NOAA Great Lakes researchers join U.S.-Canadian study of Lake Huron ecosystem

July 9, 2012

Lake Huron sampling.

Researchers with the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory collect samples of microbes, including bacteria and viruses, from Lake Huron, April 17, 2012.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

Visitors to Lake Huron this summer may have a unique opportunity to glimpse science in action. During July and September, scientists on board a half dozen research vessels will crisscross Thunder Bay, Saginaw Bay, and the open waters of Lake Huron, collecting samples of sediment, water, mussels, microscopic organisms, and fish.

In order to better understand Lake Huron environmental trends, the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) is joining an international effort to study invasive species, water quality, fisheries and climate change. Much of the research is taking place in the NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

GLERL is partnering with several federal, state, and provincial agencies in the 2012 Lake Huron Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative, a joint U.S.-Canadian program, led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Great Lakes National Program Office and Environment Canada. This initiative examines one Great Lake per year on a rotating basis and supports the goals of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, signed in 1972 by the United States and Canada, in which each country commits to protecting the Great Lakes.  

Lake Huron sampling.

Researchers with the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory collect samples of larval fish from Lake Huron using net tows, April 26, 2012.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

“GLERL is using this initiative to start its own long-term research program on Lake Huron,” said GLERL Director Marie Colton, Ph.D. “Invasive species, climate change, and changes in nutrient loading are putting as much stress on Lake Huron as on Lake Michigan. We want to better understand the Lake Huron ecosystem and develop modeling tools to predict how the lake is changing.” 

“We need to understand how the ecosystem of Lake Huron functions so we can effectively manage it for water quality and fish production,” said Henry Vanderploeg, Ph.D., chief of GLERL’s Ecosystem Dynamics Research Branch and lead researcher for GLERL’s efforts in the initiative. “Right now, disruption of the food web from invasive mussels and spiny water fleas is adversely affecting fisheries. Mussel filtering may also be linked to increases in nuisance algae.”

GLERL’s efforts in the Lake Huron Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative are divided into five sub-projects:

  1. Mapping of bottom-dwelling organisms: Researchers will assess trends in lake-wide bottom-dwelling populations, including invasive zebra and quagga mussels. The EPA Great Lakes National Program Office’s Lake Guardian and Environment Canada’s Limnos will be used to make the collections.

  2. Structure and function of the open water food web: Scientists will examine the distribution of plankton, fish larvae, juvenile fish, and adult fish, and relate shifts in these species to changes brought about by invasive zebra and quagga mussels.

  3. Sediment study in Saginaw Bay: Researchers will collect samples of sediment from Saginaw Bay and the main body of Lake Huron. Analysis of the sediment may help explain how nearshore areas are plagued by algal blooms, while the offshore food web suffers from too few nutrients.

  4. Structure and function of bottom-dwelling communities: Scientists will collect bottom-dwelling invertebrates and algae in Thunder Bay. This effort will help explain the role of mussels in controlling phosphorus availability and algal growth

  5. Physical measurements: Researchers will deploy current meters and buoys to provide real-time observations of winds, temperature, waves, and currents. They will use data from these instruments to study the ecosystem and changes in climate.

Research cruises began in April and will continue through September. Researchers are using an impressive fleet of research vessels, including EPA’s 180-foot Lake Guardian, GLERL’s 80-foot Laurentian and 50-foot Storm, and two large U.S. Geological Survey research vessels, the Sturgeon and Grayling. Sampling missions will also be conducted aboard Environment Canada’s Limnos across Lake Huron. For additional information, visit the project webpage.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the University of Michigan are also participating in the Lake Huron Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is administered by EPA, is funding this research.

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