lakehead University, Ontario Ministry of the Environment & Climate Change, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The Stannard Rock Lighthouse was first lit up on July 4, 1882. Nearly 40km (25 miles) from the nearest land, this offshore Lighthouse was a feat of engineering and construction. It was built to mark the location of a rocky shoal discovered by Captain Charles C. Stannard in 1835.
In 2015, the Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust (SWP) acquired Stannard Rock Lighthouse from the U.S. federal government for preservation, thanks to the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. On Tuesday, May 8, SWP held a public presentation in Marquette, Michigan outlining the history of this unique lighthouse to garner interest and promote financial contributions for it’s repair.
As the most isolated lighthouse in the U.S., Stannard Rock Lighthouse has taken a beating. On June 19, 1961, the lighthouse engine exploded, stranding three of four surviving coast guardsmen for three days and destroying the fog house. From that day on, the lighthouse operation was automated. It is now host to an National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather station and multiple research buoys. During a storm in October last year, the weather station and buoys around the lighthouse measured extremely high winds and waves. These buoys have made the Stannard Rock Lighthouse an important site for climate change research and predicting water levels on the Great Lakes.
The lighthouse needs more than a million dollars of restoration but the Superior Watershed Partnership has plans to make these repairs over an extended period of time through the employment of young adults in the SWP Great Lakes Conservation Corps. For more inforamation on the SWPs Stannard Rock Lighthouse project click here.
Check out this article by maritime historian and author Frederick Stonehouse for more images and legends from Stannard Rock Lighthouse.
The Public Advisory Committee (PAC) to the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan (RAP) will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. on June 6th in Room 3004 of the ATAC Building at Lakehead University. Evening parking at Lakehead University is free of charge and available right beside the ATAC building.
- Report to PAC Members about April 18th Meeting with Transport Canada
- Clarify Objectives, Format for Sediment Quality Sub-Committee
- Discuss Next Steps for North Harbour
- Minutes of April 4th, 2018
- Presentation on North Harbour by Transport Canada (April 18, 2018)
- Map of Lakehead University showing ATAC Building (AT).
Remedial Action Plans work to address environmental, chemical, physical, and biological degradation resulting in pollution and adverse impacts to natural habitats in Areas of Concern on the Great Lakes. They are supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Lakehead University.
The meeting is open to the public and all are welcome to attend. There is no charge. Observers do not participate in committee decisions but may be allowed to address the meeting at the discretion of the chair.
Information to Join the Meeting Online:
From your computer, tablet or smartphone.
You can also dial in using your phone.
Canada: +1 (647) 497-9391
Access Code: 606-559-717
First GoToMeeting? Click this link for a quick system check:https://link.gotomeeting.com/system-check
A Brief History on Our Understanding of Plastic Pollution
Beach cleanups, like the June 10th event being hosted by Parks Canada on Nipigon Bay, are only part of the picture. Preventing plastic pollution before it even gets to our lakes, rivers and waterways is critical, if we eventually hope to eradicate this issue. All of us will need to drastically reduce and manage our use of plastics, if we ever hope to come close to success.
On Earth Day our focus was plastic pollution. General awareness around this problem has only started to develop in recent years. Concerns over plastic pollution started to become widespread in the early 2000s when people heard about the “Toxic Garbage Islands” in the oceans, like the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” reported to be up to twice the size of Texas.
When picturing the plastic problem, many of us may have imagined giant plastic islands of garbage floating as a solid mass in the oceans gyres, large systems of rotating ocean currents. This made it easy to assume that plastic simply flowed from lands, lakes and rivers into the ocean… and stayed there, far away from us. Recent Studies show that the reality is much worse.
Realities of Plastic Pollution
First, alarms were raised about microplastics, tiny particles not readily visible with the naked eye. We couldn’t just assume that these stayed in the “garbage patch”; they were small enough to be ingested by ocean animals and travel through the food chain. It would be naive to think that all of this plastic doesn’t also pollute land, inland seas, lakes and rivers.
Plastic has been found in agricultural soil deposited through municipal compost. The “Garbage Islands” mentioned earlier are more like garbage stews; floating plastic is highly concentrated in those gyres, but it is often below the surface, and constantly moving with wind and water currents. The Great Lakes also house concentrated zones of plastic debris dictated by their currents and, according to the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Great Lakes beaches were found to have one of the greatest concentration of plastics of all national park beaches sampled in a study with the National Parks Service and Clemson University.
Microplastics in The Great Lakes
The first Scientific Research done on plastics in the Great Lakes began in 2012. Since then, plastic has been found in abundance in all of the Great Lakes and their tributaries. InfoSuperior participated in a Parks Canada cleanup of plastic nurdles on the shores of Nipigon Bay in 2017, collecting nearly 200,000 nurdles, which entered the environment when a CP Rail train car derailed in January 2008. Despite this cleanup, and extensive cleanups by CP rail, the Nurdles persist on Nipigon Bay beaches and have been reported on Wawa Beaches and on Long Beach in Michipicoten Bay.
Nurdles are fairly large “microplastics”, but plastic is present in water as particles and fibers that can only be seen with a microscope, making their way into soil, seas, lakes and rivers. Beers made using water from Lake Superior, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron were all found to be contaminated with microplastics in a recent open source peer-reviewed study by Mary Kosuth, Sherri A. Mason, and Elizabeth V. Wattenberg. Manual cleanups simply can not capture all of these plastic contaminants due to their very small size.
Cleanup Can’t be our Only Action Against Plastic
Cleanups are important for collecting data on the distribution of plastic around the world. Now that we know both macro and micro plastics contaminate every part of the Earth, plastic must be considered as a more global contaminant than we previously thought. Many groups, organizations, and individuals are passionate about eliminating plastic pollution for good through innovative packaging and plastic alternatives, refusal of single-use plastics, changing legislation and banning the use of exceptionally dangerous plastic products like polystyrene and microbeads. Solving this global issue will take more than cleaning up the mess we have made so far, we need to make some major changes.