IISG water resource initiatives support classrooms and communities

September 26th, 2022 by

I’m proud to share with you some of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s (IISG) recent accomplishments, covering a few of the multitude of water resource issues that we focus on.  

First off, this summer, IISG completed our portion of a multi-state funded project to support stormwater management through green infrastructure activities at a very local level—in fact, this project is called One Block at a Time.

Working in Northwest Indiana, Kara Salazar, former Purdue faculty member Sara McMillan, and their team of interns and community collaborators helped install rainwater harvesting structures and accompanying rain gardens in Hammond and Michigan City. These installations support community resilience by providing more water to irrigate heavily used community gardens and managing rainwater on site to alleviate flooding and polluted runoff.

In high school classrooms, Andrew Coursey is helping teachers engage their students in a unique STEM education experience—through aquaponics. He has developed a curriculum and with donated equipment, helped nine Indiana teachers set up these systems in which fish and plants grow separately but interdependently.

Now, Andy is working with the Chicago High School for Agriculture, which has a grant to establish an aquaponics system on their large campus. At the other end of the spectrum, he is planning to adapt the curriculum for use in classrooms that do not have access to an aquaponic system.

Our upcoming issue of The Helm magazine highlights a climate planning survey in which an overwhelming 90% of responding local officials, natural resource managers, and other relevant professionals in the greater Chicago area in Illinois and Indiana reported that the climate in their location is changing.

This study, led by Veronica Fall, repeated a survey from 2012, providing insight into evolving attitudes and actions of local officials. Then, 61% of respondents reported that their local climate was changing. In terms of specific climate change concerns, in 2020, 76% said information related to flooding was extremely important, which is notably higher than 56% in 2012.

Another study described in the Helm focused on three Lake Michigan Areas of Concern (AOCs) to assess what drives revitalization in communities where contaminated waterways are cleaned up. Assistant Director Stuart Carlton was part of a team that undertook case studies of both Muskegon Lake and White Lake AOC communities in Michigan and those along the Grand Calumet River AOC in Indiana.

One factor that can make a difference is having large (or anchor) institutions, such as colleges or hospitals in communities. Local events, including art shows and festivals, that draw more people to the river or lake also drive revitalization. They can serve to celebrate success during the cleanup process, but also to change perceptions of the status of a waterway, which have a long history of being viewed by the public as polluted and degraded.

We also welcome new members to the IISG team.

Katie O’Reilly has joined IISG as an aquatic invasive species (AIS) specialist. She holds a Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of Notre Dame, engaging in her doctoral (and postdoctoral) research in the Stream and Wetland Ecology Laboratory. Katie has a strong presence on Twitter as @DrKatfish where she shares knowledge and enthusiasm for Great Lakes and other fish. Katie is also a previous IISG Knauss fellow.

Along with the rest of the AIS team, Katie will engage in outreach to raise awareness of the threat of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes and other water bodies.

Speaking of Great Lakes fish, our fisheries specialist, Mitch Zischke, has moved on to other opportunities and Peter Euclide, a Purdue University fisheries biologist, will step into this role, part time. His initial focus will be on continuing workshops with fishers in Illinois and Indiana to keep them informed on the latest Lake Michigan fishery research and issues facing the fishery.

We are hiring an educator to help spread Great Lakes literacy

August 8th, 2022 by

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is looking to hire a Visiting Great Lakes Education Associate to help train teachers and other educators so that they can confidently share Great Lakes science with their students. This position involves meeting project objectives through planning, implementation and evaluation.

Specifically, responsibilities include:

  • Administering IISG’s programs that connect K-12 educators and their students to aquatic science and to Great Lakes scientists.
  • Conducting educational workshops to introduce IISG programs and resources to K-12 educators.
  • Managing a mini-grant program for educators including program promotion and solicitation, application review, and award notification.
  • Working with graphic designers, videographers, and web developers to create new resources or to modify existing ones to enhance programming.
  • Preparing data summaries and visualizations to demonstrate program impacts.

This is a full time, 12-month academic professional position with primary responsibility for managing, enhancing, and evaluating environmental education programming that supports Great Lakes literacy and the mission of IISG and University of Illinois Extension. The position will be located at 200 S. Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois.

To learn more about the position’s responsibilities and qualifications, visit the U of I job board. Applications are due by August 31, 2022.

Sea Grant resources help you enjoy the great outdoors safely and responsibly

July 20th, 2022 by

Summer brings us many of us outdoors, and so at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG), we turn some of our attention to providing data and guidance to help people make wise choices regarding recreational activities around Lake Michigan or other water bodies.

This is prime buoy season, and in early May, our new Chicago buoy was placed in the waters off Navy Pier, one of the busiest boating sites in the Great Lakes. This buoy is helping inform decisions for the Chicago office of the National Weather Service, as well as water recreationists, with real-time data of the lake’s conditions right there.

Chuoy, as it is fondly called, joins our two other yellow buoys in the waters near Wilmette, Illinois and Michigan City, Indiana—all three are overseen by Ben Szczygiel, our buoy specialist.

In addition to their benefits for forecasting and water safety, the buoys provide a useful research tool. In fact, a Purdue University researcher is using buoy data in his Sea Grant-funded study to assess changes in southern Lake Michigan water levels and wave conditions and potential impacts for shoreline management.

With Lake Michigan considered the most dangerous of the Great Lakes in terms of strong currents and, consequently, drownings, water safety is a priority for IISG.

Along with providing more buoy data, we have redesigned and enhanced the website, Lake Michigan Water Safety to include safety tips for swimming, boating, and fishing, both before heading out and while on or in the water. Also on the website, IISG’s Leslie Dorworth has compiled on-the-ground and online resources for beach managers and others looking to raise awareness and provide safety tips.

This year also kicked off a new research project to assess the impact of the Chicago Park District’s community water safety training and develop a swimming instruction program in Evanston, Illinois that will be adapted for implementation in other Chicago communities. A researcher from the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is leading a team focused on decreasing drownings at Lake Michigan beaches.

If you’re along the lakefront Labor Day weekend, look up! Our aquatic invasive species team is reaching audiences in new ways, including with an airplane banner. In the spirit of our Be A Hero campaign, the plane is flying a message reminding everyone to help prevent the spread of aquatic invaders.

Back indoors, summer is also intern season for IISG. This year, eight undergraduate students are assisting program specialists. Some of their tasks include working on rain garden design and implementation, invasive species outreach, youth education, and factsheet and video development. IISG is also collaborating with Shedd Aquarium to support an intern whose summer project is focused on neglected infrastructure in underserved Chicago neighborhoods. 

In other news, we recently announced a new video series that features five cities that are or were in Great Lakes Areas of Concern—Duluth, Buffalo, Sheboygan, Ashtabula, and Muskegon. Local waterways have undergone cleanup of extensive legacy pollution and the cities are now enjoying the benefits of this in terms of improved and increased recreation, tourism, housing, and business development.

Looking at the big picture, 2022 is Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s 40th anniversary. As we plan our celebration, we are also in the midst of strategic planning—assessing priorities for four more years. A perfect moment to look at how the program has evolved and grown over time and to ponder what we can do be the most impactful going forward.

Tomas Höök
Director, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant


Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

New video series highlights five revitalized Great Lakes Areas of Concern

June 29th, 2022 by

Many Great Lakes communities that have carried the burden of legacy pollution for decades have an opportunity for a new lease on life when local waterways are finally cleaned up. A new video series features five cities along waterways deemed Areas of Concern (AOCs) that are in various stages of the cleanup process and are experiencing revitalization.

Historically, the Great Lakes region was a center of industry—steel, leather and lumber, to name a few—that eventually shut down or moved elsewhere as economies and priorities changed. Left behind in these waters was a soup of contamination, leaving degraded waterways and depressed communities.

In the United States and Canada, dozens of sites were identified as AOCs in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and over the years, many have undergone remediation.

The U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) has provided leadership throughout the cleanup process, which involves dredging or capping contaminated sediment. Even before the cleanup and subsequent restoration, local agencies and organizations have a seat at the table to discuss processes and priorities.

Funding is often a partnership between the federal government, in the form of the Great Lakes Legacy Act (now through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative), and state, regional and local stakeholders.

The videos feature five cities—Duluth, Minnesota; Muskegon, Michigan; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Ashtabula, Ohio; and Buffalo, New York—that have had some or all of their contaminated sites cleaned up and ecosystems restored. Local government representatives, business owners and residents share the impact of this work on recreation, tourism, economic development, housing and quality of life in the area.

Video interviews revealed stories about rivers and lakes that have been brought back to life and are bringing people to the water.

For example, the Buffalo River is the new home of restaurants, microbreweries and a host of other new developments. Along the Sheboygan River or nearby, $60 million has been invested in housing with hundreds of new apartments, and the St. Louis River in the Duluth area has been designated a National Water Trail by the National Park Service.     

“Our motto is basically, if you clean it, they will come,” said Chris Korleski, EPA GLNPO director. “We’ll go in and dig up contaminated sediment, restore habitat and make that area a place where people actually want to go. This work restores the environment and promotes economic growth, but I think mostly it promotes a sense of community that was absent from that area.”

To learn more about the remediation, restoration and revitalization of Great Lakes Areas of Concern, visit

The Great Lakes Area of Concern Revitalization Video Series was produced by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and Great Lakes Outreach Media.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

Writer: Irene Miles
Contacts: Ashley Belle, Pat Charlebois

From the emerging contaminants conference to mulch madness—we are having a busy spring

March 18th, 2022 by

This spring we have planned lots of opportunities to engage our audiences with new information as well as to bring together experts to share knowledge and set new goals.

The Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference fosters collaboration among scientists, educators, agency and industry personnel, and other stakeholders. Organized by our Pollution Prevention Team, this annual event will take place virtually on April 27-28 with presentations and discussions focus on all aspects of emerging contaminants, such as PFAS and microplastics, in the environment.

Emerging contaminants include litter along the shores of the Great Lakes, which can end up in various waterbodies. IISG’s Sarah Zack was awarded funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program to lead the development of a prevention and messaging campaign for the Great Lakes region. Thus far, a binational advisory team has surveyed relevant partners to determine which debris type and audience to target in this campaign. We anticipate our efforts in the broad area of marine debris will only increase in the future due to national investments in addressing this issue.

Our aquaculture team is always creating new informational resources, from cooking videos to the Eat Midwest Fish website to a coloring book. The Aquaculture Marketing Webinar Series informs farmers about marketing trends and strategies, current research, best practices, and opportunities. The topics for this webinar series are stakeholder recommended and aim to meet the needs of aquaculture producers in the Midwest and Great Lakes region.

At the upcoming Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting in May, IISG will share research insights, outreach tools, and education successes. In particular, from the perspective of large, multi-organizational, coordinated projects, our CSMI (Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative) Team will discuss successes and lessons learned from this on-going effort on the Great Lakes and beyond.

Here’s something fun—Mulch Madness! Every year in March, as many minds are focused on basketball, we have our own competition. In addition to Rainscaping Education workshops and research related to green infrastructure, Mulch Madness provides an online way to learn more about native plants in the region. All plants in competition can be found in the Red Oak Rain Garden on the University of Illinois campus. We’re inviting you to join us and vote for your favorites.

In personnel news, I’m pleased to announce that Joan Cox, who has been an integral part of our education program, has accepted the role of visiting outreach associate to work on the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS). She brings her considerable agricultural knowledge to NLRS updates and other related efforts.

Looking forward, summer is around the corner, and with it, our buoys will be back—we now have a third one in the waters near Navy Pier. And if you will be around southern Lake Michigan beaches this summer, look up. You might see our airplane banner flying by sharing a message to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Summer also means our student interns will be coming onboard and so will another round of IISG faculty and grad student scholars.

Tomas Höök
Director, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant


Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

Digging into soil data helps inform green infrastructure design

March 10th, 2022 by

Managing stormwater has become more challenging as urban development increases, storms get bigger and sewer systems can’t keep up. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant funded a University of Illinois project to help communities add green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) to their strategies to prevent local flooding.

The research and outreach team set out to incorporate information about local soils as well as other factors in planning and designing GSI sites.

Mary Pat McGuire in the U of I Department of Landscape Architecture led this multidisciplinary research project, adding to her knowledge and skills with those of geologists, water resources engineers, and a community outreach specialist. With this range of expertise, and students contributing throughout, the project encompassed research, modeling, design and engagement.

“At the beginning of the process, we had to learn to communicate with each other because we brought different professional languages to the table,” said David Grimley, a Quaternary geologist at the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS). “By the end, we all got the bigger picture—we all learned from the experience.”

The team focused their efforts in the Calumet region, which encompasses the southeast side of Chicago along with nearby suburbs. This flat, low-lying area has historically been particularly prone to flooding. Add to that, long-standing, traditional infrastructure is aging and is frequently in need of repair or upgrading. Many communities in the Calumet region, as well as elsewhere, do not have the financial resources to update their sewer systems, which at best, may still be insufficient.

Green stormwater infrastructure offers a nature-based way to enhance traditional or “grey” infrastructure. The idea of GSI is to increase opportunities for rainfall to be absorbed where it lands, whether into a well-placed rain garden or even onto permeable pavement, instead of running off parking lots, streets and sidewalks and into sewer systems, potentially overwhelming them.

Permeable pavement

Permeable pavement helps rainwater absorb on-site.

But GSI doesn’t always work as well as it might. Rain gardens are sometimes too small or are placed convenient for human activities, but not ideal for drainage. McGuire, however, thinks that effective GSI needs to be considered from a more wholistic perspective—about reconnecting to the land and retrofitting neighborhoods for water.

“We might solve urban stormwater problems by looking back at the pre-urban landscape—what was there before the city was there,” she explained. “Tracing those patterns back, we can try to find stormwater design solutions that don’t just perform like checking off boxes but actually start to reconnect with the natural history of the site.”

Understanding natural history and planning effective GSI includes studying subsoils, which sit under the topsoil and have been there for many millennia.

Soil Maps

Pilot projects began to take shape in two Calumet region municipalities, Calumet City and Midlothian. “We chose communities that we felt would be receptive to the research—these communities were at a place in their process where they wanted to learn more about the science and it would likely inform their green infrastructure planning,” said Margaret Schneemann, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant water resource specialist.

McGuire and Schneemann worked closely with local officials to discuss potential sites for installing GSI to reduce flooding as well as enhance the neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, ISGS Quaternary geologist Andrew Phillips, along with Grimley and several students, set out to fill in data gaps in these two communities in terms of soils—both at and below the surface. Their work built on earlier soil mapping overseen by state and federal agencies.

“Some data from previous surveys was old or incomplete,” said Phillips. “By doing field tests at six sites in both Calumet City and Midlothian we were able to update information in these two locations to be more accurate and more site specific.”

A student loading scientific tools and supplies into a vehicle

Piotr Szocinski, an ISGS student worker, loads soil samples dug at Amoozemeter stations. (Photo courtesy of Mary Pat McGuire)

For planning GSI, the key soil characteristic is how water moves through it. For example, sandy soils, which have relatively large particles, will allow rainfall to pass through much quicker than smaller, denser clay particles that absorb water. To gather this data, the soil team used a device called an Amoozemeter, which measures soil saturated hydraulic conductivity, or how quickly water passes through.

In terms of understanding soil types and distribution, it helps to take a page from a geologist’s mindset, which is tuned into a long view of history. The geologic parent materials for Midlothian subsoils were likely formed during and just after the time when glaciers moved through the region, creating and shaping Lake Michigan—about 20,000 years ago. 

These soils tend to be fine grained but are quite variable, not just from site to site, but in terms of depth, sometimes changing back and forth from sand to clay as you dig down.

From left to right, Kristine Ryan and Sarah Smith, Natural Resources Conservation Services soil scientists helping out on the project, describe soil characteristics in a core. (Photo courtesy of Mary Pat McGuire)

“As the glacier retreated, melting water running off the ice into the lake added complexity to what eventually became the Midlothian soil parent material,” said Grimley. 

Calumet City soils are much younger—more like 5,000 years old. By then, the glaciers were gone and what would one day be the south suburb provided beachfront along Lake Michigan’s southern shore. There, the soil is sandy. Like Midlothian, other parts of the city have clay soils.

“In both Midlothian and Calumet City we found that there was a lot of variability in the soil profiles, and we found that location matters—you need data for your particular site,” said Grimley.

Green Infrastructure Models

Assessing the impact of soil variability on GSI effectiveness was part of the task of the team’s modelers in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Ashlynn Stillwell, a U of I water resource engineer, and Reshmina William, a graduate research assistant, brought the project back to the present, while incorporating the updated knowledge of local soils.

“We were primarily working to answer the question of how green infrastructure relates to the history of a place through its soils as well as present conditions—what’s on the surface, including the human presence through development over time,” said Stillwell.

From a hydrology and hydraulics perspective, they were interested in understanding how GSI functions in response to different land surface conditions and to different rainfall conditions. But what defines whether green infrastructure is working well? What are reasonable expectations in terms of reducing runoff and flooding? Through the modeling process, the researchers set their rate of success.

“In our simulation, we used an 80% runoff reduction standard, which is higher than where most policies are currently set,” said Stillwell. “We found that for a lot of situations, we can achieve that. We can design good infrastructure that’s highly functional—we can have stringent policies and actually achieve them in many of these locations.”

One important factor in whether green infrastructure is successful is its size—a bigger surface area is usually better, especially if subsoils are denser. Another is how much of the land upstream of the GSI is hard surfaces, leading to more runoff flowing toward the rain garden or permeable pavement, perhaps overtaxing it.

“The most effective green infrastructure is distributed throughout a watershed rather than having all the rainfall collected and sent to one big detention basin at the end,” said Stillwell. “End-of-pipe solutions are more likely to fail and more likely to have continued localized flooding challenges than green infrastructure distributed in space.”

Stillwell and William’s modeling evaluation tools were later applied to the project designs for Calumet City and Midlothian.

The Landscape Designs

McGuire led the process of designing GSI plans for two 250-acre neighborhoods, recruiting her students to take them on as semester-long projects. 

“It’s critical that we involve our students directly in our design research so that they take interdisciplinary, engaged research with them into professional practice,” said McGuire. “In this project, our geology, landscape architecture, and engineering students were involved in every aspect of our work and contributed immensely to the research and outcomes.” 

Divided into two groups, the students focused on one of the two communities. For both, the plans were designed for public land in residential areas—in Midlothian, the Jolly Homes neighborhood, and in Calumet City, the Yates neighborhood.

The GSI plan for Calumet City, titled “Before the City, there was the Sand,” won a 2019 American Society of Landscape Architects Honor Award in the Student Collaboration category.

The students had visited regional nature preserves as well as the Yates neighborhood for inspiration as they looked for ways to reconnect residents with the forgotten dune and swale landscape.

In their project description, the students proposed to “. . . create places for water that ameliorate the pattern of street and basement flooding through a new pattern of green infrastructure inspired and informed by the distribution of sandy sediments underneath the city.”

Their design replaces many hard, compacted surfaces with permeable pavement, rain gardens and trees on streets, alleys, vacant land, parking lots, a public park and at an elementary school.

The students for both teams joined McGuire and Schneemann to present their green infrastructure designs to the two communities at public meetings. Calumet City officials were particularly enthusiastic.

The design plans sparked a lot of discussion in terms of possibilities, according to Schneemann. “There was a really positive reception and an aspiration to know what to do next. The designs really sparked a lot of momentum.”

“Through their research, the students created great ideas and used a variety of plants,” said Val Williams, Calumet City Director of Economic Development. “It was amazing just how much water could actually be stored and slowly released, right on site.”

The landscape design

The design for Calumet City used a variety of plant species on public land in the Yates neighborhood.

What’s Next

Calumet City officials continue to seek funding opportunities to implement the GSI design plan, and in the meantime have started a pilot Green Alleys project through the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago’s Green Infrastructure Program. The largest of the four pilot sites, where alleys will be redeveloped to better absorb rainwater, is in the Yates neighborhood.

This success in moving forward is, in part, due to the U of I research that inspired Calumet City to dig deep and learn more about what’s underground—specifically, mapping the city’s sewer system. The city was incorporated in 1893, making it one of the oldest communities in the region, and its infrastructure was laid not long after that.

“Everything has been done since then has been a band aid,” said Williams. “In some cases, some of the infrastructure is so old that you can barely read any of the historical records and in some cases, historical records just don’t exist anymore.”

“The city is doing a new sewer assessment and inventory of what’s there and what’s been installed and is trying to get all the sewer atlases up to date in the GIS database,” said Matthew Buerger, a Calumet City engineering consultant.

The thinking is that flooding problems can be addressed from several angles. Now that the city knows that much of the soils are well-draining, understanding the status of the sewer system is another piece in the puzzle. By installing green infrastructure where it can do the most good and upgrading and cleaning out sewers where necessary, Calumet City can efficiently and affordably manage stormwater.

The data from the soil survey has also proven to help open doors for more opportunities.

“The University of Illinois study was great because it showed that the soils throughout the entirety of Calumet City are very conducive for green infrastructure to work,” said Bueger.

The data has been a valuable resource in securing around $15 million in grant money from a variety of sources. While the focus of these grant projects runs the gamut, addressing flooding and green infrastructure are always a component.

“Green infrastructure—when we’re talking about plantings and permeable pavement, or we’re talking about things that can absorb and mitigate—these are included in every single piece of what we do now,” added Williams.

This research was recently published in Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.


Writer: Irene Miles

Local Indiana leaders address on-the-ground climate risks with limited resources

March 3rd, 2022 by

In small-town Indiana, a conversation with local decision makers about how they are responding to climate change may depend on defining the risks. While the concept of climate risks may be not be considered relevant by some local officials, flooding problems, for example, most definitely are.

William Bianco, a political scientist at Indiana University, discovered this and much more about community attitudes and actions related to climate change through his Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Scholar project.

Through Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI), Bianco’s team of six students interviewed local officials in the summer of 2020 using the institute’s Hoosier Resilience Index, which is designed to help communities understand the importance of taking action to contend with climate change.

“We were trying to get a sense of the facts on the ground—to understand why some communities see climate risks differently than others and are making different choices,” said Bianco.

They found that when it comes to preparing for the impacts of climate change, regardless of what side of the political fence they land, local decision makers in Indiana want to be good stewards of their communities. Some may be skeptical about climate risks, but they want their communities to be resilient.

“When we talk about communities not being ready for climate change, it’s really a definitional question,” said Bianco. “We have to ask the question differently— are they aware that stormwater patterns are changing, rather than, are they accommodating climate threats.”

These conversations with local leaders also revealed that whether a community in Indiana is preparing for the impacts of climate change depends on access to resources.

“Insofar as we’re asking local communities, by default, to carry the burden of accommodating climate risks—one of the big problems we face is that not all communities are created equal,” said Bianco. “A lack of intention is not driven by ideology—it’s simply they don’t have the capacity to take action.”

There are some doable steps that communities can take to be better prepared. The student researchers pulled together a list of these options and shared them with local leaders, both to learn what they are already doing and to raise awareness as needed. The options include enrolling in the federal flood insurance community rating system, developing invasive species management areas, and forming formal structures for disaster management—a COAD, or Community Organizations Active in Disaster.

Setting up a COAD helps local leaders connect with emergency services and provides a path to develop a protocol for how to respond in a disaster.

Through the Environmental Resilience Institute’s engagement with local leaders, communities are talking to each other about responding to climate risks at conferences and other avenues. The ERI is publicizing success stories by having local officials talk about what they are doing—they are sharing their plans and activities with their counterparts in other communities.

“We learned that what communities are doing is a function of the actual risks they face, which is hopeful,” said Bianco. They may not call it ‘preparing for climate change,’ but they are nonetheless aware. There are untapped opportunities for informing local leaders and in making policy changes, not through persuasion, but by simply providing them tools.”

Bianco is one of nine faculty and seven graduate students who are or have been Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant scholars. The program helps develop a community of scientists to research critical issues related to Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes region through funding and other opportunities for one year.

Purdue student teams up with Odawa tribe to study lake whitefish

December 17th, 2021 by

Master’s student Marissa Cubbage came to Purdue University to study the young life stages of fish in the Great Lakes. Arriving in West Lafayette in the summer of 2019, she laid out the plans for her research on lake whitefish in Lake Michigan. But just two weeks before her sampling was set to begin, state agencies and the university shut down all out-of-state field work due to the pandemic.

A change in plans was in order, so Cubbage opted to use previously collected larval samples by the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians. The tribe had collected samples from 2015 to 2019 and were willing to share them with her, offering a unique glimpse at a longer window of data than the one-to-two years of sampling that a traditional Master’s degree allows.

This analysis informed Cubbage’s thesis, which addresses how the decline of zooplankton populations has affected the diet of larval whitefish.

Cubbage presented her research findings to the tribal biologists and technicians through virtual presentations and meetings. She also created an informational handout that will be distributed along with subsistence and commercial fishing licenses.

Cubbage was funded through Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and both Tomas Höök, IISG director, and Paris Collingsworth, Great Lakes ecosystem specialist, served as her thesis advisors.

Read the full story on the Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources news page.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

IISG is committed to helping communities be more resilient

December 17th, 2021 by

In the wake of the devastating tornados that ripped through at least six states last weekend, bouncing back for these communities will likely be a formidable undertaking. Community resilience is often considered in reference to coping with and recovering from major disasters, but it is also relevant in the face of ongoing challenges that communities frequently contend with, for example, pollution and urban flooding.

While many programs and agencies are focused on providing necessary help to desperate communities in dire need, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant funds research and engages communities in the Great Lakes region over the long haul to help them protect and restore their natural resources. Here are a few examples.

Through the work of Veronica Fall, Kara Salazar, and Margaret Schneemann—specialists dedicated to climate readiness, sustainable land use, and water supply planning, respectively, community outreach includes providing needed data for local officials and managers to make informed choices for future resilience. For example, through Tipping Point Planner, a land use decision support tool, communities can learn how best to steer clear of irreversible shifts in ecosystem functions.

To help communities make small changes that can help in managing stormwater, in 2021, Kara brought the Purdue Extension Rainscaping Education program over the border and it is now a University of Illinois Extension program, overseen by Eliana Brown. The Rainscaping program provides training and resources for installing rain gardens and other green infrastructure practices in residential settings or small-scale public spaces. The 10 demonstration rain gardens planted at Indiana workshops thus far have reduced stormwater runoff by nearly 410,000 gallons each year.

We are also leading the process to bring Leslie Dorworth’s Indiana Master Watershed Steward Program to Illinois. Master watershed stewards are trained volunteers who understand how watersheds work and are willing to help with watershed improvement efforts in their communities.

Through federal and local funding, Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOC), waterways that bear the burden of legacy pollution, are being cleaned up and restored. In the St. Louis River AOC, Ashley Belle is organizing and facilitating outreach teams to inform residents and stakeholders about contaminated sediment cleanup projects. With onsite posters and online photo galleries, residents can learn about the project benefits and see how the work is going.

We also fund research that complements our coastal resilience outreach efforts, including two Illinois State University scientists, both taking part in our Faculty Scholars Program. Pranshoo Solanki is experimenting with using dredged material (like from AOC cleanups) as a concrete ingredient, potentially providing a useful fate for material that is difficult to manage. And, Sundeep Inti is working to making permeable concrete in parking lots more sustainable with the aim of ultimately reducing runoff and flooding. Another faculty scholar, Sophie Taddeo from the Chicago Botanic Garden is using remote sensing images to improve monitoring of restored wetlands, which can absorb and filter polluted rainwater.

At a whole lake scale, Cary Troy and Aaron Thompson at Purdue University are working with scientists around Lake Michigan to assess coastal erosion levels, causes, and management options from physical, social and community perspectives. In addition, a recently published, interdisciplinary University of Illinois study led by Mary Pat McGuire incorporated soils data into green infrastructure planning and design for two communities in the Calumet region.

These are a handful of examples of our projects that foster community resilience in Illinois, Indiana and Great Lakes wide. In the new year, we look forward to continuing these efforts and the rest of our work, as well.

Happy holidays to all!

Tomas Höök
Director, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant


Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

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